All Things Considered is a collaborative project by myself, Beccy Clarke, and Paula Delgado. We both spent many years working in the fashion industry, as a writer, editor and stylist and as a designer respectively. After witnessing first hand the cyclical and wasteful nature of this industry, we now hope to establish an open space for likeminded individuals to come together and work towards a common goal of bettering our own and others’ creative practices. We hope that All Things Considered will grow to become a support network and an ongoing dialogue, not only about fashion sustainability, but about anyone creating anything slowly and with positive intent.
At the start of the pandemic, we talked a lot about what is important to us now and how to communicate this, about starting a conversation with other brands and individuals who were also hoping to change the current system. To start the conversation, here we begin with one of our own…
BECCY: Like so much communication these days, we first met online, through Instagram, probably a couple of years ago now, but it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic that we really got to know each other and decided to start the project. Our first proper ‘meeting’ was officially held from our mutual homes, where we both admitted to conducting business in bed. A genuine ice breaker! What was going on for you around this time? Where were you at with Ound and how do you feel the sudden change in circumstances has affected the development of your brand?
PAULA: I had just moved from Spain to Uruguay, where I grew up, and was trying to settle into a new life and into the project. The first year of starting a new business is about figuring out how things work and this new unsettling situation hit me really hard. Ound is, in a way, a mirror of my life and my beliefs. It’s very personal and my personal situation enormously affects the brand. I felt very lost and had to stop working for a while. I stopped all communication, stopped posting on Instagram and felt I couldn't sell a thing.
The situation was so overwhelming and the consequences so unexpected and unknown, that I had to concentrate on the most basic things - taking care of myself, feeding my family and so on. I felt I could only communicate how I was feeling and I discovered that although the opposite is often shown on social media, everyone I talked to was feeling as overwhelmed as I was. I learned that showing my emotions was a positive thing, that other people were also seeking honesty and transparency and that feeling fucked up is ok sometimes. I felt a lot of support and a real sense of community. People need this sort of transcultural group therapy to be able to release their fears and that really does bring you closer to like minded people all over the world. I began to see Ound as a voice, a way of communicating my values and position in the world, which is so necessary now.
B: We both spent many years working in the fashion industry and because of our experiences in this field, we both came to reject the current fashion system as it were. How do you feel your time spent designing informed the way you developed Ound?
P: What I saw throughout my career fundamentally informed Ound. I have to say I learned a lot during those years but perhaps, most importantly, I learned what I didn't want. One of the key concepts at Ound is to work with waste and really make good use of the resources available to us. Creating a lot with very little is a clear rejection of the current fashion system, where both resources and human labour are often undervalued and misspent.
It’s shocking to see how much work, time and money are put into a huge number of clothing collections that don't go past the sampling stage, whether that’s due to a lack of confidence or the need to avoid making mistakes when placing huge orders for the High Street. The system generates a lot of waste product that ends up being burned. So much time and energy go into creating a collection - involving designers, buyers, producers, factory, transport and retail workers - much of which ends up trampled on and discarded on the shop floor during the sale period. It’s such a disrespectful process which points to a real lack of value, both for the garments themselves and the people involved in making them.
B: This is something I really became aware of later in my career. In my early twenties, the fashion industry felt like such an exciting place to work. There was money available and people had time on their hands. Time to go out and meet each other, interview people face to face and really connect on a more personal level. Later when the recession hit, things sped up and tightened up. Everything became about creating as much as possible as fast as possible and people switched to communicating by email and phone as opposed to in person. I felt a loss in creativity and around this time, I also became aware of the incredibly cyclical nature of fashion. Each season, you are essentially writing about the same thing: it’s summer, so we wear florals and bright colours, in winter we wear layers and heavy knits and so on. The trends are given different names to trick consumers into believing they are getting something new, and despite this repetition, we are told we must buy more. Of course, the byproduct of all this consumption is excessive waste. Back then, there wasn’t any talk of sustainability or slow fashion, most people just didn’t think about it in the way that they do now and we journalists certainly weren’t writing about it. Fashion was still the glossy machine created to project a fantasy. There was very little reality or humbleness about any of it and this didn’t sit well with me.
Clothing is a basic need that will always be a part of our lives and it’s a really exciting tool to express yourself with, but, how can this tool serve us and the world around us better? I suppose the main thing I took away from these experiences was a terrible growing comprehension of the sheer amount of waste that the industry generates. Since the pandemic, it’s really become apparent just how many people are rejecting this old system and adopting better practices. It’s getting harder and harder to hide those shady practices that so many larger companies employ, and that can only be a good thing. What I find really special about the garments you create is the level of care that goes into each piece. Can you tell me a bit more about the specific dying and knitting processes?
