In today’s interview, I get to introduce you to one of the nicest women in ethical fashion! Charlotte and I have been in contact for quite a while now, and it’s been great to see her ethical fashion boutique, Know The Origin (or KTO) go from strength to strength.
I first discovered KTO in early 2017, when their fairtrade and organic fashion outlet was a series of essential, fairly priced items. I had a lot of fun showing off their split dress in Paris last summer, and then visiting their pop-up store in December where they were showing off other brilliant ethical brands alongside their own.
Charlotte is has a real knack for finding new ways to grow her business, so I hope this interview gives you a bit more insight into her journey and how ethical fashion entrepreneurship should be done!
1. How did you first get into ethical fashion and lifestyle?
When I was studying Fashion Buying and Merchandising at London College of Fashion I had, like most people, heard of ethical fashion but it was more of a talking point rather than something I personally felt I could put into action. But the more I studied, I started realising I knew how to make clothes from design to shop floor yet had never seen how this was impacting the workers. Then the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, killing over 1100 workers, and the reality forced me to start digging deeper. From then, I knew I wasn’t going to be apart of the fashion industry as we know it, but instead wanted to be part of transforming it in to an industry that supports the people whose shoulders it’s built on.
2. What was the hardest part in starting Know The Origin, and how did you overcome it?
Have you ever heard of ‘hitting the wall’ in running? Sometimes I think starting a business is similar. There are a 1001 things to think about and so much of it is requires the mental ability to push on, even when it feels like an uphill struggle. Overcoming it required allowing friends and family to support me and keeping the trade unions and garment workers, who stop at nothing to transform the industry, as inspiration.
3. You’ve had an amazing year, culminating in your first pop-up in December. What was it like, turning your online shop into bricks-and-mortar?
Surreal! But incredible. It was so symbolic to see everything we have done and all the people that have supported us over the past year in one room! The pop-up was such a whirlwind but shout out to everyone who visited us, whether you have been with us from the beginning or just happened to walk by, we really loved getting the chance to meet! We spoke to a lot of incredible people and it’s really shaped how the next year of KTO will look.
4. Who inspires you, and who should we all be following?
Honestly, since before Know The Origin even existed on paper, Kalpona Akter was my biggest inspiration. She is from Bangladesh and since she was 10 years old she had been working long hours in garment factories. Yet by the time she was 15 she had started a union in her factory, with 99% of the workers involved, many of whom were twice her age. She founded the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity in Dhaka and has since been through a whirlwind of protests, imprisonment and unfortunately seeing colleagues killed. During our visit to Bangladesh I was able to spend time with her and calling her ‘unstoppable’ is an understatement. If you’re going to follow anyone in the ethical fashion world, make her the one. We recently donated 50% of all our profits to BCWS for a week, so keep your eyes peeled for the next solidarity campaign we run. Check out Human Rights Watch’s short video about Kalpona.
5. Finally, do you have anything excited lined up this year that you can share with us?
Yes! Big KTO news of 2018 is… we are transforming into an ethical platform! Very soon we will be stocking lots of brands we believe are pioneering transparency and doing amazing things. Watch this space and hear more here! To celebrate this, we are launching pop-ups across the country starting in London and then moving in to Manchester, Bristol and Brighton! See you there!
I’m excited for that! You can keep up with Charlotte on Instagram.