On March 22nd it was World Water Day. Water is one of the most abundant compounds on Earth covering 71% of the Earth's surface with ocean's holding about 96.5% of it. Without it, life on Earth would not be possible. However, just under 3% of that total is freshwater of which only 0.3% is accessible to us. It's a precious resource, yet we take it for granted. We can already see the legacies we are leaving for future generations to deal with including polluting our seas with plastics, polluting our rivers and groundwater and overusing water to such an extent that wells and rivers dry up. These not only leave environmental legacies, but social ones too. The fashion industry is highly dependent on water not only to produce raw materials needed to manufacture textiles such as growing cotton (which is a very thirsty crop), but also the various processes needed to process the raw materials to turn them into the fabrics that go into making our clothes - 20% of industrial water use is due to treating and dying textiles. To make a cotton t-shirt, requires over eight full baths or 700 gallons of water. The fact that water is mostly a 'free' or cheap resource, the fashion industry can afford to continue producing the large volumes of cheap, disposable clothing without much thought to water or resource consumption or the implications these might have. But what if we were to take a different approach towards how fashion is produced and purchased with the aim of encouraging a different relationship with fashion?
Making to order
As a brand committed to sustainability, I felt it important to reflect that not only in my choice of fabrics but also in my approach to manufacturing. Too often the fashion industry is criticised for waste and I wanted to consciously move away from the current fashion manufacturing model which, unfortunately has resulted in a race to the bottom in terms of working standards in global clothing supply chains and an enormous environmental footprint in raw material use, chemical use and waste generation. For all these reasons, I made the conscious decision to break with current convention and produce only when customers want to buy something from our collection. The resulting impact is that resources are only used when they are needed, reducing waste and ensuring that each garment is treated individually and made with care and to a high standard resulting in beautifully crafted pieces of fashion that will stand the test of time and which customers can enjoy for many years to come. Often people are afraid or not used to purchasing made to order clothing as they are concerned that they then do not have the flexibility in making a return if for some reason the item is not suitable. Of course I have full confidence in being able to deliver beautifully crafted garments that my customers will love and want to keep but if for some reason it is not right, customers do have the option to return the garment with no obligation.
Small scale production
I am fortunate enough to have partnered with a factory that understands and is willing to support my commitment towards being more sustainable. We have a well established and very close working relationship which is based on great communication, trust and a shared purpose. Being London based, I regularly visit the factory to check production, monitor quality and troubleshoot anything that might crop up. I have personally got to know the factory team to the point that I know who made what!
Behind the scenes of an order
Once a customer places an online order, the order details are forwarded to the factory whilst simultaneously checking that everything is lined up for making up of that order, following which, the factory goes into production. Unlike large scale, bulk production, each customers order is cut individually and sewn as a one-off piece. The target is to produce the garment within 10 working days of the customer placing their order including delivery of the order to the customer. It is a turnaround time that I have carefully discussed with the factory to ensure that there is no compromise either on the welfare of the workers (given the short turnaround time for made to order garments) or the quality of the garment. Once the garment has been made, the factory would deliver the item to us using our DHL GoGreen Climate Neutral delivery service. Once I receive the items, everything is carefully wrapped in our environmentally friendly packaging, which includes a limited edition thank you card (specially designed for the Ode to the Bee collection), and sent to the customer using the next day, climate neutral, DHL GoGreen delivery service.
Moving away from 'see now, buy now' to slower fashion
I am of the belief that there is room for slow fashion in the 'see now, buy now' world, where authenticity, transparency and customer trust are key to slow fashion gaining traction. Slow fashion is taking us back to how fashion used to be, produced with care, love and attention to detail and only when it was needed. I believe that there is a gradual return and appreciation to that by customers.
Playing a part in the slow fashion movement
I believe that my approach to slow fashion is part of a growing and important movement that brings a new and a more personal experience to customers. May aim is to offer customers beautiful, sustainable fashion in a mindful and considered way that avoids unnecessary waste. I want to bring our customers along on a journey were together we share and appreciate the same philosophy - "anything worth having is worth waiting for".
The bigger picture
I am always seeking to improve the sustainability footprint of the label. I founded it with the intention of using fashion as a platform to communicate about critical environmental and social issues that deserve our attention. I translate that into action by using environmental and social topics to inspire each of my collections. For example, this Season One, Ode to the Bee collection is inspired by the plight of the honeybee and the fact that bees are under a number of pressures as a result of habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. In tandem, I also wanted to have a purposeful impact with the message of the collection, which is why I have partnered with Buglife, a non-governmental organisation that undertakes award winning work with various bee and pollinator conservation projects across the UK. Each purchase that our customers make will mean a donation being made to Buglife to help with their bee related conservation work - so indirectly our customers are helping to save the bees! Sourcing sustainable fabrics to use in my collections is an ongoing objective as well as a challenge. The aim as a minimum is to partner and work with textile companies that wee know operate to high environmental and social standards and where possible I aim to source innovative fabrics which have a low environmental and social impact as they become accessible to me. I also look to use dead stock or end of roll fabrics that would otherwise end up in landfill which means that some styles would be made on a limited edition basis and be all that more individual! My packaging is paper based and from FSC certified sources, any plastic used is either recyclable or biodegradable - but overall, I aim to use the latter to a minimum, whereas my logistics partner DHL offers the option to ship using the GoGreen Climate Neutral service.
For me, being a sustainable fashion label is an ongoing journey that requires ongoing diligence, commitment and passion - and I love it when my customers join me on that journey!