Interview: Charlotte Instone | Know the Origin
This week we talk with Charlotte Instone, founder and CEO of Know the Origin. Since launching in November 2016 the brand has gone from strength to strength, recently being voted Ethical Consumer's most ethical fashion brand. Charlotte talks to us about the principles at the heart of Know The Origin and the importance of transparency in fashion.
Tell us a bit about you. How did you get started on your journey with ethical clothing?
My name is Charlotte and I'm the founder of Know The Origin! My journey with ethical clothing started whilst I was studying at London College of Fashion. During my degree, I learnt how to produce clothing, from design to shop floor, yet had never really questioned what the impact the clothing was having on the workers who made them. Then in 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh killed over 1100 workers. This event completely changed the lens I saw fashion through, and I knew that I couldn’t be a part of the industry as we know it, but it needed to change from the inside.
What's behind the name of your brand Know The Origin?
Know The Origin is a ‘does what it says on the tin’ kind of name. We want to use our brand as a tool to prove the importance and urgency of transparency in fashion. It acts to challenge consumers and brands alike on whether we really know who made our clothes. We encourage brands to be open about their supply chains and to enforce fair practices so that we can create a culture of accountability within fashion.
Are there any particular standout experiences you've had that made you want to take a different approach with KTO?
Having the chance to research within India and Bangladesh really shaped the way KTO looks. There are some amazing people within India and Bangladesh doing incredible work such as trade union leaders, but their agency is being overlooked because of how invisible the industry has made workers. KTO aims to support garment workers directly, not only through fair trading practices and donating profits, but by encouraging transparency within supply chains so garment workers have an international platform to be heard.
How are you doing things differently and why do you think it matters?
KTO is different because it combines ethical practices with transparency. I think this matters because neither certifications or transparency are the end goal. They strengthen each other. In order to transform the industry, we can’t be doing the bare minimum but demonstrating how radically different fashion brands should look. KTO are constantly striving to reach new ethical standards and encourage people to help us do that! We love being transparent, not only because it keeps up accountable and responsible, but because we get to show off about how incredible our producers are and the amazing things they are doing to go above and beyond certifications.
What challenges have you come up against? What encourages you to keep going?
I think one of the biggest challenges is as a very small team you are competing with huge brands with massive teams and budgets. The joy of a small business is that everything stops with you, so that means there is always an endless list of things to do. I think the thing that encourages me to keep going is going out to India and seeing the impact that across our supply chain - it is so inspiring from cotton farms to final factory!
What does 'ethical' and 'sustainable' mean to you?
Honestly, sometimes they feel like complete buzzwords when I read some articles! However, the core message we want to demonstrate when we talk about being ‘ethical and sustainable’ is about respecting the people and the planet. The farmers, workers and environment who are the backbone to the fashion industry. Being ‘ethical and sustainable’ pushes us to have integrity at the core of how we conduct business and to shift into new areas of ethical fashion from combatting racism to encouraging zero waste.
What advice would you give to others who are considering making different choices when it comes to their clothes?
If you are uncertain about whether to shift your shopping choices, I would encourage you to learn more. No sustainable lifestyle choice is born out of the feeling ‘because I should.’ Once you understand the importance of ethical fashion, it’ll drive you to make changes. First step: watch True Cost. It’s available on online and on Netflix and I cannot recommend it enough. Its an award-winning documentary that is a great introduction to the global fashion industry and why the future of fashion is transparent. Also, why not challenge yourself to make your next clothing purchase fully transparent - meaning that you know where every stage of its production happened.
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