As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Imogen about her passion for sustainable fashion.
You have been sewing since you were 13 years old. Where did this passion come from?
I was actually sewing even before 13- I began by making clothes for dolls and teddy bears. My barbie had a blue check suit which I was particularly pleased with! I always loved clothes and textiles, and my mum made things like cushions and curtains so I suppose that’s probably where it started. At 13 I got a sewing machine and started learning properly, first with patterns from Burda and Simplicity. And then making my own patterns. The satisfaction of finishing a project is amazing.
Before launching Gillian June, you were trained as a Coat Maker on London’s Savile Row. How has this training influenced the ethos and design of Gillian June?
Gillian June was definitely influenced by my time working with Bespoke tailors. There is a care and attention to detail afforded to the clothes made on Savile Row and a respect shown to the tailors which you don’t find in any other part of the industry. The clients take real care of the clothes, bringing them in for repairs when necessary. I want people to treat their Gillian June clothes with the same amount of love.
How did your time on Savile road impact your understanding of ‘fast fashion’?
Working as a tailor reminded me of the human side of the garment industry. Every garment is made by someone, somewhere. Why should their experience be different to mine just because of geography. Would I be happy if I made something which someone disposed of after 2 wears because they had been snapped wearing it on Instagram? The term sweatshop originated from the hot basement workshops of Savile Row but they have come a long way since then. I’d like to see the phrase become completely obsolete as we all start to question where our clothes come from.
How does Gillian June embody the slow fashion philosophy?
Gillian June clothing is made to last. All our pieces can be tailored and customised to the customers specifications. We believe that clothes which fit properly will be worn more and cared for better, giving them a longer life span and a smaller carbon footprint. All the clothes are handmade in small runs either in London or Bangalore, by tailors who are paid a living wage. Whilst most fashions brands waste roughly 15% of textiles at the cutting stage, because each garment is cut by hand, we are able to plan layouts which waste far less than that. And any remnants are collected and used for our Zero waste collection, which uses small pieces of cloth for items like accessories or baby clothes. Anything too small even for that is used for trimmings.
How would you describe the Gillian June signature style?
Our house style combines classic tailored silhouettes with exciting prints and textiles for a contemporary take on traditional tailoring.
Tell us about the Zero Waste collection, and why you started this.
The Zero waste collection started because I couldn’t bear to throw away these gorgeous, often very luxurious fabrics. When my sister had a baby, I made her a pair of tiny tailored trousers. They were so adorable I made a few more. Then I started thinking about other pieces which might use smaller pattern pieces. Now we have baby trousers, shirts and dresses. Plus hair scrunchies. Next up we are developing small bags and vanity cases. We also use the scraps for sewing classes.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. What is your definition of ‘ethical fashion’?
As you say, “Ethical Fashion” is a broad term. As is “Sustainable Fashion”. In my head Ethical refers to the human side. How the people are treated in your supply chain, is everyone paid a living wage, working in safe conditions, respected as an equally important part of the supply chain? As someone who makes clothes too my main question is would I be happy to swap workshops? If the answer is no then I shouldn’t expect someone else to work in those conditions. The sustainable side is the impact on the environment. Where were your fabrics made? How far has everything travelled? How was it dyed/farmed/processed? Was there a better alternative you could have used?
How do you try to live more sustainably in your personal life?
My boyfriend has always been a keen environmentalist. He was heavily involved in a court case which successfully sued Shell Oil Company for an oil spill in the Niger Delta. After seeing that kind of pollution you get really strict, really quickly, about recycling and consumption. Last year we tried to go plastic free for the whole of June. It really makes you realise how much single use plastic is out there! Although we didn’t make it the whole month without cracking, it definitely had a lasting impression on me and has definitely changed the way I approach things like grocery shopping.
What do you look for in other clothing brands that you support?
I want a story. I want to know that their motivation is more than the bottom line. But I also want nice fabrics- I think my main issue with fast, cheap fashion is how nasty the fabrics are! I don’t want an electric shock from my jumper.
Gillian June has been growing fast, from a made-to-order label, to ready-to-wear. How would you like to see Gillian June grow in the future?
In the short term, I’d like to see more people take advantage of our tailoring service. Small tweaks can make such a difference to a garment. In the long term I would like to train our own tailors so we can make 100% of garments in house. I would love to see garment manufacturing grow in the UK (in the right way).