1.What first inspired you to get involved with the sustainability movement in fashion?
My maternal grandmother worked in the mills in Yorkshire and my mother owned a haberdashery and wool shop and still is an incredible maker. At university we were taught; the provenance of fabrics, the art of pattern-cutting, and how to create depth in our work through historical and cultural research. This was all in order to give us a grounding to push our own creativity and set up with skills fit for the industry. Having worked in an overseas factory, launched my own made-in-UK brand in 2009, and worked across marketing and communications, I’m also uniquely aware of the pressure to make products sell from many aspects.
The challenge that I have continually faced with is, how to build a profitable business that respects the skills and life of the people actually making the products in a highly competitive marketplace. A marketplace where some brands do not play by the same rules or operate under very different economies of scale. Rana Plaza was a wake-up call that made me think, that even though I personally may work with (or be employed by) brands who I believe are doing the ‘right thing’ it is actually my role to support the entire industry to change.
The driver behind launching Other day (previously called Black Neon Digital), in 2017 was to seek out people, ideas, and new kinds of business models that enable much-needed change with the industry. So in essence, you could say the first thing that inspired me to be involved in ‘sustainability’ was seeing my mother make things, and struggle to make a profit from a business based on craftsmanship. Striving to solve this problem is one of my key motivators to this day.
2.How far do you feel the fashion industry has progressed towards sustainability?
I feel we have seen some incredible examples of progression towards a more sustainable industry such as innovative fibre recycling solutions, rental apps and circular systems infrastructure coming to scale. Yet, we still are aware that people are being treated unfairly, we are causing climate desecration, clothing is being destroyed, and greenwashing is on the rise. So I would say, we still have a long way to go. Today, thanks in part to the incredible work Fashion Revolution carry out, we have actively engaged, knowledgeable consumers/citizens who hold power by way of their buying decisions. Now it’s up to brands and the Government to ensure that lasting change happens.
3.How have you changed your own lifestyle in this direction?
I’ve always been health aware, cost-conscious, and understood on some level of the value of creativity and craftsmanship. Having worked in fashion for 20 years I have also felt pressure to ‘be fashionable’ or make sure that your status and taste are reflected in order to ‘get on’. It’s interesting that even today, we focus so much on what brands we align ourselves with, what food we eat that in a sense the same ‘belonging’ notions are at play. We are still talking about vocalising lifestyle choices. I would say my lifestyle, taste, or ideals have not changed, but I’m less interested in ‘embodying fashion’ and more interested in ‘what is fashion?’ and how we can perhaps look at past methods of making things in order to go forwards.
4.What everyday advice can you give consumers who want to make their own engagement with fashion more sustainable?
We have moved from a time where I would have said, make sure that whatever you buy is produced ethically and doesn’t harm the planet, to a time where I would ask us question if we need to consume or need to love what we buy. Can your choices create something beyond the product, a positive impact that is deeply felt? Also, I’d always recommend equipping yourselves with knowledge from trust worth sources, and of course, you can always listen to our podcast, check us out on IG and also take a look at one of our clients, Fashion Roundtable.
5.What are the biggest changes that the industry needs to make to stay relevant in the 2020s?
The fashion industry will always be relevant. After all that what we are great at, creating relevance. Yet to make sustainable practices widespread we need to really support innovation to scale. Another area that is essential is to ensure we have the tools (policy, laws, etc) in place to hold brands to account for malpractice. We cannot continue to allow the mistreatment of people of our planet to carry on.
6.How can those in the industry pressurise politicians and governments to make fashion sustainability a legal and lasting requirement?
People working in fashion and consumers need to make politicians understand all the multidimensional facets of creating a more sustainable fashion industry and push for legislation. This is the exact thing we do at Fashion Roundtable, ensure dialogue is happening between relevant parties to enable change to take place.
7. Is it getting easier to persuade brands to publicly reveal their sustainable credentials and how do you advise them on this?
I’d love to say yes, but the answer is it depends on the brand and what they are doing behind the scenes. Brands that have great, direct relationships with their supplier and partners are generally happy to share how they work with their supply chain or what impact their business has on society/environment. However small brands may not have the resources, knowledge, or finance required to communicate their credentials. So they can often appear ‘less’ sustainable than big brands who have the ability to create glossy sustainability reports or work towards set goals. This was one of the key drivers why we created Project 2030. To give brands and consumers a common framework to understand sustainability.
It's been over 2 years we have been working on that, and we are in the middle of some interesting changes with the project which I’m looking forwards to being able to share more widely. Overall, my advice to brands is based on what they have access to in terms of data, expertise, capacity, finance, and desire to communicate their sustainability efforts. I do believe that all brands should communicate what they are doing now and what they are working towards in the future with regard to sustainability.