Meet the small fashion brand consumers who are reminding us why we love independent stores and sharing what transparency looks like to them.
We’re guilty of summarising all retail customers with one voice. “They don’t like spending any more”, “they all buy less often”, “they’re all being picky”, as retail sales declines and customers demand transparency and sustainable processes with their buying power. Fashion Revolution publishes the Transparency index annually to measure transparency across 250 large brands, asking them to share information such as their policies and governance, their social and environmental impacts as well as other areas. Which has led us to ask, what do we as the buyers want to see from small brands?
COVID-19 has come on the scene and caused wreckage. Since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020. UK clothing stores saw a sharp fall at -34%, as the streets became empty and the focus moved online. Sadly, our smallest beloved brands have been the most affected. Chloe Street asked fashion designers to share their thoughts via an article on the Evening Standard, with the consensus worried about the survival of smaller retail brands as cancelled events give fewer people a reason to buy and global supply chains cause the process to stop.
We asked 5 creatives who shop small about their relationship with independent brands to shed a little light on why we respect smaller brands and what we’d like to see more of.
Graphic design student Kristína Danková lists her favourite independent fashion brands as Indigo Luna, ethically made yoga wear and swimwear for women, ran by a family in Australia and Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company who also campaign for sustainable practices. “The reason for this is because their clothing is easily accessible” she continues, “they’re truly transparent (as a brand) and the fabrics feel amazing on the skin. Also, the designs are effortless and easy to combine with anything.” When asked what she’d like to see from small brands she says:
“Being 100% transparent – in multiple areas including their wages, who they work with, where they source their garments, how much energy and water they use.
More upcycling – I appreciate the smaller brands with eco-friendly garments, but a majority tend to use brand new resources, whilst there are more than enough used clothes and products. I believe reusing and upcycling old items is the key now.
Lastly, the possibility to re-sell clothes or having free returns.”
Photographer Angela Huizer shares her thoughts from Amsterdam, a city known for being ahead of us all in the slow fashion conversation. Good quality that will last a lifetime is important to her. When shopping she focuses her attention on unique vintage finds as there are so many beautiful items in this world that deserve a second life. Her favourite local brands are Mae & Ivy who sell vegan-friendly bags for all occasions, and environmentally friendly clothing brands Rita Row and Unrecorded.
“If I do shop, I only shop with not just small brands but sustainable brands.” she says “We have this store in Amsterdam called Verse Good Store and they have all the small and big sustainable brands. I always try to find out what is sustainable about each brand, because I feel like the word sustainability has been greenwashed lately and has become a regular label for even brands like H&M which leaves me with question marks.”
“Mae & Ivy is my favorite local brand from The Netherlands and they have really cool bags for a fair price and their leather is all Vegan! Rita Row became a more popular brand during the years but they always have amazing quality and beautiful esthetics. They are a bit more on the expensive side but I think it’s worth it for a nice piece – which you don’t see copies of from too many brands. And last but not least Unrecorded!! Which is also my favourite local brand. They have all the basics you need for men and women from t-shirts to the perfect hoodies and neat shirts and it’s a fair product.”
MC Barnes, photographer, writer and motivational cheerleader for the modern womxn admits despite shopping with smaller independent brands, she would like to shop more, with her favourite brands including Mowalola, Saul Nash, Bethany Williams, Wesley Harriott, Didu-Official, and Mimi Wade. “I’m not shopping from big brands during this climate as I feel it’s irresponsible to. I think smaller brands deserve a lot of support as I know how hard it can be as an independent artist/freelancer. Likewise, many smaller independent brands usually are more sustainable and thoughtful towards our planet and those working for them.
I’d like to see smaller brands sharing their processes and behind the scenes. The struggles, hardships and how they got through those hardships as well as the wins, as this information could help other small brands.
I think nowadays especially in this pandemic, everyone is slowing down and likewise being more empathetic with their approach and their connections with people. They are returning to passion projects, things that inspire them and unfinished pieces; they are also reaching out more to friends and having meaningful conversations, and I think these small but monumental things will contribute towards changing the industry. Basically becoming more human again. Fast fashion, feels almost non-human like how fast everything is produced and how people are treated and expected to work like these fast immune robots.”
“I must like the product first before buying, then the brand and lastly, the price.” Iris Sastre-Rivero admits to shopping for small brands, but not as much as she would like to. “I don’t support (a small fashion brand) just for the sake of it (and) it’s not always affordable to buy from independent brands. Availability of the item is another common problem.”
