Style with nothing to hide. Introducing Know The Origin, a contemporary ethical fashion brand with transparency at their core. Know The Origin are a breath of fresh air in a world of fast fashion that is having detrimental effects on the environment and people’s livelihoods. Their sleek website offers you unmatched insight into every stage of the production process of their garments. We were fortunate have the opportunity to chat to the company’s co-founder, Charlotte Instone, about the brand’s journey thus far.
Tell us about the journey towards Know The Origin?
I studied buying and merchandising at the London College of Fashion, which is essentially the process of how you create a product. When I started, my greatest ambition was to be a buyer for Selfridges. I wanted to travel all over the world and enjoy that lifestyle but in my second year of university that was all flipped upside down. Partially by a girl I met who started telling me a lot about sweatshops. I’d always been aware of them but in a very distant way and I hadn’t really considered my connection or implication in them.
Additionally, The Rana Plaza factory collapsed in that year  and I think that was the real visual moment where I thought “Crap, we can’t ignore this any longer”. I remember just being in Oxford Circus and looking at this picture of the collapsed rubble on the front page of the Evening Standard and thinking ‘what am I doing with my life, how can we just be creating things when we don’t know where they’ve come from?’. That was when I had a radical shift and began to drive my lecturers crazy. From then every project at uni turned into a huge ethical crusade – I did my dissertation on whether the fashion industry could ever be ethical.
I later went out to Bangladesh where I visited several garment factories to learn firsthand the effects of the garment industry. I could spend time in the community where the Rana Plaza Factory collapsed and it was truly mind-blowing. The number of people who still haven’t received any form of compensation or who can’t go out to work because of their post-traumatic stress is unbelievable. When it came to graduating, I was sure I didn’t want to work for a brand that didn’t know where their products had come from but couldn’t find one that satisfactorily met that requirement. The more I read up, I would see brands making statements along the lines of “our threads are organic” meaning parts of the production process were ethical but none to the standard that I wanted. Ethics are obviously the most important thing to me but style is also mandatory, and I I couldn’t find many ethical brands that were offering the two at an affordable price. I was left thinking, “why is no-one doing stylish and affordable ethical fashion?” which sparked dream. So, I went out to Bangladesh and India specifically to find suppliers and things just got out of control from there. Suddenly had received investment and funding which set the ball rolling.
Had your degree sufficiently equipped you with the business knowledge to suddenly jump into your own entrepreneurial venture?
I feel as though I have always been quite an entrepreneurial person, which I think is a natural aptitude. Growing up, when we’d go on holiday my dad would say things like, “whoever can negotiate the best price for something on the market can have an extra dessert” so he encouraged that side of our character. All through university I was organising events. I organised this ethical fashion show which also got a bit out of control, it was the biggest one in London. We a discussion panel made up of six incredible people including the shadow minister for culture; Safia Minney who runs People Tree Lucy Siegle from The Guardian. I remember being in my room in my halls of residence, where all the stock had been delivered. I was responsible for over 60 thousand pounds worth of stuff so I slept on the floor in the corridor for two days, just to keep it all secure. I somehow acquired a team, models and it all went really well!
Have you faced any (expected or not) challenges along the journey of bringing the brand to life?
Everything is a challenge and I guess it depends on what your expectations are how much you find something a struggle. There are many things that have cropped up that we hadn’t anticipated such as customs codes. I think even the biggest unexpected challenge is how much time every little thing takes so even with the care label, choosing the wording for that took a whole day. Just little things you wouldn’t have anticipated would take up so much time. Another huge challenge has been celebrating where we’re at and not beating ourselves up for not being ten stages ahead.
Where are you now?
The team is gradually, there is now 7 of us. We’ve starting to get stocked on ASOS and different platforms. Little things are happening that shouldn’t be happening, like getting through customs. It has been quite a journey, but you have to start somewhere. I’m quite a perfectionist so everything has to be amazing. It’s that whole thing of not judging your chapter 1 against someone else’s chapter 30. Some of the brands that I look at have been going for 10 years. You must be attainable and realistic with your goals so it has been a journey of celebrating where we’re at.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who have passion and an idea but aren’t sure where to take it?
Just start, don’t wait until you think you have something that’s really good. Let people shape it. Like for us, when we first started we had the worst logo and a brand name that I couldn’t even spell. The bio was really long and clunky. Getting rid of that pride of “it has to be good before people see it”. It’s been great inviting people’s opinions but you do need to find the balance. Get wise people around you who can advise you on whether what you’re doing is a hobby or a business. Advice is great but its finding that balance. And also, trusting your gut – ultimately you know what’s going to work for your idea and where you want it to be. Everyone will have opinions about what fonts and colours you use but it’s just about being wise about who you let speak into that stuff. Start, change, evolve, test things. Starting is definitely the hardest bit.