Today I am continuing my quest to learn more about ethical fashion. Recently I sat down with Caroline Poiner from Cloth & Co for an inspiring and eye-opening chat about her brand, working with communities in India and ethical fashion in general. For more information, please take a look at her website and beautiful collection.
Tell me a little bit about how Cloth & Co. came about?
Cloth & Co. was founded with the sole purpose of providing a market access for the artisans and women’s cooperatives we had been working with through our social enterprise Artisans of Fashion. My daughter Daisy and I had been working on projects with a number of village communities and decided we needed to create a brand so we could generate enough work to sustain our communities. We really needed to get the volumes so the women in particular could have regular work and earn a consistent income. These people live in remote villages or marginalised communities on the outskirts of cities and often live in extreme poverty, despite their incredible skills and ability to create things of such beauty, so we wanted to provide the opportunity for them to thrive.
We design all of our products and work within the skill sets of our artisans, our aesthetic is generally clean with a neutral colour palette, contemporary but timeless – we like the beautiful natural fibres and weaves to speak for themselves.
What has been the hardest part about working with these communities in India? And the most rewarding part?
There are many challenges – culturally we are just so different so it’s been a steady learning curve and a constant process of adjusting our expectations as well as our customers. I’m humbled by the people and their skills and capacity to create beautiful hand crafted products but there are always issues with time management and delivering to the market’s expectations. Viability is something we have to constantly assess, we have a responsibility to ensure our business is sustainable so that we can continue to provide work for our artisans.
The most rewarding aspect is when we create something that the artisans are equally as proud of as we are and it gets a positive market response. When they see the results of everyones effort and it sells in the market, we love to be able to tell them how well received their work has been – it gives them a sense of achievement and truly empowers them, it also allows them to live their lives with dignity.
What does “ethical fashion” mean to you?
Fashion that is created with a truly positive social impact and a minimal negative impact on the environment.
Consumers might be torn between “justifying” a piece of higher price point clothing vs. multiple pieces of “fast fashion”. What advice would you give to someone struggling with this decision?
It’s a false economy. Nothing is cheap, someone, somewhere is paying for it and of course in the case of ‘fast fashion’ it’s not just the people, it is the impact on the whole planet. I hope that through education and awareness people will start to think twice about their purchases and buy quality over quantity.
What is in the future for Cloth & Co.?
We hope that Cloth & Co. will continue to grow and become the first choice in accessible lifestyle essentials for people who are concerned about the social and environmental impact of what they buy.
We are developing a collection of garments made from truly sustainable textiles from India’s North East, this community is built on a whole eco system from the conservation of the forests through to the, natural dyes and weaving of the local silk. It’s exciting and we see a lot of possibilities working with this community.
We spend a lot of time working on our design developments, communicating with our customers so we can ensure we are delivering to what the market needs – we have to increase our market so our communities can grow and so that we can provide more and more women with consistent employment.
Thank you Caroline for being such an inspiration!