Meet The Entrepreneurs Designing Fashion’s Circular Future

To celebrate Fashion Revolution Week, Fashion Open Studio Showroom is showcasing eight emerging businesses supporting the fashion industry’s biggest challenge yet – going circular.

IMAGERY Courtesy of Fashion Revolution Open Studios

It’s Fashion Revolution Week, the annual week-long initiative driving innovation and activism supporting a sustainable fashion industry. Founded in 2013 to honour the deaths of garment workers in the Rana Plaza factory collapse and to ensure no tragedy like it takes place again, Fashion Revolution has since grown to become the world’s largest fashion activism movement, mobilising citizens, brands and policymakers through research, education and advocacy.

To celebrate the sustainable innovation being pioneered around the world, Fashion Open Studio Showroom is showcasing the research and development work of eight businesses that promote and support the transition to circular business models. Hosted at The Lab E20 show space designed by Christopher Raeburn across two days, the space welcomes industry experts and fashion fanatics alike to meet the entrepreneurs as they present their projects, talk through their processes, and explain their next steps.

The entrepreneurs are supported by Small But Perfect, a 30-month accelerator programme involving 28 small and medium businesses developing a range of solutions for the fashion industry to reduce its impact on the environment with new materials, recycling, upcycling, resale, rental, regeneration and repairs. The Showroom is held in partnership with The Sustainable Angle, a not-for-profit organisation and founders of #FutureFabricsExpo, and digital system

Across the two-day showcase, the space will play host to a number of events engaging the entrepreneurs with diverse fashion communities through webinars, workshops and panel discussions to explore the projects and hear about some of the challenges facing small businesses and the industry at large in switching to circular business models. 

From grape leather handbags to community approaches to making and working together; tech solutions connecting designers with clients (and the unwanted clothes in their wardrobes); smart ways of interacting with textile dyes that don’t pollute, to rethinking the materials and the lifecycle of our clothes, these businesses will show how they are embedding circular solutions into their work. 

Below, BRICKS meets the entrepreneurs ahead of the Fashion Open Studio Showroom to hear about the inspirations behind their circular enterprises, their hopes for the future and how their businesses are leading the charge.

Jenny Conway, Founder of Evamoso

Jenny’s mission was to design a 100% circular legging. Set up in 2019, she creates sustainable activewear for women with all pieces being made from regenerated and natural fabrics. “The project started with 100% circularity in mind…lo and behold how things changed,” says Jenny. “Through prototypes and some deep dives, we realised that neither is a straight solution. We came to the conclusion that we will now be phasing out all synthetic fabrics and only be designing with natural fabrics going forward to help with recycling efforts rather than biodegradability.”  

For Jenny, participating in Fashion Revolution Week is a no-brainer: “This brings attention to a matter close to our hearts – changing the way the fast fashion industry over produces and doesn’t look out for its garment workers. It’s simple really, and it feels that we all have a responsibility to do our little tiny bit.”

Small but Perfect’s ethos is that no progress is too small, and that we can make an impact no matter the size towards improving the fashion industry. This resonated with Jenny, who has also kept this principle at the core of her business. “Whether it’s choosing to offer a takeback scheme via Reskinned for all our customers where they can send us back ANY leggings not just ours so that perhaps next time they need a pair of leggings or tops they choose to shop with a small sustainably minded business such as Evamoso,” she explains. The brand also offers a discounted mending service via The Seam where we offer all our customers 20% their first mending needs.

Silva Hrbar Owens, Under Her Eyes & Sam Mureau, Co-founders of Planet of the Grapes

“Our collaborative project is to bring to life Samantha’s circular designed material – a grape leather – that she has made from the wasted grape skins of her local vineyards and from which Silva has designed and had handmade into a small and beautiful Luxury bag called Odette,” says Sam Mureau of Planet of the Grapes.

Having been a part of the Fashion Revolution community already, the duo jumped at the chance to join the Small but Perfect Accelerator programme. “The scheme has supported us through workshops and great boot camps and bringing all of us together as a cohort of like-minded circular, small and start-up businesses has been really enriching,” she says.

“It is essential to us to be part of Fashion Revolution Week to mark the Rana Plaza tragedy 10 years ago and to remind us of why we need to do our part in changing the fashion industry into a better, planet and human-friendly one rather than the current destructive one of today,” she continues.

Both Sam and Silvia come from careers working at large fast fashion companies, and it was through this work they became aware of the devastation the companies were creating. 

