Together Street: How it all began

Tell us a bit about yourself… what’s your background?

I was born in a little town called Stroud, in Gloucestershire, UK. Most of my growing up was done in Gloucester before I headed off to uni to study physiotherapy.  I’m now living in London, working as a physio in the NHS. When I’ve not got my physio hat on you can find me exploring the great outdoors or visiting my family, many of whom live in some fun, far away locations!

John wearing Rapanui.jpg

When did you first start thinking about ethical fashion?

In the year 2000, I was impacted by a campaign raising awareness of the use of sweatshops in producing clothes for the high street. I felt very uncomfortable (in a very British way), but didn’t like the alternative. The campaign suggested we should all start buying ethically traded or fair trade clothing, which would have been a great idea, except that at the time I was directed to brands selling clothes that looked very unattractive. I’d say they were aimed at a more ‘mature’ age bracket and they looked...itchy. I felt torn, because the more I thought about the issues, the more overwhelmed I became. Eventually, I concluded that it was too complicated to investigate any further. I tried to bury my concerns in a corner of my mind though a little conscientious niggle would bother me when I bought clothes from the high street. So, I kept my shopping to what I perceived to be a minimum, and occasionally tried to buy from charity shops (thrift stores), though that rarely worked for me. I envy people who find amazing clothes in these places, I rarely can!

What’s changed since then?  

In 2013, the Rana Plaza disaster happened in Bangladesh. Over 1000 people were killed and over 2000 injured when a building collapsed. Inside were garment workers making clothes for our end of the world. Clothing supply chains for big brands are so complex that it took weeks for brands to ascertain whether their clothes had been produced by the factories housed in the Rana Plaza building. Eventually, a number of brands including Primark, Bon Marche, Matalan (UK), Benetton (Italy), Joe Fresh (Canada) and Mango (Spain) acknowledged production or orders with these factories shortly before the collapse occurred. I felt helpless. Overwhelmed. And so sad. But, I didn’t know what to do. The issues still seemed so complicated. And, if I’m honest, I don’t know if I would have done anything if it wasn’t for a certain John Payne. John and I started dating in 2013 and later married in 2015.  He had many legendary qualities, but I think the way he responded to the Rana Plaza disaster demonstrated two of my particular favourites - empathy and action. John, along with two friends, had watched the same news items as me, but reacted very differently. They started to educate themselves on the issues surrounding the production of all kinds of items, including clothes. And, they decided to do something dramatic.


John wearing People Tree tshirt.jpg

They gave away all their clothes and from 1st January 2014 only bought clothes from brands they had researched. They were pleasantly surprised to find there were lots of ‘ethical’ and ‘fair trade’ clothing companies actually selling normal clothes! The clothes they found were well designed, good quality, reasonably priced and not itchy in the slightest. Things had definitely moved on from when I last looked! I benefited hugely from John’s research and started to feel a great sense of relief that I had finally found a way I could enjoy clothes. I used John as my personal research engine and made a flurry of purchases.  

Where did the idea for Together Street come from?

At his core, John was motivated by a sense of connectedness with people and the environment.  The Rana Plaza disaster had opened his eyes to the clothing industry and made him see how inextricably linked we are to those who make our goods and the environment in which they are made, whether in the UK or abroad. He kept wondering what he could do to play his part in this story. He explored a few options and even travelled to India with a friend to visit clothing factories. John was a web developer and came to a point where he thought the best way he could use his skills was to create an online platform for brilliant ethical brands to showcase their wares, making it easier for his friends to find them. In 2016, he started to talk with Claire Aston about launching a blog and an online marketplace.  

The name Together Street came out of a sense of connectedness, not only with producers and the environment, but also a desire to bring brands together, people together, friends together, to make a difference. He spent 5 months building a web platform and at the end of September 2016 a draft version was ready to show people. However, just before it went live, John died suddenly and unexpectedly of a cardiac arrest on the 29th September 2016, aged 35 years old.  


So, what happened next?

In the months following John’s death, I was left with a lot of questions. Was I going to choose to disengage with ethical issues again, because they are big and complicated? Is there any hope for change in the fashion industry anyway?  What difference can individuals really make? As I have explored these questions, and learned more, I have reached a critical point where I know I have to do something. I can’t go back. People matter too much. Our beautiful earth matters too much.

I also know that so many others want to respond, but, like me, simply don’t know where to start. We can’t all give away our clothes and start from scratch. We don’t all have time to scour the internet for hours, trying to unpack ethical issues and find brilliant ethical clothing companies. We may be on a budget and suspect we can’t afford ethical / fair trade / sustainable clothing (and what do those words even mean anyway?!).

Along with John, Claire and I have been deeply affected by the issues in the fashion industry for many years. Although Together Street looks a little different to John’s original idea, his example of actively trying to make a difference has inspired us to do something with the issues we care about, instead of allowing them to overwhelm us into inaction.

So, Together Street is going to be a place where we can learn more, together. It’s a place to explore our connection with producers and the environment, find out more about the issues in the fashion industry and discover all the different ways we can have a positive impact. Alongside the blog we’ve also created the Together Street Challenge; ideas and inspiration for simple actions we can all take to help change fashion for good, delivered once a month to your inbox.

We launched Together Street on January 12th 2018, which would have been John’s 37th birthday.  At the launch event we heard from the guys at Rapanui via a video they sent us, and picked the brains of a top panel of experts from the fashion industry through a live Q&A. There was a buzz in the air as the room was filled with discussions about the challenges we face when it comes to making our wardrobes more ethical and sustainable, and a sense of excitement about the power we have to bring change. Our small, everyday actions matter. And when lots of us act together, the little changes we make add up to something much bigger.

We are really excited to get going with Together Street. You are so welcome to join us.


Abi Aston Payne