At it's best, sustainability is a dry topic. At it's worst, it's downright dull and preachy. Sustainable fashion in particular conjures up dowdy hemp and patchwork princess dresses made from old curtains by Maria Von Trapp. It's hardly inspiring fodder to feed a fashion revolution with.
I'm the co-founder of a year-old sustainable fashion start up, Clotho London: we sell vintage and secondhand clothes online, encouraging customers to recycle clothes with us for a discount. My partner in crime is Caroline - ex-labpartner and best friend, when we graduated from our chemistry degree we decided to disrupt the fast fashion scene by building a fun, good quality and affordable eco-fashion brand. Whilst no two days have been the same so far, here's a slice of life at Clotho HQ:
We work in a converted railway tunnel, sharing the space with other sustainable businesses. It has the most beautiful eco-friendly vibe, with grass floors, wooden shed meeting rooms and the comforting rumble of trains passing overhead. I have a very serious strategy meeting with Caroline, sprawled out on the grass floor, before the interns arrive.
My friends always ask if I 'Meryl Streep' the interns, but in my defence I've yet to make anyone fetch me a soy latte - running a lean startup on a shoestring means that we shower our interns with love and cocktails on Friday whilst we cannot shower them with money (for now...) Sustainable fashion is grueling work, and happy employees work far more efficiently. We have on average 5 part time interns who help with marketing, operations, design, styling - there is no better place than a young business to gain experience with, since everything you do will have an impact.
Our first transaction of the day! We cheer - another one joins our fashion revolution.
We source our stock from a mixture of customer donations, textiles recycling and vintage wholesalers. Selling clothes through e-commerce means that the pictures have to be en-pointe. We take them 'street style' outside the back of our office with our interns as models and a camera I appropriated/sustainably stole from my ex.
The majority of e-commerce sales can be driven through effective email marketing, so we write a weekly newsletter for our customers, keeping them up to date with new items in store and all the Clotho gossip, hot off the press. We use Mailchimp to manage our emails : last year I accidentally misspelt 'shirt' as 'sh*t' and sent it to 700 people, now I still have nightmares whenever I see the sweaty Mailchimp monkey finger pushing the red button.
Building a brand involves a lot of social media work to reach our target audience. We make content for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to build up a community of followers who are engaged with our sustainable mission. The world needs to know that sustainability is fun and cool - we schedule photos of great clothes, behind the scenes videos of us mucking around at Clotho HQ, blog posts, all interspersed with thought provoking facts around eco-fashion.
On that note, have I mentioned that I bought a dog into work today? I googled things that go viral online, and apparently everyone likes dogs. So here's a lovely border collie for us to make videos with! Caroline was apprehensive when I pitched her my marketing tactic, but look at him, he's definitely earning his keep:
We have a meeting with Florence, an emerging designer who we're working with to create our own range of sustainable clothing. So far, we have received many items that are too broken (or just plain fugly) to list in our shop, so have been taking these to textiles recycling. But we've been itching to completely close the loop for a while, and have recently announced our plans to design a capsule collection made solely from upcycled old garments and deadstock fabric.
This means that we've also started fundraising again to make this happen - tonight we're pitching at an investor evening and Florence has made some fabulous prototype pieces for us to show off:
We're in the Shard and it's super swanky. I'm standing at the side of the stage watching Caroline flawlessly deliver the pitch. I love the way she begins: "We are Caroline and Vivien, and we are Clotho." It makes me feel like we're eco warrior rockstars:
By the time she ends with "We are changing the way everyone shops. Forever" I could hear rustling as everyone in the room simultaneously reaches for their cheque books. Only kidding, this isn't a tv show where you pitch and then someone rolls out a suitcase of dollar. Armed with business cards and a hunger to change the face of fashion, we both start circling the room in networking mode to set up meetings with potential investors.
We're back on the tube home now and I'm craving my bed already. It's not always easy being the Devil who wears eco-fashion...