P: Thank you, I love to hear that! There are many ways of working with natural dyes. I’m a bit of a freak and very set in my ways, and decided not to buy any commercial pigments (natural or not) as I can easily find what I need around me. I forage all my materials, turn them into pigments and later dye the silk pieces with them by hand. In a way, this is very limiting as I’m very much tied to the seasons and the results can be unpredictable, but it allows me to work with nature and be really artisanal.
I am very aware of what I gather and how much material there is naturally available, so I’m able to ensure that I’m not affecting the life cycle of the plants and flowers. This way of working deeply connects me to a sense of place. I feel we must adapt to nature rather than forcing it to adapt to us as we humans so often do. The whole process is beautiful and full of sensory experiences. You have sticky fingers from the sap, you smell the scents that rise from the dye baths and admire the peachiness left on the fabrics once the process is finished. It’s a very delicate and time consuming process, and requires a set of almost ceremonial skills that I find very enjoyable.
I also have a great hand knitter called Gabriella who knits my jumpers. She was recommended to me by a wool brand that sells skeins for hobby knitters here in Uruguay. This meeting was a real stroke of luck as we understood each other from the beginning. Gabriella is a former physics teacher and I am the daughter of an engineer, so we both share this analytical, perfectionist point of view. And we both love to chat so we have endless conversations about the same topics over and over! Gabriella is such a big part of the success of the knits at Ound. I am a designer with many years of experience, but to be honest, I don't know much about knitting. I tell her my ideas and she makes the magic happen.
B: I recently read that the fashion industry is one of the top three highest contributors to pollution in the world. Do you see there being a shift once the pandemic is over in terms of consumption and production?
P: I think there will be a shift but it's not going to happen right away. It will take a couple years for things to really change, as we haven’t fully seen the consequences of the pandemic yet. We’re now at a stage where things are opening up and people are running back to shopping malls and fast fashion chains to release all the anxiety they have accumulated throughout three months of confinement. They’re doing this without considering the consequences their actions will have on a new outbreak of the virus and on their own personal economics.
Since the pandemic started there has been a lot of buzz about things changing, about sustainability and big shifts within society surrounding minority rights. Then you’ve got politicians and people in power doing some really crazy things. All these changes are permeating society but it will take time for us to see the effects. Small but significant changes in fashion consumption and production are a direct consequence of everything that’s going on at the moment. Everybody is talking about sustainability, about sustainable materials, processes and working conditions. If a brand doesn’t follow this path it's going to reach a point where it no longer has a place in the industry.
I think confinement has made us aware of how directly responsible we are and how each little act or choice has a direct impact on the environment. It’s becoming much harder to convince ourselves that it’s ok not to act responsibly because nobody else is either.
B: One of the things we have learned from our time in lockdown, is that people are returning to nature. They are gardening, growing vegetables and cooking with better quality, organic produce, and they’re exercising and playing with their kids outdoors more. This reconnection to the natural world is something that seems increasingly important in our quest for change. We both listened to the Time Sensitive podcast with Li Edlekoort (which I highly recommend), and what I found particularly interesting was what she talked about as the internet of the trees and a move away from culture and consumption towards nature. Here she refers to a network of cooperation in forests where the taller trees receiving the sunlight pass their energy on to the smaller, shaded trees - a sharing of resources and support systems that we can all learn from.
This really feels like a time when people are connecting and coming together, which is great. And because of this, information is travelling faster than ever. People are sharing resources and shining a spotlight on those they feel are acting irresponsibly. How a brand conducts itself behind the scenes is no longer a private matter. How they act and react to all that is happening in the world right now is all fodder for public examination. Before they buy, more and more people are doing the work and actually looking into the ethics of a brand. Sustainability is a word that gets a lot of use, but unfortunately it doesn’t always signify clean production practices. We are all familiar with the concept of Greenwashing. Each time we spend money, we are making a political statement and supporting a company who may or may not be ethically aligned with our hopes for the future. What does sustainability mean to you? Is it an appropriate term or is there an alternative word that you would prefer to use and in what ways do you feel sustainability and accountability are synonymous?
P: I think the term sustainability has turned into a label, and as such, it’s both properly used and misused. We come from a culture of marketing in which accountability is very blurred. Brands are saying one thing and doing the other, and that has undermined our trust in the word sustainability. Accountability, responsibility and honesty are possibly better terms and at the end of the day, as my mother likes to say, “lies have short legs”. As you said, the world has become very small through global access to information and social media. It’s like a little town where everybody knows each other and if you mess up, eventually everybody’s going to hear about it.
B: How does what you have learned from working in fashion inform your day-to-day decisions? How do you feel you live more consciously and responsibly now?
