From the beginning the clothes of STORY caught my eye.
Not only did they seem special and more unique to me than the stuff you usually see in online shops, but they were also labelled as “positive products”, a term that made me want to know more about the background of the brand.
“For us the real important thing that we’re doing, that underpins everything is to create a better, ecological, sustainable way of making and selling clothes. That’s where we’re expending most of our efforts.” explained Saeed to me in a long phone conversation we had the other day.
Saeed and Katy founded the label together in 2013.
Before that, Katy had worked at a trend forecasting company and was visiting a trading show. Saeed went with her and that’s where they would see hand-loomed, natural dye, craft-based stuff that was either too expensive or too irregular. Usually both.
“We wanted items that didn’t exist. There was nobody making natural dyed stuff like we wanted to, and if it had all the quality, it didn’t as look refined, sharp and clean as we like it.”
They choose the name “Story” not only because they liked the look of the word, but also because they had the idea to centre the brand around the manufacturing story.
The “MFG” is a nod to older British and American companies.
From the beginning they travelled a lot to India. It’s where they picked up their first fabrics and decided to make jeans to begin with. Initially it was planned to crowd-fund the project via Kickstarter, but in the end Katy and Saeed decided to proceed independently. They set up a website, informed everyone about the launch date and from that point on, the stone began to roll.
“That was a super steep learning curve. Everything was late, we had to make a lot of changes of the pattern, but it was good. When the jeans were progressed, we made a jacket as well, called the ‘Time Jacket’. We never made the jeans again but the jacket we make almost every season. Now there’s a short version too.”
From early on it became apparent that they would establish a range of products that would form the core of their collections. “For me, when I find a brand that has been selling the same thing forever then I feel like it says something about the enduring quality, the style of that piece. I feel that really speaks to the brands heritage. So every season, 80% is the same but we also like to cycle in new things, keep it interesting.”
Even though they obtained their fabric from India since their inception, their clothes for the first few seasons were made in the U.K.
“That way we had control over it. We used a small tailor, we did a lot of hand-cutting here and also at that time I thought a ‘Made in England’ label would be like a selling point.
But then it started to get to us: we’re doing all of this stuff, we use recycled water, we’re using natural dyes and organic cotton, but then we would fuck it up by flying it all from one country to another.
So we decided to set up our thing in India. I thought people would have a problem with going from Made in England to Made in India, but nobody cared.”
Through a contact they were told about a community project there.
“It’s like a commune, except it’s completely religionless. Like a cult, without the cult.”
Here they were able to connect with other people and find skilled workers for their clothes. When he describes their set-up there, Saeed explains: “Now it is like our dream. You can spit from the tailors to the dyers.
There is a dying pit and there’s the indigo pit. Upstairs there are the tailors and downstairs there is the administration and in the garden next door are all the embroiderers.
I do understand that people worry about working conditions in other countries, but I can tell you that our factory in India is better than any place I’ve worked in myself.”
The experimental township is also the home of people, who are doing ecological research. “There’s a guy who settled here.
He started this natural dye unit in the 80s or 90s. It’s completely pure, he’s fanatical about that. There are no chemicals. We worked with him to do our natural dyes, developing our fabric etc.”
It’s a heartfelt desire for Saeed and Katy to give their clothes colour without using any sulphites or chemicals. Natural dyes are dyes or colorants derived from plants or minerals, while synthetic dyes are chemically manufactured. Natural colours look and behave differently. For example, a natural red is not just a pure red, but includes blue and yellow. Therefore, it looks different in every light. When you’re wearing an item from Story MFG you can observe and actually feel this. It’s a science of its own to mix colours to get that specific tone that you want. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and tries and to get there, and that’s why the experience and knowledge of someone like Jesus becomes essential.
“The natural dying is better for the earth. For example, we use indigo that’s grown locally. In India it’s used by farmers to balance the soil. All our other dyes are all from India. But if you were to use a chemical fixative throughout this process it’s much worse for the earth, because you need way more water.”
The ambition to create “positive products” that last, the use of natural dyes and to maintain this philosophy through everything that’s connected with their business is a hard and challenging road.
“We constantly keep each other in check. Sometimes I’m like “it would be so much easier to send this in plastic” and then Katy is like “no, we’re not using plastic”. That’s why the packaging our clothes come in is biodegradable. It took us about three years to get to that point…
As a small business, you have to work your way up to that point.
We still have challenges. We just addressed our paper problem. We were buying paper, but now we’re making labels from our old clothing. But our big challenge is, how can we transport stuff to The Wasted Hour. That’s a really difficult question.
We’re not a 100% conscious, but we’re all working towards a better system.”
Talking to Saeed it becomes clear that for Story MFG the term “sustainability” is not just a shallow word or a marketing trick.
In the past few years, words like “sustainability”, “slow made” or “eco-fashion” have been adapted by many brands to ride the green wave, to sell their stuff and create a conscious image.
“I’ve so many thoughts about this, but I don’t know where to place myself. On the one hand, as long as things are moving in the right direction then we’re going the right way. I shouldn’t really criticise, because as long as we’re moving, things will be better and better. But on the other hand, absolutely yeah, it’s kind of sucky. Sustainability is such an open term, personally I think there are practices that can never be sustainable. Nevertheless, I do find it hard to criticise, because people are making some kind of effort.”
It’s the hope that this trend creates awareness and a starting point for people from where they dive deeper into the topic and look behind the phrases.
Dealing with the fair-trade fashion scene, you sometimes get the impression that it’s a battle-ground for people fighting over things like the use of cotton in general, or claiming to own the truth instead of joining their efforts together to create a better place.
Therefore it’s refreshing to hear that STORY MFG is looking at the bigger picture and focuses on evolving and creating beautiful, unique items.