Behind an ethical fashion start-up

Behind an ethical fashion start-up
By Ines Fressynet
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Charlotte Instone, founder of Know the Origin, shares the behind the scenes frenzy and challenges of running an ethical fashion start-up.


“Don’t judge your chapter one, against someone else’s chapter 20” is the main advice given by Charlotte Instone, founder of clothing company Know the Origin. A brand that is fair-trade and organic “from seed to garment” as she puts it. On its website, the customer can find detailed information on every step of the making process from farming to spinning, dyeing to sewing. The collection entitled ‘The Foundation Set’ boasts a small number of timeless pieces for men and women including a Marinière inspired top, sportswear essentials and trendy split dress. Living it sits down with Instone to discover more about her ambitious project and behind the scenes challenges of running a fashion start-up.

Who is behind Know The Origin?

“The brand Know The Origin was co-founded by myself, Charlotte Instone, and Laura Lodge well over a year ago now. But a lot of incredible people have been behind the brand, both within and outside the team. As you can expect with a start-up, there has been a lot of change in that time. Now the team is made up of myself, Rosie, Josie, Ollie and Molly! Your name has to rhyme in order to work here. Company policy.”

“For a long time I got so frustrated things weren’t perfect, but done is better than unstarted”.

You have a background in ‘regular fashion’. Was Know the Origin part of your original career plan?

“I started studying Fashion Buying and Merchandising at London College of Fashion simply with the desire to create awesome clothing. I only changed my career path when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. It opened my eyes to the profit-over-people mentality of the fashion industry. From then on I was hell-bent on starting Know The Origin, a fashion brand that is uncompromising in both style and ethics”.

What differentiates a KTO garment from a fast fashion one?

“The story and the quality. The combination of organic cotton and craftsmanship from our producers really makes a tangible difference in the overall quality. It is also easy for our customers to trace their clothing, which is something that even regular brand owners don’t normally know themselves!”

What is challenging about running Know the Origin?

“Climbing the stairs to the top floor of our building every morning? No, seriously I think the main challenge is that running a start-up means there are new challenges everyday. Just as you get into the flow of one task, you’ve progressed into a new stage as a brand, which brings new challenges. Thankfully, this makes my work really dynamic which isn’t something most jobs can brag about!”

What are the main things you learnt after creating and leading your own fashion business?

“Everything starts somewhere. You have to put the idea out there and allow others to shape it. This is how wonderful things happen. For a long time I got so frustrated because things weren’t perfect, but done is better than unstarted. Everything evolves. Even the big brands had to start somewhere and are still evolving. It is the beauty of running a business”.

“Comparison is a biggie. Don’t judge your chapter one, against someone else’s chapter 20. It is always hard as a small start-up not to compare your work, to a website run by 100 people but you just have to set goals and celebrate the small wins”.

What defines ultimate luxury in fashion in your opinion?

“For me, luxury comes in the quality. Really beautifully made clothing, using incredible natural fibres. Can it actually get more luxurious?”

Which other sustainable and ethical brands do you recommend to our readers?


“There are a lot of amazing brands out there so it’s hard to pick! I have good friends that run a brand called Jollie’s Socks who for every pair of really awesome socks bought, donate a pair to your local homeless charity!”

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