As the name Where Does It Come From? says, the transparency is the very core of this social entrepreneurial brand, right from the label: each garment comes with a code so the customer can explore its creation journey. Through these stories the brand connects people with their products, so we become more conscious in our shopping and life choices. Whereas collaborations are key, they have now partnered with Proudly Made in Africa and two social enterprises in the region to create fabrics from scratch and launch a new collection of eco-friendly and digital printed African tunics.
We interview Jo Salter, the founder of Where Does It Come From? a very active brand that started because she was was finding such a challenge to get answers to where products were really originating from. She’s also an enthusiastic supporter of the Fashion Revolution event, follow her journey on this very interesting interview!
Jo, what is your background and what made you start Where Does It Come From?
Hello! It’s a long story – going back to a longstanding passion for trade justice and a career in a corporate Telecoms company! I knew I wanted to be part of something more tangible and to make real change, so I left my job and started up as an ethical business consultant to brands with fabulous ideas to change the world but needing help on the business side. I had the idea for Where Does It Come From? as I was finding it such a challenge to get answers to where products were really originating from – for example we talk about cotton clothing being ‘made in Britain’ but no one questions the fact that we don’t grow cotton here! As a Mum, I had concerns about not know what I was putting on my children (or my own) skin. I guess I’m a control freak – I wanted the answers!
Where Does It Come From? sounds like you are covering a bigger mission than a fashion brand. What do you stand for?
Transparency is the core of our business – telling the stories behind our products, but alongside that, we stand for natural, fair and connected. We design quality clothes that are beautiful and can be worn for different occasions and across seasons. We use natural components – including organic cotton, wool and wooden buttons. We make sure our workers are treated properly. Through our stories, we connect people with their products so that they feel a deeper relationship and are inspired to become more conscious in their shopping and life choices. We believe this contributes to more positive happiness all round!
What do events such as Fashion Revolution mean to a social creative entrepreneur like you?
Where Does It Come From? is an enthusiastic supporter of the Fashion Revolution. Our core values of trade justice and transparency align completely and so we have been very active, even being part of the Fashion Revolution India team for a time. Over the years since Fashion Revolution launched we have been vocal in our support, speaking, writing and urging customers to take part.
In 2016 during Fashion Revolution week we travelled to India to visit our supply chain there and gave presentations on Fashion Revolution to local fashion students and media. We also captured images of workers who make our clothes holding the ‘I Made Your Clothes’ sign. When we returned we organised a showing of True Cost Movie and a panel session. You can read about the event in our article Thoughts on our True Cost Movie Event on April 25th.
In 2017 we collaborated with other ethical fashion brands to produce this video:
In 2018 we ran an event in London with Ethicalhour to showcase ethical fashion brands. We arrange expert panel sessions, demonstrations and a fashion show as well as a shopping experience.
What are the ethical standards for the fashion pieces produced for your brand?
- Transparency – each garment comes with a code on its label so the customer can explore its creation journey – right back to the farm.
- Fair-trade – we work with ethically run social enterprises with a clear policy and behaviour on how workers are paid and treated. Often these enterprises support a particular group, local impoverished women or marginalised rural workers, creating a route for them to build livelihoods and dignity.
- Eco-friendly and Sustainable – We use natural and sustainable materials and processes in production. We run our business as sustainably as possible too – even down to having our website hosted on a wind-powered server farm.
You are now running a crowdfunding campaign for your latest collection of african tunics! How is it going?
It is exciting and exhausting – all at the same time. We are now at 16%, which is slightly behind where I would like to be, but we are so grateful to the 55 people who have pledged so far. It is such a difficult time for people to commit financially and we understand that. We still have four weeks left so I am very positive about meeting our target. You can take a look at our video and read more at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/african-tunics – please support us if you can, we can’t do it without you!
The funds we are raising are to pay for our first production using the new, transparent supply chain we have set up in Africa. We are working with an NGO, Proudly Made in Africa, and two social enterprises in the region to create fabrics from scratch – organic rain fed cotton from Uganda – and use them to create statement tunics and accessories tailored by a social enterprise in Malawi called Mayamiko.
It is a challenging time for ethical businesses, paying fair prices to our suppliers and offering prices that customers find acceptable is a difficult balance. Add Brexit and exchange range fluctuations to the mix and it becomes near impossible. Only this week we hear that Traidcraft, one of the stalwarts of ethical trading, is likely to close its doors.
Since the brand is called “Where Does It Come From” you would be strong in fair trade certifications. What are all the credentials you have earned so far?
We work with fair trade and ethical suppliers and there are a number of different accreditations and memberships that are key here. We work with khadi co-operatives in India and WFTO members in Africa. We are members of BAFTS (British Association of Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers. We explain it all in depths on our fair trade policy.
What key factors does your brand take into consideration to be worth of these certifications?