“The last time I shopped independent was Grassfields because they are a black-female owned business producing most of their products in different African countries. They really get the community involved, not just “helping” them but creating dignifying sustainable jobs.” Iris would like to see smaller brands producing in developing countries. “If these countries could supply products to the world, shipping rates will also get better.” Iris shared with us images of 3 talented machinists, “They are all based in Cap Skirring, Senegal, and are excellent at their craft. Opportunities for them could happen if more independent brands like Grassfields considered them in their production chain.”
Celesta Ballabani, a graphic designer who designed our fashion revolution poster is constantly seeking to learn more about independent designers, she says “Given the fact that the fashion industry is (sadly) one of the most polluting, I wish for smaller businesses to work more on their ethical values and focus on green issues. I try to shop mostly second – hand or support local stores who make their own items. I’d also like for smaller brands to work on their advertising so that we can see more of them and have the opportunity to shop from them and slow down fast fashion.
Nowadays it’s great to see a lot of small independent businesses focusing on environmental and ethical issues. I just learned about the brand Reformation for example and I’m happy to check them out and support them! It takes a lot of work and resilience for independent businesses to build a name for themselves, but it’s not impossible, so I’m looking forward to seeing more and more ethical businesses growing!”
For the sake of hygiene, underwear (socks often included) has always been an exception to the second-hand rule. Ruby Rose, from Ruby Rose Sews, lists her favourite brands as Brighton Lace and ColieCo Lingerie – both underwear designers, “I love them because I can’t make my own underwear and I like the fact they are honest and open about everything. From where they source their fabrics to wear they are made. Always posting behind the scenes pics of things getting made and created which I love and find really inspirational.”
“I love seeing designer brands just being honest about everything and more transparent – good and bad! If something isn’t perfect, own it and say how you are going to deal with it. Also working with charitable organisations, many brands do this and I really like it – but I know for small brands it can be hard and another added harder aspect to running a smaller brand.”
Artist Jamel Duane Alatise lists his favourite brands as EJDER because of its tight community and Kaan Amjad, inspired by the founder himself Kaan Amjad, the clothes and the narrative he creates, and his relentless pursuit to do so. “We have an opportunity to become a part of their story – especially as creatives – we support them (literally, financially) and we’re affecting real lives in the process. Plus, I would much rather support those genuine talents in need, than another company that’s part of the corrosive fashion machine.” Jamel would like to see smaller brands doing more with less. “Creating more 1 of 1s; prioritising purpose over-popularity; using their platform for our collective good and being more inclusive throughout the entire process.”
Ruairi works for Less watches, a brand working with upcycled wetsuits and admits to being biased towards the more eco-friendly brands – which isn’t a bad thing! When asked to share their favourite small brands, Ruairi replies with “there is a small brand on the west coast of Ireland making bags called Atlantic Equipment independently owned, eco-friendly materials and the founder is a semi-pro bodyboarder, she’s pretty cool.
Mammukko makes bags from previous sails and life jackets but I wouldn’t necessarily call them a fashion brand. Bellroy and Charlie Feist (who produce recycled bags) also include eco-friendly materials and their marketing is quite in tune and responsive to today’s happenings.”
Ruairi believes smaller brands should do what the big companies don’t do and shares an example, “They should be responsive to their users. Many big brands are only lately introducing eco-friendly materials when people have been wanting them for a while. many smaller brands have been offering tutorials and fashionable face masks in response to the pandemic, things that the larger corporations are far too slow to react to.”
By asking opinions from people who choose to spend with smaller brands, we’ve understood buyers beyond the buzzwords the industry categories them by and realise that each person has a different need and ask from smaller brands in regards to transparency, which can vary from being inspired by the founders’ story and the brand’s purpose to wanting honesty and insight into the production process.
Providing a useful product and being consistent in providing comfort and good quality are vital factors – that’s what keeps us loyal! Being able to marry this with ethical practices throughout the garment making process, from sourcing a factory locally or abroad which pay fair wages and use materials which aren’t damaging to the environment, to ensuring everyone is paid fairly throughout as the garment moves from being spun into a weave to landing in the customer’s hand. We want to know it, and we want to see it, through behind the scenes stories and we don’t mind seeing the downfalls, many small brands have taken the opportunity to allow us into their homes during the lockdown and have been honest about the fears and hopes of the future of their business.
We love small brands because they are closer to us, they have a mind and a personality, and they expose us to a side which feels human, something that fast fashion brands have removed as they build alternative worlds often hiding the horror happening behind the scenes, from unsafe factories to appaling wages.
We can all play a part in supporting smaller brands, Creative Debut came up with ways you can support a friend with a small business. You can start by finding out which small brands are in your neighbourhood, asking them how they operate and #WhoMadeMyClothes and buying from them online.