By Morwenna Kearns
Ethical Collection launched online this summer, bringing together a host of designers and makers from around the world. Its name is apt, as it has a keen-eyed curator in the form of Giovanna Eastwood: its is a true collection with pieces selected for their ethics, story and style.
The idea for Ethical Collection bloomed when Giovanna Eastwood was living in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, where she and her mother had founded a charity to teach young women how to make bags from recycled materials and sell them.
"I saw first hand the direct effect that this had on the women, their families, their communities, enabling the women to pay for their children to go to school, the pride they had in their work, and the benefit to the environment – and of course the bags were incredibly beautiful!" she says. "Ever since then, I have been looking for the perfect opportunity to promote artisans working ethically around the world. And most importantly, to give consumers access to the most beautiful products and to give them a choice – a choice between fashion with a conscience and our usual fast fashion habits without. We wanted to create a brand that would cater for all ages and have a diverse price range too."
The collection has a modern feel, with strong silhouettes and bold patterns, and prices ranging from under £20 to high-end. Each brand is chosen for its background as much as its fashion credentials, as Eastwood explains.
"I spend a long time looking at labels to stock on Ethical Collection – many have heard of what Ethical Collection is doing and approach me, others I have found through various contacts and connections or whom I have admired from afar," she says. "After selecting the labels, I spend time speaking with each designer to best understand their story, so that I can communicate this to customers and provide the most enriching shopping experience possible. It is so important to me that my customers understand the story and how much good they are doing with their thoughtful purchases."
Indeed, the story behind a product is also vital to Ethical Collection's customers, she says. "Since I set up my business I have seen a huge shift in consumer demand for the information behind the items they are buying. The customer is starting to become more aware of what they are buying and demanding a higher level of information behind the brands they are buying. They want to be part of the whole creative process.
"I receive feedback from my customers telling my how empowered they feel to know the story behind the items they are buying and that they are able to make a difference in some way."
There also needs to be sustainability and high-quality design in equal measure, says Eastwood: "Both are equally as important and need to work hand in hand. The product needs to be beautiful and well made in order for it to be desirable to the customer but the element of sustainability behind each product must be equally as thought through and transparent. The customer is buying into the whole process, so they must have a clear understanding from start to finish."
However, the entrepreneur admits there are still barriers to sustainable fashion. "There is still a stigma attached to the whole 'eco' word; some see it as a dirty word and don't want to be associated with it. There is also the fact that some brands see it as financial burden to implement it into their supply chain. I think these stigmas are slowly changing but there is still a long way to go.
"Through my website I am trying to show the customer that ethical items can still be chic and sustainable at the same. Ethical Fashion Forum's new platform, MySource, will be a big game changer in this regard too."
Ethical Collection's customers have also shown a demand for homewares and the online retailer has plans to expand its small range next year, but only after the same careful consideration it gives to its fashion labels. "We want to make sure we bring the right brands on board and that they fit perfectly with our ethos," says Eastwood. "This can take a little time."
With covetable design such a key element of Ethical Collection's range, does Giovanna Eastwood agree that design can change the world? "I completely agree," she says. "It is the people who make these designs who we can make a big difference for. We all have a part to play, consumerism is not going to disappear, so why not purchase something where you can be assured that no one was mistreated in the making of it?"
With a high standard of design, social conscience and sustainability, Ethical Collection does what it says on the tin.