I feel as though within just a year or two, there has been an explosion of online boutiques offering the most beautiful ethical and sustainable fashion. I couldn’t be happier for the turning tide within the fashion industry and the “always looking to the future” part of me can’t wait to see what ethical and sustainable fashion designers and brands have in store for us down the road.
One of the quality e-boutiques out there right now is Gather&See, a collaborative effort led by Alicia Taylor and Stephanie Hogg. They have differentiated themselves from other online boutiques by offering more colourful, patterned pieces – a departure from the popular offerings of a more minimalist and neutral fashion.
From Osei-duro to A Peace Treaty, Gather&See is the go-to e-shop for spring and summer clothing and accessories. The site carries a stunning range of summer dresses (maxis, minis and everything in between) in colourful patterns and flattering silhouettes. The whole site oozes summertime days on the beach, you won’t be disappointed.
Fashion Revolution Day has come and gone, but I wanted to ask Taylor and Hogg for their thoughts on the global campaign and for their philosophy of fashion. I was curious to know how they, personally and professionally, would carry the day’s values throughout their life. But before you skip down to the interview, take a look at the outfits that I put together using only eight Gather&See pieces. I could’ve made a few more combinations but I figured you’d get the idea.
I was never very good at permutations in school but fashion permutations, now that’s more my style. I’ve been donating even more pieces from my spring/summer wardrobe right now, even more determined to reduce and have only key, versatile pieces with which I have endless (well, almost endless) outfit possibilities.
Q&A with Alicia Taylor and Stephanie Hogg of Gather&See
EF: How did Gather&See recognize Fashion Revolution Day this year?
Alicia Taylor and Stephanie Hogg (T&H): Our focus for Fashion Revolution Day (FRD) was to introduce the people behind our ethical brands to our customers, under the FRD strap line of “I Made Your Clothes”. We profiled seamstresses and designers and they talked us through what a day in their life was like, how they feel about working in the garment industry and about their own connections to the products they make. We presented it online and in a small brochure and have received a great deal of interest in their stories. Once again, proof that there’s an increasing interest in fashion from consumers in the provenance of their clothing. We backed this campaign up with plenty of social media activity to help spread the word and a promotion offering a discount to customers in honour of FRD.
EF: What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the campaign?
T&H: It was great to see #WhoMadeMyClothes and #FashRev all over Twitter and Instagram. It really did feel like there was a genuine buzz around the campaign. It was also good to see people asking the question to brands directly. It would be interesting to know what proportion responded! High-profile supporters such as Stella McCartney absolutely help the cause as well and we think it is this amplification of the message which has made it an effective campaign this year in terms of awareness building. We were also happy to have attended the Business of Fashion (BOF) debate with Livia Firth, Andrew Morgan and Lucy Siegel. Having big name fashion titles such as BOF support and address the issue is a positive thing.
EF: How was it received by your peers in the UK?
T&H: This year being the second year, we have found there to be more interest and recognition from our peers about what FRD is all about. We have had several friends and customers contact us to find out what they can do to get involved and know several people who have nothing to do with ethical fashion directly who still chose to wear their clothes inside out and pose the “Who Made My Clothes?” question.
EF: What would you like to see done differently next year?
T&H: Of course, there is still a mountain to climb. Turning the social media campaign into something more tangible is a challenge. Awareness building is key but it would be great to see more mainstream brands getting involved and standing up and answering the questions we are asking of them. The mounting pressure of more and more consumers becoming involved in the campaign and demanding better rights for garment workers can have an effect. We would also like to see more coverage on FRD in the media. Whilst there has been the odd mention and list of ethical brands in online editions, it is quite baffling that some of the big supplements in the UK did not give the story a bigger airing. In fact, one had a huge profile feature on Zara’s success and financial investments this very weekend but not a single nod to Fashion Revolution Day and the human cost of fast fashion. Choice timing indeed! The media need to take some responsibility just as brands, governments and customers do.
EF: How can the message of this campaign be carried throughout the year? How can we keep it top of mind in consumers year-round?
T&H: This is so important. With Earth Month and FRD taking place in April it has become a key time for the movement, but spreading the message has to continue throughout the year. Gather&See follows an editorial-style calendar, so we ensure that our content on site and via our social media channels is relevant to what might be going on at a broader level. Every couple of weeks we focus on a different aspect of ethical fashion and try to convey the message in a way that it relates to what is relevant and current to customers at that time. It is a matter of keeping a really strong drumbeat going throughout the year.
