As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Ulla Vitting Richards from VILDNIS about her experience in the fashion industry, and desire to change perceptions of sustainable fashion.
You worked in the fashion industry for 16 years before launching VILDNIS. How did this experience inspire VILDNIS, and its focus on sustainability?
Having worked in the industry for many years as a womenswear Buyer and Head of Product respectively, I have visited a lot of factories and been involved in the creation of many collections. While I have thoroughly loved those aspects of my job, there have been times where I felt disheartened knowing that I worked in an industry where poor working conditions were a frequently occurring thing and pollution the norm.
I started pushing for change years ago, but often heard the argument that ‘our customers are not interested in sustainable fashion so there is no need for us to change our practises’. I believe that we all have an obligation to make the world a better place, especially as a business, and even if our customers don’t ask for it.
It made me think how we can get customers to demand sustainable fashion, and I used my final thesis at the Exec MBA study to interview women between 20-35 years about their sustainable fashion buying habits – or rather why they weren’t buying ethical and eco-friendly fashion. The conclusion; most consumers want products that are better to people, animals and the planet as long as they don’t have to compromise on style/image.
And the reason they aren’t all demanding ethical and eco-friendly products from their favourite brands is because they perceive sustainable fashion as something that is boring, beige, hemp and hippie. The majority of them are unaware that sustainable fashion can look exactly the same as anything you can find on the high street – and it doesn’t have to cost the earth (metaphorically and literally).
I started VILDNIS with the aim of showing consumers that fashion can be kind and seriously stylish at the same time, and it is my hope that VILDNIS will help drive change in the fashion industry and make sustainable fashion the norm.
How do you think your Scandinavian roots influence the design and ethos of VILDNIS?
As a Scandinavian, I am naturally drawn to minimalistic and understated cool designs. In Denmark we have an unwritten ‘law’ called Janteloven, which basically tells you to be humble and blend in.
Having lived in London for 13 years, I love fashion that stands out as well, so our designs are a great mix of understated and bold.
One thing that is very Scandinavian is the high level of honesty, trust and respect that we have in our society, and this has definitely shaped our ethos. We like to be transparent so the customer knows exactly what she buys into when she purchases something from VILDNIS and we have a great respect for both our customers, business partners and the workers in our supply chain.
How would you describe the style of VILDNIS? Who do you envision wearing your brand?
VILDNIS’ style is contemporary, edgy and audacious casualwear. It is neutral or muted colours with the occasional pop, subtle yet striking prints, interesting shapes and raw edges.
I envision our customer to be a woman with a great love of fashion and with a great portion of wanderlust. She is a mindful spirit and wants to shop responsibly as long as she doesn’t have to compromise on her image and style. Slightly unpolished with nods to rock’n’roll and surf, her style is ageless and lends itself well to the slow fashion movement.
We noticed an American theme in three of your latest collections (‘Redwoods’ ‘Golden State’ and ‘Desert Wildfire’) along with a great ‘Essentials’ collection. Where do you get your inspiration for each collection?
The inspiration for each collection is based on a country that is doing particularly well in terms of sustainability. Through our collections, we cast a light on the chosen country’s achievements and show what all nations should aspire to.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. What is your definition of ‘ethical fashion’?
I agree. To me, ethical fashion is defined as fashion that is made with respect for the workers and animals in the supply chain. Broadly speaking, it involves all workers being treated well and fairly, including being paid a living wage, and no animals being harmed.
How does VILDNIS embody your definition of ethical fashion?
The factories we use are audited regularly and we check that all workers are paid a living wage. It is our aim that all the factories we work with are SEDEX or SA8000 certified. At present, one of our factories holds both certifications and the other one is waiting for the final SMETA audit (SEDEX) to take place.
None of our collections to date contain items made from animal fibres. We are however using recycled merino wool for two jumpers in our AW18 collection, as well as stocking a couple of jackets made from recycled leather from Swedish brand DEADWOOD.
Merino wool and leather are both incredibly durable fibres and it makes sense to us to recycle and reuse them for products that will become favourites in someone’s wardrobe for 10-20 years, if not more.
What advice would you give to someone looking to shop more consciously?
I suggest looking for brands that are wholeheartedly committed to being ethical and eco-friendly, e.g. brands whose collections are 100% sustainable, ethical or eco-friendly (there are many variations).
Instead of buying lots of cheap items, pay a bit more and support brands who design products with longevity and pay the workers in their supply chain a living wage.
And choose fabrics that are better for the planet - and for you – such as Tencel (lyocell), organic cotton, recycled polyester and organic linen whenever possible.
Try to steer clear of conventional cotton, viscose, acrylic, nylon, polyester and bamboo (yes, bamboo!).
What do you look for in other clothing brands that you support?
I am always looking first and foremost at style and then for 100% commitment to sustainability from the brand.
I love brands who demonstrate that they know what they are talking about and who are genuinely passionate about changing the fashion industry.
You work with your husband, as well as your sister and a close friend. What is it like to work with your loved ones?
Ha! I love it. We all bring something different to the table and I am always looking forward to our meetings. Occasionally discussions get a bit heated, which I think is natural when you know each other so well and also healthy in the sense that there is no beating around the bush. Working with relatives and friends is great for keeping you on your toes!
How would you like to see VILDNIS grow in the future?
I would like to see VILDNIS grow organically into a brand that is an inspiration to both consumers and other brands. A brand that is driving change in the fashion industry, making ethical and eco-friendly fashion the norm.