Nestled in the back streets of Bethnal Green, behind the door of a renovated church, lies an exciting e-tailer crafting a collection of sustainably sourced menswear pieces. Brothers We Stand aims to challenge the unethical tactics employed by the bigger retailing brands that dominate our high streets.
The East London brand catalogues their compendium online each season and, for each product offered, maps the social and environmental footprint. From ensuring it is fair trade to the use of sustainable materials, from energy efficiency in manufacturing to ensuring there is no use of child labour, each detail is considered to ensure a wardrobe is offered to the male consumer that will leave them feeling truly proud to wear it.
I sat down with Brother We Stand’s passionate founder, Jonathan Mitchell, to gain further insight into the brand that merges menswear, commerce and social enterprise.
Jamal George-Sharpe: What led you to start your own brand?
Jonathan Mitchell: I’ve always been interested in business. As a kid at school, my mates and I used to sell sweets and fizzy drinks. That’s how I bought my first mobile phone. At Norwich University, studying International Development, I became interested in how you can create a business that honours the people who make the clothes and has a positive impact on the world. Businesses provide people with products that we love and they create employment. Yet how can businesses maximise their positive impact? That’s the type of company I’m really interested in creating.
JGS: So what separates Brothers We Stand from other ethical e-tailers?
JM: There are a few womenswear retailers who are similar to us, in bringing together leading options from people innovating in sustainable design. For menswear, though, there isn’t anybody offering that. So that's why I decided to focus on menswear.
There are some really exciting designers out there, who are making innovative materials and adopting transparent supply chains - mapping who makes the clothes and grows the cotton. We’re bringing the designers together in one place, so that consumers can discover a collection that looks, and is produced, in a good way.
JGS: What does the name, Brothers We Stand, symbolise?
JM: The name represents the idea that the men and women who make our clothes around the world are our brothers and sisters in humanity - just like you and I. So it’s called Brothers We Stand because we want to stand with them.
JGS: What are the core values of Brothers We Stand?
JM: We have three. Firstly, we say that products we sell have to be ‘designed to please’ - not only aesthetically pleasing, but in that they are functional. Secondly, ‘ethically produced’ means they should be made by people who have been honoured for their craft and in a way that is sustainable for the environment. We have t-shirts made in a wind-powered factory, jackets manufactured from recycled plastic bottles and hemp. Hemp, in particular, requires much less water to grow than cotton. The third value is ‘made to last’. We sell well-made items that you can treasure and use for years, rather than something that will fall apart after a few washes. Fast fashion has been around for over 20 years; it’s now time for something a bit different.
JGS: Why do you think the fashion industry has been quite reluctant to engage with sustainability?
JM: I would say business in general is reluctant. We've gone through a period in which we didn't think too much about the products we were making and the impact they were having on the environment. However, as the world has become more connected, the people who make our products are more visible to us.
We have learned a lot more about the environment and how we live on a finite planet with limited resources. It is now time for all businesses, not just within fashion, to wake up. I am really excited that the fashion industry can be one of the industries leading the way in this process. The brands we work with are showing it is possible. Let's just do it - as an industry, let's be examples of the businesses of the future.
JGS: If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
JM: I'm going to say placing a greater value on clothes. Truly valuing our clothes and not seeing them as throwaways, but something that was thoughtfully produced and not just churned out; valuing design and production above capitalism.
JGS: At Brothers We Stand is there an ethical vetting system that the stocked brands must go through?
JM: Yeah, we ask a lot of questions to get a clear picture of a product’s supply chain. We find out where our products are made, right down to the raw materials used and where the items are cut and sewn. It is hard work and takes time, but it’s not impossible to do.
We have the BWS (Brothers We Stand) standard that all brands have to meet. Every brand has to have something game-changing about them on top of meeting the minimum criteria. It could be their use of recycled materials, renewable energy or artisan production.
JGS: So what are the goals for 2016?
JM: In every area we will take things forward. We are always seeking to improve things. And that will be our aim for 2016. Take it forward, make something that we're really proud of and that our customers really appreciate it. I'd also like Brothers We Stand to be an example to the wider industry of what is possible.
Words: Jamal George-Sharpe
Images source: Brothers We Stand