We’re so excited to present our ‘Shop Independent Gift Guide 2019’!
It’s that time of year again when you’re thinking about what to gift your friends + family this holiday season. As you know, here at The Emperor’s Old Clothes we love to support independent + local businesses. We truly believe that everyone should be more mindful when it comes to their Christmas shopping and should consider how this time of year creates so much unnecessary waste.
Gifts on the high-street are more often than not, mass-produced and harmful to the planet and the people that create them. Buying from local + independent businesses who pay the UK living wage and support and endorse the creativity and development of their teams is so important, especially at this time of year.
We’ve had lots of fun picking out amazing products from some of our favourite independent brands championing all things handmade and locally produced. We aim to inspire you to be more mindful this holiday season – we hope you’re just as excited as we are about these gorgeous products!
All That is Braw
All That Is Braw is the home of cosy flannel pyjamas for the whole family and bright and brilliant dressing up capes and crowns for mini superheroes.
Each item is designed and made in rural Scotland by Eilidh and her small team of skilled seamstresses. Eilidh is committed to pushing against fast fashion and reducing waste; scraps and offcuts are used in bibs, wall hangings and the occasional quilt with the last unusable scraps keeping the worms warm in the compost heap.
All That Is Braw items are available all year round, depending on fabric stock. Items bought from All That Is Braw are made to order, so if you have any sizing requests or requirements, these can be added to any order. Made to order items have a processing time of 3-4 weeks and last order dates for Christmas will be 30th November.
However, if you love All That Is Braw’s products but aren’t quite sure what you’d like to buy yet, vouchers are available to buy right up until 19th December!
The Rosehip Crop started as a pyjama top but they’re not going to tell you when to wear it. It’s simple oversized style looks as good with jeans as it does with pyjama bottoms. This navel grazing top features wide armholes and a shallow V neck and can be worn alone or layered over long sleeved tops.
The Rosehip pyjamas are beautifully soft. They’ll be the first thing you put on when you step in from work and you won’t want to take them off.
These comfy pjs are also perfect for long lazy weekends, drinking tea, eating comfort food and settling down to old movies.
The ‘Wide as the Clyde’ trousers are brand new: £85 All That Is Braw
Izzie is jewellery designer based in Brighton, creating botanical and wildlife themed jewellery from reclaimed materials. She works mainly with recycled silver, creating each design from scratch using traditional hammering, soldering and engraving techniques.
Nyome is wearing the 18ct Gold Plated Monstera Studs, £89 by Izzie Artisan
Izzie Artisan’s pieces are gold plated at a small specialist workshop in London. She also works with reclaimed copper and brass which she sources locally. She is inspired by explorations in the wild as well as the flora and fauna living in her garden.
Maxxie is wearing the 18ct Gold Plated Hoop Earrings, £59 by Izzie Artisan
Izzie Artisan’s amazing jewellery is available all year round, however if you want something just in time for Christmas please order by 10th December for Gold Plated items and all other items by 16th December.
Izzie Artisan also offers a personalisation service, so if you would like your jewellery personalised or have any questions about Izzie Artisan’s jewellery and international orders please contact Izzie here.
Zero Waste Path Shop
Zero Waste Path Shop are a small independent, 100% vegan and palm oil free business making handmade sustainable cosmetics and skincare products.
Their range goes from natural soap and shampoo bars, to zero waste moisturisers and deodorants.
As zero wasters and vegans themselves they are always looking for ways to make their business more ethical and sustainable.
Zero Waste Path Shop is available all year round, however they will close for the Christmas holidays on December 19th. The last day you can place an order will be on the 18th December.
What Lydia Made
What Lydia Made is a contemporary underwear brand focusing on bespoke inclusive sizing, comfort, modern design-led aesthetics, handmade production, and body positivity. Handmade by Lydia + Sophie in Lydia’s Glasgow studio using 100% cotton, cotton with minimal elastane + 100% tencel fabrics.
There are quite a few beautiful colourways + styles to choose from. Each set is made to measure + Lydia has a great little video guide on her site for how to take your measurements.
Order slots are up for grabs just once a month so make sure you pop it in your diary. This beautiful underwear is worth the wait! If you have any questions about the order process or Christmas availability please get in touch with Lydia.
Timeless wardrobe essentials. Designed by Emily, and handmade for a living wage by her mum in Brighton, England. All of Zola Amour’s fabrics are made out of Earth-friendly organic fabrics.
Zola Amour don’t believe in developing season specific products as it’s always Summer somewhere, so they offer their full range of products all year round.
Zola Amour’s cotton tees are made out of GOTS certified organic cotton, which was knitted by the ‘Discovery Knitting’ Mill based in the UK and stitched in GOTS certified organic cotton thread.