“We are actioning the changes that we think that the industry needs from the inside and at our smaller scale, fast, to clean it up,” says Sam, who has created a new respectful grape leather that is made from organic agricultural waste and that is toxic free, making it safe for the planet and those creating with it. 

Daisy Harvey, Founder, Loom

Loom connects customers with designers to create custom-made clothes. “You can design your dream wardrobe – the perfect style, the perfect fit and sustainable quality,” says founder Daisy Harvey. “You can either browse designs that are made to order, or if you want something totally bespoke, you can post a ‘Project’, our designers will see your post and reach out to you to find out more and send you a quote. It’s a totally new and creative way to shop.”

Daisy had broad experience working in fashion marketing and merchandising for big brand names from Burberry to TK Maxx, as well as small fashion startups in London and Paris. Five years ago, she became passionate about sustainability and pioneering positive change in the fashion industry. “I launched a sustainable marketplace a few years ago but realised that although we all want to shop more sustainably, we don’t want to sacrifice our style and need the clothes to fit perfectly. I started partnering with designers to create custom-made clothes, and so the idea for Loom was born,” she explains.

Daisy believes collaboration is key to progress, and praises Fashion Revolution Week for bringing minds together to discuss what needs to happen next. “It’s so important that events like Fashion Revolution Week happen, not only to raise awareness around sustainability, but also to help support new ideas and build our communities,” she says.

Loom supports small independent designers, who Daisy says are “the future of the fashion industry”. 80% of a garment’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage, and Loom works with designers to minimise our negative impact on the planet. “You can upcycle old clothes using Loom or have designs created completely from deadstock or circular materials,” she explains. “We’ve partnered with BEEN London and Preloved Biotextile on a bag that is almost completely circular. The fabric can be broken down and used again and again, and all the trims and hardwear are recycled.”

Floriane Palssiere, Founder of Co-Dressing

Co-dressing is a leasing service for women to rent designer clothes and wedding dresses with the option purchase option. Thus far, the company has its main home in Berlin, a pop-up in Nantes, France and ships across the EU online.

“We have decided to join this programme to launch our membership plan where women could rent up to 5 items/month,” says Floriane. “Small But Perfect is a great financial support, but it is also wonderful to meet other entrepreneurs in the fashion industry who are really engaged on the topic of sustainability. Of course, the expert talks or the mentoring sessions are also a great help in this programme!”

Co-dressing keeps circularity at its core, measuring its environmental impact by calculating the emissions and water it saves. “We are currently working on fixing strict criteria in terms of Sustainability for the brands we would distribute in the future, so that we can close the loop,” says Floriane.

Meike van Lelyveld, Founder & Designer, Patchwork Family

The Patchwork Family is a value-driven up-cycling collective that is committed to revolutionising the fashion industry. “Born from a group of freshly graduated designers, who experienced the high barrier of entry in the fashion industry, we now want to lower this bar for fellow young designers,” says founder Meike van Lelyveld. The seven-person team of designers from The Netherlands and France are committed to collaboration over competition and has together produced films, club nights, pop-ups and fashion shows.

Their work reimagining fashion show spaces led them to connect with Fashion Revolution Week. “One of our core ambitions is to revolutionise traditional fashion shows while showing that sustainable fashion can be avant-garde,” Meike says. “In our eyes, Fashion Revolution Week is perfect for this, and we believe that the Fashion Revolution community is incredibly precious as it encompasses more than just the glamour of fashion.”

Through networking, contact exchanging and skill-sharing, the collective utilises various creative disciplines for its up-cycled designs. They also use the brand to amplify sustainable fashion practices: “We hope to educate consumers so that they will understand that sustainable fashion can be sexy, cool and avant-garde.”

Sam Kiernan, Co-Founder, Ebony Seed

Ebony Seed aims to build a circular fashion marketplace which provides closed-loop solutions for sustainable business and post-consumer textile. Co-founder Sam Kiernan explains, “Our solution enables designers to create, curate, and sell their innovative pieces. Whilst introducing sustainable & ethical sourced items that increase the longevity of textiles and to benefit our planet.”

Sam hopes their business will provide a solution to the damage caused by the millions of clothing articles being thrown away to landfill each year. “Our solution is to build a platform where sustainable designers can create, curate and sell their innovative products, introducing sustainable and ethical pieces that increase the longevity of textile and for the benefit of our planet,” Sam explains. “We also provide an option for designers to source their raw textiles from us through our Recirculate Not Accumulate programme, where they can custom order the fabric, colour, and composition of the raw material they desire to use, enabling pre-loved textile to be re-introduced into the market.” 

