11th Aug 2021
Our next client origin story comes with the ethos 'Kind clothes that tell tales'. Intruiged? Well, all I'm going to say is that this ethical clothing company 'Where Does It Come From?' has a really impressive and creative approach to business transparency. This brand is all about stories. Take it away Jo!...
Hi, I’m Jo Salter – the founder of Where Does It Come From?
Setting up Where Does It Come From? was sparked by a number of things. I’ve had a longterm interest in international development, seeing trade justice as a key way to lift people out of the poverty they find themselves in. It seems to me that the world is a very unfair place and so anything we can do to support people that need it is a good thing, especially if it’s helping build skills and communities. Like many others I also have a growing awareness of the climate emergency so certainly don’t want to be encouraging unnecessary production. We focus on using materials, processes and energy that’s regenerative to create beautiful items that are functional and can be properly disposed of when they are finally out of use. The other key point is that I’m a very curious person and ask questions about everything (you’ll notice that even the name of the business is a question!). I wanted to know everything about the clothing that I was buying for my young children – what they were made of, where any fibres were farmed, how they were dyed, printed and tailored and so much more. Very few brands I spoke to were able to answer my questions.
Basically all these streams collided in the middle of the night back in 2012 and I had my ‘eureka’ moment – deciding I wanted to create kind clothes that tell tales – beautiful, eco-friendly and fair trade clothing with a code on each label so that the customer can explore the garment story from beginning to end. I also came up with the business name in that middle of the night moment and would not be talked out of it (probably a little stubborn as I have since learned that the name is too long, a question mark at the end can be awkward for computer systems and starting with a W means that we are at the bottom of most lists!).
Once I had the idea in my head I spent a very long time researching how to deliver it. I spoke to many, many people and organisations in the UK and also in developing communities around the world. I did have some experience of sourcing as my first venture was an eco school uniform brand which I closed down as I’d come up against some key barriers on price and also around ownership of school logos. I stuck with children’s clothing though for the first collection of Where Does It Come From? – deciding to start with artisan woven denims for children’s jeans, jackets, shorts and dresses. There were plenty of teething troubles to building our first transparent supply chain – the first partnership fell through as they could not give me the transparency that I required. Fortunately I ‘met’ on Linkedin a lady in India who runs our now longest term social enterprise, MoralFibre Fabrics. They had just set up and were focusing on khadi, a traditional fabric promoted by Gandhi as part of the liberation movement of India. This fabric is created by hand using locally grown cottons, creating jobs, skills and supporting local farmers – it’s also powered by hand and solar so very low carbon. We’ve gone on to work with a range of social enterprise partners in India, Africa and the UK and have grown our understanding and use of different processes and materials. My favourites are still the indigenous cotton khadi which relies on rainfall, zero chemical pesticides and supports soil health and farmer well-being. We’re also working with more innovative materials such as tencel and processes such as dry dyeing.
Over the years the business direction has evolved, firstly with our number of designs widening to scarves, adult shirts, bags and accessories. In 2018 we set up a transparent supply chain in Africa too, working with organic rainfed cotton from Uganda and having tunics, scarves, pocket squares and scrunchies tailored at a Fairtrade social enterprise in Malawi. This supply chain set up was funded by a crowdfund campaign (which caused a few grey hairs and sleepless nights).
Like many others we faced huge challenges in 2020 when our income dropped substantially (imagine tumbleweed drifting across a desert….). Fortunately we pivoted early into organic rainfed cotton masks in collaboration with our friends at Khadi London, which brought in some revenue as well as supporting jobs in both the UK and a rural co-operative in India. I’m also very proud of our mask design – 100% plastic free and natural. I can’t say that it was an easy or successful year financially, but crucially we are still here!
Over the last few of years we also started working directly with businesses to supply their merchandise, clothing and other textiles. I had long felt that encouraging businesses to spend their budgets ethically and sustainably is the way forward – I know Green Hosting have the same objective! We’ve now had a number of clients such as SAP, East of England Co-op, Essential Trading and a range of smaller businesses from toymakers to jewellery brands. Productions are custom so we can tailor to each business’s requirements, both functional and values – adapting design, materials and supply chain to fit Corprorate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals. Each item we create comes with a QR code linking to its story, giving the business a chance to showcase its eco/ethical credentials to its customers and/or staff. It’s an exciting direction and I’m looking forward to growing Where Does It Come From? in this direction.
Thank you for this opportunity to share our story. Running a wind powered website fits completely into Where Does It Come From?’s ethos and it has been a pleasure working with you over the past few years. We are soon launching our new website and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you to share it with the world (via your excellent green hosting servers!).