Ethical Brand Sancho's on Fashion, Sustainability and Race

We have been exploring Black-owned brands and shops over the past weeks, emphasising the importance of supporting black and ethnic minorities through our purchases. We recently mentioned one of lovely stockists Sancho’s on Instagram as part of #melinatedmonday. Founded in 2014, Sancho’s is a sustainable and ethical fashion & lifestyle retailer based in Exeter.

Kalkidan and Vidmantas first met at university and decided to create Sancho’s after seeing the effects of the fast fashion industry when travelling in Ethiopia. We spoke to Kalkidan from the brand about the current situation, touching upon racism, the fashion industry and its problems, but also the future (after COVID). Here’s what she had to say:

Kalkidan and Vidmantas

The inspiration behind launching Sancho’s:

“The first objective with Sancho’s was to celebrate crafts from fair trade producer groups in Ethiopia. During a work placement in Ethiopia, I first discovered its beautiful weaving communities and saw how clothing is actually made. From there, I got a sense for how the clothing that is usually associated with style and trend, actually comes from the hard work of individuals, and I fell in love. That’s why we source and curate ranges of affordable ethical clothing, made with natural and sustainable materials that don’t harm the environment and choosing quality and lasting style over fleeting fashion and trends.”

On fast fashion:

“We live in a system that produces thousands of clothes and pushes customers to always buy new in order to keep up with the fast-changing trends while looking for the lowest price possible. But this, of course, comes at an environmental and social cost. Not only is fast fashion amongst the top 5 industries that are most pollutive to our planet, but also highly affects the makers in developing countries. This multi-trillion-dollar industry literally has created the supply chains of modern-day slavery. With Sancho’s we wanted to change that, connecting people with makers and providing a shop for brands, makers and designers who are actually doing the process ethically and transparently. Being ethical and sustainable is a journey, and we try to ensure that we are always moving in the right direction by reviewing our purchasing decisions regularly and applying new information as we learn it.”

On racism:

“Racism in fashion goes far beyond the lack of representation on the runway; it runs through the very core of the industry. From the organisational racism black employees experience at companies to the lack of black models and makeup artists’ inability to service dark skin. And on the top of this list is the millions of black and brown people making clothes in unsafe conditions, paid poverty wages and abandoned during coronavirus. Did you know that the industry has cancelled £5billion worth of orders this season and they refuse to pay up, but at the same time, they claim they stand against racism by posting a black square on social media?! That’s unacceptable! As a black woman, I have always struggled to find my place and here at Sancho’s, I get to sit at the head of the table. If they don’t give you a seat at their table - make your own.”

Kalkidan in She Spins Heather Grey T-shirt Dress

The link between racism and environmentalism:

“A lot of ethical fashion brands are committed to environmentalism but are not racially inclusive. Each year we visit from 8 to 15 trade shows and I enter a room full of white faces. At one of these shows, a brand sent their wholesale director to me, asking me to leave the stall immediately as I was not a customer of theirs, despite the fact that Sancho’s has been their customer for 2 years prior. Companies believe they are anti-racist actors; they think they have done it all when selling organic cotton t-shirts - which has environmental and social benefits - but this is not enough. You need to look inside your own business practices and do better, fighting for social and racial justice alongside the environment, otherwise, you are making yourself part of the problem and one of the barriers to bringing about change."

On Covid-19:

“Definitely these past months have been intense and difficult. The outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed how vulnerable the system we are living in is. But it has also shown how quickly most of us have adapted our lives to respond to the current situation, highlighting each citizen’s ability to unite under one goal and be willing to make major changes. This situation has given a sense of hope, the hope of rethinking our society, creating a new model of prosperity and building a sustainable future. But it’s not by going on a shopping spree of fast-fashion brands that you’ll save our economy. We should continue to slow the pace as these past months taught us to and consider the long-term environmental impact of our shopping decisions. As citizens, we have the power of investing our personal resources into our communities, supporting black owned businesses, small businesses and sustainable businesses, which prioritise people and the planet rather than merely profit.”

We thank Sancho's for taking the time to start conversations around these important topics and their continued strive towards an ethical, inclusive and sustainable industry.

Visit their store here and remember to follow them on Instagram!