We continue to tell you the stories of the finalist brands of the Be The Change Awards 2019, their motivations, their challenges, their next steps. If you have lost the first part, you can find it here: First episode
Women clothing, to compose a capsule wardrobe. They ship anywhere in the European Union. Marine Vicenzotti and Rebecca Parienti started Wess in 2017, originally as an online store for ethical, sustainable and vegan clothing, creating capsule wardrobe. At the end of 2018, they decided to stop reselling other brands and create their own. “It made sense because we really wanted to push minimalism consumption via the concept of capsule wardrobes developing our idea of 5 pieces that can be mix and matched to create 30 different outfits as well as our fashion basics line with co-designed fashion staples. The whole idea behind the concept of selling capsule wardrobes came when we started to change our personal way of consuming fashion and realise that one of the main problem in the fashion industry is overconsumption. We wanted to show women that you don’t need to have overloaded wardrobes to feel good and be stylish”, says Rebecca. “I was working in the fashion industry at the time and when Marine and I decided to launch Wess, we wanted to use this fashion experience to help other women. Back then, we were both living in London as flatmates and discussing ethical fashion quite often. The project of Wess appeared quite quickly to be honest. Marine is a born entrepreneur and what I was personally imagining as a side hobby for us was a viable company for her. One day at the pub between 2 gin and tonics we decided to create Wess. We wanted to use all this energy, skills that we had learnt somewhere else to work toward something that we believed in and to help other women take the leap toward ethical fashion”.
“During the year, at no particular moment, we also launch fashion basics that we all need in our wardrobe (the crisp white shirt, the day to night dress, the so-chic breton top …). For these fashion basics we ask our community to vote on every aspects for few month and then avail the product in a preorder campaign. When the pre-orders are done we produce the item in an ethical, sustainable and vegan way. That is what we did with our first product: the reversible breton jumper, it we were very happy with the results”. They also add personal advice on clothes sent (for example, what to wear with them or how to personalize it), so when someone buy it, there is more chance for her to cherish it and wear it as much as possible. Always in order to fight against overconsumption.
For now they only use organic cotton, labeled GOTS, produced by various partners in India with whom they have been collaborating for years. The production of clothes is made in India by a cooperative of women from the slums of Mumbai, who can work with a real salary and with safe and pleasant working conditions. “In the cooperative there is also a school, a creche and a sponsorship program for the women grow kids to send them to university. There is also a medical center, a mutual fund and so on. It is a real social project that go way beyond the manufacture of clothes”. As packaging they use regular recyclable big envelops.
The challenges they face: The main one is linked to the very high cost of developing a sustainable business (raw materials, factories, packaging …). Furthermore, the final cost of the products is, of course, higher than that of fast fashion. “Sometimes people don’t understand why, because they have been used to fake prices for so long. So there is also a part of education”. The other challenge is to find the right partners to make sure they are as involved in sustainability as them.
Next steps: They are working for a more sustainable packaging. They want to develop the pre-order system more, in order to produce quantities as close as possible to the demand. For the new collections they are exploring other materials like Tencel and recycled fibers. They want to expand sales to other countries.
UN Sustainable Development goals: 5, 12.
Women clothing, with essential and quality garments (shipping all over the world). Emilie Evans decided in 2016 to dedicate herself to this project after working for the fashion industry, also for a well-known shoe brand, shocked by a system that causes damage to people, to the environment, to consumers, by the drive to buy more and more. At work she realised the number of collections to be released, four times a year, with products that have to be always different in order to encourage new purchases. On a business trip to Hong Kong, she was impressed by the smog that blurs the sky, thinking at the beginning it was simply foggy. It is during the journeys that Emilie became aware of the shocking footprint of the industry. “As we walked up a narrow backstreet near a factory entrance, we were met with towering heaps of off-cuts from the recent production run. Rubber, PU, foam, expanded polystyrene, leather, polyester, insole board, outsole board… you name it, it was there. This was only a few of the many discarded mountains of waste we would see during our travels. All of which contribute to the staggering 12 million tonnes of textile waste thrown into landfills each year”. Emilie decided not to contribute to all this. She resigned and worked for two years in two coffee shop jobs while she was studying for her project. This is how was born Zola Amour, which offers clothing to wear long, simple, in natural biodegradable fibers, certified: organic cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo. In the “Transparency” section of their website, suppliers and certifications are indicated. Even the thread is natural: 100% GOTS certified organic cotton. The zips are in recycled polyester. Clothes are handmade in the UK. The packaging is in recycled tissue paper and the box in recycled cardboard. The articles of the collection are inserted little by little as the need arises to insert a basic piece, not every season several times a year.
Next steps: Coming soon a top that can be worn in five different ways. Organising more pop up stores, also in other countries (Germany, Holland for example). Find a fixed sales space. Improving the site, especially the section on transparency. Introducing a charity program as soon as possible.
Sustainable and luxury swimwear (shipping all over the world, free in Europe). This brand was not among the finalists, but we would like to tell you the story. Vicki Griva has studied and worked for a while in Italy and we can interview her in our language. She also had professional experiences in fashion companies, before starting her own brand, which impressed her and pushed her to undertake something different. She tells me of two episodes that were the straw that broke the camel’s back. The first one was in an Italian company of the Luxury Fashion sector: for the new fall/winter collection she found a whole chinchilla in front of her… She felt bad and from that moment decided “no animals, it is an absolute cruelty and it is not necessary”. The second episode was in a fast fashion brand. It was the end of April 2013, the Rana Plaza plant in Bangladesh collapsed. The head of the company convened the employees and the only thing he wanted to communicate on that tragic occasion was: “We do not produce in that establishment”. Vicky then says: “It’s enough, I want to do something myself”. With her brother, Giorgos Grivas, she began in 2014 with clothes (now no longer in the catalog) and swimwear, producing to order to minimise waste and to satisfy customer requests when possible. Even in design she applies the zero waste philosophy, limiting fabric waste to a minimum. They have chosen Vita, an Econyl fabric produced in Italy from the recycling of plastic bottles and fishing nets recovered in the seas, created in such a way as to minimize the release of microfibres. Fabric printing and production are in the UK. The costumes are reversible: you buy two in one, choosing the combinations. The packaging is in organic cotton.
The challenges they face: What they find most difficult is to reach customers with the message that a sustainable choice is better not only for the planet, but in the long run also for their wallets. In a world where mass-produced companies sell at very low prices, it is difficult. But buying low quality items, the consumers will have to replace them in a short time, and this will result, in the long run, in a choice that is not cheaper than buying a quality, handmade, long-lasting garment right away. Another challenge: finding sustainable materials for other aspects of the business, such as stationery, shipping etc. “The choice is really limited, so unfortunately sometimes we have to proceed with what is available, even if it is not the best from an eco-friendly point of view”.
Next steps: A software that allows the customer to better evaluate in the purchase phase how she will look with the swimwear she wants to buy. They are also thinking of a fabric that can be used again at the end of the product life cycle. They plan to expand their collections soon, becoming the “go to” brand for every aspect related to the “aqua outfit”. In the long term, instead, they aim to add a collection program for the used swimwear to recycle them. “Every day we focus on doing something more towards absolute sustainability. The objective is to create a company that does the least possible harm to our environment and to our planet in general, while we try to remain economically sustainable”.
UN Sustainable Development goals: 12, 14.