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Bury St Edmunds recycling guru Karen Cannard asks: Is it time to pull on an ethical brand?

At the recent Women’s Festival in Ipswich, I caught up with Jo Salter, founder of ethical clothing company Where Does It Come From? to discover how her organisation is responding to the issues surrounding Fast Fashion.

Jo started working on Where Does It Come From? in 2012 after having the idea for a clothing business that shared the creation story of the clothes with the customer. It took two years to set up their first supply chain - working in India with partners that could be traced right back to the cotton farm.

They launched with a range of denim children’s clothing and widened into ladies’ scarves and organic cotton shirts for adults and children. This year they are launching their second transparent supply chain, working with social enterprises in Africa to create a range of garments using organic, rain fed cotton.

Karen with Jo Salter at the women's festival
Karen with Jo Salter at the women's festival

Q. What are the key ethical issues in the fashion industry?

“For anyone who saw Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets on BBC 1 recently, she described beautifully the environmental damage that our fast fashion habits are having on our world. The key issue is our fashion buying culture – in the UK we buy far more clothes than other European countries, doubling the amount over the last 10 years. This has knock-on effects on our water usage and pesticides as well as what happens when we throw them away. Most clothes are produced very cheaply, which often means that garment workers are poorly paid and treated. Cheap fabrics often include plastics (such as polyester), which don’t biodegrade when we throw them away and when washed shed microplastics into our water system.”

Q. How do you overcome these issues with your own clothing range?

“At Where Does It Come From? we create clothing as eco-friendly and ethical as we can. We use natural fibres such as organic cotton – our new project in Africa uses cotton fed by the rain so even better for the planet. We try to use traditional skills for spinning, weaving and printing and we partner with social enterprises to make sure workers are treated and paid properly.

Design is key, too – we want our clothes to be loved for a long time so we don’t aim to be a fashion brand, aiming more for the capsule wardrobe or statement piece. All our clothing is transeasonal – we want people to wear them all year round. We believe that knowing the stories behind our clothes makes us love them more. Each garment comes with a code so you can discover the people who made yours and how they did it. This isn’t only good for the makers and planet, but for us as consumers, too. A better relationship with products can contribute to better mental health.”

Q. I see that you’ve collaborated with other brands to raise awareness and challenge the industry.

“Collaboration is key to inspiring change. We take part in Fashion Revolution, an annual campaign to raise awareness of the plight of garment workers. Last year we collaborated with online community #Ethicalhour to launch a new event in London, showcasing ethical brands. This year, we are launching the Be the Change awards to tell the stories of ethical brands and their impact – coming soon!”

Q. How can individuals create change?

Think about what you are buying. If a T-shirt is priced at £3, consider how it can possibly be produced for that amount – the fabric, printing, making, importing, taxes etc. There are hidden costs on the planet and workers.

If you work out your total clothing spend rather than the price of a single fast fashion item, you may find you could buy just a few really beautiful pieces instead of lots of items that you will probably hardly wear. Choose clothes that have been created to have better impacts – fair trade, organic, natural fibres – and support the brands that can tell you about how your clothes are made.

Find out more at the www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk, where you can also follow their latest project to create organic tunics, scarves and accessories in Africa, working with the charity Proudly Made in Africa and social enterprises in Uganda and Malawi. And look out for their new awards scheme with #Ethicalhour, launching soon.