To celebrate fashion revolution week, we've collaborated with the amazing Cecily Blondel of the Emperor's Old Clothes, a fellow sustainable fashion designer, to answer questions about sustainability, being ethical, our businesses, our motivations for making a change as well as our dreams for the future.
Started as a response to the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013 which shook the fashion world, Fashion Revolution Week aims to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased. As a first step they advocate transparency in the production process encouraging you – as consumers – to ask brands #whomadeyourclothes on social media.
What was your motive for starting your business?
Cecily - Quite simply I’ve always loved to make things. There is something so special and significant about objects that are made from scratch by someone’s hands, not just for the maker but for the recipient too. I wanted to bring the joy of this private handmade process to the public marketplace as an alternative to the mass market fashion industry.
Emily - After working as a footwear designer for 4 years and having seen the first-hand destruction caused by mass-production and the constant need for brands to make styles redundant and to drive people to constantly re-invent their wardrobes. I didn’t feel comfortable contributing to the industry anymore, it was literally make or break as a designer for me and as a conscious consumer, I felt that there was a huge gap in the market for really well-made sustainable basics, so I set-to creating just that.
What was your journey in starting your own business?
Cecily - The business began quite organically, originally I created and sold more out-there costume-inspired clothing at Snooper’s Attic in Brighton as a hobby whilst working in hospitality. This was where I met the other founding members of Flock. I have had various studio spaces in Brighton and Hove over the last six years but when we opened Flock on Sydney Street we established our cosy studio space beneath the shop and haven’t looked back since. In the last two and a half years we’ve grown to a team of five and added stockists in Edinburgh and Somerset to our outlets.
Emily - I began by researching all of the problems caused by the fashion industry in depth in order to work out how I could contribute positively with my own brand. I read lots of books and reports and went from there.
What is your business mission?
Cecily - Our business mission is to spread the handmade joy. As we become more and more reliant on technology as a society, it’s really important to ensure that traditional creative skills are not forgotten. We truly believe that handmade is better than industrial factory standards: it’s higher quality, allows for more creativity on the part of the maker and positively contributes to the local economy.
We spread the handmade joy to our customers by showing them how their clothing is made and enabling them to take part in the design process with our custom and bespoke services. But it’s not just about our wonderful customers - we make sure to spread the handmade joy at Emperor’s HQ too. We offer trainee and work experience placements throughout the year teaching the next generation how to sew.
Emily - Our aim is to combat the ‘throw away’ mentality in order to combat the impact fashion has on our environment and minimize its effect on climate change.
How and where do you work?
Cecily - Most weekdays you can find me at our Brighton studio working with our team to cut, sew and finish all our one-of-a-kind designs. I'm definitely more of a morning person and like an early start. I run our bespoke service so I have fittings each week with clients, as well as working upstairs on the shop floor one day a week in our Brighton stockist - Flock on Sydney Street - where our studio is based. I love that I get to wear many hats in my business - every day is different, so I never get bored!
Emily - I work 3 days a week from a shared office space in Brighton, which is wonderful. I am surrounded by a range of different businesses, anything from dance tutoring to marketing agencies and yoga instructors. The diversity is a fantastic way to bounce ideas off people and to get honest feedback. I spend the other two days making stock and creating new styles in my lovely little home studio in Brighton and then I spend Saturday in my little shop on Bricklane, London and Sunday is my day off.
What do you think of when you see the hashtag #whomademyclothes and why is that important to you?
Cecily - When I see the #whomademyclothes hashtag I feel that a fresh sense of perspective has been awakened. Social media can so often have negative associations so it’s refreshing to see platforms like Instagram being used to start a serious social debate. Transparency is such a powerful tool because it doesn’t allow any space for apathy. When so many people are still being exploited throughout the supply chain and production process within the fashion industry it’s high time for a power shift and the efforts of Fashion Revolution are creating some real traction.
Emily - It is fantastic how widespread the fashion revolution movement is and how much of an impact it has made in such a short amount of time, I think it is so important to everyone to consider what the true cost is of cheap fashion: Not just from an environmental perspective but also from an ethical point of view… Think, if your t-shirt is £5 – and traditional mark ups are 5x – Material and labour costs were only 80p… Can you imagine how much the material manufacturers/ farmers/ garment workers were paid to achieve that price point?! It’s horrifying!
It’s Fashion Revolution week! How are you celebrating?
Cecily - We’re really excited about Fashion Revolution Week! We’re celebrating with #imadeyourclothes introductions to each member of our team on our social channels, by collaborating with the lovely Emily of Zola Amour for this interview swap and by presenting my fashion love story.
We can’t wait to see what other brands and consumers get up to too. Lots of our friends are part of the fashion industry and it’s so great to get to see more about their teams and working practices as well as that of big, better-known brands.
Emily - We’re celebrating by publishing a couple of fashion focused sustainable living articles on our blog and will be speaking at a ‘meet the maker’ event at the ‘fair shop’, located on the Queens road in Brighton on the 24th April 1-2pm. We will also be showing off our amazing team on Instagram and some behind the scenes pictures.
In an ideal world if you had the power to change absolutely anything, what would you change first and why?
Cecily - I would implement a global living wage. Economic security is key to an individual’s empowerment. How can you ever make life decisions or explore your dreams or creativity if you’re living the life of a wage slave? In the 21st Century it is unacceptable for people to continue to be so exploited. This is why we are proud to be a living wage employer and encourage every other employer to become one too.
Emily - I would stop the devastating effect that plastic is having on our planet and it’s contribution to poisoning marine life, animals, human beings, the ground, the air and water. This would include an absolute stop to plastic-based fabrics such as polyester, acrylic and blends (blending natural fibres with plastic ones means that the natural fibres are also unable to biodegrade)…. Now where’s my magic wand?!
What do you think is the future for fashion?
Cecily - I really believe that a shift in consciousness is taking place. Whilst there is a place for big fashion companies, their current working practices are not sustainable either for society or for the environment. As more and more people open their eyes to these issues I believe there will be increased pressure on big companies to change their ways and a wider arena for smaller brands like us to establish ourselves as leaders of a more ethical, sustainable and joyful fashion industry of the future. People want their voices to be heard, to get more involved in their wardrobes and feel good about fashion again. Ethical brands like ours, Zola Amour and many others are offering sustainable, feel good fashion for the future.
Emily - In my imagination there would be no need for ‘sustainable fashion as a category… There would simply be ‘fashion’. Garments would be correctly priced, be non-exploitative and well made.