For the last interview in my mini meet the maker interview series I’m talking to Harjit from ethical accessory brand Jewelled Buddha. I hope you’ve enjoyed all the interviews this week whilst I’ve been away. I’m back from vacation on Monday so be prepared for lots of vacation content including everything I took with me.
Could you introduce yourself and tell me about your brand?
I’m Harjit Sohotey-Khan, founder of London-based ethical brand Jewelled Buddha. We partner with social enterprises and artisans in India, bringing beautiful, timeless, artisan accessories with a story. All of our products are handmade using ancient practices characteristic of the regions they are crafted in. Every purchase empowers marginalised artisans to earn a dignified and sustainable income contributing to their education, livelihoods and healthcare.
Why do you think Fashion Revolution and the slow fashion movement are important?
Fashion Revolution week is hugely important. It raises awareness of the importance of knowing where our clothes come, who made them and how our insatiable desire for fast fashion negatively impacts those who create them. The tragedy of the Rana Plaza complex collapsing in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1134 garment workers and injuring over 2500, highlighted the inexcusable failures of the fashion industry and its thirst for profit over people. It was the first time we all became aware how our desire for cheap clothing negatively impacted workers abroad. For me, there’s a huge injustice behind this. It’s exploiting cheap labour in the developing world to fulfil a frivolous demand in the west for fast, cheap fashion that is fuelled by the rise of social media and celebrity culture. The processes employed by the fashion industry have vast social implications for the workers, affecting whole communities and impacting the planet by our over-consumption.
Over decades our attitude to fashion and clothing has changed. It’s become a disposable commodity, influenced by a culture of trends that we seem to be continuously chasing to add to our already bulging wardrobes.
Slow Fashion for me is about reclaiming your own identity, being original and creative. When they say “buy less, choose well’, think about whether you really need to buy the latest trend. I mean do you really need something that will go out of fashion in a couple of months? It’s about choosing well-made, timeless items of clothing that you will love years down the line. We don’t have to boycott or alienate the fashion industry to make a point. It’s about influencing the industry to be transparent and saying we are not a minority. We care about those who make our clothes. Slow fashion is also about reigning in overconsumption. This has such a negative effect on the environment in terms of water consumption and clothing being dumped in landfills. With so much technology at our fingertips, we are in a great position to educate ourselves on how our clothing impacts people and the environment.
Could you tell me about how you ensure your brand remains ethical/sustainable?
We carefully select the social enterprises we partner with, ensuring they have a good reputation for ethical and sustainable practices. Part of this is maintaining a good relationship with these organisations and keeping the lines of communication open. We visit them at least once a year. Recently I visited India to meet the artisans and the social enterprises. It was such an amazing experience and an important part of running an ethical business. It not only connected me to my business in a more meaningful way but also to the artisans. I was able to see their working conditions and talk to them directly about how their lives have benefitted. It was also great to be able to see the upcycling, zero-waste processes behind our Kantha sari scarves and necklaces and meet the inspirational artisans who handcraft our range of Shibori scarves.
Price is often given as a barrier to ethical fashion. Could you tell me the average price of your pieces? (If they are £100+ please explain the higher cost eg fair wages, quality, materials etc)
You’re right. I think price plays such an important role in the buying decision of consumers and I think in general, ethical fashion is also perceived to be more expensive. I think it’s about changing perceptions of what you get for your money and how much more value you get back in the long run. You may pay more for ethical fashion but over months and years, you’re buying less, spending less and making a conscious decision about every purchase. On average the price of our accessories is around £50. We try and keep our running costs low so that the customer can benefit from owning a quality, handmade product that lasts and literally won’t cost the earth!
What are your top tips for consumers looking to make more ethical purchases?
For those looking at making more ethical purchases, here are my 5 top tips.
- Start with what you already have. Look at your wardrobe, keep what you like and recycle or upcycle what you don’t wear anymore. Let’s keep those landfills at bay! Charity shops are great for recycling used clothing, but why not also consider organisations that support the homeless or those who want to get back to work but don’t have the extra cash to buy work outfits.
- Hit the internet – there’s a huge amount of information on the internet. Educate yourself about the issues around fast fashion to get a better understanding about why making an ethical purchase makes sense. Better still ask brands who made their clothes. You’ll find ethical bloggers who can steer you stylishly in the right direction with their how-to guides, brand reviews and inspiring reads. There are also so many inspiring online ethical brands out there. You won’t be compromising your style by choosing ethical. In fact, more often than not you’ll be adding to it. What’s more, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of and a connection with your clothes once you’ve discovered the stories behind those who make them.
- Go stylishly slow – Invest in quality, not quantity. Building a capsule wardrobe is a great way of building a timeless collection, that’s versatile and wearable year in year out.
- Go artisan – by buying artisan products you’re not only buying gorgeous handcrafted products, you’re preserving cultures. With the introduction of technology and machinery, there are many handmade practices and cultures that are dying out. You’re purchase is supporting and empowering the livelihoods of artisanal communities from all over the world, many of who are women and contributing to keeping ancient traditions alive.
- Support small businesses and new designers. By being part of their journey, they’ll readily share theirs. Get on their mailing lists and they’ll reward you for your support and loyalty.
Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
Fashion Revolution is a great way of uniting those of us who care about where our clothes come from. As a brand, we are proud to be able to share the stories of the artisans who make our beautiful accessories. They are an inherent part of our brand.
* Photos shared with permission from Jewelled Buddha