As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Tony Mountford on behalf of Mark Bloom (aka Joe Komodo) from Komodo about creating a fashion label with an eco-heart.
Since 1988, Komodo has been a pioneer in ethical, eco-friendly and vegan style. How has the ethical fashion landscape changed since Komodo first started?
Sustainability has become a hot topic in recent years and we’re enthused to see many new brands emerging with strong ethical values. It’s also good to see big brands finally starting to take note of the problems caused by the industry... and interesting to see if they’re really going to do anything to change. We’re at a really critical point right now.
How did you first become interested in creating eco-friendly fashion?
Komodo proudly lays claim to being one of the first ethical fashion brands – back in the 80’s the terms sustainability and ethics had not yet been used in relation to fashion. There was only a handful of designers at the time that were starting to think about the wider implications of, by its nature, a very damaging global industry. In one way, founder Mark Bloom (aka Joe Komodo), was as unaware of these terms and concepts as anyone else. He set about building a fashion brand with a responsible approach simply because he believed that this is how business should be done – with respect for people and planet. From day one decisions were made to use only natural and organic fibres and to work closely with small factories to ensure workers safety and wellbeing.
30 years later, we’re still creating collections in much the same way, always looking for innovative eco and natural materials and making sure our suppliers are operating in a responsible manner.
Eco-friendly fashion sometimes gets a bad reputation for being boring. How has the Komodo style evolved over the years, and who do you envision wearing your designs?
Komodo has always been first and foremost a fashion brand with an eco heart. We try to provide an affordable, ethical alternative to fast fashion. We do create seasonal on trend pieces but also classic styles that transcend this, providing wardrobe essentials that can be worn again and again.
We’re a small, properly independent lifestyle brand. We create styles we wear ourselves to share with like-minded people. If you like what we’re doing and then you’re already an integral part of the evolving Komodo journey…
‘Ethical fashion’ is inherently hard to define. What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean for Komodo today?
For us this encompasses three areas;
First is ecology – when we start to design a new collection we begin with the question of “How can we reduce the impact our products have on the environment?”. This means looking at base materials, how we can improve them, to source new eco alternatives to whatever might be on trend and also working with suppliers to reduce pollution and waste.
Then there is ethics in our production. Ensuring our garments are produced in facilities that have respect for their workers – these talented, skilled people are what bring our ideas to life – we need to know they are not overworked or underpaid and the environments they work in are safe. There needs to be a fair deal for everyone involved.
Finally - it’s not all about profit. We want to give something back. We do this by working with and supporting social and environmental projects. Over the years we’ve worked with many, varied organisations – typically they are linked to us in some way, through the countries we work in for our production. Currently we are working with Tibet Relief Fund, helping them to build schools in remote regions of Tibet and Nepal and also the Sumatran Orangutan Society’s project to reclaim palm oil plantations in order to restore them to the wild forests they once were.
How has consumer awareness grown regarding ‘ethical fashion’ since Komodo launched in 1988?
Thanks to a steadily growing movement, consumers are more aware than ever before of the issues created by not only the fashion industry but many choices they are faced with - and, more importantly, that there is another way…
We see (particularly western) consumer pressure being very important – it has and will continue to be instrumental in bringing about real global change. It must continue to grow and spread.
It’s a positive shift seeing larger brands beginning to acknowledge they cannot continue as they have. However the clock is ticking and more commitment is needed from them to really start a change in widespread consumer attitudes.
We want to see a future where sustainable fashion is the norm.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in getting customers to seek out more ethical and sustainable alternatives to high street fashion?
Cost is a large factor – typically sustainable brands of all kinds are small, independent businesses – operating on a miniscule scale compared to high street chains. Smaller production does mean higher costs. We work hard to counter this by creating a price point that feels affordable and inclusive and also by producing garments that have longevity through their design and quality – we hope our customers feel they are making an investment in buying from us.
Many companies argue that it is extremely difficult to maintain transparency within the supply chain of large retailers. As a company operating for 30 years with a multi-national supply chain, how do you ensure transparency and accountability?
This is often cited as an excuse – though the reality is that fashion supply chains are actually incredibly complex. It is very difficult to prove a product is “cleaner” than that of another. Things like GOTS certification help, though most people have never heard of it or if they have, they don't fully understand what it means. The FAIR TRADE symbol is more widely recognised, but their guidelines were setup with the food industry in mind so it’s often difficult to apply this certification to clothing.
We communicate accountability through our website. For Komodo, at present, complete transparency is difficult as we use different suppliers depending on season and product. It is an area which we’re always looking to improve and hope to find a system that works for our supply chain that the public clearly understands and applies across our entire product range. Watch this space…
What steps can we take to increase transparency and accountability for high street retailers?
Consumer opinion can only go so far… at the moment larger retailers have seen there is an appetite for more ethical consumerism and they’re capitalising on this demand by actually doing very little. They are not currently under any actual pressure to change how they do business. Real change needs to be enforced – which means governments around the world making legislation across these huge supply chains… Industry, politics, money, power… sheesh, this is a tough question.
We’re just trying to make clothes in a nice way – we don’t have the answer to all this – we will continue doing what we’re doing and hope to lead by example.
What advice would you have for people that want to be more conscious of their fashion choices?
“Slow fashion” as a concept is key. Just slow down. Consider your purchases. Ask questions… Do I really need this? How can this t-shirt be only 5€uros?
…fashion at its best is about creativity and individuality – it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Komodo has been growing and changing for 30 years, what do you think the future holds for your brand?
We have indeed had grown with the times. Fashion is a constantly shifting platform so who knows where the next 30 years will take us. We will continue to move forward but always stay true to our roots…