If you would like your new Zola Amour garment in time for Christmas, the last chance to order is 19th December. If you are local to us in Brighton, Zola Amour have a pop-up shop open until 6pm on Christmas Eve. Find them here: 23 Dukes Lane, Brighton, BN1 1BG.
K.Moods aims to create textiles that are sustainable and comfortable, while designing with zero-waste and along the slow fashion ethos. Each K.Moods piece is made by hand on a domestic knitting machine in our Edinburgh studio.
Nyome is wearing the Sunset Geo Scarf, £125 by K.Moods
The colourful winter accessories contrast against Scotland’s harsh winters, bringing a bright enthusiasm to design and textiles.
Meera is wearing the Ziggy Beanie – Orange and Green, £45 by K.Moods
This cosy Ziggy Beanie by K.Moods will keep your head warm and your attitude bright. Made in Edinburgh from British wool, it is double-layered for extra warmth and pulls down to cover your ears against wind. The Ziggy Beanie is bright orange and features a repeat zig-zag pattern in green, with a contrast blue pom-pom.
All of K.Moods products are made to order and the deadline for Christmas orders is the 12th December as all products take up a week to make. The deadline for ordering ready-made items is 20th December. Other colour-ways of the scarf will be available soon on their website.
Rebecca Wise Studio
Rebecca Wise Studio creates handmade and hand painted ceramics, art and illustration. Inspired by body positivity, exploring the nude figure and nature. Rebecca loves painting with bold and bright pastel colours and drawing in an illustrative style.
Nude Figures Boob Mug, £26 by Rebecca Wise Studio
All of Rebecca Wise’s ceramics are made with lead free clay and underglazes and all my packaging is either recycled, eco friendly or biodegradable.
Rebecca Wise’s products are made all year round and the shop is usually updated every month or two with new pieces that she has created. The deadline for international Christmas orders is 14th December and for UK orders its 20th December. If you are unsure of which product you would like to buy, Rebecca Wise offers gift vouchers so get in touch with her here.
The Emperor’s Old Clothes
Oh hey! Of course we’d love you to buy our pieces for your friends + family too!
As you know, we’re dedicated to sustainable fashion working exclusively with vintage fabrics & end-of-roll remnants which would otherwise find their way to landfill. This also means that when our customers buy a new item of clothing they are adding another chapter to the story of each beautiful cloth. Every item is handmade by our all-female team in our Brighton studio.
Meera is holding our ‘Dawn Buds’ Dungarees in UK 6-8, £145 by The Emperor’s Old Clothes
We’re also passionate about ethical business. This isn’t simply about products and supply chains, it’s about the people behind the brand. Every member of our team is paid the living wage and gets the opportunity to develop their creative & technical skills in our friendly handmade clothing studio.
Nyome is holding ‘Hearts and Crosses’ Orange Checked Make-Up Bag , £16 by The Emperor’s Old Clothes
Nyome is wearing ‘Spirals in the Sky’ Blue Dungarees – UK 22-24 (SOLD OUT) by The Emperor’s Old Clothes
Meera is holding the ‘Fabric Wreath Kit 20cm Frame’ £14 + wearing ‘Berry Good’ Dungaree Dress, SOLD OUT by The Emperor’s Old Clothes
Meera is holding the ‘Fabric Scrap Card Making Kit’, 5 Cards in Red, £12 also available in Green and Cream by The Emperor’s Old Clothes
If you have any questions about any of the designers, products or processes get in touch with the brands. That’s the beauty of independents – you can deal directly with the person who designed or made your items so who better to answer your questions?
We hope we’ve helped with either your festive shopping or your own gift list! Happy holidays everyone x
Gift Guide photography + copy by Ella Gilchrist, marketing assistant + Cecily Blondel, owner The Emperor’s Old Clothes
It’s National Living Wage Week in the UK. A huge part of the sustainable fashion movement is to create more transparency: to make consumers aware of who made their clothes, under what conditions and for what rates of pay. As a living wage employer this is a cornerstone to everything we do here at The Emperor’s Old Clothes.
As our contribution to National Living Wage Week we want to share some facts, figures + research around pay structures in the fashion industry and their impact. This is in NO WAY a definitive article but a starting point to encourage you, dear reader, to do your own research and think more about where your clothes come from + how the people who made them are treated.
PIECE WORK VS SALARIES
“Piece rate is defined as work paid according to the number of units produced (for example, the number of T-shirts produced) instead of being paid on the basis of time spent on the job”
According to brand research an estimated of as little as 2% garment workers are paid a liveable wage. Many garment workers in other countries are paid using a paid-piece rate. This informal method of payment doesn’t ensure the workers will receive a pension, health insurance or a substantial living wage. For an industry that profits $1.2 trillion in a year, why is it the people that make the clothes aren’t getting near enough their fair share?
