This series of articles is something we have wanted to write for some time, ethical fashion is an important and emotive subject; it is increasingly more so as the long lasting effects of fashion and in particular fast fashion are becoming even more understood and importantly being publicised. Clothing manufacture has profound effects on our fragile planet, from the lives of the people involved to the raw materials and the footprint it leaves behind.
There seems to have been a swelling of feeling against the effects of fast fashion over the last 12 months in particular, the Duchess of Sussex said at the British Fashion Awards, 2019 is the year where ‘it’s cool to be kind’. With fashion promotion we too have a responsibility to ensure people have all the facts so that they can make informed decisions about their clothing choices.
What is ethical and sustainable fashion? There is not exactly an easy, simple answer to this question and the more you look into it the more complicated it becomes. Companies have their own definitions, policies and standards, but maybe not coupled with the transparency that allows us to see how deep these claims run. That is where the recognised standards come into their own to help us negotiate these brands pertaining to be ethical so that we can have trust in their convictions.
More is constantly being understood about the full journey of our clothing from start to finish, more research and greater knowledge leads to higher levels of understanding but also shows how far there is still to go. With this greater understanding comes greater questions- which is not a bad thing. Further and deeper questions about the true ethics of production and the true sustainability of materials. The debate will rightly rage on; what is ethical and sustainable today may not be deemed as such tomorrow.
In researching these articles it has been apparent there are brands that claim to be “ethical” and “sustainable”, they have policies in place but don’t necessarily stand by their convictions; and then there are those that go above and beyond with ethical fashion truly being at the heart of what they do, Frugi being an absolute leader. We have an insightful exclusive interview with Frugi founder Lucy Jewson who explains how they ensure the brand remains true to their ethical roots and encourages us all to be mindful of our fashion choices. It is truly inspiring for the future of fashion by showing an ethical clothing business can be successful, we also have a few exciting bits of Frugi news for you too! I’ll just say winning, and leave that there….
There is so much to discuss on this topic that we could write and debate, and write and debate some more, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The aim of these articles we are sharing this week is to try and arm you with the information so that you can make your own informed decisions about the clothing you choose to buy, or not to buy. We have our headline interview with Frugi who explain what it is like to be an ethical brand, we explain a bit more about ethical and sustainable fashion and we feature brands that have ethical and sustainable credentials for you to choose from. We also have some suggestions to help lessen our footprint as consumers.
Interview With Frugi Founder Lucy Jewson
Frugi was founded in 2004 by wife and husband team Lucy and Kurt Jewson when they struggled to find clothing to fit over their son’s cloth nappies and Cut4Cloth was born. Lucy had started out as a marine biologist, subsequently working in sales and marketing before realising this didn’t quite fit with a young family and deciding on a change of direction! In 2008 they became “Frugi” and increased their collection to include breastfeeding clothing. They now have a team of over 80 people at their headquarters in Cornwall, UK and Europe and continue to increase their product range, more of that coming up! They are also now moving onto an exciting new phase for their company, they have a new CEO to help continue the growth of the business whilst maintaining the ethos that they stand by.
From the start Frugi set out the ethics behind their brand. To be organic, to be ethical, to be environmentally responsible, to be fair and to be quality over fast. They want to show that great ethics, passionate people and superb design can help to change the world.
Frugi only use organic cotton, they are certified by the Soil Association and GOTS, they work extremely closely with their factories and suppliers, they use recycled materials, they work to reduce natural resource usage; they are passionate about putting the planet first and making a difference.
We talk to Lucy about Frugi, ethical clothing and exciting news of what we can expect this year!
Do you feel that Frugi’s ethics are understood and appreciated by the nursing mum consumer?
We regularly carry out consumer surveys, to understand the consumer. We have our customers who have grown up with us as a brand, the “dark green” customers, the customers who started off with the washable nappies and have grown with us. We have the hard core who love our ethics and buying from a small business; we also have the customers who just love our designs, this includes those who maybe buy our clothing from say John Lewis. Our clothing is ethical but beautiful too, we appreciate people unfortunately do buy out of vanity so design is very important to us. Organic and ethical is not always the first reason why people choose to buy from us and we still need to appeal to the mainstream. We want our products to be worthy but beautiful too.
Do you feel that your high standards of sustainability, ethics and clothing add value to your business and products?
Hugely. Being organic and the quality of our products really does give the feel good factor to our consumers.
What do you think is the biggest environmental issue as a result of clothing manufacture?
