As the world wakes up to the realities of fast fashion, we’ll be increasingly looking to more sustainable alternatives. As a founder, content creator, and advocate, Jodi Muter-Hamilton has become one of the UK’s leading campaigners for a more ethical fashion industry, from using eco-friendly materials to paying staff fairer wages.
Jodi started her own ethical swimwear brand, Black Neon, before founding Black Neon Digital, which is both a sustainable fashion consultancy and an editorial and podcast platform around conscious fashion. She’s also one of the creators of Project 2030, a plan to label garments with a traffic-light system based on the sustainability of their production.
In our Zoom Dive, we talked about working in a Mauritius factory (and having to learn Creole to communicate) gave her the skills to start her own swimwear label; how she had to take a job in finance to support herself while growing the brand; and how she has shifted towards becoming a content creator and advocate for sustainable fashion.
The key takeaways
- On learning ‘When I studied fashion at Kingston University 20 years ago, there was pattern-cutting, drawing, sewing, the history of design… but nothing at all on business. But I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and always wanted to be in control of my own destiny.’
- On bonding ‘In Mauritius, my Creole was far from fluent, but I could sit at a machine and make things. Luckily, we had that common dialogue of making and creativity.’
- On understanding customers ‘I learned a lot of hard lessons launching [swimwear brand] Black Neon. For example, while I started off doing colourful, playful and geometric designs, I gradually found that the customers who could afford the product wanted something plainer – often, black and beautifully made.’
- On spending ‘I paid a lot upfront for collections, and the factory in the UK was late with two seasons, which meant I had all this stock I couldn’t sell. I also launched one of the first e-commerce websites in the UK, which cost £10-15k, and was hugely complicated.’
- On saving ‘While I was running Black Neon, I got a job as an Executive Assistant in finance, which helped me to pay off the business’s debts, because I couldn’t get another bank loan. I actually enjoyed the structure of it, and learned a lot about organisation and managing upwards in the right ways.’
- On pivoting ‘Black Neon Digital started quite fast. I had a child on the way, and just started interviewing anyone in the industry I thought was amazing, for the podcast and blog. It’s been this brilliant way to network and to build up client work.’
- On changing the game ‘Project 2030 is about creating a system for fashion, similar to the food traffic light system, because people still don’t fully understand what sustainability in fashion means. The system will take into account everything from the materials used to the manufacturing process and the carbon footprint. Part of fashion being ethical is that the people who produce it are paid fairly and treated with respect.’
- On the industry ‘High prices in fashion don’t always mean quality and sustainability, and fast fashion isn’t always bad. There are brands like Fashion Enter that can turn around collections in weeks, but do it in the right way.’
On consumers ‘There are ways to improve the quality of production, like buying dead stock – but, ultimately, people need to realise that costs will be higher for brands that use sustainable materials and pay people right.’
Further learning from Jodi’s talk
- Queen of Raw, which sells excess ‘deadstock’ fabrics from around the world
- Christopher Raeburn, who specialises in recycled fabrics like parachute canopies
- Patrick McDowell, who tries to create circular systems and use dead stock from the likes of Burberry and Swarovski
- Fashion Enter, a non-profit centre for sustainability and efficiency in fashion and textiles
- Amo Threads, an online marketplace for deadstock fabric
- Fashion Revolution, an advocacy group for a more ethical industry
- Roya Aghighi, a ‘biogarmentry’ pioneer working on biodegradable textiles
- Carvico, a specialist in recycled fabrics and circular production
- Fashion. Business. Spirituality: A Call to the Light Workers of the Fashion, a book by Farah Liz Pallaro
- Prato, the Italian town recycling 15% of all recycled clothes in the world (BBC)