According to a study published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) garment workers who are paid by piece are more likely to have encountered sexual/emotional/physical abuse in their workplace. The percentage of women paid by piece in the garment industry is higher than males for example, in Pakistan, 58% of women working in garment production are paid by piece whereas only 13% for men. This method of earning is the most viable option to people below the poverty line and is based upon an incentive to work at a pressurised pace rather than a fair wage for the amount of hours worked. There are only a small amount of wage workers in comparison to the nearly 80% of paid-piece employees – 7 out of 9 countries are stuck in informal employment.
Partial piece rated pay is when the worker is paid a very minimum hourly wage and the incentive to earn more is added on top. This is a problematic method of payment as workers are uncertain of how much their pay will be at the end of the month due to the lack of transparency and uncertainty from the employers. This can cause detrimental effects to workers wellbeing and mental health to be put under such a stressful process.
Government action is needed to regulate the fashion manufacturing payment model so as to enforce regulations and a concrete system to end this informal employment in the garment industry. The lack of trade unions especially in previously colonised countries is also a contributing factor as these workers need someone to be on their side in times when they feel like they need to report missed payments or poor working conditions to a member of authority. The decision to change the state of garment manufacturing needs to happen across a country scale or in fact a global one, it will be near possible for one brand to do this on their own – it will require a team effort. The livelihoods of people across the world and including in Britain are put at risk for the benefit of the Western majority maintaining a disposable wardrobe.
In the last 6 years in the UK HMRC has caught out 24 garment manufacturers for not being able to meet the minimum wage for their employees – six of those manufacturers were in Leicester. The city employs around 10,000 people for the production of fashion and textiles a lot of which are not met with the minimum wage – shown in Channel 4’s Dispatches programme it was discovered that few factory owners were offering a wage of £3/3.50 an hour (bearing in mind the minimum wage for over 25s is £8.21) .
The documentary used an undercover source to go into one of the Leicester sweatshops discovering the inhumane conditions that workers were put in, witness to the pressure put on employees that if they didn’t perform better they would be sacked and 0 efforts to check identification papers or completion of contracts.
This is a result of the high demand for fast fashion, factories and their workers are overwhelmed with garments to produce and as a result the workers are being downtrodden. In 2013 H&M had made promised efforts to pay 850,000 garment workers a living wage by 2018 – this is not the case today. This is often the issue in which large apparel brands promise to increase the wage for their garment workers to organisations such as ACT, Fair Labor Association and Fair Wage Network but these actions never go further/never fulfilled.
At The Emperor’s Old Clothes we have always undertaken a different approach to pay structures far more consistent with other industries. Every employee whether on the payroll or freelance signs a contract stating their monthly hours and their rate of pay. Basically our team are paid by the hour not by piece. We really disagree paying by piece despite the fact that it is the industry standard.
When you pay someone by piece you are getting out of paying for your employee’s basic needs in the workplace. You are not paying them to be able to take toilet breaks, to troubleshoot/fix their machine when it becomes unthreaded or plays up. You are not accounting for any basic human errors meaning a piece of work may need to be unpicked and re-sewn.
Whenever any of these things occur the employee – in this case garment worker – is not being paid for their time because in the majority of cases there won’t have been any time accounted for these things when the piece rate has been calculated. We think that is dehumanising and unacceptable.
It is more expensive to employ people for set hours each month despite not knowing exactly how many orders will be coming in. It is a tricky balance relying on people being able to be flexible with overtime when it gets really busy. However in our experience if you treat the people who work with you with dignity and respect they are far more willing to go the extra mile during busy times. And fundamentally it is the right thing to do.
RESEARCH + RESOURCES
We want to conclude with some research on the disparity between UK living wages + living wages overseas where the majority of garment production has been outsourced to:
Again please note: this is just our limited research and not a definitive guide – all sources are linked.
Current UK REAL Living Wage – £9.30 per hour (over 18s, voluntary)
Monthly salary (at roughly 40 hours per week) – £1488
Current UK National Living Wage – £8.21 per hour (over 25, statutory)
Monthly salary (at roughly 40 hours per week) – £1313.60
Current UK Minimum Wage – £7.70 per hour (21 and over, statutory)
Monthly salary (at roughly 40 hours per week) – £1232
Average Monthly Minimum wage in China – £453.42
Monthly Living wage in Urban China (last updated 2015) £459.87
Zhejiang region (one of the regions that produces predominantly garments) monthly minimum wage –
highest 2,010.000 RMB = £223.59 in 2018
lowest 490.000 RMB = £54.51in 2005
Average Monthly Minimum wage in India – £93.49 (2011/12)
Monthly Living wage in Urban India (last updated 2018) £159.24
Average Monthly Minimum wage in Bangladesh – £126.51
Legal Monthly Minimum wage in Bangladesh – £73.85
Monthly Living wage in Bangladesh (Dhaka City) (last updated 2016) £ 151.05
It is also important to note that less than 10% of garment workers globally are part of a union.
Are you really making an ethical purchase when buying from brands that pay a living wage to overseas garment workers when the garment worker monthly wage payment is equivalent in £/$ to the RRP of 2-3 garments? That doesn’t add up to us.
SOME KEY FACTORS ABOUT GLOBAL LIVING WAGES
GENDER PAY GAP
Garment workers are predominantly female and in most of these countries there is a significant gender pay gap between male and female workers.
LOW WAGES = LOW ECONOMIC GROWTH
The solution would be to create the opportunity for economic growth in these countries. However, if this wage were to increase so would the local cost of living which would then have a knock on effect on other people who work in different industries. Remember it is a key tenant of white supremacist capitalism to keep control of both the money and the power across all production and supply chains.
There is also an issue with the factory owners who in some cases don’t pay their workers the correct amount of money – tighter systems and regulation are needed for fair distribution of pay. We believe this should be funded by taxing big fashion brands who are exploiting garment workers – as they have proven they cannot regulate themselves.
ROLE OF CONSUMERS
“There is really nowhere you can shop that’s totally ethical right now, because no garment worker is paid a living wage,” – Ilona Kelly campaign director for Labour Behind The Label. Customers can put pressure on unions to be more transparent about how they are helping workers in other countries to achieve a better wage rather than buying from the companies that clearly don’t achieve this. It shouldn’t just be as simple as buying the ‘right thing’ because there is no way of knowing for definite anymore what is ethical and what isn’t.
This is why we try to be as transparent as possible with you via our social channels and content – we want to let you into the processes behind how we make your clothes so you can decide whether to make your purchase. Imagine if all brands including the big players did the same…
RESPONSIBILITY OF BRANDS
Fast fashion & luxury brands have the money: as productivity increases the wage still stays the same. Brands should be working with the ILO to put pressure on suppliers for better wages for employees.
New brands that have ethical values have the potential to set new ground rules for suppliers and other existing brands as well as being able to communicate with the governments in these countries to ensure minimum wage is a legal requirement. When the annual revenue of Adidas is higher than the annual GDP of Cambodia, Ilona Kelly said, “brands really need to own up and take more responsibility”.
SO IN CONCLUSION…
…do you really know who makes your clothes and how they are treated?
For the majority of people the answer is no.
Educating ourselves as consumers is the first step, lobbying for change is the second.
Just to be clear:
- We are not arguing that wages are the only factor in ethical production at all – so many other factors are integral, especially environmental impact. This is just one part of the discussion.
- We are not advocating for people to shame other people for not having 100% ethical and sustainable wardrobes – there is no ethical consumption under late stage capitalism. However having these conversations with those who hold the same privileges as you, and listening to those who hold less is the best way to start to interrogate your role in the current broken systems and also in the solutions.
Again – if no way a definitive list:
We cannot recommend joining Aja’s Patreon enough – she shares so many interesting articles, writes incredible thought pieces and holds space for meaningful discussion around sustainable fashion, intersectionality and race. Tiers start from $5 a month (with a currently sold out student tier at $1 a month). Perfect gift to give yourself this holiday season.
Research + copy by Cressida Drummond-Hill – Marketing Assistant ; Editing + opinionated copy by Cecily Blondel – Owner
It’s that time of year again – Fashion Revolution Week 2019 – where we join thousands of people including consumers, designers + brands across 90 countries worldwide to make positive pro-active changes + lessen the devastating environmental + social impact of the fashion industry.
What is Fashion Revolution?
A global movement to change the impact of the fashion industry.
On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. Thats when Fashion Revolution started.
Your voice can change everything.
Since Fashion Revolution started, people from all over the world have used their voice and their power to tell brands that things must change. And it’s working. The industry is starting to change. More brands are being open about where their clothes are made. More manufacturers are making their factories safer. More producers are being seen and heard.
But the story is far from over. We are only just getting started. We can’t stop until every garment worker who makes the clothes we love is seen, heard, paid properly and working in safe conditions. Your voice does make a difference. We need to make this Fashion Revolution Week bigger and bolder than ever before. Ask brands #whomademyclothes?
What are we doing for Fashion Revolution Week 2019?
We have lots of exciting projects and events coming up over the next ten days.
We’d love those of you local to Brighton / Sussex / London to join us:
Zola Amour & Friends Pop-Up
18th-29th April | Open daily 10-6pm | 11 Dukes Lane, Brighton BN1 1BG
Launch party Thursday 18th April 6-8.30pm BOOK YOUR FREE TICKET
Visit us for style that doesn’t cost the Earth! Along with some of our Brighton friends including:
Come to our launch party to celebrate our first pop up in Brighton and with a complimentary drink. The first ten customers will also receive 20% off purchases. Due to the size of the space, we have limited tickets for this event on a first come basis.
