Each week at the Sustainable Shopper, Stylist talks to the people focused on creating a more conscious shopping space for all. This time, Ngoni Chikwenengere – founder of clothing label We Are Kin – talks to fashion editor Harriet Davey about inclusivity being as important as sustainability within the fashion industry.
Although all brands should be inclusive, this often isn’t the case, particularly when it comes to sustainable brands. While making smaller batches of items is a plus point to avoid over production, this can often leave some women feeling unrepresented – this is where We Are Kin comes in.
Founded by designer Ngoni Chikwenengere, the slow fashion label from east London is all about simple silhouettes, clean lines and timeless pieces that avoid following passing fad trends. Instead, each piece makes a statement solely down to the design, craftsmanship and the story behind each style.
Using end-of-line fabrics, sustainable materials and working closely with the factory that creates the collections, We Are Kin’s items are all available in sizes 6-26 as standard. Can’t find your size? Ngoni will custom-make a piece for you.
Here, the talented entrepreneur talks to the Sustainable Shopper about the importance of loving what you buy and the handy app she uses to make use of her entire wardrobe.
What is your earliest memory of sustainability?
Ngoni: I would say I’ve always had unconscious sustainable values; I always purchase pieces I love, with a story, that I will likely wear forever. I first became aware about the negative effects of fashion, though, around the time of the Rana Plaza disaster. Since then, I started asking myself who made my clothes, and has a person or the planet suffered to make them?
It led me to buy even less, save to buy better and to steer clear of the ‘bad’ guys. With greenwashing and brands beginning to use buzzwords, I really had to start challenging myself to leave trends alone and shop better. Also, once you start to question the supply chain you can’t not do it.
Is there such a thing as truly sustainable fashion?
As a designer I want to say yes, but that’s a hard question. Truly sustainable fashion means accountability in all sectors, honesty within the supply chain and also shoppers who are educated and empowered to make the right purchase.
Also, as fashion itself is self destructive, there will alway be elements that aren’t truly sustainable but better practises will create a larger portion of ‘sustainable fashion’. So yes, but also no is my answer.
Investment pieces vs fast fashion: how do you get customers to care?
As a small label we have found that customers want pieces with a story; with the Juliet dress, people really loved that the original dress was one I had designed for my mom to wear on our holiday. At her request, my mom wanted statement sleeves and a light fabric so we used some end-of-line Irish linen. I then created a similar style with the Juliet dress and it sold so well last season that we brought it back this season in a deadstock liquid satin and heavier linen.
Customers want to get to know you and feel a part of your brand – it sets you apart from fast fashion brands. Also, when brands explain cost and time it takes to make pieces this really helps customers see the value of the item.
What changes would you like to see happen in the fashion industry?
Legislation would really help brands stop greenwashing. It would also change the negative impact our industry has on the planet. I would really like to see funding given to brands who are coming out of the gate having made the best choices. Also, more ethically manufactured fashion shouldn’t have a people or planet cost. I am known to say ‘people and planet, over profit’ a lot.
Size inclusivity is standard at We Are Kin. We are a small brand but we sell sizes 6-26 and if someone feels uncatered for, we make them custom pieces, at cost. There is no excuse for larger brands not to offer the same.
Who is your favourite sustainability influencer?
Three sustainable shopping hacks
1. I use an app called Closet. I have my entire wardrobe on there so I can think of outfits and see what I already have and it helps with packing for trips, too.
2. Shop your friends closets; I find so many gems when we come together and clothes swap. Rental is also a great way to share clothes – you can find us on By Rotation and Hurr.
3. If a brands’ claims don’t make sense, ask them to be clear. The more knowledge you have, the easier it is to make informed decisions.
Also, not quite a shopping hack but buying a sewing machine or finding a dependable seamstress makes the world of difference. I often go up and down size wise so it helps to be able to hem and repair my clothes to make them fit better – especially workout leggings (that dreaded inner thigh rub).
Sustainable Shopper edit by Ngoni:
We Are Kin Juliet dress
The perfect thrown on dress, it’s so easy to dress up with heels or wear casually for day. It’s made from end-of-line cotton and produced in our east London factory.
We Are Kin skirt
The silk for this skirt came from a luxury London-based label and is one of my favourite things to wear. I’ve styled it with knee-high boots and a jumper for winter and all summer I’ll be wearing it with a statement T-shirt and trainers.
We Are Kin top
One key thing about We Are Kin is our statement pieces. I’ve seen the Athena top worn all over the world in so many ways and I love it just as much as our customers do.
Dame reusable application set
I think it is so important to use a reusable tampon applicator to same plastic. It’s also best to opt for organic cotton tampons.
Tara Harper mask
From the first time I used this cruelty-free face mask, I noticed a real difference in terms of texture and the look of my skin. I always restock as soon as I finish a pot.
I need a new pair of everyday trainers because my mother has taken mine so I’m considering these from sustainable footwear brand, Veja. Like I said, it takes me a long time to commit to to what I buy.
Àmi essential oil
If you have thirsty skin like me, then this shea butter by Àmi is a godsend. Its vegan, made from raw materials and is 100% ethically sourced.
Images: courtesy of Ngoni Chikwenengere/We Are Kin/Individual brands