Friday, 2 March 2018

Interview with Lucy of Ethical Brand Lucy & Yak

Lucy & Yak is a brand which encompasses everything I think  a good brand should be. 
Lucy and Chris, the brand's creators and designers, have a great relationship with their customers and the makers behind their quality corduroy clothes, and are constantly working to reduce the environmental impact of each process behind the clothes' production and packaging. 

I was given a pair of their 'Original' dungarees and their 'Freyja' Midi Pinafore for my birthday and I instantly knew it was 'Lucy & Yak' from the biodegradable wrapping and the beautiful fabric bag they came in. 
It was a pleasant surprise when I followed the link from an Instagram post to discover that my dream dungarees, were not only made by tailors paid a fair living wage, but were only £40 (a price tag that I don't often see on quality, ethical clothing)!

If you are wanting to shop more ethically and in a more environmentally friendly way, you should consider what information the brand publicises (or hides in most cases), such as how it's workers are treated and the tonnes of waste it empties into landfill each year.  It is just as important to consider the quality and versatility of the clothing so you know how much wear you will get from each piece.

This is one of the reasons why Lucy & Yak is a particularly conscious brand - they concentrate on producing a few select lines which offer quality, comfort and versatility; products you would never want to part with.

1. What inspired you to start Lucy & Yak, and who is 'Yak'?

So where to begin...We started Lucy & Yak pretty much by accident. We were travelling a lot at the time and all we wanted was to earn enough to get by.  We were selling Vintage whenever we were in the UK on Depop, and then using the little money made to travel. We bought a camper when we came back to the UK in 2016, and used to travel around the country in him; we called him 'Yak'. We would pick up vintage items from different thrift stores around the country, put them on Depop and then parcel them in the van and drop them at the nearest post office to send them to customers. We both have a bit of an eye for it. We would get frustrated about the fact that we knew what people wanted but couldn't always find it in the charity shops. So we decided to travel and find somewhere to make our own designs. We never imagined it would become what it is.

We really just wanted to create something and work with a small family business. Basically we were sick of photographing one piece and it selling instantly, and knowing if we had 100 of them they would have sold too. We also wanted to make a difference in the world, but never realised we could possibly do it with fashion.
We finally found our guy in India! An amazing guy who we are very close to and trust more than anyone we know.

2. What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I love speaking with my customers, they become friends.  I feel like I know a lot of them personally, even now as Lucy & Yak has grown so fast, and even though I have 2 lovely girls looking after the 'customer happiness' (as we like to call it) side of things, I still can't help jumping onto the emails and Instagram and replying to people.  No matter how busy my week is, I can always find time for the people that helped make this happen, and always will.  I also love our close relationship with the team in India. We know them all personally and go out there every three months.

3. How did you discover the suppliers that you work with?

Our suppliers are all amazing, and like I said, Ismail is our friend and his tailors are his family and friends, which makes them our friends too. It's amazing to know we have people we can trust out in India. We are also making the switch to organic materials and have found an amazing guy who introduced us to all of his workers, showing us payslips and the working environment; not many people can say that, and we are so proud to have found these amazing people.

4. Why is it important for you to support small businesses?

It's important to support small businesses because they look after people, they care about people.
We couldn't do this job with the same enthusiasm if we were working with big factories. We visited some and met with the owners and the "business meetings" were awful: so formal, not personal, not enjoyable. Why do it if you don't enjoy it?
Me and Chris talk a lot about this. With a small business things go wrong a lot, things aren't perfect as they don't have the same systems and infrastructure as the big businesses. But even when times get really hard and we have the thought of how much easier it would be to work with a very established company, where things might run smoothly all the time, we cringe at the thought. We both know Lucy & Yak wouldn't last much longer if it switched to this. Our passion would die. So we deal with the problems and move on. It's making us better people every day. 

One challenge we are going to face much sooner than we expected is growing our business with Ismail and his team, and still keeping the small business feel and relationship. As we grow, of course our team will grow too and will inevitably turn into a bigger company, but I don't see why that has to mean that the people we work with aren't still looked after. 
We will be working hard to make sure our practices remain the same even when we are much bigger. 

5. What projects are you working on at the moment?

We have been working with a French Artist to create some new print designs for our spring collections, which will be available soon - they are amazing! We can't wait to see all the finished designs. Also we are in the process of switching our materials to Organic, so this is exciting for us. In less than 1 year we will be almost fully sustainable. Also we have a cool project coming up for a photo shoot. We have had applications open for our customers to apply to model for us. We have chosen 15 people of all ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities and genders, to come along for a fun day of modelling. None of them have experience, so its going to be a crazy day of excitement and nerves. It will be a difficult job for us to calm everyone down and style the shoot too, ha ha. But it will be beautiful to see so many people represented in our clothing!

6. What made you choose to specialise in using Corduroy?

Corduroy is making a come back! We love the colours you can create using corduroy.  It's warm and soft! We love it!

7. 'Lucy & Yak' sells a select range of quality products and promotes conscious fashion. How can customers and other brands be encouraged to adapt a 'slow' fashion mindset over a throw-away one?

The way we see it is fashion has to change. Buying cheap throw-away products is no good for anyone. We genuinely believe we know, in a sub-conscious level, if not a conscious one, that when we pick up a £5 t-shirt, it can't possibly have been made without someone being ill-treated, and this has an impact on our mental well-being.  How can it have been made without someone losing? Imagine the number of people that need paying from that £5: the cotton farmer and his family, the fabric maker and his staff, the tailors and their boss, then the shipping company - all those people before it even gets to the retail staff and owners in the UK - all taking a cut of £5.  The maths isn't difficult. We all know who loses and who gains! Even the customer doesn't gain!  The t-shirt falls apart usually within a few weeks.  The staff who sell it to them aren't always happy, and so the customer service isn't great. 

We have the power to change this, the retail industry will only change if we demand it.  We have the money to spend and they want our money.  Don't give it to them unless they are making positive changes!

I understand it can take time to work towards sustainability and no one is perfect! But check to see if the company you are buying from are doing anything to work towards sustainable practices.  If they are, support them.  I don't like to attack anyone or any company, but encouraging them is a great idea. Make people feel good for making the right choices.  Even if they are small choices, they matter.  We can do our bit to help each other.  If you have the option to buy a product that is a little more expensive but made with love, choose that over a cheaper one.  Retailers monitor their sales and products, so if they see the demand for fair and sustainable products they will buy more of the good stuff :)

Thank you for answering my questions Lucy!  You and Chris are really leading the way in slow and sustainable fashion.

You can find Lucy & Yak's beautiful corduroy clothes here.

                                                                                 Beccy x
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