“I quickly realised I couldn’t single-handedly resurrect the East African cotton industry (much as I’d have liked to), but I could at least keep the African story going.” In our second blog in this series, Lawfully Chic talks to former journalist Rebecca Fordham about her newly-launched ethical sleepwear brand, Tales of Thread.
LC: Why sleepwear?
RF: Good question! Firstly, I travel a lot – I’m not a great planner and often end up wandering around in shorts and t-shirt and want something nice to wear when I get back to my hotel. Also there isn’t an elegant, ethical sleepwear offering out there at the moment that’s not insanely expensive. I wanted to make sleepwear fun; it is an opportunity to wear bold prints that you wouldn’t necessarily wear out!
LC: What was the original vision for Tales of Thread?
RF: After visiting Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt, I quickly realised I couldn’t single-handedly resurrect the East African cotton industry (much as I’d have liked to), but I could at least I can keep the African story going by using cotton from India alongside African design, with an intention to use African cotton when it’s more readily available.
LC: What steps have you taken to maintain your ethical integrity?
RF: We work with factories that show a willingness to invest in their employees – liaising with everyone from senior management down to the newest employees to show them how to create something more professional. This involves ensuring that everyone is trained in the entire production process rather than just one element (for example, sewing on a button or making an arm). For the women who work in the factories it’s also not just about offering a proper wage but also making sure they have access to safe transport, maternity care and such like. Often you can create jobs but it doesn’t make a realistic difference because other things, factors relating to culture or geography for example, get in the way.
LC: Tell us a bit more about the African element of Tales of Thread…
RF: I have a connection with sub Saharan Africa (not just creatively but personally – my daughter is half Kenyan) and want to demonstrate its full artistic range rather than the cliched look of African products. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge fan of animal print but it’s become quite generic. There’s an [inspiring and relatively unknown] history to textiles, such as Kente, the woven fabric in West Africa, and Bogolan, the mud cloth made in Bali. I’d like to bring those into greater awareness.
LC: What challenges have you encountered during the production process?
RF: Firstly, I had no idea that pyjamas involved so much tailoring! It took us six months to get the cut right. But more generally: we try to make sure nothing polluted goes into the rivers and to reduce as much waste as possible. Our biggest problem at the moment is energy in the factories as we are relying on generators – so we lose a lot of time and it’s unreliable (people turn up and there’s no electricity so they can’t work…). Truth is, the ethical space is complicated. There are lots of different regulatory bodies so it is a difficult sphere to navigate. There are lots of sub contracts in the garment industry, so you may be employing someone but you don’t know who they are employing. Then there’s the environmental element, which is really a different sphere. Our t-shirts are made in wind powered factories and we’re trying to move all of the factories in Ghana onto alternative energy sources. The fabric is from India which is then shipped over to Ghana but we had to have a button-hole machine and piping machine flown in from other countries.
LC: Where do you see Tales of Thread going in the future?
RF: I’d like to keep drawing on different African textile heritages for each collection – so we’re looking at the moment at geometrics. I want to help people understand that there’s lots of depth to sub Saharan African textile culture and then move into linens maybe. After that there’s childrenswear. I’d like to have a consumer minded sleepwear shop in London but for now we’re in a pop-up just off Sloane Square – inside a shop called OKAPI – from June to August inclusive.