The amount of clothing that is produced. People do not need as much clothing as people seem to think they need. In the 1950s people had a couple of outfits in their wardrobes and now peoples wardrobes are bursting with clothing. We need to reduce the amount of clothing we purchase and not be all consuming.
Then there are issues with water usage, raping of the soil, bio-diversity, land usage, micro-plastics, social issues, but we need the facts and figures too to know what we need to target. We are actually meeting with the Soil Association this week to discuss water usage.
-what is Frugi doing to help play their part in addressing this?
We are not only ethical but key is the quality that allows plenty of use from our clothing. There is a great market for second hand Frugi clothing due to the quality that really does ensure its longevity. People pass their Frugi clothing down the generations and round family and friends, swapping clothing is another great way to maximise the use of our clothing. This is something we have plans for this year, watch this space! We are also honest and transparent in all that we do.
Do you think there is greater movement in the industry towards fashion with a conscious or do you believe there is still a long way to go?
There has been a bigger ground swell in the past 12 months, in particular climate change and regarding plastics. All companies have a CSR but when you see their price point how can it actually be ethical when they are selling the clothing so cheap? With the cost of materials, transport etc how can the workers be being paid and treated fairly, and are they actually auditing their processes? How can they say they are ethical, the prices just don’t add up.
Do you find much resistance to the organic and ethical standards you set out to achieve?
We don’t see any resistance, the only resistance really is to the price of products, but do people really need so much stuff when they can buy quality products and reduce their consumption? We are no more expensive than the likes of Boden and we also work hard on our designs to ensure the longevity.
Frugi started as an ethical brand so it has probably been easier for us than changing from a cheaper cost base to an ethical brand. However they do say a larger brand who maybe has the biggest and most difficult change to make has the power to make the biggest impact.
It is not just about disposable income or social media expectations, Education is so important so that people understand the impact of their clothing choices and do not buy something that exploits people or harms the environment. If people haven’t watched the Stacey Dooley documentary they really should, it is excellent for getting the message across on the impact of fast fashion and really hits home.
Do you get much support from within the industry?
In the early days (Frugi started up in 2004) there were a lot more constraints i.e. printing techniques such as light colours on darks, now with new generations of technology things are much easier and improved. Originally organic clothing was more muted and natural shades but as technology moves on there are more and more possibilities. It’s a bit like when I became vegetarian in my teens and there really wasn’t much choice, now there are so many options available it is mainstream. In the main we can do most things conventional textiles offer, we have come a long way in 15 years.
-Were there any other ethical brands starting up at a similar time to yourselves?
There were two others, one is still in existence the other is not, however there are many more in the market place now.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The concept of producing high quality clothing that can be re-used by generations goes against the mainstream fashion retailers looking to sell “fast” fashion. How do you promote this concept?
This is what we promote and that is what we are about, we extend the use of our clothing lifetime, such as by design with roll over cuffs and waistbands on children’s clothing so that they last longer (2 way design). We also sell reversible items so you get two options in one garment. Design is very important to us. We also get a lot longer life than most other childrens’ clothing. Due to the lifetime of the Frugi clothing there is a great second hand market where the clothing keeps it value as it lasts and lasts, we encourage these swapping parties etc! Over the new few months we have a few projects coming to fruition so watch out for that, including second hand and reuse ideas!
We really promote innovation in design-we want our clothes to last longer and to be able to be used more. We have exciting things ahead on this but unfortunately I can’t say what!
We also have big projects on sustainability, with each new collection we add more sustainable products, such as our Outerwear Range made from recycled plastic bottles.
We also crowd source ideas from our customers and the Frugi Family who are so incredibly important to us.
As well as reduce and reuse do you promote or have any established links for recycling of your clothing?
We really do promote the re-use of our clothing, whether it be sales or to family and friends and we have more happening on this this year.
What does GOTS mean to Frugi?
We have been members of GOTS since it started, it was not around when Frugi actually started up. It is so important for us as it helps demonstrates that every element and every step in our supply chain must meet the approved standards. We are certified by Control Union at source and in turn approved by GOTS. The Soil Association certify and audit us for our GOTS licence and we work closely with them.
How do you ensure you remain transparent in all that you do?
The certification helps, however we also go further than GOTS. All our manufacturers have to detail every traceable element of the manufacturing process. We are an honest company, we appreciate that everything has an impact and we are prepared to change and adapt too. We have honest discussions with the likes of the Soil Association, who we are meeting with this week.
