We’ve followed Know The Origin on Instagram for a while and always felt inspired and intrigued by their products, so we were super excited to meet their founder Charlotte and find out more about the brand and their story.
We travelled to Manchester and spent the day with the team who make it all happen. If you don’t know them yet Know the Origin is an online platform that brings together 75+ sustainable brands with next level ethics.
They also have their own brand KTO, and work with Fairtrade and organic producers around India to make sure they create the highest ethical standards of clothing. We love that!
We hope you feel inspired to find out who makes your clothes after reading this interview.
Once you can grasp the idea of having God walk with you in something, it makes relying on him and pressing on during difficult times a core part of your business.
Where did the idea for Know the Origin come from?
When I was studying Fashion Buying and Merchandising at London College of Fashion I had heard of sustainable fashion but it wasn’t something that particularly grabbed my attention.
Then the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, a factory making clothing for many of the high stree retailers like Zara, Primark, Mango etc. In this collapse over 1100 people were killed and over 2000 injured. I realised I knew exactly how to create clothing, from design to shop floor, but knew so little about the people making them. I wasn’t going to be a part of the fashion industry as we know it, but instead wanted to transform it in to an industry that supports the people whose shoulders it’s built on.
What was one of your biggest challenges starting KTO, And what have you enjoyed the most?
Currenly 61% of brands don’t know who makes their clothes and 93% don’t know where their fabrics come from.
I think the main challenge was always finding producers who wanted to be transparent. Lots of people, from advisors to factories, have tried to persuade me to not pursue transparency. Whether that’s because they literally don’t know who their own suppliers are, or know their suppliers aren’t ethical, or even think transparency is bad for business, there has always been arguments against it. But those reasons have never been good enough to not push for transparency.
It’s been such a joy to create a supply chain full of people who are equally passionate about transparency, and then being able to encourage other brands to do the same. I believe once you have this type of supply chain, and good relationships at every stage, it is definitely easier to maintain and develop the ethics of a brand. Until you know where something comes from, you can’t claim any ethical standards around it!
Throughout this entire journey, and especially through the ups and downs it has been incredible to see God at work. God has made it very clear that he is stood with us through giving us peace and the most incredible provision and direction. Once you can grasp the idea of having God walk with you in something, it makes relying on him and pressing on during difficult times a core part of your business.
How do you find brands to work with on Know The Origin platform?
I love researching I have a huge list 3000+ brands that are emerging. I find a lot of these brands through blogs, tradeshows and instagram.
Ethical fashion is no longer the overly-priced hippy stereotype we have all known it as.
How can someone who’s never tried to buy sustainably start to make the switch? It seems so daunting!
It’s all about starting somewhere. Ethical fashion is no longer the overly-priced hippy stereotype we have all known it as. There are some amazing sustainable brands out there with beautiful products that need people to be supporting them! In terms of price, ethical fashion will always be slightly more expensive than high street fashion, but you know where your money is going! KTO pricing is lower because we take (substantially) less of a profit margin so that ethical fashion is more affordable. But it should never be cheap, there are hundreds of people involved in making that product, that will often last longer than you will! Clothes are valuable, not disposable, and that should be reflected in their pricing and in the way we treat them. We post lots of emerging brands on our Instagram and have a huge range of plastic free alternatives online. You can also use sites like Depop, Ebay, charity shops and apps like Good On You.
Why do you think it’s important for everyone (but especially Christians) to buy ethically made products?
I never quite realised how important injustice was to God. Jesus and justice can’t be separated. His mission was serving, that can’t be overstated. God’s heart for the poor and passion for justice is mentioned over 800 times throughout the Old Testament alone. That is once every 12 verses. As Christians we should be relentless in our pursuit of God’s heart and justice. It should affect all areas of our life. Don’t underestimate the details of your lives. We can get caught up in go to church, worshiping, volunteering and things that we typically associate with godliness and pursuing His kingdom. Our everyday decisions should reflect our love for God. Our lifestyles shouldn’t support systems that keep people poor.
God delights in the details of our lives. Don’t underestimate the impact that tiny, unseen decisions make – even decisions like whether to buy Fairtrade or not.
What does success look like for you?
It is easy to get sucked into the game of comparison. I am learning slowly to push forward with vision, knowing that what turns out might be completely different. For me, success looks like obedience to God, pushing forward even when it is terrifying, constantly growing and being pushed out my comfort zone is what success looks like to me.
We believe God gives us big dreams, what are you dreaming for Know The Origin/personally.
I want to see the culture in the fashion industry shift to one of justice. I want to see ethical fashion become accesible, affordable and lifebringing to the millions of people around the world that make our clothes. I want to see an end to child labour, human trafficking in our fabrics and environmental abuses at every stage of production.
We are currently raising investment, so that we can see Know The Origin scale up to bring about biblical values through business that can restore peoples lives and profit that can be used to support change in legalisation affecting those that are more vulnerable. In the last 16 years we have seen one Indian GM cotton farmer commit suicide every 30 seconds, the largest recorded sucicides. I want see so many injustices changed and for people to know and understand the power they have to make a difference.
Favourite country you’ve visited.
I recently had the privilege of going to the Forbes 30 under 30 conference in Israel, hands down was the most beautiful place, culture, food I have ever experienced.
Favourite ethical brand (other than Know The Origin) in the UK.
One of my favourite ethical brand is Birdsong (we stock their pieces on the platform), they are based in London working with migrant communities. They have a strict no photoshop and using real women photoshoot policy which I LOVE.