Shelly-Ann Gajadhar- Co-founder of “One Memoir”
One Memoir is a clothing company founded by Shelly-Ann Gajadhar ( from Trinidad and Tobago), and Justus Delp (from Germany), who came up with the idea for a sustainable fashion company during an entrepreneurship course at the University of Edinburgh.
After realising how much textile waste was produced in the UK, they decided that waste reduction would be one of the pillars of their company. As the company vision reads: “At One Memoir we pride ourselves on two things: WASTE REDUCTION & DESIGNER OPPORTUNITY”. Their process is based on “upcycling”; they take clothes that were heading for dumpsters and instead re-direct them to designers who re-work and embellish them, creating a piece that is fashionable and unique and ready to be worn again.
I spoke with Shelly-Ann to find out more about this interesting concept, what the response has been so far, and plans for the future of “One Memoir”.
How did you come up with the idea of building a fashion business around upcycling?
I`m an attorney and I`m transitioning careers. I went to Edinburgh to pursue International Business and Emerging Markets. While there I enrolled in an Entrepreneurship Course, and that`s where I met my business partner Justus Delp. We were tasked in this course to come up with a business venture that could be commercially viable. I came up with the idea of fashion.
Justus then said “Why don`t we make it a sustainable one?” because sustainability is a topic on so many fashion houses` agenda. We pitched the idea to the panel and we got a distinction so we realised this actually can be commercially viable. Justus and I decided we wanted to do this outside of the four walls of the business school.
“Sustainability is a topic on so many fashion houses` agendas.”
I decided I was going to come home and work with designers from Trinidad for the first collection. I came home in December and I started to have meetings with designers and I chose four- Delia Alleyne, Nwanni Sorzano, Charu Lochan Dass and Lisa See Tai. The good thing about that is that each of those designers has a different aesthetic.
And that is what “One Memoir” is about. “One Memoir” does not have an aesthetic that can be identified by particular characteristics. The designers speak for us; our voice comes from them.
Our first collection is going to be shown in August in Edinburgh and I`m really excited for that because finally we get to show that Caribbean designers have the talent and that upcycled fashion is beautiful.
One thing I`m really proud of is that one of the designers – Nwannia, she wants to have an upcycled line. That is the impact that we want to make on designers; that level of awareness of sustainability and incorporating sustainability into their own design process. That`s the footprint “One Memoir” wants to leave behind.
What has the response been so far?
The response has been really great both in Edinburgh and in Trinidad. Surprisingly. Surprisingly for me because I did not think Trinidad would be a market for upcycled fashion because Trinidad`s market, we like fast fashion and we like new things. But I guess based on the great designs that we presented, it was attractive to the Trinidad market.
And in Edinburgh the response has been great as well because the Caribbean is so far removed from Europe and the United Kingdom and what we bring is something that they see as exotic and extremely different. Especially because the UK is known for dark clothing and One Memoir finally provides some type of colour and some kind of vibrance.
Might you move into other types of clothing?
Well the reason why we chose Jackets is because Jackets have that ability for upcycling. There is more flexibility and less wear and tear. I think that what we would do in the future is not add dresses or other types of clothing but we`d like to offer jackets to men as well.
What price point will the jackets start at?
These jackets are going to start at £60.
What will be the frequency of collection releases?
Because our business model is a slow one, we don’t have intentions of upscaling. With any sustainable business model once you start talking about upscaling, you`re starting to talk about manufacturing. You`re starting to talk about getting things faster . Once you have to get things faster the price of things goes down, the price of paying for wages goes down. Then we`re heading back to fast fashion which is where we don`t want to go. We judiciously protect against that and that`s why our collection is so small and so exclusive.
When we look at 2017 we`d like to have two more collections. Our next collection is going to be Scottish designers. We`re not a brand that is only going to feature Trinidadian and Scottish designers though. We really want to go around the world but I really would like to, every year that I come home, offer this opportunity to designers. I WILL be coming home once every year and I want to offer the sustainable opportunity. Even if it`s just five jackets. At least I always bring it back home for them to have that opportunity internationally and sustainably.
People who are new to this concept might ask “How will you make money?”
The thing with slow fashion is, the way that you make money is based on your sourcing. Because of the fact that your source material is “waste”, you have more room for a mark-up. And you also have more room to pay your designers a bit higher.
Sustainable fashion can be more expensive and that can be unattractive. It can be more expensive but rightfully so because when you are looking at the process that went behind it, the people that have been impacted, the fair ways that they have been treated, it deserves that price tag. Compared to a Zara jacket or an H&M jacket where they paid somebody 50 cents per hour.
We really can`t save the world in one go, but if we were all to take that approach, how different things could be for the landfills and the environment, even for persons who currently don`t have the opportunity to make a fair wage. The only reason why these companies can produce so much is because of the wages that they pay, it`s next to nothing. What do those clothes speak to? What do they say? Because we see the garments in front of us but do we know what went into creating that garment? Companies don`t show us. There`s a reason why they do not video storytell.
“It can be expensive, but rightfully so because when you are looking at the process that went behind it, the people that have been impacted, the fair ways that they have been treated, it deserves that price tag.”
I think in a way we have lost some of the appreciation of clothes by them being so cheap.
Exactly. We need to start valuing our clothes and the people who make them. People need to start to subscribe to movements like the #FashionRevolution and start asking fashion houses “Who Made My Clothes?”. The real value comes from the transparency that we offer. It`s not just about fashion it`s about people as well.
What made me choose Trinidad mostly was the figures for waste that I was seeing coming out of Trinidad. And coming from Trinidad I knew how we dealt with textile waste. I knew that we burnt stuff. We burn things. Throw them in our back yard. Throw some gas or liquid and it goes up in flames. I also know that we don`t have thrift stores in Trinidad.
We have thrift stores but it probably came up about 8 years ago. When I was young we didn`t have that. So sustainability has started happening very slowly and not at the rate that it should be happening. The good thing is that you have Goodwiill and other places that do thrifting at the moment. But how many of us buy into it? How many of us can say we go there if we want to buy a little top to go out?
“It`s not just about fashion it`s about people as well.”