FABRIC FOR FREEDOM

 

Founder: Esther Knight
What: Ethical Fashion Brand
Field: Fashion
Where: London
Website: fabricforfreedom.co.uk
Follow: @fabricforfreedom

How to create a sustainable fashion label

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Fabric for Freedom creates awareness for the exploitation currently in the fashion industry. 

It is about time a sustainable brand produced trend driven, ‘cool’ products that appeal to consumers because first and foremost we are a fashion label. Shopping with them gives you more, with clever cuts, they seek to approach clothing in a new way. Fabric for Freedom creates optimism through their collections, encouraging the idea that we should celebrate with people, fashion, collaboration and with creativity.
 

The problem of today is FAST FASHION and how it’s leading to global exploitation and contributing to the 36 million people living in modern day slavery. The use of non-recyclable textiles and short product life cycles means ‘fast fashion’ has led to the clothing industry being the second largest polluter in the world. 

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Introduce yourself and tell us what you do…
I’m Esther Knight, the founder of Fabric for Freedom; which is set to launch in October AW 2018. I’m currently working really hard to make the launch happen and we’re going to launch with a campaign video during fashion week with our first sustainable collection.

At the moment I am still working full time in my job as a buyer at Vivien Westwood; a lot of startup entrepreneurs will know that you can’t just give up work at the drop of a hat and expect to be earning money. So I’m still working up until the business is set up and running.
 

How old are you and where are you from? 
I’m 28 and I’m a northerner. I’ve lived in London for 5 years now. I absolutely love this city and couldn’t think of setting up a fashion brand anywhere else.
 

Did you go to university, if so what did you study?
I went to Northumbria university in Newcastle. I always knew I wanted to be a fashion buyer but I didn’t do it as a degree as I thought it would pigeon hole me. I thought doing a business degree would benefit me more by setting me apart from the crowd and looking back I think I made the right decision.

It’s so important as a buyer and when starting up your own business that you know how the product effects the organisation because that’s what’s going to make you money at the end of the day. Knowing all about accounting, finance and marketing has helped me in setting up my own business today.
 

How did the idea come about?
I’ve had the idea for 3-4 years. I was sick to death of the way the fashion industry operated. I’ve worked for many brands and there’s been so many things that I disagreed with; through the treatment of people, suppliers and the exploitation in developing countries. I feel very passionate about abolishing human trafficking so to find out there are slaves that are being made to make the clothes we were on our backs in underground factories is awful.

At first, I was really concerned with the social aspect and I remember reading about 300,000 cotton farmers committing suicide each year. Working with suppliers in Hong Kong and they’re still working at 3am in the morning and not going home and it’s because us as buyers and companies need to fulfil the orders otherwise we’re just going to pull out and they’ll go bankrupt and we’ll just look for someone else to exploit. It’s always the suppliers who are suffering.

Another problem is the basic health and safety needs. It upsets me so much. In Turkey, some of the factories don’t have any health and safety rules. With regards to dis-stressing jeans so many chemicals go into that and these workers aren’t using masks and its normally men and they die early. That’s when child labor comes in. The bread winner of the family dies early because of these basic health and safety needs not being there and so 13-year old’s have to go to work to provide for their family. It’s a massive vicious cycle.
 

“There’s so much exploitation here in the UK and I got fed up of hearing the words ‘that’s the nature of buying’. It’s like you’ve chosen this career path and you’re going to be punished for that. But what happened to doing what you want to do and not being badly treated as a result. There’s so much negative connotations and it’s become the norm to be horrible in the fashion industry.

It’s not just problems in the developing countries but it’s the way you’re treated when first starting out and throughout your career. It stirred something in my heart and I thought there must be another way where we can make clothes’ without hurting other people”. - Esther

Working for Vivien Westwood has opened my eyes to the environmental impacts as I only had exposure to the people side. The pollution, wastage and how are consumption rates are negatively impacting the fashion industry. We are the second most polluted industry on our planet and if we carry on with the way that we’re going, it’s going to have disastrous effects. So I wanted to create clothing that helps the environment and people.
 

Zara’s turnaround rates are two weeks and so there seems to be so much wastage. What happens to these items of clothing?
There’s so much wastage, even before you put the product into store. You have to go through multiple stages of production and samples. For the things that don’t get sold, they end up on the wastage dumps. Most of the time when we pile unwanted fashion to Africa which is good in one sense but also harms them in another sense whereby the African producers can’t run their own businesses because they’re getting all this wastage shipped into their own country.

Consumer’s mentality is that we want more and need this and that and it’s really affecting different aspects of the fashion industry. When you don’t buy something instantly and save up for something you actually appreciate it more. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t buy fast tracker but there’s ways in which we can help.

With regards to my brand, we are going to introduce the concept of wearing a piece two different ways. It’s all about educating the consumer on ‘Let’s build greater longevity with your clothes’. It’s ok to shop and love fashion but let’s just do it right and make it reversible just so that you can see your cost per wear increasing.