I will be working in the shop on Easter Monday (22nd April) so do pop in + say hi if you’re in town that day
Consumer Workshop – Sister Society x Sew Fabulous
Wednesday 24th April | 6.30-9pm | My Hotel, Jubilee Street, Brighton
Tickets £6 each BUY YOURS NOW (some low income tickets available – email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sister Society + Sew Fabulous – Brighton’s only sewing social enterprise – have teamed up to host an evening ideas workshop around the 7 key points of Fashion Revolution’s Manifesto. Let’s look at our buying habits and our roles as consumers in 2019!
We have teamed up with an amazing group of people who will be co-ordinating small group discussions around each of the manifesto’s key points (paraphrased here):
1. Dignified work from conception to catwalk
2. Fair & equal pay
3. Gives people a voice
4. Respects culture & heritage
5. Inclusive & champions diversity
6. Conserves & restores the environment
7. Circular fashion – repaired, reused, recycled
Attendees will have the opportunity to ask and answer questions to engage with each topic. At the end of the session there will be a whole room conversation lead by co-ordinators about the workshop findings with resource sheets to take away.
Vivenie Mugunga – managing director Ryico (Rwandan Youth Information Community Organisation) and social enterprise African Sewing Club
Susie Deadman – Sew Fabulous
Bee Nicholls – Brighton & Hove Living Wage Campaign
Cecily Blondel – The Emperor’s Old Clothes
Emily Evans – Zola Amour
Both Sister Society & Sew Fabulous are not-for-profit organisations. All capital raised from ticket sales will go to covering event costs.
‘Why Fashion is a Feminist Issue’ Panel Discussion with Revival Collective
Friday 26th April | 6.30-9pm | 23 Dukes Lane, Brighton BN1 1BG
Tickets £5 each BUY YOURS NOW
Revival Collective presents a special Fashion Revolution Week panel discussion… where we’ll be chatting to 4 amazing ethical fashion pioneers about why fashion is an issue for intersectional feminism.
Panel will start at 7pm but please arrive before. Ticket prices include a donation to Labour Behind The Label
Vivenie Mugunga managing director Ryico (Rwandan Youth Information Community Organisation) and social enterprise African Sewing Club
Jessica McCleave designer and founder of ethical fashion brand ILK + ERNIE
Christine Gent Fair Trade Expert for WFTO, Chair of the board of the People Tree Group and one of the founders of The FAIR Shop
Cecily Blondel designer and founder of The Emperor’s Old Clothes
The Good Fashion Show
Saturday 27th April | 7.30-9.30pm | St Peter’s Church, York Place BN1 4GU
Tickets £7 each / £5 for students BUY YOURS NOW
Join us for an evening celebration of brands that strive to do fashion differently, thinking more about the people and the processes behind the products we buy.
~ Live ‘Alteration Station’ with Alma’s Alterations
~ Stalls featuring brands such as Lucy & Yak, Finisterre, Know The Origin, Madia & Matilda, ILK + ERNIE, Pala Eyewear, The Emperor’s Old Clothes, Rag Trade Clothing, The FAIR Shop and more
~ *Clothes Swap* run by Brighthelm Centre
~ A chance to meet and hear from the founders of Brighton-born brands such as Little By Little Jewellery and RubyMoon Gym To Swim and award-winning Conscious Earthwear/ Ciel Green
All profits go to support:
Tearfund’s matched giving appeal to clean up Pakistan’s worst polluted slums.
The LDY Team’s outreach trip to St Stephen’s Society recovery centre in Hong Kong.
The Ethical Fashion Map of Brighton
Explore Brighton’s ethical fashion scene during Fashion Revolution Week with this collaborative trail curated by Revival Collective + beautifully illustrated by Keziah Furini
Find us + take a peek at our studio at FLOCK BRIGHTON!
DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY HERE or pick one up from us
Ok this is a bit of an essay but there are so many aspects to the topic of becoming size inclusive it would be a dis-service not to be fully transparent and give space to the ‘difficult’ parts of the conversation.
Realisation + apology
I’ve been pretty vocal recently on my biggest mistake as a business owner but let’s get this in writing: up until this year I have been guilty of marginalising people of all shapes + sizes with my fashion brand by creating clothing just for people who looked similar to me.
For the last few years our size range has been UK 6-8 to UK 14-16. This is ridiculous, unrealistic and most of all unfair, especially in a country where the average size is UK 16. Every single person deserves to look and feel awesome. To have the same amount of choices as everyone else and not feel ignored and stigmatised.
Having stepped back, looked outside my own experience and privilege as a thin person I’m ashamed of my complicity in the fashion industry’s marginalisation of plus size people up until now. You can see my original video apology in our ‘New sizes’ Instagram stories highlight on our profile but one apology isn’t enough.
