QC: What does ethical fashion mean to you?
To me, ethical fashion is not the future, it’s happening now. It’s inevitable. We have to become more conscious of our environment. We have to be more conscious about the impact of our choices on the planet.
A lot of people don’t know that it’s the second most polluting industry in the world. A lot of people don’t know that it takes 40 gallons of water to make one t-shirt. The more and more knowledge about it you get, the more shocking it gets and the more imperative it has becomes for me not just to make personal life changes but with Aroma how we communicate, how we design our process and our whole supply chain.
We’ve been bombarded by fast fashion for years. Everything is disposable, everything is replaceable. You can catch up with the latest trend for 10 dollars. As a consumer, it’s important to make the switch in terms of mindset.
QC: What do you think is a barrier for consumers to adhere to ethical fashion brands?
I think there are two things. For one, price: ethical fashion is in a lot of ways a lot more expensive, especially compared to fast fashion. The costs to make it are completely different. The second thing is a shift in thinking. We’ve been bombarded by fast fashion for years. Everything is disposable, everything is replaceable. You can catch up with the latest trend for 10 dollars. As ethical fashion brands, we can’t compete with the turnover of fast fashion. As a consumer, it’s important to make the switch in terms of mindset. It is mass consumerism that is really tough to change.
But I think that there is a change. Fashion is a lot more cosmopolitan and geographically diverse than it was a generation ago. And the importance of transparency, sourcing, supply chain is changing. Consumers are a lot more involved and especially millennials: we crave to know, because now we can, and we can have an opinion about it as well. I think that is really helping ethical fashion.
QC: What do you think is a barrier for investors to put their money behind ethical brands?
On the business side, the margins are not as lucrative. For the products I make, it would be impossible to make huge volumes. There’s only so many people that can weave these fabrics and so many of them that have perfected their skills. For example, the fabric from Mali gets its color from the mud which is dried in the sun, and to obtain the right color it has to be done several times. Just making the fabric takes approximately three to six weeks.
But you can see now a lot of big players, such as the Kering group, are becoming very active about sustainability and showing people that you can make changes.
When we work with these fabrics, in a way we are contributing to preserving these ancient techniques of weaving. It’s very complex handwork, and the craft is dying out.
QC: What do you think the ethical fashion movement/industry should be doing better?
The design aspect, especially for smaller companies. It’s important to realize that ethical fashion should be refined and sophisticated. It shouldn’t look like it was made in your backyard.
As a startup, you have budget constraints and you don’t necessarily know where your funds are better invested. This is the second brand I launch, and I learned a lot from my first brand. But one thing that was very important to me was having a professional website. Your website is your business card. If it doesn’t look professional, you lose credibility.
QC: One of the big conversations in fashion right now is about cultural appropriation, is that something you’ve ever been confronted with?
I personally haven’t been confronted with it, I wanna say one of the most recent examples of this being a huge issue was when Stella McCartney was using African prints. I read some of the blogs and I was really saddened by the reaction of some people. They were using words like “cultural appropriation” or “fashion imperialism”. I was like, wow, why look at it that way, why not appreciate the fact that this global designer is sharing this with the rest of the world? But then, when I looked closer at the conversation, what I realized is that a lot of people were angry that she didn’t give credit. She didn’t specifically mention that these were African prints, and the fact that she didn’t have much versatility in terms of her models added to it: she only used white models. So there were two conversations going on at the same time.
For Akoma, I was a little bit concerned at the beginning, especially when I was working with Kente. Considering the background behind this fabric, I didn’t want to offend anyone but then I thought that there is no way I can. First of all because I only have the best intentions: to share the beauty of this fabric, of this culture, in a very tasteful way. I’m not making skimpy clothes out of royal cloth.
But more than that, when we work with these fabrics, in a way we are contributing to preserving these ancient techniques of weaving. It’s very complex handwork, and actually in a lot of artisanal industries, the craft is dying out. For some of these crafts, you need years and years and years of practice. A lot of people don’t have the patience to nurture them, they want quick money. So I think that’s also something that should be looked at in a positive way: if we create demand for these fabrics, that also guarantees their preservation.
When it comes to the ethical fashion industry I was very pleasantly surprised to find how helpful the industry is. There’s a mutual appreciation for each other’s vision and people want to help you move forward.
QC: What is one thing you learned through your business on the fashion industry that you wish more people knew?
Generally speaking, the fashion industry is a tough industry, it can be quite cruel. When it comes to the ethical fashion industry I was very pleasantly surprised to find how helpful the industry is. It’s not to say that they’re not competitive, but there’s a mutual appreciation for each other’s vision and for the responsibility that every player is taking on. People want to help you move forward.
QC: What are you excited about in terms of the ethical fashion industry?
This growing demand for sustainability is creating a lot of interesting new inventions in textiles. There’s a new leather made of orange peels and more and more innovative ways to create new textiles. Even in terms of packaging and business material, there are such good options now. I was always hesitant to have business cards printed, but then I found a company that makes them our of recycled cotton. I’m very curious to see what the future brings in that regard.