Just Where She Is: Charlotte Instone
We continue our Just Where She Is interview series with the fabulous Charlotte Instone, founder of ethical clothing business Know The Origin. Read on to find out about Charlotte's inspirational journey and vision to end injustice.
"Jesus was and is uncompromising in love and justice, we are all called to the same."
Go-to clothes store (bar KTO)? Kowtow
£10 treat? £10’s worth of cookies
Dream travel destination? Pretty much anywhere in Vietnam - amazing food, colours, sunsets and culture.
Favourite plant/flower? Cactus, or just anything that won't die if I forget to water it.
Staple piece of clothing in your wardrobe right now? Genuinely, my KTO Kesh Sweater. It’s getting embarrassing how much I wear it but it matches everything I own!
Tell us about your journey: how did you go from being a student at the London College of Fashion to starting your own business?
When I was studying Fashion Buying and Merchandising at London College of Fashion, I had heard of sustainable fashion but it wasn’t something that particularly grabbed my attention.
Then the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, killing over 1000 workers...
The reality forced me to start digging deeper.
I realised I knew exactly how to create clothing, from design to shop floor, but knew so little about the people making them. From then, I knew I wasn’t going to be a part of the fashion industry as we know it, but instead wanted to transform it into an industry that supports the people whose shoulders it’s built on.
What is the vision behind ‘Know The Origin’?
The vision is to see the fashion industry transformed into one that supports and respects people employed at every stage, from seed to final garment. Our vision is based on the idea that this can only come through transparency in supply chains, and we want to demonstrate that through the way we run our business!
How has your faith kept you going throughout the inevitable ups and downs of founding and growing a business?
Throughout this entire journey, and especially through the ups and downs, God is stood with us, giving us peace and the most incredible provision and direction. I think once you can even slightly grasp the idea of having God walking with you in something, it makes relying on him and pressing on during difficult times a core part of your business.
What challenges have you faced in terms of maintaining complete transparency within your brand’s sourcing? Do you believe that the process of maintaining ethics and transparency is scalable the larger a business becomes?
I think the main challenge was always finding producers who wanted to be transparent. Lots of people, from advisors to factories, have tried to persuade me to not pursue transparency. Whether that’s because they literally don’t know who their own suppliers are, or know their suppliers aren’t ethical, or even think transparency is bad for business - there have always been arguments against it. But those reasons have never been good enough to not push for transparency.
It’s been such a joy to create a supply chain full of people who are equally passionate about transparency, and then being able to encourage other brands to do the same. I believe once you have this type of supply chain, and good relationships at every stage, it is definitely easier to maintain ethics. It will always be harder as a larger business, but because we have started with this strong foundation, we know that it will definitely be possible to maintain our values and transparency as we grow.
What advice would you give to More Precious readers who want to pursue ethical/sustainable fashion? What about those that can’t afford clothes that come from higher-end ethical brands?
Make your next purchase ethical! Ethical fashion is no longer the overly-priced hippy stereotype we have all known it as. There are some amazing sustainable brands out there with beautiful products that need people to be supporting them!
In terms of price, ethical fashion will always be slightly more expensive than high street fashion, but you know where your money is going! KTO pricing is lower because we take (substantially) less of a profit margin so that ethical fashion is more affordable. But it should never be dirt cheap. Clothes are valuable, not disposable, and that should be reflected in their pricing and in the way we treat them. If you are really struggling with money but need something urgently then second-hand shops and sites like eBay and Depop have great finds!
Where do you see Know the Origin going over the next 3 years and what do you do on a daily basis to stay on track with your ‘big picture’ vision?
The future of KTO shifts constantly as we adapt around the feedback of our amazing producers and customers. The ‘big picture’ is focused on getting people excited about ethical fashion, making it accessible and transforming the industry. Every day we are making sure to be learning about new ways of how to improve our supply chain and the way we support the people behind it.
There should not be, and there never is, a day where we feel like ethical fashion is boring or unimportant. We make sure that we are always passionate and enjoying the process! That's all you need to stay on track.
Why does justice matter to you?
Because of my faith! I never realised quite how important injustice was to God. Jesus and justice can’t be separated. His mission was serving, that can’t be overstated.
We are called to follow his lead and go where there is need.
God’s heart for the poor and passion for justice is mentioned over 800 times throughout the Old Testament alone. That is once every 12 verses. That is the drive of KTO and why compromise in ethics is not on the table.
Jesus was and is uncompromising in love and justice, we are all called to the same.
Finally, could you share any tips to encourage us to ‘act justly’ in our everyday lives?
Don’t underestimate the details of your lives. We can go to church, sing worship songs, and do lots of brilliant things that we typically associate with godliness and pursuing God's kingdom. But how do our mundane everyday decisions reflect that? Do our lifestyles support systems that keep people poor?
God delights in the details of our lives. Don’t underestimate the impact that your tiny, unseen decisions can make.