How did you decide to base manufacturing in Turkey, Portugal, India and China rather than in the UK?
When we started up there was just no organic manufacturing in the UK. There were only ten in the world, 9 of whom turned me away wondering what I was about! That is when we met Amit who we have worked with from the start. We are now really great friends with children a similar age and have really grown up together. Hugo (Adams , new CEO) has just been out to India to visit the manufacturing and also he has visited the orphanage we support through Chance for Childhood.
It would be great to manufacture in the UK but it is not really feasible, there are not the mills offering the fantastic choices that we currently have and we choose to manufacture near the mills we use.
-how do you manage to ensure the standards of welfare and production are maintained and improved at your manufacturing sites?
We have established relationships but we also have four people based out in India who are constantly going into the factories to ensure the standards are met and check the quality.
-Was it difficult to find a CEO who understood the ethics of you brand?
When we met Hugo we knew immediately he would be “on brand”. I felt I could only take the business so far, having run it from a start-up business we now need someone to take us to the next level and he has that skill set. I get to do all the good stuff as a “Brand Guardian” to ensure the brand sticks to its values and Hugo has the more practical and business knowledge that we need.
Love your 100% recycled material outerwear range! Clothing made from recycled plastics seems to be taking off, are you looking too extend this to further product ranges?
We will soon be launching recycled backpacks and lunchboxes and you may see something coming through in the maternity ranges soon too!
-what are your thought on the plastic micro-fibres that are released during the washing process?
We want to do all we can and so also sell the Guppyfriend clothing bags that are used in your washing machine to capture the damaging micro-fibres. Ultimately there needs to be a change and washing machines need to be designed to capture these micro-fibres to prevent them from entering the water courses.
Your Planet Frugi and charity work is extremely impressive-it is no wonder you have won awards for your work. What do the awards and recognition for your great ethics mean to Frugi? (Every year Frugi give 1% of turnover to charity, currently Chance For Childhood, Little Lifesavers and The Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Living Seas Programme)
We actually get awards fairly regularly as we tick a lot of boxes, mumrepeneur, start-up business, environmental credentials, showing that you can be green and successful. The award we are most proud of is “The Queen’s Award for Enterprise”, we are the first Children’s clothing brand to receive the prestigious award, and also ahead of much larger established businesses. That really was a special moment.
Awards are great in that they help people trust you. When you have a new baby the world can be a scarey place and you want to do the best for your baby and that stamp of approval helps people make the decision as to the clothing they are going to buy.
With regards your packaging- what are the eco-credentials of packaging into and out of Frugi?
Everything that come into Frugi is compostable, and packaging that is sent to the customer is also bio-degradable. However we are not perfect, and there are improvements that we want to make. We obviously need to protect the clothing during transportation too and currently we have a team looking at packaging innovations.
What are the next targets Frugi have set themselves?
We want to increase our brand awareness in the UK, so people know they have a better ethical choice when choosing their clothing. We also want to extent our international base, with Germany being key for us moving forward.
Can you let us know what to expect in 2019 from Frugi for nursing clothing?
We have fantastic authentic designs created by our in house design team. For our new Summer of Scillyness Collection that has just launched, the designers went to the Isles of Scilly to sketch puffins and other great stuff for the collection. We are currently working on designs for our A/W 20 collection, the design team have again visited a secret location (!) to start on the design stage before we move onto the sample stage, then pre-orders and fabrication.
We also excitingly have a brand new womenswear collection launching in just a months time to watch out for! Also we have some fantastic new twinning items that are being launched in just two weeks time! (Hot off the press!)
Thank you very much for your valuable time on what is an ever more important topic for fashion, as breastfeeding mums we want to not only give our little ones the best start we can, but also help safeguard their future.
Thank you very much and if any of your breastfeeding mums have any comments, feedback or ideas for us we also love to hear from you so please do get in touch!
Further to our interview CEO Hugo Adams visited India and had this comment for us:
“An amazing week in India that reinforces everything magical about our brand. Been talking to the organic farmers & their families, seen various organic cotton growing processes as well as the dedication that goes into ginning, spinning, dying and knitting. A pleasure to also visit the cutting and sewing factories of our two longest standing production partners. Very proud of the care, attention and dedication that goes into our product as well as the positive impact on the environment and local communities. We’ve filmed it all to show what we do and how we do it. Content series will be available on all our channels shortly!”