As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Jaz Hunt from Cor about her passion for art, fashion and sustainable living.
What inspired you to launch Cor? What were you doing before this?
I have been working towards launching Cor since my final year of high school in Australia. I have always been creative and when it came time to choose a career path I was torn between my love of painting and my love of fashion. Both my parents are artists and ran a label selling my Mum’s designs; I saw fashion as a more viable way to support myself while doing something that I loved so I chose to study fashion at QUT in Brisbane. I have always painted and it was a hard decision for me to turn away from something I had been doing for as long as I can remember. During my degree I focussed heavily on prints and started using my paintings to create them, it was a huge relief for me to realise I could effectively combine my passions. This is when the aesthetic of Cor was born.
I had always had an interest in sustainability; Byron Bay where I grew up is a hippy town where sustainability and the environment are always considered. I was aware that the clothing and fashion industry was far from sustainable but during my study, I was shocked to learn quite how significant an impact our clothing has. Initially this left me feeling seriously disillusioned but I realised that I couldn’t start my own label without sustainability being central to my business. I began by looking at sustainable practices and eco friendly raw materials and decided that Cor would be start from these ideals. I am proud of what I have achieved so far but am excited for the future, to make Cor even more sustainable, embracing new technologies and improving practices as the brand grows.
How does Cor connect your passion for art, and your passion for fashion?
When I am looking at art I like to see how the piece has come together through each stroke, I’m not a fan of hyper realistic paintings; I love raw feeling and expression in art. When I am painting for painting’s sake I paint in this style, I enjoy playing with colour and I try to make every brush stroke count, building the piece and feeling it taking form. When I am painting for a print I start out painting in a similar way, doing small rough paintings and quickly moving on. Once I have something I like the feeling of, I go back over it and refine the details into something that can become a print. In this way, the end results of my prints are quite different from my painting style. When I am designing the shape of a garment, I start out with a sketch of a shape, develop that into a basic pattern and then drape the toile the garment on myself, sculpting the fabric with pins until it feels just right. I really enjoy the toiling process, the tactile nature of working with fabric and the sculptural challenge of translating the shapes from my mind and sketches.
What is the design process for a Cor garment? How does it go from painting to garment?
I usually start by thinking about print ideas. I’ll think of colours and how I want the paintings to feel. I’m often inspired by my travels, modern art, colours in nature and minimalist architecture.
I’ll start sketching thumbnails of clothing shapes and how I want the prints to work on the garment itself. Then I’ll spend a good month or two toiling styles, the prints go on the back burner. I pattern cut and toile all of the styles for each collection in my studio in London. This takes quite a while. It’s really important to me that every Cor piece fits really well and most importantly, is comfortable. I’ll wear the toiles and adjust them accordingly for comfort and wear ability.
Once I’ve got all of my patterns done for the collection and the toiles are ready to go, I will stretch a whole lot of paper on boards and spend a week or two intensively painting. I love this part, fully focussing on one element. While I’m pattern cutting and toiling, I’ll be juggling running a business, communications with my factory, wholesale customers and online orders. It’s so nice to switch off and get fully creative.
At a certain point when I am happy with a painting, I will get it scanned and start playing with it digitally, sometimes I will paint individual aspects of a print separately and place them together, other times I will paint the print in one piece and make small alterations to allow it to repeat. I want my prints to have the essence of a hand painted piece of art so do as little as possible digitally.
Finally when I have my paintings ready to print on fabric I will travel to India to make the final collection samples. I work with my producers at every level, sourcing the fabrics, sitting for weeks at the computer with the digital printers, getting the colours to perfectly match my paintings. After printing the fabrics, I help cutting the garments and finishing, although the people who make my clothes are so much faster and better at all of this than me!
Once all the samples are done, I’ll return to London, shoot a look book and begin meeting with my amazing stockists to take orders. Then I’ll send the samples back to India and have everything made while I start working on the next collection. Whilst the clothing is being made, I will visit again to check on production and begin sampling the next collection. By the time a collection hits the rails, I’ve been working on it for at least a year!
You grew up in Australia and Portugal, how has your experience in these countries influenced the style and ethos of Cor?
Until I moved to London, I always lived by the beach, surrounded by nature, first the Algarve in Portugal and then Byron Bay in Australia. My memories of Portugal are full of colour, Cor actually means ‘colour’ in Portuguese. When we lived there, my mum began painting ceramics and paintings in the Portuguese style. My brothers and I always had our easels set up in the orchard beside her; we didn’t have a TV or anything so this experience of rural life in Portugal really encouraged us to explore our creativity. I think growing up in Australia gave me the confidence to put myself out there and follow my dreams creatively. There’s an amazing can-do attitude there that encourages so much bold creativity. Landscape wise, everything is so open and the intense light means that all colours are expressed so brightly, perhaps this has influenced Cor’s colour palette.
Both Australia and Portugal have fluidity between work and life. A culture centred on the outdoors and community, an optimism and joyfulness for celebrating life. These influences have been fundamental in the way Cor’s clothes wear and feel. Absolutely everything has to be comfortable, easy wear and also practical.