EF: How do you communicate your values to your customers?
T&H: Clearly communicating our values, whilst maintaining a desirable and appealing online fashion destination was key to us when we built Gather&See. We explain how each of our products fit into our values on each product listing, you can then delve into more information by checking out the designer page which explains their story. Customers also have the capability to shop by philosophy, which again we explain what each one consists of. On top of this, we highlight our values regularly through pieces on our blog, The Gatherer, and through social media. The response thus far has been great, and we have enjoyed interacting with our customers and discussing the issues with them. We hope that this is something we can do more of in the future.
EF: How do you live out your values on a daily basis?
T&H: To us, Gather&See really is a lifestyle in itself. We set it up because we believe in the values that we present implicitly. We are very aware of the impacts our choices can make on others and the environment and try to be very conscious of the decisions we make. We both shop with great consideration, choosing vintage, other ethical brands and organic, where possible. Alicia grew up on a farm and I (Stephanie) lived in Africa, which has made both of us very aware of the environment and environmental and social responsibility from a very young age. We often retreat back to the countryside, take long walks and make sure we eat well. We believe that living your life in a way that always takes others into consideration, whether that’s buying ethical foods or supporting local farmers. As the consumer, we have a very powerful choice in changing things for the better. Doing the small things like saving water, recycling and conserving energy is so important and it is sad how many people still don’t do these things despite it being made so easy for us.
EF: What are some of the sustainable manufacturing techniques available now that excite you? Any particular brands that you admire most for their environmental efforts?
T&H: The exciting thing about where we are at now is that new innovation and technology is making sustainable manufacturing techniques better and better. The possibilities seem to keep growing. One of our brands, Cus, from Catalonia uses materials formed from recycled plastic bottles, denims and also Tencel. We own pieces made from that fabric and are always impressed with its feel and durability. It is also exciting to see big brands such as G-Star looking to innovation with their collection made of “bionic yarn” formed of plastic waste from the sea. Zero-carbon emissions is not new but something that in this day and age all brands should adhere to. It will be fascinating to see what the future holds.
EF: How about ethics, which brands are really carrying the torch on this side of fashion?
T&H: Lalesso, whom we have stocked from the beginning, have always been inspirational to us. They work with craftsmen in Africa and train and pay them a fair wage. They have really helped other brands see what can be done and the amazing positive effect they can have. Recently, Osei Duro in Ghana and Hiro+Wolf in Kenya have impressed us with their commitment to creating a better deal for artisans.
EF: Any new brands you have recently discovered and that you would like to carry?
T&H: We are always on the look out for new brands with great stories. We are going to be working with a small brand called Seek for autumn/fall 2015 who create incredibly beautiful hand-printed and hand-woven clothes using natural dyes and organic materials. The collection is beautiful and we can’t wait to get it live. We also have a new jewellery brand coming on board called Quazi Design, based in Swaziland, who create amazing jewellery from recycled paper and pulp, really innovative. There are others we have our eyes on for which you will have to watch the site.
EF: How do you think we as a whole can reconcile consumption with sustainability and ethics?
T&H: There simply has to be a shift in mindset, something we’re already beginning to see. Fast fashion with its vast human and environmental costs is simply not sustainable. It becomes a matter of understanding what we actually need, buying less but better. As resources continue to run out, even big-name brands will have to address the fact that we cannot go on the way we are. Education is also key. From a young age we need to get children to understand the impact of consumption.
EF: What does the future fashion industry look like to you from a manufacturing, design, commerce and consumer perspective?
T&H: That is a huge question! We know that there is a long way to go but believe that there can be a better future. In manufacturing, the exploitation of garment workers simply has to end. Enough is enough and governments, trade unions, brands and customers all have a responsibility to make the future better. In terms of design, innovation and technology will play a massive role in creating more sustainable designs. Online commerce will continue to dominate but we truly believe fast fashion has seen its day and we will go back to a slower cycle, with consumers questioning the supply chain and holding brands accountable, just as we have seen with the food industry. Transparency will be key, it is already a buzzword for retailers. Yes it is a big ask, but we simply have to make change for the better. This is non negotiable.