It’s important to keep having the conversation over + over again. This blogpost – requested by many of you in a recent instagram poll – is a behind the scenes look at how our brand is becoming more size inclusive, it’s a look at the mistakes and assumptions I’ve made as a business owner and an update on our commitments to diversity and inclusivity for the rest of 2019.
But before we get stuck in… I am sorry for being part of the problem and creating a brand that marginalised so many of you. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to realise and take steps to rectify this. Thank you for your support over the past two months which certainly wasn’t earned by my brand’s actions up til now.
What the process entails
Ok so what does increasing your size range actually mean in practical terms?
I can only speak to our experience and business practices. We are a small brand who make every single one of our garments by hand. This means we have limited resources, we do EVERYTHING ourselves and do not necessarily follow industry practices like many other small, medium and massive brands. Myself and my team are mainly self-taught with a lot of freelance experience and personally some self-investment in sewing lessons etc before I started my business and a small qualification in pattern-cutting a couple of years ago.
It’s important to give context to our experience in this way because for people reading this who may never have worked in fashion or who don’t know how to sew – I don’t want you to leave thinking that the way we do things is necessarily the way this process would work across all brands.
For us it began with deciding the body measurements for our new sizes. Louisa & I looked at our current sizing – the difference in inches between each size and replicated this upwards for our new UK 16-18 and UK 18-20 sizes and downwards for our UK 4-6 size.
Once we’d decided these measurements it was time to start grading of our most popular garment patterns. I pattern-cut every design and then we manually ‘grade’ them to different sizes with rulers, pencils, masking tape, a lot of tea and the odd swear-word here and there.
Manually grading means increasing or decreasing the size of each pattern piece that goes into making a garment in increments determined by the measurements you’ve set for each of your sizes. This is something bigger brands would pay to have done digitally. I can see the benefits of this and maybe it would be something I’d consider in future if budgets allowed but personally I prefer to maintain control over the changes we are making to our patterns.
It’s also not just about objectively adding or taking away the surface area of the garment it’s also taking into account the shape of bodies and altering the designs where needed for example: if your chest is bigger you’ll want your top to be longer to accommodate the size of your bust, if your chest is smaller you’ll want smaller bust darts.
Once we had graded these patterns it was time for fittings to test out our hard work!
This is where I have to give a huge thank you to Lydia Morrow of What Lydia Made. Having seen Lydia’s frustration about lack of size inclusivity from other brands in her Instagram stories I got in touch to see if she’d be up for helping us develop some of our new sizes. Lydia has been absolutely amazing. Not only has she given us really helpful feedback, she has also encouraged and supported us more than I can say. This is what sustainable fashion is about – a community full of supportive relationships – helping to bring about positive change.
Many of you have followed us since Lydia featured us numerous times in her stories and on her grid. I’m going to share some of your messages (anonymously) shortly so please bear with me her but we were inundated and completely overwhelmed by how many of you got in touch offering to help us as ‘fit models’ to test the new sizes of our designs. Thank you!
Through those fittings we took in garments here and let out garments there until we and our fit models were happy with the shape + feel of our dungarees, dungaree-culottes, culottes, crop tops, circle skirts and circle two-pieces.
This isn’t a particularly attractive process with toiles (mock up test garments) made up in unbleached cotton which can be hard for those who don’t sew to see past, but it is the MOST IMPORTANT part of the process because honestly if we’re not going to create comfortable and attractive clothing at the end of all this what is the point?
From this we were able to create our first few pieces of ready to wear in beautiful colours, prints and textures. We have rolled this out for about ⅓-½ of our garment styles so far and will be continuing this process across our whole collection in the coming months (scroll down for our brand commitments).
Does this sound like a lot of work? Not really? Well it wasn’t.
Which begs the question why can’t more brands cater to a more inclusive size range? I have some thoughts on this but let’s hear from you and your experiences first:
Feedback + support
Those fittings, whether virtually like with Lydia, or on site at the studio were not only helpful but really quite emotional.
Here are a handful of the generous, encouraging + critical messages we have received during the call out for fit models, the exposure Lydia gave us and the introduction of our first ready to wear designs by our amazing models Mary + Nyome:
Thank you to everyone of you who got in touch, who supported, encouraged and criticised us. We appreciate your time, thought, care and energy.
It speaks to my privilege and ignorance that I felt overwhelmed by the reactions and stories that many of you shared with us when Lydia and others announced our new sizes.
If I’d taken a moment to think about it, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to me to hear that so many of you felt neglected, overlooked or dis-serviced. That one of our friends who gave their time to be one of our UK 16-18 fit models said she hadn’t worn trousers in years because she couldn’t find any that fit properly on the high street or online.
But that is how privileged blind spots work and why it’s so important to look outside of yourself and listen to others, especially as a business owner in the ‘ethical’ sphere.
Mary wears our ‘I heart dungarees’ UK 16-18
Why brands don’t do better
Honestly I feel 9 times out of 10 it’s that they don’t see that there is an issue and they don’t change because they don’t have to.
