We’re constantly being reminded about the damage fast-fashion is causing to our planet. Mass-produced garments fly off the racks in our favourite high street stores with little thought about who made them, what they’re made from and how they were made. It’s a worldwide problem and something we’ve all been guilty of, but there are brands out there, both big and small, trying to make a change.
Enter: Conquer Gear, who sell their ethically produced clothing and art here at Spitalfields Market. We caught up with founder, Sebastian, to talk about all things ethical fashion and greener lifestyles.
1. Talk to us about the Conquer Gear journey… how did you get to where you are now?
Conquer as a verb is very versatile and has many interpretations. I like that it is often regarded as an aggressive word, but actually, when we use it in everyday language, it’s commonly used to express something we are trying to overcome, a problem or weakness that we want to deal with personally. Gear is equipment you use to get something done, as simple as that!
I like challenging and exciting designs; subject matter that has duality — designed to spark discussion and raise a smile.
As a bonus, customers looking for stimulating designs often stop and learn a thing or two about ethical production. I can raise awareness for better garment care and also explain how we reduce the negative impact clothing makes!
I used to work in charity fundraising. Between leaving Art College and opening the company, it was my job for four years. I felt there was often a desire to pay for issues to be removed from us, (I do my bit) rather than engage in the causes behind why they existed.
Conquer Gear was a reaction. I wanted to be more proactive and offer some solutions. I often found clothing that aligned with my morals was dumpy, kitsch, stereotyped or just dull. By making products that excited me, I was also able to educate myself and push the boundaries of ethical sources and choices for the consumer too.
2. How would you describe Conquer Gear and your brand values to somebody who has never heard of it before?
Conquer Gear is known for its unusual, often rebellious, and always humorous designs that bring illustration to life through an applied product. Our favourite things always come with a story. We love to use images that are open to interpretation and invite you to create your own fiction around a piece.
Why compromise to buy ethical clothing? It can be exciting and eye-catching without making you look like a paint by numbers follower!
3. What are Conquer Gear t-shirts and sweatshirts made from?
Instead of just one material, we offer selections in different product variants that all have their benefits:
We stock silky soft and other plant-based alternative T-shirts made from Bamboo, EcoVero and Tencel fibres. These are made from plant or tree alternatives that are FSC certified, grown in different climates and have green production methods that reduce carbon and water waste. They also feel great in the humid weather and outperform synthetic alternatives like viscose in wearing and in washing!
The vast majority of our products are organic cotton ++ with 90% less carbon footprint due to wind and solar power and low water farming and production. For us, as a primary garment type, this is very progressive and where we see the lion’s share of our stock going in future wherever possible.
Some items are recycled, made with 40% plastic waste. This re-purposed polyester gets mixed with 60% organic production waste. Re-purposing an existing waste issue into a fabric solution is the thought process here. One benefit is that it also makes them very hardy and durable. *We encourage our customers to wash with guppy bags or other solutions to stop microplastic pollution (in an ideal world there wouldn’t be so much waste plastic to re-purpose in the first place)
All of these options are completely pesticide-free, we should understand that it is possible to grow enough without decimating insect levels and water supplies!
Finally, as a bare minimum, our items need to be Fair Wear Foundation certified for us to consider their use. Economic slavery and poverty of skilled workers shouldn’t exist but is still a significant issue today. According to the Global Slavery Index, the fashion industry is one of the biggest promoters of Modern Slavery in the world. Garments are the second-highest product at risk of being made by modern slaves. Working conditions and health and safety should be the bare minimum for all items made. However, we haven’t got there yet as a society. We should demand more from our suppliers, and through our purchasing habits, move the industry towards a healthy, caring planet Everyone is entirely co-dependant, whether we like it or not we need to cooperate and not make such a huge mess to clean up!
4. Do you have any advice for someone trying to make more ethical fashion choices?
A simple check to an inside label should show you the origins of what you are buying. Google the stuff you don’t understand and ask questions directly to your suppliers. There is a good chance that the boardroom members of a company are just as ignorant of an issue as you and I. Only your questions and economic pressure will show them that there is a demand to change the way we consume!
Many brands outsource their production work to other companies, but ethical issues are not on the agenda when making these decisions. We have to demand that it is an issue for us if we are going to spend our hard-earned paychecks.
5. We’ve been reading a lot recently about the negative impacts of cotton farming, what are your thoughts on this?
I would say it’s not cotton itself that is at issue here. Any single material is open to exploitation and pollution if its sole aim is to be produced as quickly and cheaply as possible, regardless of the human and environmental cost. Not all bamboo is produced fairly and with the negative impact it can have in mind!
There is no way around it; we need to become more conscious consumers. Just ordering a vegan option on a menu will not guarantee their ethical environmental or social production. Rather than labels and fads; we have to engage in what can be so amazing about consuming something you understand.
6. What other personal changes are you making to commit to a greener lifestyle?
I have recently chosen to switch suppliers, so our Eco water-based Ink is not travelling so far before we print them. You won’t see the difference, but we did it because we want to make a product we can stand behind proudly.
Asking “do I need this” is a straightforward and affordable way to be greener, reducing consumption is always the easiest way to make a difference!
I have started to look for alternatives for many things, so I can have less impact through my banking, electronics, pension company as well as having clothes made by people I know and can ask about how they were made directly. If I’m going to support something with my money. I want to know what’s been done with it!