As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Hannah and Rob from WYNAD about fair fashion, gender equality, giving back and more.
WYNAD is founded by partners, Hannah Vincent and Rob Marsh, who quit their jobs and moved to India. How did this life-altering decision inspire you to launch WYNAD?
We’ve been together as a couple for 10 years. We met in Leeds whilst both of us were studying (Rob, Business Studies and Hannah Contemporary Dance). Since we’ve been together we’ve always dreamt of travelling but have never really been very good at saving. In 2016, through Rob’s previous employer we came into a bit of money and saw it as an opportunity to hit the road. India was our first destination.
When we were travelling we booked ourselves some volunteering spots with a few different organisations and farms, mainly through the WWOOF network. We wanted to get a better understanding of some of the places we were visiting and volunteering is one way of feeling a little less like a tourist and more connected with the community.
One of the organisations we volunteered with is called TGG Foundation. They’re a small rural development charity based in the district of Wayanad in Kerala. Wayanad is a very beautiful, rural district. Most of the work is related to agriculture in some shape or form. Its TGG Foundations mission to improve the lives of people in the rural community largely through creating working opportunities and fairer levels of pay. They have a big focus on empowering women too as women that work in the agricultural sector in Wayanad (as in much of India) often get paid less than men for the same work.
One of the initiatives set up by TGG Foundation is called “the women empowerment centre”. Essentially its a stitching workshop set up by TGG and ran by a small group of women. They cater for local demand and also offer training to local women and young girls. Our initial idea for WYNAD Clothing was to work with the team there to make fashion for a UK audience. We would pay them fairly for their work and a portion of our sales would also come back to TGG Foundation to support the growth of the centre. After travelling through a lot of India we were beginning to see a pattern of
gender inequality so when we had the opportunity to support an organisation that was directly addressing that issue we jumped on it.
Since then the business has evolved in terms of the suppliers we work with but our model is still the same. 10% of every sales we make will go back to support women empowerment projects in rural India through our ongoing relationship with TGG Foundation and the team at the women empowerment centre in Wayanad.
You are on a mission to create gender equality through clothing. How does WYNAD support gender equality?
There are 3 main facets to this answer:
We work with a network of Fair Trade supplier who share our vision
We use sustainable materials and production processes
10% of our sales support women empowerment projects in rural India
Because we were able to meet all of our suppliers directly, we are also creating content to tell their story to our audience. A big part of what we do is raise awareness about some of the issues faced by workers (largely women) in the garment sector.
Our mission is a big one. We know that. But we found that by honing in on why we started this business in the first place and what motivates us to keep pushing it we have been able to direct it in a much more precise manner. Figuring out our “why” has definitely impacted our decision making process and ultimately the end product.
You work with a wide selection of suppliers and production partners in India. Was it challenging to find partners that share your passion for Fairtrade and organic production?
Yes. So many businesses in India (particularly the smaller ones) don’t use the internet to promote themselves. This means that when you’re searching for particular suppliers who are ethically motivated it can be a little tricky. Luckily the ethical fashion niche is really supportive and once we started meeting people directly our network soon started opening really fast. We made it our business to meet with all of our potential suppliers directly and grab an interview with someone from their senior management team so that
we could really evaluate what they were about. That process allowed us to really see who was being genuine and who wasn’t and has resulted in us being far more confident about our suppliers than if we were to just be speaking to people over the phone or via email.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. What is your definition of ‘ethical fashion’?
To be honest its not a term I’m particularly fond of. Its pretty vague. To me the ethical side of fashion - or production in general - is all about people. Are the people who are making your clothes treated fairly? Are the being exported or abused? Are they being paid properly? What is in place to ensure they are safe at work? Are they able to lead healthy lives and create healthy lives for their families? Businesses have a responsibility to their employees, after all, without them they wouldn’t be able to create products or services.
Did either of you have any background in fashion or design before launching WYNAD?
Not at all. We just saw an opportunity through meeting some amazing people and more people got behind our idea. In 2017 we were funded by a grant giving body called RG Foundation to grow the business and set things up properly. That grant allowed us to widen our supplier network and surround ourselves with people who are experienced and do know what they’re doing. We still come up with the ideas and all of the marketing is done by us at the moment but we’ve had to bring in other people for everything else. Again though, that allows us to support people who also believe in our mission so the grant money we were given then filters down to the right places.
How would you describe the style of WYNAD? Where do you get your inspiration?
We make fashion that’s inspired by Post-Punk. Both of us have a love of post- punk music so that felt like a natural place to draw inspiration. When we were brainstorming ideas for our designs we taught help from a few different people in the fashion design world. The advice was always the same; “keep it simple and find your own voice”.
Post-punk music takes on the structure or root of punk and rock and roll and then adds an experimental, avant-garde twist. That’s what we’ve tried to do with our collection. We have staple classics in there like white short sleeved shirts or black slip dresses and then we have a few abstract pieces like our unisex, oversized shirts or the lotus fabric kimonos.
What do you try and consider before buying a new piece of clothing?
Our journey has definitely changed the way we look at fashion. There are so many amazing brands out there that are trying to do things in the right way and making amazing products. In the UK we’re kind of spoiled for choice and a lot of the way we buy clothes revolves around searching for particular items and then seeing what brands are out there that offer something different and have a genuine back story.
Massive, “fast-fashion” brands are something we try and keep away from. I don’t think that things are as black and white as saying “this brand is totally bad, stay away from them at all cost”, because supply chains on a global scale are extremely complicated. And also people in developing countries rely on the work that comes through a lot of these companies. What seems pretty clear though is that the business model of constant collections, low prices, high volumes etc doesn’t work for the people who make the clothes.
Things I look out for are certifications like WFTO and GOTS. At least when a business is adopting practices that are recognised globally then you can sleep at night.
What has been your proudest moment since launching WYNAD?
When we launched our online shop and saw our first few sales coming in. That was great for both of us because we weren’t sure whether people would resonate with our designs as much as we did. Although neither of us have a background in fashion we were very hands on with the design process and understood that even though we have a great backstory, none of that mattered if our products weren’t up to scratch. We worked really hard to make sure that the collection was something we would buy ourselves and something that would look pretty professional. When people we didn’t know started making purchases we knew that we were doing something right at least and it felt incredible.
What advice do you have for other passionate entrepreneurs who are keen to combine fashion with impact?
Get ready to be schooled. There is so much to learn about the whole process of making clothes its insane. We were really hands on with the production of our collection from the beginning and it has been such an amazing journey but we’re still learning every day.
I would also say if you’re like us and you don’t have a background then keep it simple and surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. Our collection is pretty big for a small brand and although that’s good because it gives people options its an absolute nightmare from a production point of view because there’s lots of different weights of materials, different colours and different prints. With high ordering MOQ’s that can make it really tricky to co-ordinate production efficiently.
How would you like to see WYNAD grow and expand in the future?
We want to be able to sell the stock that we’ve invested in now so we can continue to make new designs and build on our launch collection. That would see us investing in more of the suppliers who share our vision and more money would find its way to the women in Wayanad, which in turn would help us in our mission. We also want to get into education and work with schools to create workshops based around ethical fashion production. We’ve had an amazing first hand experience and want to be able to share what we’ve learnt with younger generations so that they can start getting curious about exactly where their clothes have come from too.