This article is part of our Future of Business series, where we explore how founders can build purposeful businesses which consider the impact their startups will have on people, planet and profit equally. For our Planet series, we spoke to Jake Wood, founder of slow fashion brand, So We Flow.
At the heart of sustainable business which protects both the viability of the business, and the environment, is a paradox which can pit one against the other. In the fashion industry, this challenge is acute. If the aim is to encourage less consumption of fewer products, how do we do this in a way which is sustainable for the business?
How do we ensure clothing products are as planet-friendly and sustainable as possible, whilst dealing with the ever-changing trends forecasting the fashion industry is famous for?
For Jake Wood, founder of slow fashion men’s activewear brand, So We Flow…, embedding sustainability into their business model is paramount.
“To me, slow fashion just describes the way any new fashion business should be operating,” Jake said.
“I don’t take any shortcuts to cut a better deal when it comes to quality and sustainability. We are fairly lean and just about break even month to month. I still run a branding and graphic design agency - mellow-fish.com - alongside So We Flow… which is how I pay the bills.
“My dream is that one day, So We Flow will sustain me by itself and I can give it my complete attention - using it as a platform to do genuine good for people and the planet.”
Jake’s vision may not be far off. Slow fashion is big business: the largest global fashion search platform, Lyst, has reported the term “slow fashion” has been responsible for over 90 million social impressions over the past 12 months, showcasing a shift in consumer behaviour.
Following the trends: consciously
Both startups and established fashion brands are pivoting to offer slow, conscious collections. What does Jake believe are the biggest trends in slow fashion right now - that are here to stay long after the seasons change?
“Sustainable fabrics are important, organic is obviously big, however I think [the biggest trend right now] is if sustainable values are at the core of what you do, everything else will follow.”
Embedding sustainable values in your startup is not an overnight process - it’s something that requires continual thought.
Practical action: transparent production
As of September 2020, Jake made the decision to send out all So We Flow…’s garments into the world with ‘Transparent Production’ tags.
“The ‘Transparent Production’ tag is the consequence of my blossoming confidence and pride in how So We Flow… operates and produces its garments. By being transparent we are saying: ‘this is how it’s done and we’d like you to know that we are doing things to the best of our ability’.
“We are admitting that it’s not always perfect - what is? But what we can promise you is that we are always striving to do better for our customers, our collaborators and the planet as a whole.”
As customers grow increasingly aware of greenwashing, when companies spend more on telling the world they’re sustainable rather than actually reducing their environmental impact, transparency is important. Jake was tentative to define his startup as ‘slow fashion’ at the beginning, precisely for this reason.
“So We Flow… never began positioned as a green brand - I didn’t feel the need to shout about it - it was simply the only way I was going to do things. But the fact is, it’s hard for a new, small and poor company to be good - it’s expensive, troublesome and often requires power and status.
“The reason it’s a prominent message for us now is two-fold. Firstly, I know the way we do things is the absolute best we can be doing right now. We have transparency from the farmer that grows the cotton, to the packaging the customer receives their garments in.
“Secondly, as a business with a voice and community, there’s a responsibility to inspire people to improve the way they do things. If sharing our sustainability and ethical practices can change one person’s approach to single-use plastic, for example, then it’s a winner.”
So, how can founders who are just starting out embed sustainability into their startups?
Jake has some tips for founders wanting to make their output more sustainable, drawing on his four years of experience with So We Flow….
“Write down what your business looks like on paper - from your packaging supplier to your working hours. Work through each element and what you can do to improve it. Approaching it step by step like this makes a daunting overhaul manageable and achievable.
“Do your best. Don’t beat yourself up like I did if your supply chain isn’t perfect. If we all did things a little better by 1%, it would globally make a dramatic difference. Promise yourself that when you can do better, you will. Please don’t lie to the customer.”
Of his experience with Virgin StartUp, Jake said: “Virgin StartUp allowed me to raise the capital required to start So We Flow… with little more than an idea and an average business plan. Being focused on entrepreneurs, I always felt in safe hands and that the funding experience was tailored to someone in my position. “
You can find out more about So We Flow by visiting their website.