I can’t personally talk to the experience of big brands except as a consumer. But it’s a really troubling trap especially for small labels founded by individuals that those people often just blindly design for people that look like them rather than start out designing inclusively. This is why I so admire people like What Lydia Made whose business model centres around being inclusive from the outset (and acknowledges her own blindspots, consistently challenging herself to do better).
It also speaks to who has the power (please see Aja Barber’s work + pay her for it) and the means to start a fashion label. I am a cis middle class thin white woman who has been incredibly privileged to have lots of support, particularly financial support, from family and friends to make my ‘dream job’ a reality. I would not be able to do any of this without that support and this is a privilege that I am very aware of and grateful for, but one that is not available to lots of makers, particularly those who come from marginalised communities and low incomes.
The other major elephant in the room is that I also hold a lot of social privilege within our capitalist, white supremacist, homophobic, ableist society, as a thin white straight abled-bodied woman, all of which adds up to even more of a cushioning support up the ladder which I have in no way earned. My intention here is not to centre myself but to highlight the inequalities that lead to people like me having more of an unfair advantage and chance of success in starting a fashion start-up and therefore more of a platform to (whether knowingly or not) perpetuate the white, fatphobic, ableist vision of beauty and worth that our capitalist society has kept at the forefront if we simply choose not to recognise our privilege.
Because for people like me it is a choice – it is a privilege to not have to recognise our privilege – because society and the media centre us and congratulate us for just moving through the world. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned sexism here – yes we live in a patriarchy which I am very much against but especially in industries like fashion the privileges of being a young thin white middle class cis woman override much of the disadvantages that we experience through sexism.
So how can we as business owners and fashion brands change the narrative? Yes it takes effort and resources to be more inclusive but honestly how much does it really take?
Much of it comes down to motivation, decision-making and LISTENING to your customers and those within (and those often on the ‘outskirts’) of your community. Starting with a conversation I had with the amazing Kitty Underhill last year I have actively sought out voices and accounts that are different to mine on social media, listened and amplified where appropriate. We have so much to learn and gain by listening to others.
Choose to place inclusivity at the core of your business model, commit to doing this better each day, consider and change your language and have the conversations publicly where appropriate and in a respectful way. Amplify the voices of others who know more, have more authority and are sharing their stories, especially if they have less privilege than you. Pay them for their services and content if they’ve meant that much to you and you are using them.
Nyome wears our ‘Cotton Candy’ Dungarees UK 18-20
Choose BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and plus size models and brand representatives not in a tokenistic way but because there are millions of talented, beautiful people out there who are already doing awesome work who you would be massively lucky and should be honoured to work with. You don’t have to scroll back that far through our feed to see this is not something we have been doing for the whole time our business has been running but it’s about doing better every day than you did before.
None of this easy but that’s not the point. It’s necessary and vital to make these changes because it’s the right thing to do. Yes you are going to fuck up and say the wrong thing. Listen, apologise, create inclusive solutions and do better. As a brand we are far from perfect – I’m sure there will be those that I haven’t included properly in this post but if/when I’m told that I will credit and apologise and remember that generous feedback for next time. It has to be about deeds not words, impact not just intentions. Please check out Marielle Elizabeth’s ‘Size Inclu Rant’ stories highlight for why this is just so important for the the whole of sustainable fashion – when you as a brand don’t deliver on promises to be inclusive you let the whole community down.
Our commitments going forward
Mary is wearing our ‘Pretty Posy’ Circle Two-Piece UK 16-18
There are so many ways in which I want to improve our brand and some of these changes will take longer than others but here is what we have planned for the rest of 2019:
- Continue to grade our patterns so that our entire range is available at sizes UK 4-6 to UK 18-20
- Start the grading process again to extend our range to include UK 20-22 + UK 22-24 – bare in mind that our current UK 18-20 is equivalent in body measurements to an ASOS 26 and that from feedback the jump in between our sizes is quite generous we hope that this will be mean proper size inclusivity. If it doesn’t we will continue to grade!
- To continue working with awesome models of all sizes, ethnicities, genders and ages! We are always on the lookout for models for our Brighton (UK) shoots. We work with both professional models and non-professional models which include our customers, friends and random people I occasionally scout in the shop, on the street + online… We’ll be adding a ‘model with us’ page to our site soon.
- To remove gender binary language from our site and marketing. Inclusivity includes not assuming how people identify. We’re selling clothing not labels – it’s our responsibility to make that clear in our content.
- To begin conversations with individuals – and budget-allowing – accessibility consultants to test our garments and see where changes need to be made to make them more suitable for disabled customers so that everyone can enjoy our designs.
