Outsider was launched in 2009 with a mission statement that set the scene “Ethical fashion should just look like fashion”. Read more about our interview with Noorin Khamisani and her views on the fast fashion.
I was born in London to a Polish mother and Indian father. I grew up speaking both English and Polish. I was raised knowing some of my family were Muslim, some were Roman Catholic. I found Buddhism in my twenties.
What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?
I studied Fashion Design at UCA Rochester, upon graduation I worked for independent designers such as Jessica Ogden, Ann-Sofie Back, Susan Cianciolo and Jonathon Saunders. I then worked for more conventional brands including Debenhams, Hobbs and Ted Baker. These differing companies gave a strong grounding in understanding the fashion industry.
How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
I was always interested in natural fibres and vintage fabrics and a slower approach to design as championed by Jessica Ogden and Susan Cianciolo back in the late 90s early 00s. Then as I worked for bigger high street brand I learnt about the challenges of managing large international supply chains. So for me it was a slow process over a number of years as I learnt about the ethical and environmental impact of the fashion industry my interest grew and developed.
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
By working with consideration for ethics and sustainability they/we offer an alternative. It’s a demonstration that fashion can be designed, manufactured, marketed and sold in a different way. This is essential to lead by example and hopefully inspire more and more companies to work in more responsible ways.
Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?
It’s not strictly speaking “fashion” but it is clothing related, so Yvon Chounard of Patagonia is a hero for me. He has been trailblazing and leading by example for many many years. Their bravery and openness is very inspiring and has pushed many other large companies to make changes to their supply chains.
What is Outsider?
An ethical and sustainable fashion label specialising in timeless versatile womenswear.
What inspired the title of the organization?
It is a reference to offering an alternative. We create fashion items but from different materials and with more focus on ethics, so we are on the periphery of the conventional fashion world. Or at least we were when we launched in 2009. Happily, we have seen many changes in the industry over the last 7 years, although there is a long way to go. The name Outsider was also a reference to the impact we can have by choosing an alternative to fast fashion – “It just takes one Outsider to make a difference”.
What are some of its feature products?
We specialize in dresses as they can be so versatile as part of your wardrobe. Our favourite style is the shirt dress as it is so timeless and can work from desk to dinner with just a change of accessories.
What is your customer base – the demographics?
Women from a wide age range, we have customers from their early 20s to 60s. Currently our main customer base is in the UK but we are reaching more and more European customers now we have launched a site in Euro.
What topics most interest you?
Sustainable fabric innovation is my passion. I love the amazing solutions coming through to the challenges faced by the fashion industry. It’s incredible how waste streams from milk, oranges and pineapple have been used to create new fabrics.
Have you mentored others?
I teach part-time at London College of Fashion and have interns working with me, so I have mentored fashion students. I really hope to ensure the next generation of fashion designers are better informed, so they can make more ethical and sustainable choices.
What are the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?
Fashion is such a competitive industry, mentors can help to guide and encourage persistence which is so needed for success.
There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?
These tragedies highlight how much more work needs to be done by large brands to ensure their supply chains are ethical. The main issue is the separation that has been created between brands and factories. But when these tragedies occur and we see they are producing for well-known brands, it reminds us all that they are responsible for ensuring that working conditions are safe. Without those skilled people there would be no clothing to sell.
Women and children remain the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?
It is crucial we keep moving towards equal rights and pay for women and that all workers are paid a living wage to ensure that children can attend school (and not have to work). This is a key consideration for all fashion brands to ensure they are monitoring their supply chains.
Child labor and slavery are problems, major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labor. A few million children in the case of child slavery. According to the Minimum Age Convention (1973), labor before the age of 14, 15, or 16, dependent upon the country, is child labor. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) represent the importance of children’s rights on the ‘international stage’ in Article 2(2), Article 3(1) Article 3(2). In addition, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) in Article 24(1-3) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) in Article 10(3) delineate the importance of children’s rights too. These stipulations about equality remain violated in the fashion industry, especially the manufacturing sector or the garment industry. How can individuals get the word out about these extreme children’s rights violations?
In this area social media can be extremely powerful in sharing information and highlighting issues which the mass media often chooses to ignore. Starting petitions, sharing stories and questioning brands are all good starting points.
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
I have always loved fashion but when I learnt more about the issues surrounding sustainability and ethics I had to reassess that love. For me creating a fashion item responsibly and consciously and then seeing that item picked up by a customer is very fulfilling. Even more so when that customer wears their item for a long time and in many ways. That is how we fight fast fashion, but developing long term relationships with our clothes.
Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?
Sass Brown has written some great books and also compiles fantastic information on her website all about ethical and sustainable fashion.
Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, Outsider?
We are on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and share ethical fashion news through our blog.
Thank you for your time, Noorin.