H&M have become the latest retail giant to become embroiled in controversy for having forced labour factories and sweatshops as part of their supply chain.
Their embarrassment follows similar cases where big brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Adidas, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Nike, Lacoste and many more fashion houses’ supply chains have been implicated in slavery, child labour, forced-labour production and sweatshop scandals all the way from Dhaka to Leicester. H&M’s latest scandal centres on their supply chain originating from the cotton fields of Xinjiang. This is where China’s government has rounded up at least a million Muslims, mainly from the Uyghur people, in the largest mass internment of an ethnic minority in recent times. It is the production line that sits uncomfortably with most people, but for the consumer with the most influence, it has become almost unforgivable.
Millennials, or people born between 1981 and 1996, make up the largest portion of the world population and have different consumption traits than other generational cohorts. And the Millennials are exercising their immense spending power. Yet, they are spending with a conscience and are committed to making sure that the decisions they make on what they spend their hard earned money on, is in line with their social views on equality, climate change, poverty, justice and prosperity.
“That is why it becomes such a PR disaster for these fashion retailers not to adhere to their customers values,” points out Elliot Warren, founder of Sellers With A Story, a marketplace for the consumer who wants to see fascinating back stories behind every purchase they make. Millennials want their purchases to have a positive social impact and many want to know not just where their purchases come from, but how they were made and by whom,” adds Elliot.
That is where Sellers With A Story comes in to play.
“The UK is a world leader when it comes to artisans and rare local designers. However, these are understandably hard to find and they require huge research to uncover the truly hidden gems. It is our mission at Sellers With A Story to take our time to find rare and socially focused producers, manufacturers and designers. It is these touching and profound product stories that we house under one roof.”
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Elliot founded Sellers With A Story earlier this year after a career in finance. The genesis of his idea began to formulate as he watched his friends and colleagues continually make rushed online purchases for loved ones due to time constraints and their busy lifestyles.
Yet when Elliot began to research and survey the people in this demographic, he found an overriding trend.
“I surveyed more than 200 people in my circle. These were typically C-suite execs in finance and their partners in their 20s. People with disposable incomes. Incredibly, more than 150, (75%) wanted more stories about what they were buying and more access to artisan brands online. Their problem was time, they simply didn’t have time to research for them because of their busy lives.”
Aided by his newly found data, Elliot quickly acknowledged that the consumer in his peer group was tired of the lack of thoughtfulness online and could not find products with an authentic story behind their existence, unless they traipsed the length and breadth of the country.
“I just knew I had to get a platform online to demonstrate or showcase these types of brands.”
Elliot wanted high standards for partnering with fantastic product ranges that must be equally matched in style and design.
“Early on we made a promise to showcase the social impact and ethical practices that sit behind the outstanding design on show. No PR spin and click-bait marketing. It takes us days, weeks and months to find these sellers so that the consumer can easily access them and their stories.”
Consumers are now yearning for more transparency in to sustainable and ethical business practices, and it is the Millennials as a group who are investing in and working for companies that have embraced visible sustainable practices. Here are three such businesses and their founders who are currently sitting under the Sellers With A Story online roof…
Gung Ho London
Sophie Dunster, (Founder at Gung Ho) stands by the principle that it is unrealistic to tell people they cannot buy new items, yet she wanted people to become more considerate of what it was they were buying, and the negative effect it might be having.
She created a sustainable British fashion brand that allows the consumer to not only wear what they love, but what they believe in. 10 per cent of the company profits are donated to affiliated causes and each year Sophie picks an issue that needs attention. This year it is Climate Change.
Each Gung Ho design has a hidden message within the print to spark up a conversation about the topic in hand. That way, the next time someone compliments a consumer on what they are wearing, the consumer can spread the message on why they are wearing it. Their #WearYourHeartOnYourSleeve continues to resonate.
“We discovered Sophie’s story having first been drawn in by the beautiful and high-quality print. The colours, style and quality reflected a new era of sustainable fashion. And, when we dug a little deeper, we found that it was her father, a zero-carbon architect, who had put the message of sustainability into Sophie from an early age,” added Elliot.
The print is designed in Gloucestershire, with the range hand made in London.
Pure Earth Collection
Emma Bianco, Founder at Pure Earth Collection, designs a range of products using natural, non-toxic and biodegradable materials. Emma had always suffered with allergies, so she opted for a much more natural and organic lifestyle. And, since the birth of her first baby in 2016, she decided to apply her very own research efforts to the baby and the children’s market.
“What impressed me about Pure Earth Collection’s mission is to keep the cuteness at the heart of everything they design, whilst addressing how susceptible our youngest are to environmental toxins,” explained Elliot.
Today, some of the most popular items feature Emma’s signature bamboo alternative. This ensures that quality and comfort remain at the centre, whilst reducing the risk of overheating, and offering a baby product perfect for sensitive skin. What is more, the bamboo kun (bamboo’s unique bio-agent), makes the fabric antibacterial and odourless, keeping your baby’s bedding fresher for longer.
Elvis and Kresse
Can sustainable and luxury really go hand in hand? Yes, it can, at Elvis and Kresse, according to Elliot: “I was delighted to find a unique British brand that does not just compete with the high street, it knocks it out of the park,” he enthused.
Since 2005 Elvis & Kresse have been rescuing raw materials, transforming them into luxury lifestyle and homeware accessories and donating 50% of profits back to charities. It all began with a chance encounter with the London Fire Brigade when the founders learnt that the city’s damaged decommissioned fire hoses were headed for the landfill. Yet fire hoses are one of the most durable and high-quality materials out there. So, the team set out to save it.
But that was only the start. Now, it has been more than a decade since a London fires hose has ended up in a landfill with over 200 tons of material has been reclaimed. In 2017 the Burberry Foundation partnered with Elvis & Kresse to tackle the even more significant global problem of leather waste. This five-year partnership will see at least 120 tonnes of leather off-cuts from Burberry recrafted into new luxury items, designed, and sold by Elvis & Kresse.
“The fire-hose pieces have now become more than just a collection. It has come to represent a whole new kind of luxury. One that proves that sustainable, ethical, transparent, generous, and kind really is possible,” surmises Elliot.