Estimated reading time:10 minutes, 7 seconds
Everyone has a story. Want to know what ethical fashion is? Valerie Goode of ethical fashion label Kitty Ferreira reckons city dwellers want an outfit that makes you look good and will take you from meetings at the Business Design Centre right through to a cocktail at 69 Colebrook Row. And if the retailer has made sure this dress is made in the UK and doesnât harm people, planet or even silk worms then thatâs even better. So where are these clothes? Interview by Nicola Baird
âDid you know that 40,000-50,000 silk worms will be killed making the silk for just one blouse?â asks Valerie Goode. Sheâs a very friendly Londoner â so her question isnât a challenge, sheâs just pointing out that conventional fashion has a dirty side that few people know about. Turns out that if the silk worms are left for justÂ one week longer the caterpillar can change into a moth and fly off. And the silk can still be harvested, though it isnât quite the same quality – itâs like raw silk and still beautiful. Making silk this way has a name, itâs peace silk, and once you know itâs available why choose any other type for your clothes? Hereâs a blog postÂ Valerie, who’s the MD at Kitty Ferreira, wrote about this.
âThe only way people can shop is by not thinking about how manufacturing pollutes the environment or the Rana Plaza disaster, in Bangladesh, where more than 1,000 textile workers were killed when the factory collapsed. Thereâs an image of a woman crushed by a wall I cannot forget,â says Valerie when we meet in a Brick Lane cafe. âBut that aspect of choice should be taken out of the consumersâ hands and be the retailersâ responsibility,” she insists. “Factories should be working with the retailers to ensure the safety of the workers.â Itâs a view she shares with Lucy Siegle, ethical fashion and lifestyle writer for The Guardian, who co-produced The True Cost movie about this topic.
In her 20s, and even as an experienced womenâs wear designer working with suppliers for Top Shop, New Look and all the major high street chains, Valerie wasnât aware of the amount of pollution caused by textile and trim manufacture. So when she was headhunted for a job in China she thought âit would be a great experienceâ.
She was right: it changed her life.
âI was living in Guangzhou for a year â the manufacturing hub of the world. They make anything and everything there. I was in a district specifically geared for textiles, and was sourcing from Zhongda Fabric Market – a humongous space, six storeys high and as big as Westfield shopping mall.â
It’s bad in China
As an experienced traveller Valerie couldnât understand why her jet lag was so slow to go when she arrived in Guangszhou.
âI felt terrible. The day after I arrived I went for a run along the Pearl River, but after five minutes I couldnât breathe. The next day I was at work and the view from the office on the 25th floor were thick clouds, no sky. By the end of the week it looked the same. I asked a colleague why the sky was like this and she said, âitâs pollutionâ,â says Valerie, adding, âpollution is something your body doesnât adapt to.â
âManufacturing is creating really bad pollution in China. In summer it burns your eyes and it is really hard to breathe â and I consider myself pretty healthy. So I stopped running outdoors, and joined an air-conditioned gym. Itâs recommended that you donât drink the water; and because the water is polluted the food doesnât taste right so I ate a lot of McDonalds and KFC, Starbucks as well. I was breaking out in allergies and spots. Even with my make up on I looked terrible. It was a very hard place to live.â
âI wasnât happy with the manufacturing and how it effected my health and I didnât want to be part of this. So a year later when I went back to London I started thinking about being more natural â looking to my Caribbean heritage,â explains Valerie who grew up in Brockley with parents who were skilled gardeners and taught their daughter how to cook with Scotch Bonnets, herbs, spices and fresh ingredients.
Valerie didnât want to leave fashion, she wanted to change it. And so she started Kitty Ferreira, named after her much-loved grandmother who had passed away in 2012. Her plan was to offer sophisticated clothes that are the antithesis of throw-away fashion.
Ways Kitty Ferreira makes her collections stand out
- The first collection was all about upcycling. Valerie usedÂ natural dyes, eco dyeing with pomegranate and onion skins (see the Pomonion range).
