Ethical consumerism is proving itself to be far more than just a Millennial trend.
Conscious, ethical consumers are no longer just prioritising goods with a hint of an eco-footprint, but are also actively seeking out those that support and promote under-represented, marginalised and oppressed communities too. It’s all about People and Planet positivity today.
In today’s post, Fabric of the North meets two Manchester-based style brands who are eschewing outdated industry models in the pursuit of a new and innovative approach to championing positive social and economic change. Say hello to Tomorrow, and Bukky Baldwin…
Describing themselves as “a brand for curious, compassionate individuals seeking thoughtful design and tools for advocacy,” Manchester-based Tomorrow use sustainable fashion as a pathway to activism, amplifying voices for change, whilst educating and engaging their community with the stories behind their designs.
“The initial concept for Tomorrow began on my return from New York,” says co-founder Adam Sugarman. “I had back-to-back internships there for a global luxury brand based in Manhattan, and an independent national menswear brand based in Brooklyn. Both experiences were at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, and allowed me to gain a clear understanding, the confidence, and know-how to pursue my dream of creating and launching a brand that fits my personal values.”
“The idea was – and still is – to create a brand that is responsive and agile enough to allow for good things to happen,” he says. “We want to work with people that have similar values to ourselves, generate money for causes we believe in, and operate on gut feelings. If it feels good, it’s right.”
“In terms of inspiration, I wanted to create something that could give back as much as it gained, and with a background in the fashion industry, developing a clothing brand was the obvious option for me. My remit at Tomorrow includes the creative direction of all collaborations, and the production and sourcing of materials and products.”
Co-founder Angharad Roberts has a background in the legal sector, having graduated with a law degree from the University of Leeds and since worked for 3 major national law firms. She is responsible for maintaining and managing partnerships, collaborations and strategy at Tomorrow. “Our supplier makes our products in Bangladesh,” she tells me, “and we are convinced that manufacturing in Asia can be a good thing – if done properly. Properly means respecting the rights of the men and women that are employed, giving them a decent living wage and providing the means to acquire new skills. We have partnered with a supplier that has a 19-person all-Bangladeshi team based in Dhaka, monitoring their 5 partnering factories every day. All are GOTS-certified and audited by the Fair Wear Foundation. Rest assured, we have done our research to make sure the production of our products meets the social and environmental standards we demand and expect.”
For all of our collaborative products we donate and share at least 50% of the profits between the artist behind the design, and a charity or NGO working in the field.
“Everything we make is on a need-by-need basis, which means our products don’t exist unless you place an order,” says Adam. “This helps us minimise our carbon footprint, and enables us to operate in a supply chain with minimal waste, upholding and maintaining the sustainable practices we started out with. Artwork is digitally printed onto the garment using zero harsh chemicals; we then wrap, bag and tag your product using recycled, organic and biodegradable materials.”
“In terms of taking a more modern approach to fashion,” he says, “our equity model is worth highlighting here. From all of our collaborative products, we always donate and share at least 50% of the profits between the artist behind the design, and a charity or NGO working in the field. This has enabled us to make constant and considered donations right from the very start, with the aim of growing our impact and advocating for positive change. This means that with each purchase, not only are you investing in sustainable fashion and moving away from the harmful practices of fast fashion, but you’re also supporting important charities, as well as up-and-coming and established artists alike.”
For their most recent collaboration Tomorrow worked with LA-based artist Travis Keller and Seattle-based artist Anthony White. “In this instance we already knew that the collection was going to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement,” Angharad tells me, “and our task was to find artists whose work would align with the collection we had in mind. Travis Keller was present at many of the marches throughout LA during the weeks and months after the death of George Floyd, and was able to capture some incredibly moving imagery during these protests, which are featured in the collection. On the other hand, Anthony White is an artist who comes from half African descent and whose work features black cultural references throughout. One of his works chosen for the collaboration was a self examination, which allowed Anthony to reflect on his existence in this world, whilst also celebrating black and brown bodies.”
