An Interview with Jennifer of brm

brm is a luxury eco and ethical clothing label, designed and made in the UK.
They are committed to sustainable policies including fair trade/fair wage initiatives, animal rights issues, commitment to eco-friendly fabrics and practices and carbon offsetting.

Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.

I grew up in North East England, near Durham, in an ex-mining village – my immediate family all live in neighbouring villages, and having done my family tree, most of my recent ancestors did too. I guess I was raised Christian (my family have a Methodist background) but we weren’t very serious about it, and we don’t ever go to church now.

What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?

I loved art at school but wanted a more practical career, and was dedicated to pursuing fashion as a career as soon as I realised fashion was an industry that you could work in! I studied Fashion Design (specialising in Womenswear and pattern cutting) at Northumbria University, graduating in 2011 with a First Class degree with Honours. I showed my final collection at Graduate Fashion Week in London that year. I interned at a fast fashion supplier in London during my course, and at independent label Reality Studio (then in Berlin, they’ve sinced moved their HQ to Porto!) after I graduated. I loved living in Berlin – it’s such a young and vibrant city – but there aren’t a lot of permanent fashion jobs in Berlin, just lots of young startup labels.

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion wasn’t my starting point when I decided to start a label. brm actually began very organically; I was just making pieces for myself, similar to vintage pieces I already owned which were starting to fall apart. I grew Collection One out of those pieces and when I began researching fabrics, I remembered an organic cotton company I’d come across when doing the research for my Final Collection at University, which had the sort of fabrics I wanted. Unfortunately that company no longer existed, but I did find several other UK-based fabric vendors who specialised in organic and fairtrade fabrics and had great collections of fabrics which worked well with my ideas. I also wanted to keep production close to home so that I knew the people who were working on my pieces and could visit the factory whenever I needed to – that was a response to Rana Plaza and the thought that companies can’t be sure of the standards of factories without visiting, and knowing that while the price of manufacture would be much lower outside of the UK, I would rather have that peace of mind. I’m also a great believer in keeping things local where possible, the factory is about 50 miles from my home! When I started to sell those pieces online, I used those attributes to market brm. In doing so, I’ve joined communities of ethically minded people on social media and found myself more and more interested in that area, meaning I’m striving to make ethical choices in as many areas as possible, rather than just chancing upon being ethical.

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

My time working in the high street supply chain really informed that that’s not what I wanted to do with my career, especially after working at Reality Studio. At high street level, it’s just creating for consumption, giving the most options for the buyers, having samples made that you know the buyer won’t go for. There’s very little room to be creative, because buyer’s only want to buy what they know will sell. After my time at Reality Studio, where, despite only being an intern, I felt I had a lot of creative input, and where the pattern cutting was challenging and interesting, I knew there was a market for better design and knew that that would inform my future career.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

I think the existence of these companies is essential, though I do think that as ethical pioneers we need to remember that while ethically minded customers might be easy to sell our products to, the majority of consumers are not looking for and don’t care about ethical products necessarily. Our products need to not only compete with non-ethical items in terms of both good design and longevity, but in fact need to be better than the non-ethical equivalents, to win over those consumers who have that little extra money to spend on better quality goods. I don’t think we can get away from the fact that ethical goods are more expensive – even though there’s good reason for that, as it means everyone in the supply chain is being paid fairly – but our expectations have been lowered by the race to the bottom in prices and it’s going to take a lot of work to turn that around.

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

I really admire Livia Firth, who I hadn’t really heard of as a public figure until getting involved in the ethical community. She’s working hard within her influential social circle to push ethical fashion and eco living as an alternative. I also have lots of praise for Irish comedian Aisling Bea, who is a young up-and-coming face on British TV and who champions brands such as Reformation in her TV appearances and media interviews.

What is brm?

brm is an eco and ethical womens clothing brand, designed and made in the UK, with a focus on vintage style cuts and details.

What inspired the title of the organization?

It’s my surname with the vowels missing! I always thought my name wasn’t very “fashion-y” but brm sounded quite cool. Unfortunately this means that Google brings up British Racing Motors before our website, though!

What are some of its feature products?

My favourite Collection One piece and a product which stands out for me is the Pleat Sleeve Jacket. It’s a biker style cropped jacket with statement sleeves in rich Navy Blue which photographs beautifully – it’s one of our non-organic pieces, but it is still ethically produced in the UK. Our other key product is the Panel Dress with its gorgeous 40’s style cut. It’s very fitted and flattering, with a flip out hem and contrasting plaid check yoke, but it also has pockets which don’t break the line of the dress. I think that’s important, to make sure these pieces are practical where possible so the consumer can get as much wear out of them as possible.

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Professional women, aged around 30-65 – this is my target market as the prices of brm pieces probably prohibit younger women from buying into the brand. The style of brm is chic and timeless, but the cotton fabrics give a casual edge to our pieces. I hope this makes them versatile and easily dressed up or down for day-to-night wear; for the busy modern woman.

What topics most interest you?

In terms of inspiration? Vintage clothing, particularly pre-50s clothing when most people made their own, so essentially everyone could be a designer – there are a lot of interesting ideas and design features to be inspired by. I’m also constantly inspired by structures from nature; lots of projects in my commercial design portfolio have been inspired by patterns, prints, and shapes from nature. Film and TV are also inspirations.

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?

I always say that fast fashion is a feminist issue – I think it’s very hypocritical of women’s rights campaigners in the western world to ignore the rights of women and children in the developing world on issues such as this. I think the promotion of the rights of women and children should be a key cornerstone to any ethical company. I think ethical companies can and should do more promote such causes – we already have a captive audience! Our social media followers are already (you would imagine) interested in ethical issues, eco issues, sustainability, fair wages and fair trade, workers rights, all of that sort of thing. A quick share of a relevant article gets it in front of more eyes. Some companies are doing this right – we have information about our factory on our ‘ethics’ page on our website, but we’re made in the UK, for a fair wage so there’s not a lot of reassurance that’s needed. Sometimes you’ll find an ethical company, like Everlane, who produce in countries with a question mark over them, such as China, but they are very open about precisely which factory the product is made in and give lots of information which is essential for truly ethical companies, I think.

What mass movements or social movements can fight for the implementation of the children’s rights outside of the fashion industry?

Children’s rights are always bound up in women’s rights, so the feminist movement should play a large part in fighting for children’s rights. More so than I see it doing, certainly. Worker’s rights movements, too. In the UK, it was labour and worker’s movements which helped to stop dangerous child labour in our cotton mills, coal mines and other dangerous industries. Those who fight for workers in the developed AND the developing world should fight also for children’s rights worldwide.

You can order brm products from their website, or find them at the following sites:

Ecohabitude: ecohabitude.com/stores/brm/products
Etsy: etsy.com/uk/shop/brmstudio
Folksy: folksy.com/shops/brm

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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