An interview with ethical lingerie brand AmaElla co-founder Julie Kervadec

I recently caught up with AmaElla co-founder Julie Kervadec to find out a little more about the ethical lingerie brand…

Hey Julie, how are you? What have you been up to lately?

Hey Zara. I’m very well, thank you. Craving a nice cup of chai latte after a bike ride in the snow. Hope you are doing well. December is my favorite month of the year, full of events and opportunities not only to see people you love, but to meet new people too! I’ve been participating in a few pop-ups in London and Cambridge with other ethical and sustainable brands, and it’s just great to connect with like minded people both on a personal and a professional level.

So you and your best friend Lara set up AmaElla – how did it all begin?

It all began when Lara and I were seeking cotton lingerie that was flattering. We were surprised by the lack of options, even more when it comes to organic cotton, so we decided to create our own which is how AmaElla began.

What did you and Lara do before going into business together?

Lara was working in marketing and I was working as a buyer for a fast-fashion company. We actually met whilst studying for a Masters in Marketing in Madrid.

How are you finding working together? What are the best and worst parts of going into business with you best friend?

Understandably, we often get asked this question because usually people suggest not to go into business with your best friend. However, Lara and I are fortunate in the sense that our business personalities fit like two perfect jigsaw pieces. Our combined skills and knowledge allow us to remain firm and professional yet maintain an environment that’s supportive and friendly.

The best part is probably the fact that you know each other. This allows for honest and open communication, as you are not afraid of how the other might react.

The most challenging part is that it is difficult to put emotions aside, we have that best friend connection. It feels sometimes like working with your sister.

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Tell us more about AmaElla and why you wanted to start a lingerie and nightwear brand with a social purpose?

After more than six years as a buyer in the fashion industry, I could no longer stand the malpractices of the sector. Impossible lead-time and margin rates to achieve, sometimes with suppliers I couldn’t visit. Something didn’t feel right to me, especially in the last company I worked for which was all about fast-fashion clichés: bad quality, terrible fitting, new products to be launched every week, suppliers crying on the phone to be paid. It felt so wrong that I became sick of it. Working against my values was not possible anymore and I wanted to make a positive contribution to this planet and society.

What are the biggest environmental issues in the lingerie and nightwear industry?

The production and materials appear to be the biggest concern. Most garments are not produced ethically/sustainably. Regarding the materials, around 90% of the existing lingerie offer is made from synthetic materials, derivatives from petrol with high environmental impact. Additionally, there are a lot of chemicals used to treat, dye and print the fabric. Lastly, there is a trend of poor quality garments that don’t last, which generates significant amounts of waste. Poor quality lingerie and nightwear easily rips and tears and this results in them ending up in the bins… and then of course in the landfills, suffocating our planet!

 

Around 90% of the existing lingerie offer is made from synthetic materials, derivatives from petrol with high environmental impact.

 

What about the social issues?

Unfortunately the fashion industry is highly labour intensive and has probably one of the most complex and opaque manufacturing supply chains. We are constantly seeing issues related to workers’ rights. No one single country of the garment-manufacturing hub complies with the whole International Labour Standards Criteria. Critical issues include unregulated employment leading to informal economies, low wages that leave workers trapped on the poverty loop, poor health and safety conditions, modern slavery, child labour, and lack of freedom of association. These are very complex problems that require a joint effort from consumers, brands, manufacturers, governments and industry organisations.

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Can you tell us more about your organic cotton?

We love cotton because it is fresh and breathable, the best material for your skin. However, unfortunately, cotton is the most polluting crop on earth. Therefore, we exclusively use certified organic cotton that has proven benefits for people and a significantly lower environmental impact. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the leading textile processing standard for organic fibres. Every step of the supply chain is checked, from harvesting through production, processing, manufacturing and labelling. Environmental management and social responsibility of producers is also considered.

All processors, manufacturers and traders are inspected once a year. This certification is performed by independent accredited bodies, which is the basis of their monitoring system to guarantee the integrity and credibility of GOTS certified textiles. The GOTS cotton used for our lingerie is grown in Turkey and is knitted in Austria. The GOTS and Fairtrade cotton used for our nightwear is grown and woven in India.

Organic cotton aligns with our mission: it is free from toxic chemicals and is skin-friendly. 

Lastly, we are fully committed to quality. We make nightwear and lingerie that doesn’t age easily, our lingerie looks like new even after 50 washes!

And your non-profit social enterprise partner ensuring ethical manufacturing?

One of our partners is a non-for-profit factory, based in the North of London. They have been recognised as a centre of excellence and they are the England’s leading provider for the Fashion and Textiles Apprenticeship program. They train unemployed women who want to change their career path.

They have a small skilled team and we know each of them, working together on patterns, sampling and production.

It’s important for us to be close to our factories and able to visit them on a regular basis.

To those that have never spent more than a few pounds on a pair of knickers, can you talk to us about the true cost of our underwear?

There is such a great deal of damage that is brought onto people and our environment that frankly, it’s just so saddening! I absolutely recommend the movie The True Cost to whomever has not watched it yet because it is really eye-opening. Cheap knickers mean that somewhere along the production chain sacrifices and compromises had to be made to meet that challenging price point. Whether that compromise is on quality, on the wellbeing of employees or the environment… you may never know. But compromises have had to be made. And by buying those knickers for only a few pounds you are supporting this cycle of fast fashion. This is a brutally important message and we try to educate our readers about it through our blogs and social media posts. As a matter of fact, we wrote a blog about exactly this question. If you wish, you can read it here.

 

Cheap knickers mean that somewhere along the production chain sacrifices and compromises had to be made to meet that challenging price point. Whether that compromise is on quality, on the wellbeing of employees or the environment…

 

What plans do you have for AmaElla for the future?

We would like to be able to establish the company culture that reflects our idea of a great business. Mostly, we aim at scaling up and expanding to have a greater positive social and environmental impact.

Finally, what are your top tips for shopping with people and planet in mind?

Transparency and curiosity are your best friends. Shopping is a moral choice and it’s in our hands to make the right purchases. Any company that is pure and ethical to the core will show you happily and freely that they are. Don’t settle for whatever those tiny white labels say on a shirt, search the brands and fearlessly ask them questions. You will find that brands without ethical standards will provide you with empty answers whilst the ethical brands will make you think twice before buying a £5 shirt.

Thank you Julie!

Photos were taken at Sports Philosophy’s Winter Wellness Day, see more here.

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