We look to partner with social enterprises with a key agenda around empowerment and the creation and support of livelihoods and skills. The Khadi co-operatives that we work with in India were set up by Gandhi as part of his movement to free India and create employment opportunities for rural workers, particularly women. They take a ‘whole life’ approach, supporting and building communities. Our African partners also focus on community and skill building and we love what Mayamiko do in making sure their workers and family get a proper meal every day.
At @WhereDoesItCome we look to partner with #SocialEnterprise with an agenda around empowerment, creation & support of livelihoods & skills. The Khadi co-operatives were set up by Gandhi as part of his movement to create… Click To Tweet
What type of clothing you have available and what kind of people would love to get some of your creations?
We focus on high-quality, beautiful basics that are made using natural fibres. Our shirts (adults and children) and scarves are created from handwoven organic cotton and our scarves are fantastic for adding colour and style to any outfit. We’ve created a range of unique prints using traditional block print and screen print techniques. Our new range of tunics and accessories will also be organic cotton, but from Africa and using more of an African print style – large and bold! We’ll have a range of colours though, some bright and some more subtle.
Our customers tend to be 30+ and people looking for beautiful fabrics and good quality pieces to treasure. We’ve worked hard to keep the prices accessible – margins are very tight these days! – as we don’t want to just make clothes for an elite. We’ve had some amazing reviews which we’re so grateful for, including one from the lovely Joanna Lumley who said ‘This enchanting elephant scarf is now my favourite’ and actually wore it on her TV documentary ‘Joanna Lumley’s India’ last year.
So generally, what materials do you use and how does the production process look like?
Materials are natural – organic cotton in the main but we have worked with Alpaca brand Ted and Bessie on some alpaca wool hats. Our designs are deliberately simple and versatile and we choose fabrics that compliment them. Techniques include hand weaving and spinning, block or screen printing and we use local, traditional processes where possible. Our African project is planned to be in three phases with phase 1 using machine processing and eco-friendly digital printing. Phases 2 and 3 will be to find more traditional ways of doing these tasks if possible and appropriate.
We see you have different collections belonging to different places in the world, like India and now Africa. What made these countries be the home for your brand?
We’ve worked with India since 2013 and have built up fantastic relationships. Africa is a new venture and we have high hopes of the same level of friendship being established there. The reason for choosing these places is that we wanted to work to promote and support transparency in areas with a rich history of traditional fabric making and a source of fibre. Africa has the additional challenge of a troubled garment industry due to imports from abroad flooding the market, so we wanted to help them in rebuilding their own capability.
What are the challenges you find in the countries and how are you overcoming them with your social entrepreneurial venture?
Not surprisingly there are many challenges. Cost is a key one for producing fabrics and clothing ethically and sustainably costs a lot more than taking low-quality fabrics and mass producing them in sweatshops with anonymous and poorly treated workers. We work closely with our suppliers to agree on prices – we don’t bargain on price, if a design is too expensive to produce then we discuss how we can change the design. We build relationships so we can have open discussions about costs and build trust.
@WhereDoesItCome Cost is a key one, as producing fabrics & clothing ethically and sustainably costs a lot more. We work closely with our suppliers to agree on prices – we don’t bargain, if a design is too expensive to produce… Click To Tweet
Do you give back to any organisations?
Yes is proud to give to charity – most often those focussed on environmental, humanitarian or zero waste activities. These are some of the projects we have managed so far!
What has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
There are a number of areas that I am really proud of. Measuring impact with our Indian supply chain is very satisfying as we were told we’d directly benefited over 300 workers. We’ve also received awards and accreditations which help show customers our brand values and give us a pat on the back too! It was fantastic to be categorised as ‘great’ by the ‘Good On You’ app that assesses brands for their ethics and sustainability. In terms of Public Relations, the Joanna Lumley story gained us the most media attention.
Events are also a success story. Our ‘Ethical Brands for Fashion Revolution’ event was extremely well received and well attended.
Measuring impact with our Indian supply chain is very satisfying as we were told we’d directly benefited over 300 workers. We’ve also received awards and accreditations which help show customers our brand values and give us a pat on… Click To Tweet
How do you see the future for Where Does It Come From? Do you see any collaborations happening?
We are all about collaboration and love working with other brands, charities and social enterprises. As well as the Africa project we are currently working on a new supply of organic shirts with our Indian partners. We’re planning Ethical Brands for Fashion Revolution with Ethicalhour again too – to take place in London on the 26th and 27th of April 2019!
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other businesses trying to make a difference for good?
The main advice would be to choose something that you feel passionate about and test it on your target market. Being heard in a busy market is much more challenging than I ever anticipated!
If you could write a message on a big wall that the entire world could read, what would it say?
Shop Wisely – Buy What Looks Good and Does Good Too!
Finally, where can we find you? Shops, online, worldwide…?
We sell via our website at www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk, as well as real and online resellers.
Is there any other similar brand you know or are curious about? Comment below, and we will make it happen!