Started in: 2013
Based in: Devon, UK
Ethics: Fair Trade, Organic, sustainable and mostly vegan
You probably would have heard of ‘ethical fashion’ but didn’t pay much heed to what it really means. But perhaps when you’d know what goes into making your super affordable stylish clothing and how each stage of its production process takes a toll on the people who make it and also the planet you’d think twice before spending your money on them. When you’d see the inhumane working conditions, aching backs and calloused fingers on the production line you’d realize why your $9.99 t-shirt is so not worth it.
Thanks to the increased awareness of conscious consumerism the new age designers and brands like Hawthorn and Co are changing the face of fashion industry (and what goes behind), and are bringing ethics to this multi-billion dollar industry through fair wages, ecofriendly materials and clean production practices.
At this point let us introduce you to Amy Whybrow, founder of British ethical fashion brand Hawthorn. Amy grew up in South Devon, UK before heading to London for her studies and later working in the fashion industry. She worked as an accessories and print designer for many years with the big boys in the industry like Puma, Fred Perry, White Stuff, Great Plains and Radley.
Being a nature lover and an outdoor person who loves to hang out on the beach, London got too suffocating for Amy so she decided to quit it all and go back to her roots to start her own label, something that she always dreamt of. She says, “Working for the big companies was a great and invaluable experience, but I think there is a real reward with achieving your own vision. When I see people wearing my designs and loving what I do, it is such a great feeling.”
Hawthorn is an ethical fashion lifestyle brand that offers a range of naturally inspired
prints on super soft bamboo and organic cotton clothing and accessories. The company produces everything as per fair wear foundation standards meeting fair pay and good working conditions for its laborers.
Starting your own brand is not easy, especially if you are set to start working in the ethical space. We asked Amy about her challenges, inspiration and her advice for those wanting to start their own ethical fashion brand.
What are the challenges of starting your own business? Did your previous experience and network make it easier for you?
Amy: “My previous experience definitely helped as it gives you a good insight into dealing with factories and the costing and sourcing side of the business. What to look for in terms of quality and also how to build a commercial range.”
What inspired your decision to start an ethical fashion brand?
Amy: “The environment has always been a big issue for me. Appreciating nature means I also want to do my bit in protecting the environment, when you are surrounded by coast and countryside you can see some of the impact that commercialism has and can see the bigger picture. Also I saw there was a need for an ethical brand that was accessible and not too ‘bohemian’ so that got me thinking to start on my own. Combining my design experience and passions seemed like the perfect fit.”
What do you draw inspiration from?
Amy: “I can draw inspiration from anywhere. I incorporate a lot of colors and patterns from natural elements into my work, such as ripples in the sand at low tide, or a color palette from moorland heathers. You can get some really surprising results and that is part of what excites me.”
Where do you manufacture your products? As a new brand was it easy for you to find the right suppliers and manufacturers?
Amy: “Our accessories are made in the UK and our clothing is made by carefully selected ethical suppliers.
I also believe that people should be paid a fair wage. There is no joy in people suffering in the name of Fashion or Beauty. Workers should feel happy and proud of what they make, so you can feel happy and proud to wear it.
It does make sourcing and finding the right suppliers much harder. There are certain things that you just can’t get traceability for, but we try to find the very best what we can. Even down to recycled paper packaging.
Although ethical fashion is becoming more popular, it is still relatively small and so the demand for the suppliers to catch up is not quite there yet.”
Does the brand have any program through which it gives back to the society?
Amy: “Not yet, but this is something we are definitely considering in the future. Teaming up with some local charities. Perhaps tree planting or beach cleans (something we do personally).”
You have a vast experience in fashion, working with some of the biggest names in the industry. From your experience tell us what changes brands can incorporate to make their products more sustainable and ethical?
Amy: “I think it is actually easier for the larger brands, as they have more power over manufacturing and sourcing through supplier relationships and buying volume. Some large brands even have their own factories and overseas sourcing departments, so could implement a sustainable strategy fairly easily. The issue can sometimes comes through factories outsourcing, without the knowledge of the buyer.
I think that there have been a lot of changes in recent years and some of the big players are getting more involved with traceability and ethical production, so it is definitely moving in the right direction but there still some way to go.”
Being a vegetarian yourself, do you intend to start a vegan line without animal leather?
Amy: “This is certainly a possibility if we found the right substitute, that was a natural and environmentally friendly material.”
What advice will you give to young designers who are starting out their own labels? How can they incorporate ethical aspect to their brand?
Amy: “It takes a lot of research and hard work. You need a certain amount of tenacity to not give up and stick to your goals, but it is definitely worth it. I would also recommend getting as much experience as possible before hand.”
Your future plans
Amy: “We are currently working on expanding our womenswear offer into a wider range of clothing options for next year. As mentioned getting involved in charity programs is also on our wish list. Our long term plans are to open more stores and take Hawthorn overseas. Ultimately aiming to be one of the main go to brands for ethical fashion”
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