While brands specializing in cotton dresses and hemp underwear can easily become sustainable, activewear brands struggle more. Small, independent activewear brands struggle the most. To help improve sustainability in the activewear sector and make a path for small brands, Anya Aujla-Jones created Conscience Collective. The online directory and community aims to disrupt the fast fashion system and create more room for environmental and social sustainability in the wider fashion industry. Anya explains more behind the venture and shares her goals for the future.
GBJ: Among the sustainable fashion sector, organizations and news sites commonly include the word “conscious” — as in being aware of the world around you — in their names. Why did you choose to go with “conscience” — the part of your personality that tells you between right and wrong — instead?
AAJ: Every day we make hundreds of choices about the way we interact with the world around us. We are all conscious, but how often do we actually engage our conscience? WRAP estimates that £140 million worth (around 350,000 tonnes) of clothing goes to landfill in the U.K. every year. And this is on the rise with the global apparel market projected to grow from 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020 to about 2.25 trillion dollars by 2025, according to Statista. We have power as consumers. By ensuring we buy from more sustainable and ethical sources, we can bring about the change we want to see. The name Conscience Collective summarizes the balance of power between consumers and those that they buy from. We aim to challenge fast fashion by forming a community of ethical shoppers and brands. One of our main goals is to enable consumers to make their own decisions and follow their conscience when shopping for activewear.
GBJ: Does Conscience Collective view sustainable fashion as a moral obligation rather than just a better way to produce and consume clothing?
AAJ: Rather than see a distinction between these two positions, Conscience Collective empowers consumers to make their own decisions to buy from sustainable, locally produced fashion brands. This will enable us to challenge injustice and disrupt multinational fast fashion companies collectively. According to an ILO report, the overwhelming majority of all garment workers in the world are women, many of whom experience poor working conditions and are underpaid. At times, these conditions amount to modern-day slavery. In this sense, Conscience Collective sees a moral urgency for those who can access sustainable brands and are able to alter their buying habits. In spreading awareness of ethical fashion, we aim to accentuate the positive impact of shopping more conscientiously. Without emphasizing simplistic binaries of good and bad, right and wrong, we hope to encourage more active decision-making when buying activewear. These decisions go beyond individual consciousness. The marketplace needs to change to become more equitable and environmentally sustainable.
GBJ: How does Conscience Collective define “sustainability” since it is an evolving topic with an evolving definition? What is considered “right sustainability” and “wrong sustainability” in your view?
AAJ: In 1987, the Brundtland Commission famously defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition successfully unified environmentalism with social and economic concerns on the world’s development agenda. At Conscience Collective, we often return to definitions and words such as “community” and “conversation” to define what we stand for. Our founding principles drive us. We stand for openness, communication, justice, and allyship to unite our community against fast fashion. Our agenda is a greener, more respectful future.
Image provided by Conscience Collective.
GBJ: Right now, Conscience Collective is in the recruiting phase of getting brands to join. How do you plan on vetting brands to ensure that their claims of sustainability are real?
AAJ: Before partnering with a brand, we do extensive research to assess whether they are a good fit for the Collective. We trust our brand’s hallmarks, affiliations, and annual reports. Integrity is extremely important to us; we believe in what we are doing, what our brands are doing, and why we are joining together to bring about change as a collective. We support mostly UK-based brands as we love brands that are reducing their carbon footprint and locally produced. We choose to partner with brands that disrupt multinationals and fast fashion companies through either being PoC owned or committing to sustainable processes and goals.
Some examples of how the Collective brands work towards to a greener future:
• In 2020, BAM announced their drive to become ‘impact positive’ by 2030.
• Sundried’s EcoTech® activewear is made from recycled coffee grounds and recycled plastic.
• Reflexone uses eco materials that are either recycled and organic, with biodegradable and recyclable packaging.
• CONTUR’s ECONYL® is made by recovering and repurposing old fishing nets and ocean plastics which is converted into high-performance activewear in London.
• At The Re.Store, in order to reduce waste, they don’t produce more than they can sell - with products available either on a made to order basis or in small runs of up to 100 pieces.
We recognize that sustainability is a journey. Conscience Collective facilitates more conscientious decision making through offering:
1. The CC directory - users can discover information about sustainable and PoC owned brands they can buy from
2. Brand information - the creators behind these brands and their stories
3. Community information - the members of our community and their individual stories
GBJ: Where do you see Conscience Collective in five years?
AAJ: We see ourselves as the go-to directory for buying from sustainable and PoC owned clothing brands. We envisage expanding from activewear to lifestyle more generally, including beauty and self-care products, and toiletries and household items. Conscience Collective will provide holistic support for our community as they introduce more sustainable practices and products into their lifestyles. We will be part of an international community, celebrating local providers and disrupting multi-national globalizing companies and unethical practices. Overall, we aim to take a lot of people on our journey with us and expand the way people think about their consumption.