And we're off! Together Street launches in London
Together Street kicked off on Friday 12 January 2018 with a launch event at Runway East, in central London! The evening began with live music, drinks, delish nibbles and a chance for people to start winding down from the working week. Guests tested their ethical fashion knowledge with a questionnaire before co-founder, Abi, gave us an introduction to the story behind Together Street (more of that in a later blog post!). We watched a video sent to us especially for the launch by the guys at Rapanui before then moving on to an interview with a top class panel of experts: Kate Richards, owner of the The Keep Boutique and Charlie Davies, Novel Beings stylist and founder of ethical accessories brand SAHEL, were joined by Edwin Phiri and Dr Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, lecturers from the London College of Fashion.
Following the interviews we opened up to a Q&A session, with questions from the audience and via Twitter. Questions included:
‘What do the terms ethical, sustainable and fair trade actually mean?’
‘Is it possible to find brands that are stylish and ethical?’
‘Is it possible for ethical fashion companies to make a profit?
‘Can we assume that if we are paying more for something, it is more ethical?’
There was an open discussion about the complexities and challenges of engaging with ethical fashion, but also some great practical advice on how to get started. Here are some of their thoughts...
The Complexities: Getting Started
Fashion supply chains can be complex and there are many issues to consider, from the people who make our clothes and the conditions they work in to the materials that are being used and how they are sourced, processed and transported. For example, there are all the components of an item to consider - where have the buttons come from? Has the metal for the zipper been ethically mined? How was the environment affected by this process? Were animals treated badly? Why does the product cost this amount? While dirt-cheap prices are a good indicator that someone along the line is losing out, higher prices don’t necessarily guarantee better ethics. How can we trust a brand that claims to be ethical? Where do we start?
Small vs Big Business Ethics
In general, it is easier for small, independent brands to have better oversight of their supply chains and ethics when compared with big brands. One panel member questioned whether high street brands could ever actually be ethical, though it was noted that some big brands are making serious efforts when it comes to sustainability, for example Marks and Spencer’s, with their Plan A. Encouragingly, we heard some well-resourced larger brands are starting to do business differently, for example Patagonia is sharing new technologies and business models, making it easier for smaller brands to access information and improve the way they do business. However, it remains a serious challenge for small businesses to survive and grow.
The panel noted that we are in the middle of a cultural shift. We're seeing a move towards 'slow' fashion with consumers buying fewer, better quality items, that have been made well, which mean more to them, and will last longer. This not only benefits the planet (less waste) but also benefits individuals economically in the long term. Consumers are increasingly interested in the stories behind their clothes and are aware that the pressure on environmental resources is mounting, which means there's a strong business case for brands to do better in terms of ethics and sustainability.
Good news and Resources
The good news is there are plenty of things we can do to get started on this journey of change. Natascha pointed out that the first step is to “understand that there’s an impact on people and planet with every decision we make.” It's helpful to think about our own ethical criteria as a starting point - do you know what ethical issue matters most to you? The second step is to scrap guilt and start thinking positively. As Charlie said, "We can make good choices, so why not?” We need to think about what we can do and what can we buy (or not buy)!
Educating ourselves empowers us to make more mindful and informed decisions. The panel told us there are loads of resources out there to help us along the way. Throughout this year Together Street will be posting brilliant resources (here's 3 to get you started) for you to watch, read and listen to, so watch this space!
Together Street Challenges
The launch event ended with an invitation to all of us to start making small steps toward change, together. Each month, Together Street will be sending out challenges to help those of us who have so far felt overwhelmed by all the issues, to take action. We invited the panel to give us some of their own challenges and we loved their suggestions – from learning how to sew on a button (extending the life of our clothes by mending them is a great way to reduce their impact) through to asking questions of our favourite brands (more of this in our April challenge)!
This year, we plan to explore all kinds of issues around the fashion industry and look at the many different ways we can go about building more sustainable and ethical wardrobes. We'll look at boycotting vs non-boycotting, how to look after our clothes, what to do when we want to get rid of clothes, the joys (or not) of buying second-hand, showcasing brilliant ethical brands and... we want to tell awesome stories of people like YOU who are on the move!
On that note, we'd love to collect your stories of change so if you discover something new, sew a button onto something, buy something from an ethical brand - share it with us here or tag us on social media (@togetherstreet). We want to hear from you!
Let’s do this.