What inspired you to start up Outsider fashion?
I studied Fashion Design at university and always knew I wanted to do my own work but I wasn’t quite sure how when I first graduated. So I did work placements with small designers like Jessica Ogden and Susan Cianciolo who both did a lot of upcycling and hand embroidery, they both had a unique approach to making fashion. I then went on to work for some high street brands which was a great learning experience but made me really question the way in which we manufacture garments, the materials we use, the motivations of the industry. After about three years of research and trying to push for some sustainable/ethical approaches within the brands I worked for – I decided the only way for me to fulfil my interest was by doing my own thing. So I started Outsider to create garments or fashion in an ethical and sustainable way without making myself or my customers look like a hippy. That was the other inspiration – I am let’s say an Eco-worrier – I am conscious of the issues and want to make a difference but I also want to wear beautiful things. When I began Outsider there weren’t any labels out there doing styles I wanted to wear made in a sustainable way. So I also wanted to solve my own wardrobe dilemma.
When choosing your own outfits, do you always stick to ethical fashion?
Well it’s very difficult for me now – I have to practice what I preach! I do a lot of lectures to students at universities and when you stand up and tell them they should think about fashion in a different way the first thing they do is look and analyse what you are wearing! So I mainly wear my own things – the luxury of running your own label! And when I buy things – yes I try to make the most ethical choice available. Which is getting easier all the time, I usually buy jeans from Kuyichi online from ethicsgirls.com, I go vintage for party dresses and for basics I head to Marks & Spencer as they have such a forward thinking approach to sustainability and business. No one is perfect but I try to make informed and conscious choices rather than purchases on a whim.
Have you been pleased with the response to the line?
Yes I really have, the best thing is the customers who come back season after season and that send me nice encouraging emails. My blog is all about how real women, i.e. my customers, wear Outsider styles and it’s so lovely to see people enjoying wearing something I created. The feedback you get is essential too, so I know which styles they like and what they want next.
What setbacks do you face in running a fashion line ethically?
I think running any new up-and-coming fashion label is challenging but I suppose for me it’s all about fabrics. This is where I start and this can take a long time as I have to do a lot more research then perhaps a conventional designer would do. But I really feel the “limitation” of fabrics I use actually pushes the creativity in a different way. Plus it is worth it when people comment on the quality and feel of the fabrics. There is a difference between a wool blend you find on the high street and the 100% organic merino wool suiting I have sourced from an ecological mill in Italy – you might not even realise by just looking at it – but when you feel it – people know quality instinctively. Secondly of course it’s all about where you get your styles made, but I think all designers want to work with good factories now, whether they talk about their ethics or not.
Are they worth it?
I think I answered that above! But yes of course! I always think to what the founders of Howies said about how they make business choices – they use the rocking chair test – when making a choice on a factory for example they consider if they will feel proud of that choice when they are retired and sitting in their rocking chairs. I am happy and proud to source and manufacture responsibly. I couldn’t do it any other way.
Do you have any advice for students who want to spend more money on ethical fashion, but are on a budget?
There are more and more brands coming through at various price points so hunt around – make thoughtful choices. I think it’s all about buying a little less and buying better – think about investment pieces that are well made, will last and are versatile. Girls – buy one amazing sustainable dress and experiment with changing the styling with opaque or patterned tights, belts, statement jewellery. Boys – invest in a sustainable jacket or organic jeans and same thing play with styling with scarves and vintage brogues. Then check out the sample sales for bargains – all ethical labels do sample sales at least once a year. Of course vintage is a great way to go too as well as getting creative and revamping some charity shop finds.
We are aware that you have stockists in other European countries. How do you hope to expand further?
My main focus now is to build the online presence – I want to make it as easy as possible for people to shop sustainably. I also am working on new product areas for next year but all in very early stages now. Watch this space!