Here is a story of amoosi, an ethical fashion label that no longer trades, but lives on to inspire change.
We are sharing our story with the aim of passing on what we learned from our experiences.
The concept grew from our love of finding old gems of clothing among the heaps of old charity shop clothing and from reports about how unwanted clothing was being exported to foreign countries, swamping local markets with cheap clothing and undermining local trades.
There were few ethical fashion companies trading at this time and lots of cotton organic basics. The idea evolved into making clothing from reclaimed materials. We found a few innovative lone-star companies already doing it – Goodone, Junky Styling, From Somewhere, but we had a different style in mind.
A few months later, with some some start-up cash from Unltd* after entering a Guardian newspaper competition for new social enterprise ideas, we drove Nina’s tiny Fiat up to Oxfam’s main recycling centre near Huddersfield. This is where reject clothing from charity shops across the UK was collected, sorted and dispatched to be turned into rags and other uses. After sifting through tonnes of clothing, we returned to London with some beautiful textiles ready to be transformed.
We were off…
Fast forward a few months, and some business support later, we met some enthusiastic young designers looking for experience, tested styles with members of the hub network, developed a brand and launched the amoosi website. We established a board of advisers to bring expertise in sustainability, business development and fashion.
After visiting several small manufacturers in London (too many of which provided very poor working conditions), we finally found a great family run company (Crossbow) that was perfect for what we were trying to achieve.
Our first stockists
By 2006 we had two stockists in Covent Garden; ethical shoe shop, Terra Plana and couture boutique, Koh Samui. Nina modelled one of our panelled dresses when we walked into the shop and the proprietor made an order there and then. We called the young designer to give her the good news.
Part of our raison d’etre as a company was getting more designers interested in the ethics of fashion and hopefully changing the sector from the inside. We teamed up with two major fashion colleges, one in London and another in Nottingham, to talk to students and provide “live” design briefs for them to work on. We called it ‘Skills for Sustainability.’
We were offered the chance to exhibit at London Fashion Week by the Ethical Fashion Forum. We were running amoosi alongside full-time jobs, so we were a little exhausted, but the potential of amoosi fuelled us on. Carting around large, heavy bags, rails and mannequins to different places at this time in our lives was very familiar. On one occasion we met the buyers of the one of the biggest fashion retailers in Oxford Circus and they wanted to stock our accessories.
Going from small to viable?
To satisfy our new retailers demands for one month’s worth of stock, we needed to make hundreds items, but they wouldn’t pay us upfront for the advance stock. We needed to find thousands of pounds to produce our first order. This is before the era of crowd funding, so we considered asking friends and family for loans but decided against it. We wanted to take this leap to make amoosi viable by producing on a larger scale, but there didn’t seem to be much support from business development agencies or banks to make it possible.
Not quite making it
As well as the cash flow issue, there were complications with our idea. It’s not easy using waste materials to produce at scale as you never know what materials you’ll find. This can be a blessing and a curse as it means that the manufacturer needs close supervision to ensure the fabric combinations worked. There also just wasn’t quite enough support out there for fledgling fashion companies. Government support was available for equipment, but our own production facility at this early stage was not what we needed – it was the bridging capital.
The legal compliance and accounting for a small company was also difficult to navigate with such limited investment available to pay for the support of specialists. On top of this we hit the financial downturn and two of our stockists went into liquidation resulting in the loss of thousands of pounds worth of stock.
We left thinking, there is potential in this. Imagine if a large fashion retailer were willing to team up to produce a range. We’d have the certainty of large quantities of materials to be able to produce at scale to make the finances stack up. We had discussions with one high end retailer who went into administration during the financial downturn. The alternative was small scale production, but in general people aren’t used to paying the prices needed to make this viable.
Perhaps in 2016 some of these things will have started to change?
We are still scouring around for stylish ethical clothing and buying as few items of clothing as possible from mainstream fashion companies with questionable practices.