- To collaborate with more sustainable fashion, plus size, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and disabled influencers (check out our ‘Amplify’ Instagram highlight for some of our faves). This one is really hard because despite what I’ve mentioned earlier about privilege and financial support it is challenging as a small business to turn a profit and have a marketing budget, especially when you are a living wage employer. We currently invest in diversifying our models (who all get paid the same above living wage rate no matter they’re professional status), in our team and in our community by offering free traineeships for people who want to develop their sewing skills (would love to get this funded one day) which leaves very little budget for paying influencers etc for collaborations.
This isn’t a justification or an excuse – I believe everyone should get paid, especially those who are already marginalised within our society. As we grow I hope this will change and we can invest in these relationships too, for now I am putting it out there that we are always up for a conversation on trading garments (including our design your own service) for features.
Sounds ambitious? Yep.
And we may not achieve all of these things in this time-frame (we probably won’t) but that’s ok as long as we are moving in the right direction and doing better each day.
Nyome wears our ‘Rainstorm Roses’ Circle Two-Piece UK 18-20
If you appreciate our ethos and want to see us succeed in our mission please support us by buying our products, sharing our posts and telling your friends. The only way small sustainable brands like ours can grow and make an impact is by reaching more people and growing their customer base.
If we aren’t yet catering to your size please still get in touch with your measurements because 9 times out of 10 we can make you one of our garments as a design your own order while we sort the rest of our grading.
Are we affordable for everyone? Truthfully no. I’d say for more than half of our customers we are a considered purchase. However if you compare the customisable nature of our products, the impact of our business model (using vintage + end of roll fabrics, paying a living wage), the longevity of our products and the quality of our customer service we hope you will find that our pricing is very fair.
If you’ve made it this far through my essay of a blogpost I’d love to hear your thoughts on any and all of the above, positive or otherwise! You can leave a comment below, email us via email@example.com or get in touch with us via Instagram @emperorscloth
Recycling and specifically fabric recycling is super important in sustainable fashion and in the fashion industry as a whole.
As we mentioned in our last blogpost one of the worst, most polluting aspects of fast fashion is the amount of waste the industry produces mostly, but not exclusively, in the form of ‘dead stock’.
What is ‘dead stock’?
A term used to describe merchandise that was never sold to or used by consumers before being removed from sale, usually because it was outdated. Dead stock is often warehoused, but it can also subsequently be offered for sale and typically retains its original package and tags.
Definition from businessdirectory.com
Many major players have been called out in recent months for the disposal of all their dead stock. Fast fashion is the biggest culprit with many big high street names sitting on masses of unsold stock from over-production.
And luxury fashion houses aren’t much better…
‘Dead stock’ is a problem if you’re churning out millions of garments a season but small-scale operations like us can be way more innovative + creative with our solutions.
We have a policy for our ready to wear designs at Emperor’s – an item has to be sent to every one of our stockists and go through two sales (we hold January + Summer sales) before being considered ‘dead stock’.
What happens to a garment that sadly doesn’t find it’s perfect owner? It gets a new lease of life as we rework it into another one of our designs! Ready to start the process again.
Since the end of our January sale we have been having fun reworking some of the unsold garments.
Here are a couple of examples:
‘Scarlet Fever’ Amy Dress becomes ‘Scarlet Fever’ Circle Two-Piece
‘Afternoon Tea’ Amy Dress becomes ‘Afternoon Tea’ Circle Two-Piece
What does reworking involve?
We take the time to unpick the unsold garment into pieces that will work for the new design.
It takes time, especially unpicking all the overlocking where we use four different threads.
It’s totally worth it though to know that we are giving this piece of clothing a new chance to be loved.
In the case of transforming a dress into a two-piece we need to create a waistband for the new skirt. Luckily we have a zero fabric waste policy at Emperor’s HQ! We hold onto the scraps of every fabric from our cutting room floor so in most cases we just look for the corresponding fabric remnant in one of our colour-coded boxes and get to work.
The same goes for turning culottes into dungaree-culottes we look for leftover fabric to create the straps and bib…
But isn’t this all a lot of work?
Yes all this is extra work and ultimately this means the profit margin of the garment in question takes a hit but we value sustainability + our slow fashion ethos above making a buck.
We have made sure that recycling is a central part of our business model.
As brands we don’t need to follow traditional retail business models – in fact we shouldn’t! Look at the mess they’ve gotten us into…
‘Dead stock’ is a horrid term and actually just doesn’t exist at The Emperor’s Old Clothes.
On the very rare occasion that a garment has been reworked into as many styles as possible + still hasn’t sold, well then we would make it into our signature accessories + so on + so on.
Waste is only waste if you waste it + in this day and age with all the knowledge we have about the social + environmental impacts of fast fashion there’s just no excuse for dead stock.
We hope this has inspired you to place more value on the clothing in your wardrobe, to think about where your clothes come from + to support brands who are making meaningful change in their everyday activities + product lines.
The garments pictured + described in this blogpost will be hitting our online boutique this week!