In conversation with Know The Origin
The ethical fashion movement is at a very interesting crossroads. Where we once saw the values of sustainability and social ethics reserved for specialist brands that weren’t necessarily ‘cool’ or luxury brands that were only within reach of the world’s top 1%, things are now starting to shift. High street brands are steadily introducing ethical collections and participating in carbon footprint reports such as Greenpeace’s Detox My Fashion initiative but cynicism about ethical fashion going mainstream still remains.
Through its attention to well designed basics and achievable price points, independent British brand, Know The Origin, are playing an important role in bridging that gap. Their aesthetic is millennial and urban; not two words often associated with sustainability but an important demographic often overlooked in the ethical fashion world.
We catch up with co-founder, Charlotte Instone, to talk India, hippie free garms and their office biscuit barrel of joy.
Tell us a little bit about Know the Origin and how it all began.
KTO is all about making awesome clothing - that give back to the incredible people that make them. It all came out of wondering where the heck our clothes came from. I studied Fashion Buying and Merchandising at the London College of Fashion (which is all about how you get clothing from a drawing to shop floor). I had never stopped to think about who were the people behind the process until the Rana Plaza factory collapsed happened in 2013. After spending time with the survivors of Rana Plaza it was so clear it was a physical symbol of what happens when only profit is measured - I didn’t want to be part of that. Setting up Know The Origin was a way of doing what I love (creating awesome clothing), but also supporting some amazing producers who are trying to create positive change in the fashion industry.
Why is it so important to you to manufacture responsibly?
I have travelled around India, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso - meeting farmers, ginners, spinners, dyers, knitters, tailors. They are awesome - clothing affects so many people lives. For example one t-shirt on average involves over 80 people in production. Why would I not want to value people for the incredible skilled work they produce!
How did you find and build a relationship with your manufacturers?
Finding manufacturers involved a lot of research! The more people I spoke to creating a new standard the more amazing manufacturers started appearing in the last couple of years. I’ve been out a few times to meet producers in India and just spend some time getting to know people! This is probably the best part of my job in all honesty. Being able to learn about why our producers are not only passionate about ethical fashion, but going that extra mile to support their communities, is such a joy! The more we have bonded over this, the stronger my relationships with the manufacturers have grown.
Why did you decide to focus on wardrobe basics?
Shopping ethically, affordably with style thrown in the mix is really hard. So we figured every great wardrobe starts with basics - lets make these excellently. Then grow into other pieces in the future. To help people start building an ethical wardrobe, from the basics up!
What was the inspiration behind your current collection (or processes!)?
The current collection was based on showing that fashion can be ethical, fashionable and affordable at the same time! I think for us an additional part of the process was seeing what was the best way we could support our producers with our first collection. What is the harvesting time for organic cotton? What fabric do suppliers have that would be wasted if we didn’t use it? How can we produce in the down times of production - to help ensure job security for the wonderful people that make our clothes. Then we could match our designs with what works best for everyone. Go team!
Your clothes are consciously made but still achieve an accessible price point, how important was this to you?
It’s always been really important. With Know The Origin I wanted to prove that people don’t have to compromise on their values in order to buy clothes. The only way to bring in this into the mainstream was to show that ethical fashion can be affordable and accessible. It’s a myth that paying every worker a living wage increases the production cost dramatically. It doesn’t. However in the fashion industry success is measured by profit. One of the ways of instantly increasing profit is finding places that pay lower and lower wages. Know The Origin is a demonstration that you can have your cake and eat it too. Make a profit and treat the people involved fairly. No excuses. We are hoping with our next collection to do full transparency - so you can see exactly how much goes to each stage.
Ethical fashion can sometimes come across as a bit elitist, how important is it to you to bridge the gap between responsibly made and the mainstream?
This is a challenge for Know The Origin. We feel really passionate about bringing responsibly made fashion into the mainstream, but ethical has such a bad reputation of being unfashionable or unaffordable. No wonder it comes across as elitist! One of the ways we are bridging this gap is by advocating the idea of slow fashion. If you see clothing as something you are buying and disposing on a weekly or monthly rota, then anything costing above £10 will seem unreasonable. But if you consider how much money that adds up to over a year, it’s actually far more expensive to shop like that then invest in quality, ethical pieces that you will hold on to. We don’t want to tell people what to do, just provide an option where they can invest in their values and clothing.
Who is the KTO man/woman?
The KTO gang love really great quality clothing and all things beautiful. No hippies here, but just normal people that understand how we act does make a difference in the world. We tend to attract passionate and curious people that share our values of honesty, joy and respect for people and the environment (whilst also loving beautiful branding - the two don’t have to be separated).
What does the future hold for KTO?
We are so excited to grow our team, there is now 5 of us woooo. We will be increasing our clothing styles, stocking in more stores, having a launch party this year in London as well as a couple of exciting pop ups!
Something you couldn’t live without?
The biscuit barrel in our office - great things happen with that barrel of joy.
Social media of choice?
Instagram is always a visual treat.
Favourite thing to do on a Sunday?
Love me some brunching around
Favourite responsible brand?
My good friends at Jollies Socks - are rocking life. Their brand makes awesome socks, for every pair sold they give a pair to a homeless shelter.
Pondicherry - in India. It’s a french colony with beautiful architecture and dreamy beaches.
What’s on your playlist?
A really random bunch of people from NAO, Otis Redding to Chet Faker.
Find out more from Know The Origin and shop their latest collection at knowtheorigin.com