“Our usual approach to our collaborations begins by identifying a topic we want to bring awareness to,” Adam tells me. “We then look to collaborate with artists, incorporating either their existing work or something created for the purpose of the collection, in a way that helps us convey our message. The collaborations are a really exciting aspect of the brand. We’ve been able to connect and work with artists from all over the world right from our inception. It’s great to see the responses to the designs and that through these we are able to raise awareness, and donate too.”
“Despite being a young brand, we’ve already gone through countless suppliers to ensure we’re sending out products that meet our standards,” Angharad tells me. “Although the honest truth is that no brand is truly sustainable whilst making new things, we’ve adopted a model that works hard to eliminate the harmful aspects of fashion, focusing on the materials we use, the suppliers we work with and the impact of our products long after you’ve purchased them. That’s really the ethos for us, we want to make sure that at all times we’re using best practices.”
“When choosing suppliers, the sustainable and environmental credentials were obviously non-negotiable. We don’t think a brand should receive a pat on the back for incorporating organic materials into its product offering; that should be the norm now. The hardest part was finding a supplier who could provide sustainable materials, but also good quality, long lasting, well fitting products – something we’d want to wear. Until very recently, you had to trade off between sustainability or style. Now thankfully, the two can go hand in hand.”
The lack of diversity in the fashion industry is something Tomorrow are actively trying to change. “A lack of diversity can be linked to a number of causes,” says Adam. “Big ones being that a lack of diversity in senior positions inevitably trickles down throughout a company, and reflects in campaigns and catwalks. Further to that, ingrained and outdated understandings of what consumers consider an aesthetic ideal probably has some part to play. In terms of addressing a lack of representation, awareness is really important. Accounts like Diet Prada play a huge part in policing and calling out any malpractice, and we’ve all seen that a feature on DP can be detrimental to your reputation. Social media has enabled us to act fast, so if brands do something out of line, people can respond immediately, share it widely and withdraw their support. It forces us to be accountable for the brands we are creating, and the impact that we have on others.”
“A diverse and representative team offers so much unlocked potential,” says Angharad, “in fashion and otherwise. It goes without saying a group of people from the same background, with the same experiences are unlikely to bring anything new to the table and it seems people are now finally beginning to recognise this. Even amongst our small team, it’s our individual experiences that enable us to challenge each other and test our ideas, and the scale with which we work and collaborate with others brings so much opportunity. In simple terms; how can you think of anything innovative without a bit of innovation?”
Having launched in early 2020, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have obviously had a significant impact on the brand. “As we’re sure everyone would agree, the last 6 months have presented many challenges,” says Adam. “Not just in terms of business, but personally too. We’d just moved back to Manchester and were able to run things out of our new flat, so while it was certainly tough not being able to go out and enjoy this amazing city, we couldn’t complain. We did find that the restrictions contributed to delays at multiple steps throughout our manufacturing and printing process which was frustrating for our customers, but of course for us too.”
“On the other hand it spurred a lot of creativity,” says Angharad, “for us, and the artists we work with. We had more time to chat about and brainstorm ideas, as well as re-evaluating and reflecting on our processes and partners. After a few hiccups, we’ve set up with our third supplier – who is also North West-based, so it’s good to keep things close to home. And they do say “third time lucky!”
“A lot of the charities and organisations we work with felt the pressure of the pandemic,” Adam continues, “with limited resources and increased demand. Having these relationships with the organisations meant we were able to help highlight how people could get involved with their efforts, both in terms of donations and volunteers. Looking more long term though, and seeing the way the planet began to recover from human impact while everyone was staying at home, provided us with an insight into how quickly we can revert the damage we have done.”
“Seeing this recovery reaffirmed to us why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says Angharad, “and why a brand is never too small to prioritise its sustainability. Hopefully it will encourage others to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle too.”
Tomorrow images including article lead © xxx, used with permission.
“Bukky Baldwin was formed out of an awareness of the growing needs of marginalised groups in Manchester, and the power within the creative industry to help,” founder Ibukun Baldwin tells me. She founded Bukky Baldwin a year and a half ago, with aim of using creativity as a force for positive change and opportunities for the marginalised. She describes herself as “a massive people lover”, who is passionate about building strong local communities.
“I fell in love with textiles whilst studying at A-level in Blackpool Sixth-Form College,” she says, “and went on to study Textiles in Practise at Manchester Metropolitan University. It was there that I really got to hone my style and specialise in my area, which was embroidery, print and illustration.” It was during her time at university, that Ibukun begun volunteering in the local community and developed a sense of duty to do what she could to help those whose needs weren’t prioritised by common society. “When I graduated, instead of seeking out high fashion internships as I had originally planned, I instead took a community based internship with a local church. During my time there I got to see the amazing work of many charities in Manchester, and learnt how to set up my own initiatives to make a difference in Manchester.”
“I was determined to use my passion for design to help marginalised individuals in whatever way possible. This took me on a long journey; doing art projects in young people’s prisons, working with galleries and organisations to provide workshops for refugees and people without homes, creating events to raise awareness and change perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers. All the while gaining the skills, information and partnerships I needed to launch the brand’s first collection.”
I think what makes my business different is that I didn’t create it to get rich, so all the profit goes straight back into the community.
One of Ibukun’s main aims for her business is to bring reform to the far too common negative practises within the fashion and textile industry. “Even though my initial goal was to use this business to provide opportunities for marginalised people, I quickly realised that for me to be a ‘good’ fashion business I’m going to have to do what I can to be good to the planet too,” she says. “It informs every decision we make, from how we design the products, to what materials we use to package them. We’re always asking how we can do this in such a way that it makes a positive impact. I think what makes my business different is that I didn’t create it to get rich, so all the profit goes straight into things like workshops, training, food etc. for people in the community who could use it. My only hope is as the business grows we can provide more and more opportunities for those who need it most.”
Before the pandemic hit earlier this year, Bukky Baldwin was the first creative resident of the WorkShop at The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, selling original, handmade ceramics, jewellery and embroidered goods produced in weekly workshops with refugees referred via Manchester City of Sanctuary.
“Being resident in WorkShop was an amazing opportunity in the early stages of the business,” she tells me. “One of the hardest challenges of setting up a business is getting your products in front of the right market, so being in the Whitworth put me in front of exactly the right customer base and also created so many amazing networking opportunities that enabled me to establish the business in the public eye! Being able to host the community workshops there was a privilege, as I was able to bring the group into such a beautiful space to create and feel safe. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 I had to leave the space a bit earlier than planned, but it worked out as it forced me to finally get my eCommerce game in order, so now the products are available to more people than ever!”
“The pandemic put me at a real crossroads over lockdown” she says, “of either shutting up shop until further notice, or taking the plunge and taking the business to the next level. Thankfully, I chose the latter, which led me to finally hiring some amazing staff and finding a lovely new studio space in The Yard in Cheetham Hill.” She now works alongside Bukky Baldwin’s Development and Finance Manager, Vanessa Lam, and her Communications and Marketing Manager, Iona Griliopoulos.
“I was also blessed with plenty of time to research materials and design, which led me to making the brands most eco-friendly collection yet; with the fabric being made from recycled plastic that’s manufactured and printed in Manchester, also being way more affordable than the debut collection.”
“My long term ambition for Bukky Baldwin is for it to be a beacon of hope for those who struggle with normal routes to employment,” she tells me, “providing jobs and opportunities for those who need it. I want the business to make a tangible positive socio-economic impact within Manchester and beyond. Hopefully proving to other fashion companies that doing good is a good business decision and selflessness is always better than greed.”
Imagery © Bukky Baldwin, used with permission.