Going forwards we want to do workshops on how to up cycle your garmnets, recyle materials or even shopping vintage and charity shops.


Where did the name come from?
These three words dropped into my head one day when I was deciding what I wanted to do with my career. What do you do when you’re in the circumstance where you’ve spent your whole life wanting to be a buyer (or whatever career avenue you’ve chosen), then you get to it and you don’t like it. I was in a predicament where didn’t want to support this industry that I didn’t agree with and what do I do now. I’ve worked my whole life to be this and I don’t want to be anything else. I was quite lost on what I wanted to do and literally these three words ‘fabric for freedom’ popped into my head.

The reason I’ve chosen this is because through my clothes we will create freedom. You can have freedom from the exploitation we spoke about, freedom from poverty. We also have a charity initiative attached to our brand where we are working with numerous charities that help prevent human trafficking and child labor.

 

How have you managed to find which charities to support and which suppliers to use?
This was probably the easy part. The way it started was that I knew which charities I wanted to work with and I knew that the most effective way to support these organizations would be finance.

The reason why I started this as a business and not an NGO is because I felt that the way that I could maximise my impact for the good is by creating a business that creates huge revenues to then make the differences that I want to make. With regards to the supplier’s side, it was hard to find suppliers with small productive runs. When you produce products, the smaller number of units you produce the more expensive it is. So our first collection has a higher price point that what I wanted as I wanted to make ethical fashion available for everybody.

At the moment ethical fashion is really expensive and it’s not actually that trend-driven and the number one reason people buy is because it’s stylish. The more I can order and the bigger the brand gets, the more I can reduce prices through economies of scale.


I’m excited to release these fabrics to consumers. I found a fabric the other day that was made out of a eucalyptus plant. A lot of the fabrics that we’ve used are recycled and organic. The only problem is that it takes more time to find them, but these are for our future collections.

I love your designs. They’re very Scandinavian and high-end, quite similar to COS and other stories. How much are each of your pieces?
It’s between £80-120.

 

Where do you get inspiration from for your designs?
You can get inspired by so many things. But the inspiration behind my designs would always come from catwalks, fashion shows and exclusive design products. Creating what people have made before but with my own spin. Working for Vivien Westwood has shown me that you can make designs from absolutely anything. It’s made my appreciate for art sky-rocket. Now I can go into an art museum and I can see things on garments and see how historically clothing has been made. There’s only so many ways you can cut a dress and so the newness comes in the art, print and fabric.

I really want my brand to appeal to the millennial customer, the young, cool trendy customer. To do that I need to know what’s happening in the music industry because these two-go hand in hand.

 

The online fashion space is becoming so competitive now with all these influencers having their own brands. Where do you sit against your competitors? How do you think you’ll bring something different to the table?
Currently I can’t see anything online or on the high-street that is my kind of product. It won’t be long before brands start doing what I’m doing. We’ve got H&M conscious, Zara ethical fashion, Topshop and ASOS have started to do their own collaborations. But to me, there’s something different to having a brand that is solely and truly ethical. Yes, I can be going to H&M conscious and be confident that I’m doing the right thing as a consumer but actually the rest of their industry is really bad, so it doesn’t justify it at all.

Currently, I don’t think there are any sustainable brands that are really trend driven and led by design. Creating my brand is going to be a bit like a protest in a way. We’re going to offer fashion that’s fair but we need to show people why they need to buy fashion that’s fair. It’s going to be quite an aggressive approach to marketing.

Brand awareness is always the hardest part. It’s going to be a bit of a struggle at first but we plan to not only use ethical bloggers but also other bloggers to get everyone into the habit of shopping this way.

 

How do you market yourself? So, once you launch, how do you get the word out? How do you get people knowing about the brand?
I’m planning on doing everything I can. Contacting all of my friends and family. I think word of mouth is a powerful tool. I’m going to contact every magazine possible. We’re in the process or sorting a photoshoot, to create photography and video content.

You can’t underestimate the power of networking. Before I started the brand, I did two years of networking and that’s why it was so easy to find suppliers and getting my marketing up to scratch.

Doing panel shows and campaigning for ethical fashion. We’re also going to be at LFW wearing all the clothes and networking there.
 

Is social media the way forward? Will you be using influencers and fashion bloggers?
If you want to succeed you need to collaborate with them. They’re so important in this day and age. But I don’t just want to be sending my clothes to anyone for them to waste. My clothes are meant to be treasured, that’s the whole point of the brand.
 

I assume you don’t just want any blogger and you want the right fit to represent your brand as that will communicate to your consumers what your brand is saying.
They need to have an active following too.

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How did you initially fund the business?
I took out a loan, funding has been the most difficult part. I’ve put my own savings into it up until the point where you’ve launched, then you’ve got something to prove. It’s really hard to get finance when you’ve just got an idea and a lot of people don’t (wisely) trust you.