Having a childhood so connected to nature and grounded to a slower way of living has led to Cor’s sustainable ethics. Living sustainably is so intrinsic to life in Byron Bay. I grew up feeling so connected to nature, at one with the environment and so insignificant in comparison to such a magnificent force. Any time you would feel stressed or caught up in the craziness of life you can head to the beach, be completely alone and look out on the vast ocean and suddenly none of it matters. This connection instils a responsibility to our world and to build something meaningful and good. To preserve and work more sustainably for a better future, living a slower life with more value. I really want Cor to stand as an alternative to mindlessly consuming fashion. I want Cor’s clothes to be valued, enjoyed and passed down.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. How do you interpret ‘ethical fashion’?
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic largely because of how unethical fast fashion has become. The fashion and clothing industry has so many far reaching effects that all need to be considered, the size of the industry means that any negative impact can be huge. There are ethical issues on every level of the industry from the inequality that unpaid internships creates for those wanting to enter the industry to indentured servitude and child labour in factories. There are environmental impacts at every stage of a garments life, from the growing of the fibre crops or the production of synthetic fabrics right through every stage of production to the care cycle and disposal of the end product. The majority of garment production is focussed in a minority of countries. The people living in these countries are suffering the majority of the impact of our clothes and to me; they need to be the biggest consideration for ethical fashion.
No matter how ethical you are there is always more that can be done. Ethical fashion to me is continually working for improvement and acknowledging that the job is never done; there are always ways to improve. For Cor, Ethical fashion means striving to minimise our impact on the environment while benefiting the communities and people who make our clothes.
How does Cor embody your understanding of ethical fashion?
Cor’s approach to ethical fashion is through choice of raw materials, methods of production and the way clothes are designed. I think that ethical fashion is looking at all of these elements and continually working as sustainably as possible, looking for the next step for improvement. I know for Cor, I have a literally endless map of where I envision the brand going.
70% of a company’s impact happens at a raw material level. Working with more ecological fibres can drastically reduce this impact. Cor’s collections are made with organic cotton, which requires less water and less energy than conventional cotton to grow and is without the insecticides and chemical fertilisers of conventional cotton. Cor’s most recent collection also featured linen (from flax grown on land unsuitable for crops, requiring less water than cotton to grow and no pesticides). In future collections I’d like to broaden fabrics to include closed loop eco fibers such as Tencel as well as hemp, which regenerates and improves soil health.
Making sure that clothing is produced in a safe and fair workplace is fundamental to a fashion brand being ethical. This can be extremely challenging starting out as a small brand because most factories require minimums upwards of 200 per style before they will work with you. When starting Cor, I visited many factories before finding one I was happy with. Knowing Cor’s supply chain and visiting my production unit regularly means I know Cor’s makers and ask questions about pay, worker’s rights and entitlements. It is important to me that producing Cor in India benefits and empowers the people who make my clothes. I work directly with my makers, working alongside them in the factory on my visits. By doing this, I’m able to see for myself the ethos and culture of the workplace and how it is run. I am now on my third collection with my factory and value the connection I have built with the individuals who make Cor’s clothes.
Cor’s factory is Sedex certified which is a commitment to continuous improvement of labour standards, health & safety, the environment and business ethics. All workers receive wages well above the minimums set by the Indian government; they are paid overtime and are given holiday and religious leave. All production is done in the five-floor factory in the audited and monitored manufacturing area of Noida on the outskirts of Delhi. I visit this factory several times a year and work there myself for three-week periods, each visit. I know Cor’s makers personally and am part of the process from start to finish including fabric sourcing, printing, cutting, machining, hand sewing, finishing and quality control. The factory does charitable work such as running a school for girls in the nearby village, also treating disabled children through Rotary.
Cor is only in it’s second year but when the brand is a little more established I want to incorporate a social scheme to give back substantially to the communities who make Cor’s clothing. Cor’s next step to ecological improvement will happen when quantities are a little higher. I will start using pigment ink technology for digital printing, which creates no chemical run off. Little run off is created through digitally printing compared to traditional techniques such as block printing. I want to further minimise any impact by working with a closed cycle water recycling system that utilizes any and all run off. In Cor’s next collection for 2019, I am also looking to use natural fermented herbal dying techniques as well as Tencel fabric. There is much more work to be done but these are my immediate goals...
It’s my belief that the way we behave as consumers needs to change. Even if our clothes are made ethically, if we are wearing them for one season and then buying afresh then we are not consuming in a sustainable manner. It’s complex because the care phase of a garment’s lifecycle has a major impact on its ecological footprint too. It’s my opinion that we should be buying less but investing in what we buy and enjoying it more and for longer. Through Cor’s designs, I aim to make clothing that will be enjoyed for years to come, that isn’t trend focussed or disposable. My aim for Cor this year is to show more of the process behind making clothing. I want to engage Cor’s customers in the process, showing them the work that goes into each garment, from seed to purchase. Knowing the effort that has gone into every stage of fabric production, design, sampling and making can really encourage us to value clothing as it should be and to change the culture around our clothing consumption to one that is sustainable.
