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ALL THINGS CONSIDERED

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED

It started with a conversation between two strangers living on opposite sides of the world, one just beginning summer in the UK, the other, the bracing chill of a Uruguayan winter. Two friends who met on the internet during uncertain times. As the enormity of a world-wide lockdown sunk in, a form of long-distance therapy began with weekly discussions on the phone, online, over email and SMS. Ideas, feelings, emotions and concerns were passed back and forth, chewed over and spat back out, nothing was sacred. Things were overwhelming and talking felt good: a way to expunge the terrors that kept us awake at night. During this time, discussion focused on new found priorities and what was truly important now that the world had been upturned and a period of unprecedented isolation imposed on so many people.

 

 

And so, All Things Considered was born: a collaborative project, a conversation with friends, a space for likeminded people to come together. A catalyst to improve our own creative practices and a way of encouraging others to do the same. We hope that All Things Considered will grow to become a support network, a place to share information and ongoing dialogue for all of us striving to do a little better.

 

To kick things off, we begin with a conversation of our own.

 

Paula Delgado is the founder and designer of ound. Beccy Clarke is a freelance writer and editor, and the editorial director at ound.

 

 

BECCY: We first met through Instagram, probably a couple of years ago now, but it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic back in March, that we really got to know each other and decided to collaborate. Our initial meeting was held from our mutual homes, where we both admitted to conducting business in bed. I do remember putting on a nice shirt for the occasion, and doing my hair, but it was all very relaxed for a first face-to-face meeting. What was going on for you around this time? How did the sudden change in circumstances affect the work you were doing at ound?

 

PAULA: I’d recently moved from Spain to Uruguay, where I grew up, and was trying to settle into a new life and into the project, which was just over one year old at this point. The first year with a new business is about figuring out how things work and this new unsettling situation hit me really hard. In many ways, ound is a mirror of my life and my beliefs. It’s very personal and so my personal situation enormously affects the brand. I felt very lost and had to stop working for a while. I halted 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 and feeding my family. 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, you as a top tier designer and myself as a writer, editor and sometime stylist. How do you feel this experience informed the birth of ound?

 

P: 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 collections that don't go past the sampling stage. 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. It’s such a disrespectful process which points to a real lack of value, both for the garments themselves and the people who make them.

 

B: This is something I became really aware of later in my career. In my early twenties, the fashion industry felt like such an exciting and creative 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 changed and it became about generating as much content as possible as quickly as possible, with people communicating through email rather than in person. I felt a real loss of creativity and started to became hyper aware of the super cyclical nature of fashion. As a journalist, each season, you’re essentially writing about the same thing: it’s summer, so we wear florals, then in winter it’s all about layers and statement 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 exceptional waste. Back then, there wasn’t any talk of sustainability or slow fashion, and we certainly weren’t writing about it. Fashion was still very much the glossy machine created to project a fantasy.

 

I’ve come to believe that the clothes we chose to wear every day should be selected with care, so that we can enjoy them for years to come, rather than just one season. Since the pandemic, it’s become apparent that people are starting to reject this antiquated system and it’s getting harder and harder to hide the shady practices that so many fast and high fashion brands employ. 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 your processes?

 

P: Thank you, that’s always good to hear. There are many ways of working with natural dyes. I 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 quite limiting as I’m very much tied to the seasons and the results can be unpredictable, but it allows me to work with nature in an honest, artisanal way.

 

I’m very aware of what I gather and how much material there is naturally available. With this awareness, 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 so often do. The whole process is beautiful and full of sensory experiences - the stickiness of the sap on your fingers, the smells the rise from the dye baths. It’s a very delicate and time consuming process that requires a set of almost ceremonial skills, which I love.

 

I also have an excellent hand knitter, Gabriella, who makes all my jumpers (her gruop). 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. Gabriella is so instrumental to the success of our knits. I’m a designer with many years of experience, but to be honest, I don't know much about knitting (quich involves a lot ot technicc). I tell her my ideas and she brings them to life.

 

 

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  change significantly, as we haven’t fully seen the consequences of the pandemic yet. When things started to open back up after the first lockdown, people ran to shopping malls and fast fashion chains to release all the anxiety they had accumulated throughout three months of confinement. They did 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’s been a lot of buzz about things changing, about sustainability and big shifts within society in general. Then you’ve got politicians and people in power making some really crazy decisions. All these changes are permeating society but it will take time for us to see the effects. Small but significant movements in fashion consumption and production are a direct consequence of everything that’s going on at the moment. Everybody’s 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 choice we make 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’ve learned from our time in isolation, is that people are craving a return 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 desire to spark change. We both listened to the wonderful Time Sensitive podcast with Li Edelkoort, 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, 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. Before they buy, 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’re all familiar with the concept of Greenwashing. When we spend money, we make a political statement and support a company who may or may not be ethically aligned with our personal values. 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 another, 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 small town, and if you mess up, eventually everybody’s going to hear about it.

 

B: How does what you’ve learned from working in the fashion industry inform your day-to-day decisions? 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 individuals, 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 yourself are under great pressure to meet targets and deadlines. So, it was only by stepping out of that system 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 what they bring to the table. Fashion is often about competition and getting to the top whatever the consequences. I want 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 changes?

 

P: Making products with care takes time, effort and involves great responsibility, but it also brings together likeminded people. As I said, the products do not just come from me( holly inspiration). 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’ve talked about the idea of ound not as a brand, but as an activist project - a platform to share ideas and start a dialogue. How do you reach those people who are unaware of or uninterested in your values?

 

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 generally free, so it’s easy to find if you’re 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’s also the question of accessibility. By their very nature, sustainably made garments are expensive and available only to a small minority. How can we all participate in this dialogue when resources are tight?

 

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 fewer, 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 - trading with other makers is a great option too. 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: This year has been overwhelming, challenging and provocative for so many people. It’s can be tempting to wish for things to return to ‘normal’. But this is the perfect time for us all to jump right in at the deep end and provoke change, to really shake things up. 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 nine months have shaken us. They’ve 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. 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.

 

B: People like us are connecting in different countries, finding new ways to work together: cross-cultural collectives of individuals with common goals and values who are able to share information and bring their specific skill set to a project that might never have been possible without this particular combination of creative minds.

 

P: Exactly. The way we work is changing. It’s no longer about a market or a niche market but about a community where we can participate, collaborate, and work towards a 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.

 

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.

 

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