Once you’ve launched, there’s loads of options like crowdfunding and angel investors-although these won’t go near you until you’ve got a product to show. So after I got a loan I managed to find an investor which will see me through to January.
 

What other challenges have you come across along the process?
You can’t give up your job. The whole reason I want to do this as well is that I want to show people that you can do it if you put your heart into it and that doesn’t mean that everyone who starts their own business has it all together before they try. The biggest thing is my time-I can only work in the evenings and on the weekends up until launch.

I’ve been in a predicament where I’m over qualified for loads of part-time jobs so I have to stay in my full-time job whilst I’m starting my own business. You can easily get over stressed and over whelmed with it all going on. It’s really important that you keep your peace and break everything down in these situations.

 

What do you think you still need to learn in order to take your business where you want it to be?
When you’re a creative start-up especially you neglect the operational side of things. Things like insurance, data protection, GDPR, tax and audit. I need a big crash course to remind myself. You can’t wait until you’re in a position where you’re ready before starting.

The good thing is to make sure you’re networking all the time. I have friends in business and he sorted out my pitch deck for me and you looked over my business plan. You just have to use the connections around you to help in the areas you’re struggling with.

You’re never going to know everything.

 

You’ll figure it out along the way. We put so much pressure into having it all figured straight away, even in our lives we get to a certain stage and we’re expected to be in a long-term relationship, in our perfect job and it’s the same with businesses.

If you have an idea backed with passion just go and execute it. You’ll figure it out along the way.

If it was that easy then everyone would be doing it.

What’s your one piece of advice for someone about to start their own business? 
I think it’s so important to view things from a positive stance. You can never underestimate your own potential value. It’s so important not to speak negative thoughts over yourself. Things happen, you get setbacks, that’s life. When setting up a business, there’s so many things you can’t control and you need to make sure you set small goals and have a positive attitude.

Where the mind goes, the man will follow.


What’s the big dream for Fabric for Freedom? The 5-year plan?
I want to have opened a store in 5 years’ time with higher revenue to make as bigger difference as possible. I want it to be the biggest sustainable brand on the UK high-street. There’s a gap in the market. It’s my job to predict what consumers want to buy.
 

What does the definition of success mean to you?
The people that have succeeded that I respect the most are always the ones that have remained true to their character. No matter how successful they’ve been and how much they’re managed to achieve, they’re still humble. They want to bless others even when they’re not going to get anything in return and that is very rare to find.

 

To me, if you can stay normal and be humble in your success-that to me is the most successful person. How can you empower others when you look down to them?

 

It takes a certain level of focus, resilience and character in each individual to want to make their mark on the world. What do you think taught you to be this way and what childhood influences have contributed to this?
I’m in overdrive all the time. I can’t even watch TV. I’ve learnt from a young age that no one is more responsible and authority for your life and if you don’t like it you have the power to be able to change it. You need to help yourself. You can’t expect people to do things for you. I’ve been blessed with amazing bosses who have pushed me and encouraged me and you always need that but you always need to help yourself.

I was very close to being a high-school dropout; I got kicked out of school before my GCSEs. Coming from a nice background, I was really upsetting my parents. I ended up getting tutored from home and my tutor kept saying that I needed to drop some subjects. But my parents were like she doesn’t need to, we know who our daughter is, she’s a bright girl and she’ll be able to do it.

That belief from my family in the most difficult time in my life and their life. They never doubted my ability to do it. If I don’t do it, no one is and that’s what keeps me determined and gets me out of bed in the morning to do two jobs.
 

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?
When I first started out, I mentioned about me going into buying and it wasn’t what I expected and wanted to do at the time. I realized that every time I tried to quit my job or leave, I would get rewarded via a pay rise or a promotion.

I think that sometimes giving up too early is a failure within itself. If I hadn’t stuck that out, I wouldn’t have learnt the knowledge and expertise needed to do what I’m doing today. It’s literally set my career up. It wasn’t the most desirable job ever but it turned out to be and it made me love my career again and gave me passion to do what I’m doing.

When you’re in a mist of a problem, it’s really hard to see what you’re doing, but when you look back you see that it shaped you for better opportunities. So, it isn’t a failure but I thought it was at the time.
 

What does your morning routine look like?
It’s not much at all because I am not a morning person. If I could change one thing about myself it would be to be a morning person. I snooze for two hours, starting at 6am. But no matter how good my intention is it doesn’t happen.

But I’ve been trying to incorporate studying and listening to podcasts in my morning routine.
 

If you could gift one book to someone what would it be?
Conditioning of the heart by Joyce Mayer, until you’ve got the right mindset and attitude and allowing feelings dictate your actions then you can’t achieve the things that you do. Words can really limit you. 


If you could have a gigantic billboard, metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to billions, what would it say and why?


You’re stronger than you think you are and you can achieve what you think you can achieve. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else is going to.
 

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To value yourself, and the importance of appreciating who you are and not wanting to be anyone else because you’re original and unique.


 

16 JULY, 2018

@fabricforfreedom

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