Revelations of child labor, awful sweat-shop working conditions and both Zoolander movies, make the fashion industry seem like a pretty dishonest and soulless place to make a living. The reputation of the industry as a whole, being highly consumer focused and lacking any moral awareness, has tainted all companies, large and small.
In this melange of clothing companies stands a few shining lights, that are beacons of hope for an industry trying to reconcile and change past methods of production. Absolutely Bear is one of these companies. We got the chance to talk to Nick and Olivia Fletcher, founders of the London-based fashion company, to find out more:
In the photo: Absolutely Bear’s women’s collection. Credit: Absolutely Bear
Q. What inspired you to found Absolutely Bear?
A desire to change lives for the better by creating a clothing brand that represents a generation of people who want to make a positive difference to society. We believe that business has a fundamental responsibility to be a force for a good in the world and that together with our customers we can make a difference. Part of the way we do this is by donating money to our charity partners, Become who work with children who are or have been taken into care, and The Born Free Foundation, an animal welfare charity; so every time our customers buy something from us, they help us achieve our collective goal, we’re in it together really.
Absolutely Bear was also inspired by a value system and our belief that a symbol based on these values can be a powerful force for good. For years, I watched people walk around with different images emblazoned and embroidered on their clothing and it got me thinking, what do these symbols mean to the different people who wear them and could we create a symbol of our own that represents the values that we believe in.
We felt the answer was yes, so we created a symbol in the Bear that represents strength, respect and caring. It is our hope that this symbol can come to represent a generation of consumers who care about what materials their clothes are made from, who made them and where they come from, and critically what the company they have invested in will do with that money. Our vision of ethical fashion is a holistic one and our approach which puts sustainability at its core whilst also implementing a giving model by donating money to our charity partners, sets us apart from others who are perhaps focused on one or the other.
In the photo: Nick and Olivia Fletcher, Founders of Absolutely Bear Credit: Absolutely Bear
Q. How does your business model incorporate sustainability?
When we established Absolutely Bear we did so with the goal of trying to minimize our impact on the environment, conscious of the harmful impact garment manufacturing has on the planet. We therefore sought to partner with suppliers who are industry leaders in the sector searching for pioneering solutions to the issues facing the fashion industry. The sourcing of sustainable materials and production processes involved in mitigating the negative effects of garment production can be by their nature more expensive, however making sure our clothing was sourced and produced in a sustainable way was and is an essential part of our model and not something we were willing to compromise on.
To that end, we mainly use natural fibres and favour the use of organic fabrics such as organic cotton, tencel and PVC leather. We do this not only because we believe they are better for the environment but also because these materials are softer and more comfortable to wear and crucially they will also last longer so our customers will gain greater wear from the clothes they buy from us. We are the opposite of the fast fashion culture and believe in buying fewer, better quality clothes that will last longer and give you more enjoyment. Our suppliers also operate in line with the strictest environmental certifications and are certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).
Since launching Absolutely Bear in 2016 it’s been fascinating to hear our customers’ feedback. What’s very interesting is that whilst there are brands producing sustainable garments, our customers tell us it is hard to find great cuts and cool designs produced with sustainable materials. Whilst we are by no means the only brand doing this, it is our goal to make sustainable fashion mainstream by raising awareness of the issues facing the industry and providing a credible and current alternative to the fast fashion culture that is so prevalent.
In the photo: Absolutely Bear holdall bag Credit: Absolutely Bear
Q. How are you continuing to improve Absolutely Bear’s sustainable processes? What about the future?
Like any industry the garment manufacturing industry is constantly evolving and our aim is to evolve with it. We will continue to put an emphasis on using natural fibres and working with partners who are pushing the boundaries in an effort to make fashion and garment manufacturing a more sustainable industry. To that end we are in discussions with a number of potential partners who put both ethical and sustainable fashion at their core.
In the photo: Absolutely Bear field shoot Credit: Absolutely Bear
Q. Could you tell us more about how you are giving back to society?
Our approach of focusing on ethnical and sustainable fashion allows us to give back to society in 2 main ways, the first of which is our giving model. We donate 10% of our profits to our 2 charity partners Become and the Born Free foundation. We do this because we wanted to start a business that matters to people and makes a difference to their lives, that’s why we say to people when you Wear The Bear, you Wear Something That Matters.
Become are a fantastic charity that works to improve the lives of vulnerable young people who are or who have been in the care system by giving them the confidence and skills to succeed in life. The challenges that face young people who have been in care are huge and Become’s work is vital to overcoming these challenges. Our role is to support the work they do.
The statistics articulate these challenges clearly and are alarming to read. For example, around 2 in 5 of all school leavers go into higher education; this reduces to just 1 in 20 care leavers; – almost one third of young homeless people have spent time in care; – around 27 per cent of the adult prison population and half of under 18s in custody have experience of care. (Source: Become, drawing on data from: Department for Education; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Prison Reform Trust, Crisis).
Absolutely Bear is still a young brand having launched in the summer of 2016, but as we continue to grow, as well as providing financial support to Become, it is also our goal to provide work experience and career opportunities to children in care or who have been in care to help give them the skills and confidence they need.
Our second charity partner, The Born Free Foundation, is an animal welfare charity that operates around the world to save lives, stop suffering and keep wildlife in the wild. The charity focuses on 5 main objectives which are: rescue and care, conservation and education, campaigning, programs and projects and keeping wildlife in the wild. Both are incredible charities that do very important work.
We also give back by producing our clothing in an ethical and sustainable way. For example, our suppliers are members of the Fair Wear Foundation whose purpose is to ensure the rights of garment workers, which is of critical importance, particularly to families in developing and poorer countries.
There is a code of labor practices that all members of the Fair Wear Foundation sign up to, they are: employment is freely chosen, there is no discrimination in employment, no exploitation of child labor, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining (for example the right of all workers to form trade unions), payment of a living wage and reasonable working hours.
We believe in producing great clothes with sustainable materials in an ethical way and then giving back to society once our customers have invested in us. We ensure all elements of the journey are in line with our value system, so that people can truly trust our brand and what the Bear represents.
Editors Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com Photo Credit: Absolutely Bear