In brief, how did you get interested and involved in ethical and sustainable fashion?
I have been interested in art and fashion since I was young. I have always been the type of person who wants to do positive projects in the World. Knowing that the mainstream fashion industry is so damaging as far as labor and pollution is concerned, I wanted to make a difference the by making everything ethically.
When you started Salts & West Clothing, what were some of the things you had in mind when things were just percolating? The idea was there but had not been founded yet.
I started in 2005. I have been making organic clothing for 11 years. When I started designing, you could not get many sustainable fabrics. Bamboo fabric was just becoming an option. Organic cotton was hard to find and usually uncoloured. The materials that I could find were very basic.
When I first started, I started making hoodies from my home. I was selling them at markets and eventually online. It has grown from there. The fabrics that I am able to source now are so amazing to wear. Having options for wearable and sustainable fabrics has made my work as a designer very rewarding.
What would you consider your feature product at the moment?
We are known for our hoodies. We make a very unique, beautiful hoodie. I have clients who still wear hoodies I made 11 years ago.
At the moment, we’re producing a bamboo, eco-fleece hoodie, which is soft and sustainable, as well as biodegradable. Regular fleece does not biodegrade and is left in our ecosystems forever.
If you look at your product line and getting the materials, what is the process for getting the materials?
We source from suppliers that use reputable 3rd party testing for chemicals and environmental toxins. Our Organic cotton fabrics are all certified organic. I have also have worked with organic cotton farmers in India to make fabrics there.
Our fabrics are OEKO-tex certified; this is a certification to ensure there are no harmful residues on the fabric from any of the fabric making process. The bamboo fabric is made using a closed loop system, this means that the water and materials used to make the fabric does not go into the ecosystem. It is treated in order to be used again.
We also cut and sew the clothing locally. We make most of our items on Vancouver, Island, in BC, close to our studio.
Are there any companies that you collaborate with on a consistent basis?
We work with the Sierra Club from time to time. They’re an environmental group. We also work with Elate Cosmetics; they have a chemically free, natural, vegan make-up line.
If you’re trying to formulate a design for a particular product such as for the hoodies and the leggings, what is your general process when you’re doing that?
My process really begins with the clients. I talk to clients everyday and find out what they are wanting from their clothing. We have some patterns people really love and continually grow our line from those base patterns. We add features and improve them. We get to learn a lot about what our customers want. We can adjust the design based on what people are telling me.
What do you consider the overall theme of Salts & West Clothing?
Our theme is locally produced using ethical labour with the most beautiful and useful sustainable materials available. Another big part of what we do is making things people really want to wear.
When some think about ethical and sustainable fashion, they will think about children’s and women’s rights. How much do you think women’s rights and children’s rights are intertwined with ethical and sustainable fashion, especially in areas of the world where the labour is mostly women and children?
This is the number one issue that is really near and dear to me. I feel like the fashion industry is built on the backs of women and children. People are profiting off the women that don’t have many choices. They are trying to keep their food on the table and their children fed.
I believe in a society where we can do better and expect more. I know that as one person, I am probably not going to change the whole industry. As consumers, we can make the daily choice to be aware and shop mindfully.
Do you have any advice up-and-coming new business owners that are ethically and sustainably based?
My number one piece of advice would be to work with somebody else first. Learn from somebody else before you start your own business. Then, when you are ready to launch, let go of perfection, just start small and get your ideas out there.
I think starting small with one or two projects is a great way to start. You can test the waters with one or two products instead of trying to do too much too soon. Once you know your product is viable and there is demand for it, then that’s when you can really dig in and go for it.
You started the company solo. Do you think there are different difficulties starting solo rather than together?
Each type of business has pros and cons. In a partnership you have to share the decision making process and that can be difficult. In a solo business all the responsibilities fall on you, that can also be hard. With a partner you have a second set of skills and hands available. If you have the right partner, and you chose that partner based complimentary skill sets, a combined business can be really successful.
Thank you for your time, Jennifer.
Salts & West Clothing has a Kickstarter campaign, which ends November 3, 2016. It can be seen here.