Walking through the streets of Shoreditch we turn down a small cobbled side street to face the glistening glow of pop-up shop Know The Origin.
Stepping into the shop we meet Fashion graduate and founder of Know The Origin (KTO) Charlotte Instone. Her journey began half way through her degree when the horrific story of the Rana Plaza factory collapse hit the news in 2013. The disaster sparked her to question how and where our clothes are made and who is really paying the price for the garments we wear.
Charlotte’s response was to go beyond asking questions and make a change. She created the Know The Origin marketplace: an online shop where the name is the aim – that we as consumers know where, how and by who our clothes are being made. Now that’s the kind of place where I want to shop! We had a chat with Charlotte to find out more.
Hey Charlotte, could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to set up KTO?
For me it was a combination of my faith in God and studying fashion buying at London College of Fashion. I never realised quite how important injustice was to God. I always saw ethical living as an option for the super keen ones. I loved going to church and worshiping but I had never asked whether my lifestyle helped keep people poor. I really believe for our generation, this is our biggest blind spot – that generations will look back on and question how we let it happen.
On a social justice trip in Mexico I really saw the work that the local church was doing out there. After that trip I just felt that I couldn’t do anything other than spend my life working for the poor and marginalised. I had no idea where it would lead me, but I made that commitment on that trip!
It’s so true, it’s too easy to forget how our choices affect others around the world. So how did that commitment develop into creating your own fashion brand?
God’s amazing character means that when we do something for Him, God multiplies it, to bear fruit and goodness that we will often not even get to see. This has been evident to me throughout the story of Know The Origin. From day one, He has been working, making things happen and guiding KTO in a direction that I could never have achieved without Him.
I was also really lucky with doing my dissertation on Sustainable Fashion at university. I got to spend a year grilling other brands and academics and some of the best buyers in the industry who probably wouldn’t have talked to me if I wasn’t a student! That was really helpful in working out which producers and factories I could and should visit. It got the ball rolling.
So how is KTO different from other fashion brands?
At KTO we want to fight the ‘cheap fashion at any cost’ attitude in today’s society. For us our standard is minimum fairtrade and organic when to comes to sourcing materials. On top of that we want to see social programmes happening in the factories we are working with – things that the factories don’t get rewarded for. That shows that they are actually setting out to do something with an impact and value their workers.
So valuing people over price – I think that’s how all brands should be! It’s also amazing and inspiring to see how your faith in Jesus has played a massive part in KTO’s journey. Could you tell us a bit more?
It honestly affects everything we do! The thing is that Jesus and justice can’t be separated. His mission was serving, that can’t be overstated. We are called to follow his lead and go where there is need. God’s heart for the poor and passion for justice is mentioned over 800 times throughout the old testament alone! That is once every 12 verses. That is the drive of KTO and why compromise in ethics is not on the table. Jesus was and is uncompromising in love and justice, we are all called to the same.
800 times? Wow that’s crazy but so good. On a more practical level, sustainable fashion can often be pretty expensive. Your clothes are cheaper than a lot of other brands which is great! But how do you manage to keep the cost low?
From the beginning, I’ve been passionate about making ethical fashion accessible. Unfortunately ethical fashion has a reputation of being ugly and overpriced! A lot of sustainable fashion brands maintain similar profit margins to fast-fashion brands simply by increasing their prices. We are sacrificing our profit margins so that we can make ethical fashion something that becomes the norm in everyone’s wardrobe. We also want to encourage people to see clothing as an investment, not a throw-away, and understand the true value of the processes and the wages that make our garments possible.
I love that! So how can our Girl Got Faith readers get involved and make a difference with our shopping habits?
For me, two big areas where real difference can be made are: industry culture and waste.
The fashion industry as we know it, is built on exploitation of workers and the environment. Unfortunately, we talk about ‘sweatshops’ as if they are rare cases, when in large parts of the world they are the norm. Your shopping habits actually have a huge impact on fashion industry culture. Why not make your next purchase from a sustainable brand, not only to support them but to use your money as a vote for industry change!
The next step is waste. Try hard to reduce how regularly you shop for clothing. About a third of your wardrobe will be unworn and then end up in landfill. On average we buy one item of clothing a week, so either we all own huge wardrobes, or we are creating an excessive amount of waste. Shopping at second-hand shops like charity or vintage shops, or marketplaces like Depop and Ebay, are a great way of reducing waste clothing (and is kind on your wallet too!)
Check out the Know The Origin website for more information or have cheeky peak at their very aesthetically pleasing instagram for outfit and lifestyle inspo.