If stylish, socially conscious clothing is your jam, then chances are you might already know about Well Made Clothes, the extensive fashion marketplace that lets you shop according to your ethics. Founded in 2015 by Courtney Sanders and Kelly Elkin, the site upholds eight ethical criteria that fashion labels must include in order to make the cut – including being handcrafted, sustainable, local, fair, vegan, transparent, have minimal waste or gender equality. Stocking brands like Kowtow, Patagonia, Nudie Jeans, Seljak and Holly Ryan, Well Made Clothes is home to a comprehensive line-up of labels that offer style and sustainability in spades. We caught up with Sydney-based co-founder Courtney to ask about the origin of Well Made Clothes, learn about fashion activism, and ponder how the COVID-19 pandemic will shape the future of ethical fashion in Australia.
You’ve been running Well Made Clothes since 2016. Can you tell us why you started the business, and how it’s evolved since then?
I was working in fashion media, and Kelly, my co-founder, was working in ethical fashion supply chains. I was writing about the treatment of women by the fashion industry, and started researching the treatment of garment workers in the developing world. Through this research I met Kelly, and we bonded (read: ranted over a few wines) over our frustration about the lack of coverage of the problems in fashion industry supply chains, and about how hard it was to find more responsible clothing alternatives. We both had ideas for online platforms that solved some of these problems, and, when we won the Walkley Foundation grant for Innovation in Journalism, Well Made Clothes was born!
How has the recent COVID-19 crisis affected Well Made Clothes, and what does this mean for you moving forward?
It has affected us, as I’m sure it has affected everyone else, in every way imaginable, and in ways we can’t imagine yet. I think tough times force us to reassess what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and to clarify and refine our offering, which is exactly what we’ve been doing, in the hope that when this is over (who knows when that will be) we will be stronger for it.
What impact do you think this crisis will have on the Australian ethical fashion industry as a whole – not just in the short term, but over the next few years?
It’s very difficult to know! I think in the short term, as with all industries, it will have a devastating effect on small and independent designers. On the positive side, though, it is creating a moment in which we can see, very clearly, the impact of our consumer decisions, and have the ability to use these to create a better world after this.
Locally, it’s allowing us to see the importance of supporting the small, local businesses we love, which I hope will continue afterwards. Globally, it’s allowing us to see the complexities, problems, and exploitation of global fashion supply chains, which we will hopefully use our voices, and our wallets, to do something about when we can.
What can consumers do to support ethical and sustainable brands during this time? Do you think that our spending habits will change as a result of the pandemic?
As in the above answer, I think we are being presented, very clearly, with the importance of our spending power, and I hope this is one thing we all remember, and use wisely, moving forward.
I think we are being presented, very clearly, with the importance of our spending power, and I hope this is one thing we all remember, and use wisely, moving forward.
LEFT: LOIS HAZEL MIDDLE: SUK WORKWEAR RIGHT: JILLIAN BOUSTRED (IMAGES FROM WELL MADE CLOTHES).
Sustainable fashion has become a lot more mainstream recently – what changes have you noticed since you’ve been running the site, and how have you evolved to meet them?
I think it’s important to remember that, while discussion of sustainable fashion has become a lot more mainstream recently, fast fashion is still the status quo of the industry, and we need to continue to work really hard to continue to effect positive change in this area. In saying this, the fact that people are more aware than ever, is awesome!
Well Made Clothes is two-pronged: it provides information about, and the ability to shop, clothes with ethical values. From a content perspective, the increased knowledge our audience has allows us to discuss supply chain issues with more and more complexity, which is great – because they are complex, and we need a complex understanding of them in order for us all to make more informed decisions.
From a content perspective, one of our goals for 2021 is to effect positive change through activism. Not just talking about the problems in the fashion industry, but helping to do something about them, too. Watch this space – we’re really excited to unite our audience in this fight moving forward (and we hope they’ll be excited to join us!).
Because there are a huge amount of labels producing clothes with ethical values, this has allowed us to refine our offering into something that truly reflects the tastes and preferences of the Well Made Clothes team and our – pretty niche – customer. We want to love every item of clothing we sell, and we’re really proud that we’re achieving that now.
WELL MADE CLOTHES CO-FOUNDERS COURTNEY SANDERS (LEFT) AND KELLY ELKIN (RIGHT).
In a sea of sustainable fashion, how do you choose which brands to feature on Well Made Clothes?
It’s a combination of ensuring they meet our strict criteria (a lot of labels that claim to be sustainable approach us, but they do not meet our sustainable criteria, so we cannot stock them), the garments being made to extremely high-quality standards, and the garments being pieces we think our customers will love and get a lot of wear out of.
Spending a lot of time at home recently, and returning to the highest quality, most comfortable pieces in our wardrobes has really made us appreciate the building blocks of clothing: natural (preferably sustainable) materials, beautiful craftsmanship, and comfort, and this underpins the Well Made Clothes product offering.
Can you tell us about some of your brand collabs and limited-edition runs?
We’ve been really lucky to work with a lot of our favourite labels on limited-edition collaborations, often being able to offer something that our customers have been asking for but that isn’t currently available in the market. For example, we collaborated with Jamie of Nelson Made on a vegan version of her best-selling Wanda Knot Slides this summer.
How would you describe your audience, and what are some of their most-loved labels?
I think our audience are pretty much us (but definitely cooler than me): they care about both the ethics and the aesthetics of their clothes, they care about the story behind their clothes, and, ultimately, they take clothing and fashion seriously and understand that it is an extremely important part of our cultural milieu. They also love a ‘90s movie meme, so in our eyes, they’re pretty much perfect.
I think our audience are pretty much us (but definitely cooler than me): they care about both the ethics and the aesthetics of their clothes, they care about the story behind their clothes, and, ultimately, they take clothing and fashion seriously and understand that it is an extremely important part of our cultural milieu.
You shoot all your own photos and create lots of your own editorial content – why is this important to you?
We all have backgrounds in editorial. I worked in fashion media and Kelly ran her own label, so the visual element of the site is very important to us – I guess we’re just visually picky, and like things the way we like them. But we also think it’s really important to show the clothes how we would wear them, and through this, to cement the concept that underpins how we buy and wear clothing: “buy less, choose well, make it last” (thanks Vivienne Westwood).
What’s your personal fashion philosophy?
Oh man, I don’t know! I’ve had a lot of terrible fashion trends permeate my wardrobe over the years. After seeing Kristin Scott Thomas in season two of Flea Bag and becoming re-obsessed with her (Four Weddings and a Funeral really deserves a re-watch), my current personal fashion philosophy is “would Kristin Scott Thomas wear this?”, because I want to look as classy and fabulous as she does (impossible, but I’m going to give it a red-hot go). Which is to say I’m currently purchasing classic pieces that are made from really good-quality fabrics (which sounds boring, doesn’t it, but I’ll throw a crazy hair accessory or something into the mix on occasion, promise).
Hurrah! Thanks to our lovely friends at Well Made Clothes, Peppermint readers get 10% off all orders over $100until the end of May 2020.
Use code ‘PEPPERMINT’ at checkout.
BANNER IMAGE: COURTNEY SANDERS FROM WELL MADE CLOTHES