Charlotte Instone of Know The Origin On Launching an Ethically Sourced Fashion Brand
Charlotte, originally from Cheshire, is the Founder & CEO of Know The Origin, ethical consumers top rated ethical fashion brand. She's based in lovely London where she studied Fashion Buying and Merchandising at the London College of Fashion. Charlotte loves to travel and all things fun! On most days you can find her in the KTO offices running the behind the scenes of the ethical fashion brand.
Did you always want to start your own business?
I think I was always wired to be pretty entrepreneurial. My dad in particular really encouraged me in that! So the idea of starting my own business felt like an aim, however I’m not sure I ever could of dreamt that it would happen this soon! It only became more of a reality when I realised that in order to pursue what I’m passionate about, I’d have to build it from the ground up myself.
Why a fashion company?
Fashion has been an area I was interested in from pretty early on! So it didn’t necessarily feel like a question about “why fashion” as I was running in that direction for a while. However I did start to question things when I was studying at London College of Fashion and the Rana Plaza factory collapsed and killed over 1100 people that were working in the factory. Suddenly that question became more focussed on how I would run a fashion company: can it be used to transform the current ethical standards in the industry and support the people involved at every stage?
What makes Know The Origin so unique?
The transparency and drive to improve!
In an industry where 61% of brands don’t know where their clothes come from and 93% don't know where their fabrics are made it was important for KTO to challenge that. We offer full information on where each stage of our garments are produced, from seed to final factory.
Not only does this mean our customers can know exactly where their clothing comes from and be assured that it’s made fairly and ethically, it keeps us accountable! We are fully aware we don’t have all the answers, and don’t try to hide that. But our transparency allows people to bring ideas to the table, and help to build a brand that is truly 100% ethical.
You’ve been working on KTO for quite some time, what was the launching process like?
Definite emphasis on it being a process! Launching has been incredible, and so satisfying to see all of these contributions from so many people come together. However - it definitely doesn’t happen overnight! The combination of the excitement in starting a company, and the urgency behind ethical fashion to support people, meant that anytime a launch date was pushed back or something took a little longer than expected - it was definitely frustrating! Despite that, it’s been really enjoyable and has taught us so much.
What are the top three lessons you learned from launching an ethically sourced clothing line?
Firstly, that people can be incredible! As cliche as it sounds, it’s really true. When you start researching what goes on behind the fashion industry, you can start losing hope in humanity! But simply by connecting with people, literally across the world, including our producers in India, you see how much people are actively pushing for change! There are some incredible people out there, and now we are lucky enough to work with them!
Secondly, everything starts somewhere - you have to put the idea out there and allow others to shape it! Launching a brand takes time, and that can be super frustrating, especially when you feel things aren’t your utopian version of “perfect.” But that’s the beauty of running a business - everything is always evolving. No brand, big or small, are exempt from that!
Thirdly, follow the numbers. Building a business is tough - you can create something you love, but ultimately if no one is buying it, it won’t last very long! The focus should be on creating sales, always.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start her own clothing line?
For one, make it ethical! If you have no idea why that’s important, check out the Know The Origin website or watch the True Cost movie! Then, support people and let others support you! The world isn’t as “dog eats dog” as we try make it out to be. There is a great network of ethical fashion guru’s out there, feed off of their knowledge! People are excited about ethical fashion so be a part of that community. People will genuinely want to support you and believe me, you’ll need it!
What’s been the easiest decision you’ve had to make in your business?
Should we have a cookie jar in the office? Heck. Yes.
What about the hardest?
In order to grow the business, we had to cut our costs. This meant moving from London - leaving my friends, where I have been for the last 5 years. It also meant the roles in the business changed, so that was pretty tough - losing some amazing people that we had built the business with. Even though it was 100% the right decision, it was still the hardest and most challenging.
What do you do for fun when not working on KTO?
Well usually anything involving the essentials: coffee, cake and cocktails! But currently, I’m in the middle of moving home so my idea of fun is blasting music and painting walls. Classic nesting.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
For me - I want ethical fashion to be mainstream. For my business not to be a niche - but the normal. I want to be able to buy amazing clothes, that I know the person involved in making them has been paid fairly, not be trafficked, has safe working conditions and the environment has been taken care of. I really believe we can see that in our lifetime, thats what I want my legacy to be - building something bigger than myself.
What’s your favorite quote? And, what’s your favorite business book(s)?
“Do not despise in the day of small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work has begun.” - Zechariah 4:10.
Favourite books at the moment: The Tipping Point, Daring Greatly, The Future of Almost Everything.