Julia Kaleta, Atlas of Sustainable Colours, Founder of ‘Colour Impact Catalogue’ in partnership with Vienna Textile Lab and Martina Spetlova  

Atlas of Sustainable Colours is a startup, which originated from Julia’s master’s project. Driven by curiosity about possibilities of colour creation which doesn’t rely on fossil fuels, the project pushes towards a more sustainable, circular and regenerative textile and fashion industry.

“It is a result of exploring the emerging alternative dyeing movements with the goal to map colours, methods, colour makers and all-important factors which foster development of conscious colour creation and usage,” founder Julia Kaleta explains. 

Julia’s background in fashion design and critical practices drove her interest in designing a sustainable shade directory called Colour Impact Catalogue. “Since graduation, personally and professionally I am on a constant quest to find what makes the colour truly sustainable,” she shares.

Julia says that in an industry that mostly uses conventional dyes and methods, there is an emerging movement of alternative colour makers. “Certifications which prove sustainability claims usually are addressed to industrial producers,” she begins. “There is no system in place to communicate the impact of colours created by innovative startups and individual colour makers, which can help brands and designers connect with trusted colour producers. At the core of Atlas there is a belief that showing the range of colours, methods and ingredients, as well as people behind the movement of alternative dyeing will promote ecological thinking across all fashion makers and users.”

Gabi Champagne, Founder of EDIS Fashion

EDIS is a scalable, sustainable and personalised clothing platform. It works by virtually connecting customers to designers and seamstresses who work from the comfort of their own homes and make bespoke items out of designer deadstock fabrics.

Gabi Champagne started EDIS because as a petite woman, she was always struggling to find the clothes she wanted in her size. She had also been frequently coming up with new designs for clothes in her head but could not find anywhere to get them made. With a sustainability background, working in Business Development for a leading boutique and sustainability consultancy Kite Insights, she is developing a solution that addresses individual’s fit-issues and supports a circular industry.

“Fashion Revolution Week is THE week in the year that encourages people to think about sustainable fashion and why it’s important,” says Gabi. “We want to show people through EDIS that sustainable fashion does not mean you need to compromise on style and in fact can enhance your individuality further. That’s why it’s critical that we participate in Fashion Revolution Week, and we will be offering an amazing upcycling/ mending embroidery workshop with one of our talented designers.”

“What we love with EDIS is that it’s really trying to offer a viable alternative to fast fashion,” says Gabi. “It’s set up so you can get the sustainable and ethical versions of any fast fashion items on the high street you desire – made to your specific requirements and quirks, but you just need to pay a little more and wait a little longer. These require a behavioural shift – mainly having the willpower to save for one fairly priced item, instead of multiple cheaper items and also to find pleasure in delayed gratification. I’ve adapted my mindset in these ways since starting EDIS and I can promise, it’s worth it!

Pedro Maçana, Retail Manager at Wayz sneakers and Founder of Wayz 2nd Life.

Wayz was founded in 2019 by retail manager Pedro Maçana, and designer Daniel Gonçalves. “We share the same passion for sneakers and the same dream, to launch a Portuguese sneakers brand,” says Pedro.“Our mission is to create ethical sneakers, made to last, with timeless design and sell them at fair prices so they can be accessible to more people.” 

Wayz sneakers are locally made utilising eco-friendly materials including vegetable-tanned leather, recycled polyester and recycled rubber, and can be fully recycled at the end of their long life.

At Wayz, challenging the status quo is integral to Pedro’s business. “We are small, agile and we want to show that it is possible to create great products, a brand that respect people and the planet,” he explains. “Wayz proposes durable sneakers, transparently made with local and high-quality materials, at fair prices. We believe that a brand should not only focus on launching great products but also great services to extend the life of its products. Brands should be responsible for all of the product’s lifecycle, and this will be essential to develop community, trust and loyalty, and help people to move their purchase habits.”

Fashion Revolution’s, ‘Fashion Open Studio’ presents: SMALL BUT PERFECT – CIRCULAR SOLUTIONS IN ACTION Showcase takes place at the Lab E20 during Fashion Revolution Week 2023 from 27th-28th April. Register here to attend for free.

To find out more about the workshops, panel talks and events taking place at The Lab E20 and across Fashion Revolution Week, see the calendar here or follow Fashion Revolution Open Studio Instagram account.

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