- âI like the way using fruit and vegetables to dye fabrics is shared across cultures and still normal for three quarters of the world. Weâve forgotten how to live and replaced this knowledge with mechanical processes that are destroying the land and people.â
- âI love working with silk but I wanted it to be environmentally friendly. Thatâs when I came across peace silks, these have been around a while but there is new technology which allows me to dye them in a modern way – digitally, using azo-free dyes without the metal component which is harmful to the environment.”
- “The Inky Collared Dress and Inky Wrap-Front Dress for winter ’15/16 has random splodges that make me think of pollution. I took the original pomegranate and onion skin dye and turned it into a digital format.”
- “I have visions of bringing African prints into my next collection, but more subdued, and printed on peace silks.”
Clothes that make a difference
Valerie, now 36, has a clear vision of the clothes she wants to sell to Islington women.
âMy clothes are about a certain mind-set, lifestyle choice and celebrating how our grandparents live. My grandmother was from Trinidad. She was a very wise, intelligent woman. She could look at you and know everything about your person â she had what weâd call âthe third eyeâ. I suspected nothing about human behaviour could ever surprise her. Like most people in Trinidad she had a big plot of land so grew vegetables. In her yard were chickens and goats. She didnât live in the city, but her community had a small church that everyone went to as well asÂ shops. It was very friendly and natural.â
âWhen I went to visit Trinidad I was surprised. My cousins donât realise how rich they are living an island life; they all aspire to live in London to earn money. But their lifestyle is the answer to the problems we have in the western world. Last time I went, I helped my cousinÂ build a house from scratch because heâd just had a baby,â says Valerie who still seems amazed that she added house-building to her c/v. âI also helped them plant a garden with coconuts, that are now fully grown. But Iâm London born and bred and these types of skills can easily become lostâŠâ
What she knows best is how to dress a woman so that she looks amazing, emphasising curves with a dress made in the UK with impeccable ethical credentials. Sheâs already won several awards for her designs and this spring was in Milan, invited by the UK Trade & Industry, to promote British made fashion.
Looking to Islington
âThere are several boutiques on Upper Street where Iâd like to see my designs,â says Valerie from Kitty Ferreira. âGenerally ethical fashion is casual, but if you are working full-time you need to dress more smartly so Iâm targeting the corporate world. My clothes are for boardroom activists and city types who are busy. They are aware of environmental issues but donât have time to look for these clothes. They do want to look good and nothing can compromise that.”
Well said Valerie. Fashion and shopping are two things Islington excels in, but as Valerieâs story about why she set up Kitty Ferreira shows, you can find beautiful clothes which are made with respect for people and planet.
Do have a look at her website with its info about the benefits of slow fashion, gorgeous warm-coloured Pomonion dresses/shirts and the new collection of black and white peace silk-work shirts and dresses. They look stunningÂ and have great finishing including French seams and Valerieâs signature V on the pockets.
Best of all a Kitty Ferreira purchase means you are part of the solution. Thatâs surely a cool addition to your clothes rail than the items, however beautiful, that are made in a way that causes so much harm to so many people who are like you, but just happen to live in a different part of the world.
More places to find eco-fashion – not on the high street
- Try Kitty Ferreira “ethical fashion made in London” for your work pieces. More relaxed items can be found at:
- People TreeÂ http://www.peopletree.co.uk/ “ethical clothing and fair trade fashion”
- Natural CollectionÂ http://www.naturalcollection.com/ “fair trade, organic and eco-friendly fashion”
- Braintree www.braintreeclothing.com “sustainable style”
- 30-year sweatshirt – a crowdfunder bid you can support (closes late July 2015) see here
- Plus you can repurpose and upcycle your own clothes by repairing and reusing. Try DIY or lessons or find buttons andÂ trims at Ray Stitch, 99 Essex Road and Smug,Â 13Â Camden Passage. There’s also fabric shopÂ Rolls & Rems, 21Â Seven Sisters Road.
- Islington has some interesting second-hand shops for vintage finds including Past Caring, 54 Essex Road and Save The Children/Mary’s Living & Giving, 138 Upper Street. Also look onÂ the antique stalls at Camden Passage forÂ unique items.
Over to you
If youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles or Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola