Alexandra Wall, 25, founded her sustainable streetwear brand Xandra Jane, in Cardiff, Wales, 18 months ago after finding out about the ‘dark side’ of fashion. She believes in upcycled luxury, zero-waste processes and her goal is to reconnect the customer with their clothing… By Mike Peake
1. What inspired you to go about things differently with Xandra Jane?
I’d had a few bad industry experiences. When I was a graduate in a couple of unpaid positions as I tried to get my foot on the ladder, it opened my eyes to the darker side of fashion. Now that I have my own business I conduct it with my own morals and ethics.
2. Can you tell us more about fashion’s dark side?
My first introduction to it was through the well-known documentary The True Cost, which shines a lot of light on the industry. One thing it showed is how a cotton farmer commits suicide every 30 seconds. Statistics like that make you sick.
In 48 hours, some major fashion brands produce the same amount of textile waste that it would take 12 years to recycle. Every year textile waste that goes into landfill is the size of Switzerland – there are lots of heavy statistics like that. I want to convey through my clothes the implications of these on people and the planet.
3. Is it fair to say that many of the people who work in fashion are exploited?
Absolutely, especially garment workers in horrible factories. I did unpaid work for a brand that consisted of 18-hour days, seven days a week as a graduate. That’s an example of first world exploitation. But then you look at these poor garment workers who sometimes work for 12 hours trying to meet high-pressure deadlines, have an hour off, and then do it all again, churning out garments only for us to wear them a few times and throw them away. Some of the women workers get abused, they get raped, they get beaten if they don’t meet deadlines…
4. Where are the worst places?
Bangladesh, Bali, Thailand – low-paying garment factories are everywhere. Even Turkey has some. In the UK a Panorama documentary found garment workers earning about £2 (AED10) an hour, often immigrants and people who are just struggling for work who were being exploited. I’m still finding out about all this. For me, sustainability’s a learning journey and always will be.
5. Tell us about the ‘journey card’ you give out with all Xandra Jane garments.
That idea came from when I was interning and some places I worked at took my designs but never credited me. So what the journey card does is reconnect the customer to the clothing by naming the people who have worked on that garment. It states what they’ve done – because a lot of people don’t understand the steps involved – and it also accredits the people who have worked in it. It’s a little bit of appreciation of their involvement.
6. You also offer downloadable patterns for people to recycle their own clothes on the Xandra Jane website. Why is that?
A lot of ethical clothing comes with a notorious price tag, and my digital pattern library is a way to reduce waste. It reconnects the customer to the garment because they can see the process behind it and follow a tutorial, and it also makes it a lot more accessible because at a £10 (50 AED) price tag, they can download a paper pattern and make it themselves. It’s a different way to approach designer clothing.
7. We’re all guilty of wasting clothes – what can we do instead?
My entire balancing act as a retailer is trying to sell something, yet trying to get people not to overbuy! So what I also offer on my blog are fashion fixes. I’m sure there’s a lot of clothing out there with little holes or tears, so I write about how to fix things like that. The lifespan of your garments is only in the control of the designer up to a certain point.
8. Are there any well-known industry tricks about garment care?
One industry secret is that a lot of designers use ‘dry clean only’ labels because they don’t want to be responsible if the customer doesn’t care for the item correctly, when in fact many, many items don’t need to be dry cleaned at all. My advice is to do your own research, and building trust with a brand is really important. I also think we should learn how to care for our clothing – there’s people who say they love fashion but they’re changing their wardrobe every two weeks, so there’s no real love for the craft that’s gone into their clothes.
9. Which garment do we all own that is an environmental disaster?
Probably a T-shirt. We all have dozens of them, and there’s something like 2,700 litres of water that goes into the making of one. Water isn’t a resource we can keep taking from. People often think that T-shirts are made by machines, just like in a car factory, but a garment will have passed multiple human hands before it’s reached the consumer. Think about it: the product has to be grown, harvested, woven into a fibre, pattern-cut, sewn up, packaged, shipped: how can you realistically pay £2 (10AED) for that?
10. Finally, which of the major brands have decent eco credentials?
H&M are probably making the most changes.
For more details on Xandra Jane, visit xandrajane.com