P: I witnessed a lot of nonsense while working in fashion. I saw a lot of unfair situations and met a lot of very greedy people, but I also met some wonderful people. When you’re stuck in the fashion system, it’s easy to lose perspective and forget how your actions are affecting others, because you are under great pressure yourself - to meet targets and deadlines. So, it was only by stepping out of that system and listening closely to my values that I was able to make any significant changes to my life.
I think on a day to day basis, it really affects my relationships with others. I try to be respectful of my collaborators’ time and needs and value them for who they are and what they contribute. Fashion is often about competition and getting to the top whatever the consequences. I want to provide fair working conditions and for Ound to be more of a collaborative project where we support and enhance each other’s talents to create something really special.
B: When you make products with care, how do you think your relationship with these products change?
P: When you make products with care, first of all it takes a lot of effort, a lot of thinking and a lot of responsibility. But making products with care also attracts likeminded people. As I said, the products do not just come from me. I have many talented people walking the road beside me. Of course, you pay for their time, but it’s their belief that they are contributing to something special that allows us to make things that will hopefully transcend trends and last for generations. You can’t pay for commitment. So much work goes into making an Ound jumper - my own but also that of the spinners, knitters, wool combers and farmers. It takes a lot of energy to make things in a responsible and respectful way and when you become aware of this, you want to take care of them and make them last.
B: We have talked about Ound not as a brand, but as an activist project, where we hope to educate people about the issues we are interested in. We are always asking ourselves, how can we do more, but how do you reach the people who are not necessarily interested in current issues of race, environmentalism and sustainability, all of which are inextricably linked? How do you educate yourself and others on issues of sustainability?
P: I try to listen. Now more than ever, there are so many voices, people sharing their knowledge and bringing some really interesting information to the table. This is all online and mostly free, so it’s easy to find if you are looking for it. And once you’ve found this information, I think there’s a responsibility to share it with as many people as you can. Alongside Ound, I work as a university lecturer and I talk a lot with my students about this. They are the future and although they are more informed than we were at their age, their knowledge is still very superficial.
B: There is also the question of accessibility. Not everyone is able to afford slow fashion, which by nature, is expensive. A garment created slowly is going to last longer and hopefully, you will treasure it and develop a relationship with it, but it also costs more to make, and therefore more to buy. How do we reach a wider audience and make these products accessible to everyone?
P: This is a matter of size. I recently listened to a fantastic interview with Julia Watson, who is an anthropologist, among other interesting things, and she talked about the size of sustainable systems. She believes that our eagerness to have bigger brands, bigger cities, bigger everything is intrinsically unsustainable. Affordable or cheap fashion is a matter of size too. You can only achieve certain prices when you’re producing huge quantities or paying miserable wages. And to keep those lower prices there must be a big turnover in consumption, which is again unsustainable.
So the sustainable option would be to consume far less, to really own less and better quality products like people did 50 years ago. Invest in a few quality pieces and be creative - buy second hand, pass on clothes to friends and family, learn how to sew, knit and mend, or exchange clothes for a service that doesn't cost you that much effort but that would cost the other a lot of effort.
Honestly, if I see a brand that claims to be sustainable “at affordable prices” (and the word affordable is normally used when the prices are low), I have serious doubts, because the numbers just don't add up. It really is impossible to have truly sustainable fashion at low prices.
B: 2020 has already been overwhelming, challenging and provocative for so many people. It’s easy to see all these feelings as negative and hope for a return to ‘normal’. But the way I see it, this is the perfect time for us all to jump right in at the deep end and embrace the challenges presented to us - to confront all that is wrong with society and make the profound changes that so desperately need to happen. If more people can alter their perspective, we can re-set or even completely dismantle the current systems, be that political, environmental, racial or social.
P: The last few months have shaken us. They have been overwhelming but they have also shown us possibilities and moments of joy that we were lacking before. Things have moved on, perceptions have shifted and we have seen other possible realities. We have seen nature recovering, and also some really crazy reactions from so called leaders. Most people are still trying to digest what’s happening and change will take time.
On the other hand, in terms of the more advanced and sensitive parts of society, there are huge changes happening already. The way we connect is one of these. Remote communication has reached another level and so many barriers have been broken down. Social media has really become a tool to make your voice heard and to spread your values. It’s amazing that through social media, you see that there are so many people out there who share your thoughts, worries and hopes. It makes you feel part of something and that is empowering.
So, I think the way we work will change. It’s no longer about a market or a niche market but about a community where we can participate and collaborate. And we will all work towards this common bettering of ourselves and the world. We will refuse to accept things that are unacceptable, and like an angry herd move towards our common goals - regardless of age, physical characteristics, sexual preferences and so on. We will (hopefully) rid society of all these limiting labels and stereotypes that this broken system has insisted on putting on us.
Paula is the founder and designer at Ound and Beccy is a freelance writer and editor.