Make it British
July 31, 2015 at 11:27 AM
We tackle supply chain transparency, poverty wages, toxic chemicals and social injustice with Talia Hussain at knitwear brand Ramnation
At this time of year we are all focussed on enjoying the British summer (in all its, well, glory?!) and jetting off on our holidays. Many of our summer purchasing decisions are based on how badly the item will crease, how well it will wash up (suncream and ice cream can be equally stubborn) and how many outfits can be created from the said piece. It is easy to forget or overlook the other purchasing decisions we are faced with when developing our home and wardrobe.
Obviously at Make it British we have a very passionate interest in products made here in Britain, but that is not where the consideration stops. One of the many reasons British-made products are favourable is because of minimum wages and standards of working that are, we hope, enforced in Britain. As well as beautiful craftmanship, quality and tradition we hope we are purchasing with a clean conscience. But sadly, the world over, not all purchases are made equal as we learn more about when we talk to Talia Hussain, the woman behind knitwear brand Ramnation.
Ramnation produce gorgeous quality knitwear and operates a brand that considers every aspect of their production; the people, the material, the environment and of course, the quality of the end result.
Who is behind the brand and can you tell me a bit more about how Ramnation started?
A lot of Ramnation is just me: I do all of the design work on the garments, the brand, and the website. But I also work with fantastic people whose help is invaluable: the mill, factory and photographer. I’m so pleased with the product and it looks amazing because of them.
Before Ramnation, I’d been working in branding and design, but found it to be incredibly fake. Especially in fashion, I felt that the work is intended to disguise the reality of the product! I wanted to work on something authentic, that didn’t need to hide behind made up ‘brand values’, because it was created with real values. So I started investigating how to create something that was environmentally friendly, supported the local economy and celebrated it’s origins.
Tell us a bit more about the geography of the company, we see you use a mill in Cornwall, a factory in Nottinghamshire and your office in Brighton? Which was the starting point and how did it all come together?
I started with the idea that it should be possible to create something locally, that would connect with the local environment and not destroy it. We hear a lot about ‘food miles’, and learnt about supply chain transparency with the horse meat scandal, but a lot of the same issues apply to garment supply chains. I knew that I wanted traceability in my supply chain, so it started with raw materials, finding a mill who were buying fleeces directly from the farmers and using organic dyes. Then I needed a factory who were able to do small orders; most want big orders that they can churn out, but that doesn’t work for a start up label. I looked at places in Scotland, and Leicester before finding the Nottinghamshire factory. It took a long time and at least one false start before I even had a product I could show anyone.
Brighton is fantastic because I’m so close to both the countryside and the sea, two great forces shaping the British concept of the natural landscape. I want people to feel connected to the countryside where the wool comes from, and this provides great inspiration.
As well as clothes, your website provides a journal with thought provoking articles regarding low pay for garment workers and the knitting gang-masters behind the high-end handmade pieces we see in shops. How do you research these stories?
I don’t have a background in the fashion industry, so I need to ask all kinds of ‘dumb’ questions about how things work and how people do things. I need others’ expertise to help me along, and people can be so generous when you’re genuinely interested in what they’re saying. So I talk to a lot of people, listen carefully and ask ‘dumb’ questions.
I was trying to understand the prices I’d seen on some items, so I started asking questions: What’s the wholesale price of wool or cashmere? How long does it take to hand knit or hand frame a sweater? How much are things selling for? Sometimes the conclusions are inescapable: if wool yarn for one sweater costs £20-30 (my yarn costs more) and it takes 25-30 hours to hand knit something that’s selling for £200 (higher than some prices I’ve seen), at least half of which is shop mark-up… the person making that garment can’t be earning the minimum wage.
And how much influence do you think this information has on peoples purchasing decisions?
I wish it had more influence, but I’m hopeful that awareness is growing. People are starting to realise that low prices are only possible because of the extreme exploitation of very poor people – some of them right here in the UK! I’m also hopeful that as consumers we’ll start asking questions about the raw materials that go into our clothes, because there are ugly truths about water usage, toxic chemicals and more that need to be addressed.
In the years you have been trading, have you seen a shift in attitude towards making ethical decisions about what we wear and where we buy our clothes?
I think public desire to buy more ethically is growing, but it’s very difficult for us as consumers to see what’s going on behind the scenes at the big brands. Many retailers themselves have no idea what their supply chains look like. Recently, I spoke to some people from a major supermarket brand who said they were only interested in the ‘social’ aspect of their supply chain but not where their materials came from. What we really need is more transparency throughout the entire supply chain.
What challenges have you faced in choosing to source and manufacture everything in the UK?
One of the biggest challenges I have is around costs. Sadly, our shopping culture and economic system reward unscrupulous behaviour like polluting and exploiting workers, especially when it’s out of sight overseas. I want to pay everyone in my supply chain fairly, and the UK can be expensive. Ultimately, that pushes up the end price of the product which can be difficult for customers to understand when they’ve become accustomed to very cheap garments made abroad.
This isn’t a new problem, and it’s one of the reasons that the UK garment industry declined over the past few decades. This created a another problem that is only starting to be addressed: the lack of new workers with up to date skills entering the industry. It’s a vicious catch-22: you need skilled people employed in well paid jobs who then have money to spend on goods, which supports skilled people in well paid jobs making those products. Henry Ford understood this idea over 100 years ago and the French understand it today, we need to support good jobs in the UK by spending more to buy local products.
We noticed that your look book has a few women featured wearing items from the menswear collection. Is there potential for a womenswear line from Ramnation?
I’d love to do some women’s wear! And I like showing women in the mens range, as I think there are some good unisex pieces. There probably will be some women’s pieces at some point, but for now I’d just like to expand the reach and sales of the current line.
We know your garments are stocked at Cock & Bull & Co in London, are there any plans for additional stockists or even your own shop? What is next for Ramnation?
Yes, I’m looking for more stockists who are interested in the brand and the ethos behind it! I’m always adding new pieces to the collection, trying to improve the line and explore new ideas for it. I’m aiming to take the collection to Berlin and Vancouver this winter, and hope to do some smaller shows and festivals around the UK. Honestly, I’ve so many things I’d like to be doing, it’s difficult to find time for it all.