Recently, I was honored to be interviewed by MeiMei Fox, New York Times bestselling author and contributor to Forbes. You can read some of the interview in MeiMei’s recent Forbes article 7 Fashion Brands That Put Sustainability, Not Greenwashing, First but we are sharing the unabridged version here, in our journal (hint: it covers some very juicy, never before discussed points ;) ).
MeiMei: How is the pivot from childrenswear to include womenswear aligned with your life purpose? Why did you do it?
Abi: The original idea came from the sheer volume of requests for our children’s clothes in adult sizes (and our own desire to dress as comfortably as our children). However, women’s clothing can be very different from children’s and we wanted to do it in a way that ensured we stayed true in our commitment to organic, ethical, and non-toxic clothing but also recognised the beauty of womens bodies and created clothes that celebrated our cyclical natures.
There was a real driving force from deep within us to develop a collection that not only celebrated women’s wondrous bodies but which fully embraced the changes that most experience through their lives. So we created all of our clothes with elasticated waists (the only exception is the new Perfect Jean) and loose, flowing shapes that allow for a changing shape. We also use as much stretch as is possible for a sustainable and natural brand, and include features such as adjustable straps and ties, to give the pieces both flexibility and longevity. It feels important to design clothes that can transition along with our style through our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and so on.
As mothers ourselves, it was vital to us, to create from a place of reverence for the changes our own bodies have been through. I personally have lived in our clothes throughout the whole of pregnancy and postpartum when your body is changing so fast and I have heard the same from many of those within our community. One friend said to me the other day “when you are pregnant, The Simple Folk are the only clothes that make any sense”. There is a significant lack of sustainable maternity options (a contradictory concept in itself) so we set out instead, to make clothes that would see you well beyond those 9 months.
Giving people space to change a size or two allows them to keep the clothes for a really long time. Adaptability is core to The Simple Folk’s notion of sustainable fashion. It is not just about motherhood though… elasticated waistbands can allow the wearer to challenge societal norms by deciding what is “flattering” or “aspirational” for themselves.
With our third womenswear collection this season, we are seeing a real community emerge behind this side of the brand. What once attracted our childrenswear customers, now has appeal to a much wider audience of women – those who strive to move away from convention, trends and fast fashion, and who instead yearn for the effortless minimalism that The Simple Folk offers.
MeiMei: Have you seen changes to the fashion industry since you started The Simple Folk? More brands coming on board? Authentically or in a PR / headlines sort of way? Any words of caution to consumers?
Abi: We launched our first collection of The Simple Folk in Spring/Summer 2019 and in those few years we have witnessed a drastic change in the industry.
Fast fashion is no longer simply a habit driven by the high street and the rise of online retailers; it is now a discussion point. With more awareness around C02 emissions, waste water and clean energy to name a few, fast fashion is becoming more controversial. We see many customers eschewing the novelty of these quick-fix brands in favor of a “buy less, buy better” mindset.
We would also be remiss not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic, nor to underestimate its significance – the whole world changed immeasurably, and we developed a collective and newfound knowing of all that matters most. There was a definite shift toward living more sustainably, and environmentally conscious brands that may have been under the radar previously became more popular and accessible due to the prevalence (and indeed at times, necessity) of shopping online. This combined with a desire to support small businesses and build community (virtually at the time). And, to top it all off, we saw people searching for clothing made with fabrics, dyes and practices that would support the health of themselves and their families. It felt like when the world was crumbling around us, the fashion industry (along with many others) was experiencing a true and heartfelt awakening.
There are many news-worthy stories around sustainability that continue to make headlines and this is great! Raising awareness is the first step. To see high street retailers forced to join the conversation is the change we all wished to make. Never has there been more talk about ‘ethical practices’, or ‘sustainable materials’ and certainly customers are more aware of organic than ever before. And whilst this feels like a move in the right direction, a new concept has emerged, that of greenwashing, whereby brands use “green” credentials as a marketing opportunity. So our advice would always be to ask questions and research thoroughly before making any purchase. It’s important to explore the veracity of these claims, and encourage more transparency within the fashion industry so that as customers, we can make an informed choice.
The truth is, sustainability is not something new in the clothing industry. Many wonderful brands have been designing and producing clothes made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton and other sustainable materials for decades. Twenty years ago, ‘GOTS’ and ‘organic’ were not that commonplace and these brands had to work even harder to champion slow fashion. However, today’s shift in awareness means that these raw materials are really only the first step to sustainability. For example, every year in the UK alone 300,000 tonnes of clothes ending up in landfills* which directly harms our planet. That is an estimated £140m worth of clothing. It must stop.
Truly pioneering brands need to be paving the way to making the fashion industry a circular economy.
Since we began, we set out to make a difference and to champion the slow fashion movement on behalf of our planet and every human life we touch. What’s more, we take a minimalist, non-conforming stance in mindful design. Made with quality and care, in timeless styles, each garment can be loved over and over. Our intention is to create heirloom clothes that can be effortlessly passed between siblings to keep them in circulation for years to come. Every piece in our collection has these values in mind, and we’re determined to prioritize long-term wear to encourage a much needed shift in a healthier direction. In addition to this, if a customer reaches out to us to say they accidentally damaged a garment, we encourage them to repair it and will send a spare button, patch or fastening. Our whole team is passionate about the longevity of our designs and between us we have a huge pool of knowledge that is at all customers’ disposal.
Next year we have our sights set even higher! We are working on making our collections available on rental platforms (hopefully both children’s and womenswear), as well as collaborating with resale platforms so that once a customer no longer needs their garment, they can resell it to be loved by someone else. This will allow our garments to be worn and re-worn by many people, exactly as we’ve always intended.
The final piece for us is the ‘end-of-life’ support for all our garments. We are in the process of selecting partners who can credibly take our clothing at the genuine end of its usable life (once it’s been passed through families, rented and sold as pre-loved), and repurpose the fabric into something new. As our garments are made from natural and organic materials, this is more achievable than with synthetic fibers and we are determined that no piece from The Simple Folk ever ends up in landfill. We are leading by example and are committed to embodying the change that we need to see across the industry to protect and preserve our planet for future generations.