Why did you decide to produce in India? What are the main benefits, and the main challenges?
It was midway through my fashion degree that I had the opportunity to study on exchange in India. For six months, I lived in Delhi, studied and travelled India. It was so inspiring to see so many traditional craft techniques and finishing’s being used in incredible ways and I wanted to be a part of it. From a selfish point of view, I love India and wanted to spend more time in such a culturally vibrant, diverse country.
After I graduated, my plans developed and I moved to London. I became concerned with other aspects of ethical production, not just using eco fibers and paying fair wages but my ecological footprint and air miles. I considered producing in the UK as well as Spain and Portugal in an effort to keep production close to home. The problem was quantities as a small brand starting out. I couldn’t get any domestic factory whose principles aligned with my own to work with me. So I went back to India, visited trade fairs and factories until I found one whose ethos matched my own and that was willing to work with me as I grow.
The benefits: The choice and availability of fabrics in India is incredible. When I buy my fabrics in India, they are coming directly from the grower meaning that I am able to source incredible organic cotton more affordably than in the UK. Business wise, producing in India means I am able to pay a fair price for my garments and sell them at an attainable price here in the UK. I believe that Cor’s business model is sustainable and will benefit our partners and customers in an increasing and on-going way. There are traditional skills and hand finishing techniques, which are simply not available elsewhere. India’s garment production industry is so developed that virtually anything is possible. There are infinite possibilities. India is also an inspiring place to visit as a designer, the change of perspective when I go over always fills me with new ideas.
The Challenges: Doing business in another culture can be challenging, far too many times I have travelled two to three hours to my factory or my printers to see a sample of a fabric or to check some new print strike offs that I’ve been told are ready. I’ll get there for 9am and will be told that the item will be there in one hour, then after lunch, then another hour. I’ll still be sitting there at 6pm only to be told the fabric won’t be ready until tomorrow and it will be blamed on ‘Indian time’. I try for realistic deadlines and for transparent communication but culturally this can be a challenge! Digital printing is relatively new in India, there is a huge amount of skill and experience in block printing and dying but I wanted to have Cor’s prints look like artwork and to also use a method that was more environmentally friendly than traditional printing techniques. Luckily the printer I work with is infinitely patient as we work to get the colours perfect by printing small samples (strike offs) and altering the colour balance based on printing results. This can be a very long process; each strike off can take almost a day.
Do you think fashion brands, such as yours, can play a role in creating opportunities for economic development?
Absolutely. The choices we make play a massive role in not only creating economic development but also shaping the direction of that development to a social and environmentally sustainable model. A fashion brand’s choice to manufacture with a factory that pays and treats its workers fairly means that we are saying ‘no’ to enforced labour, child labour and disempowered communities. Our insistence to seek out ecological fabrics and to say no to toxic chemicals and pesticide use encourages factories to diversify their fabrics, look at how and where they buy them from, encouraging a broadening of their ecological considerations. When we create a market that says we care about how we produce, then our partners can respond and together we can build a sustainable fashion industry that benefits everyone now but also safeguards our future. Ethical fashion creates opportunity for those who might not otherwise have it. By manufacturing in India, we are able engage with craftspeople from all walks of life, who’ve maybe not had a school education and have grown up in poverty. Fashion brands creating fair employment empowers these people to engage economically on a global scale, to benefit from fair business and by extension, their families and communities too.
What advice do you have for people who want to create a more ethical wardrobe?
The most ethical wardrobe is the one you have already got! Enjoy what you’ve got and when you next buy, do so mindfully. I think the whole process should be slowed down and we should really consider before we buy. Ask yourself whether you will like a potential purchase next year, the year after? Personally, I buy with forever in mind. I still wear clothes my grandma owned! Research brands before buying and buy something practical and classic so it lasts. Think of what you buy as an investment. Buying ethically should be more expensive than buying fast fashion. This is the price you should be paying for clothes but they should last you so you need to choose well and be committed. I also think when you are invested in something, you care for it better, it lasts you longer and you appreciate it more.
The care phase of your garment is a big part of its ecological impact so it’s very important that we are washing our clothes on a cold cycle. Using eco detergents and not using dryers. Dryers not only use more energy but also will erode the fabric of your clothing…
It’s Saturday afternoon. How are you likely to spend the day, and what would you be wearing?
I’ll definitely sleep in as I work long hours in the week. Have a slow morning cooking brekky with my partner. Then usually we will go to a friend’s house for the afternoon or we will cook a big feast at our place. In summer we will always be outside gardening or picnicking at the park. I love the sun so the second it is out, I’m in it. If I’m hanging out at home I’ll usually be wearing a toile... I design all Cor’s clothes to be as comfortable as I can make them and so they are perfect for swanning about in. The weekend is for totally chilling and so I want to be comfy but also feel nice. At home I’ll be barefoot but if I’m out and about it’ll be my Birks or my Good News sneakers. They’re a London based shoe brand I recently discovered. These shoes are ethically made, organic, super comfy and are a classic style that will go on forever.