Last month, I paid a visit to Here Today Here Tomorrow in Dalston, the current shop and studio for this sustainable fashion brand. I was greeted with a chair and a cup of tea by Anna and Julia, two of the founding members, and we spoke about their business journey.
I have long been impressed with the ethos and principles behind Here Today Here Tomorrow. Formed by a group of LCF graduates, their shop is focussed on showcasing sustainable and fair trade clothing, jewellery and accessories. Since the shop opened in 2010 they have also used the space to launch and develop their own fair trade brand that is now stocked in independent shops across the UK and Europe. They’re recognised for pushing the boundaries of what fair trade looks like with their bold designs in playful colours and signature geometric patterns.
It turns out I showed up at a pivotal time for the brand. After 6 years of running the business out of their hybrid shop studio, they have outgrown it. Here Today Here Tomorrow as a wholesale business is demanding more of their time than they can give whilst still running the shop. So as sad as it is to see it go, these women are planning a bigger future for their business beyond the store.
Having successfully steered the brand since it launched in 2010 and I thought they might be able to provide some insight on the practicalities of creating and maintaining a “sustainable” business.
Julia said: “We never set out to be shop keepers, but the shop has been vital in making connections with other likeminded people and helping to grow our network through word of mouth.”
Initially they set up as a studio shop; a place where people could see the products being made. They wanted to make the garment production line transparent and visible, a ‘mini supply chain’ as Anna called it, so people could better understand where clothes come from and how they are made.
Perhaps if people know more about products and realise they are buying more than just the finished article – they are supporting people’s livelihoods’ and career – they will understand the true value of things – and are subsequently less likely to throw them away in the “here today, gone tomorrow” attitude.
Julia explained how having the studio has enabled them to tell the stories of their products. They travel to Kathmandu every year to spend time with their makers who are part of the Association for Craft Producers (ACP) a not-for-profit that is certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation.
Anna says: “We are really happy we found ACP, they are super committed and forward thinking. They support artisans all over Nepal and go above and beyond fair trade requirments, to support families and local communities.”
Whilst I was asking about the types of fibres they look to use, Julia showed me a beautiful handwoven dhaka top. She explained how it takes workers in Nepal a day to weave just one metre of the beautiful, geometric, cotton cloth.
The dhaka line began as a Kickstarter campaign two years ago where they managed to raise almost £8000 to successfully fund the collection. Since then, they’ve used these funds to support the local weavers in Nepal by generating interest in this traditional handwoven cloth.
Particularly after the devastating Nepali earthquate last year, they’re even more dedicated to using their brand to give regular income and support community infrastructure for their makers.
Their ethos, as Julia explains, is that “sustainability is not just one thing. It’s not just organic cotton, it can be interpreted in so many different ways and we want to celebrate that diversity and creativity.”
With contacts from LCF’s MA Fashion and the Environment (now MA Fashion Futures), where they all met, along with meeting people at trade shows and customers in their shop, they have quickly built up a community around them. This community aspect has been important in helping to spread the message about sustainable fashion and advance the movement.
Anna said: “Traditionally fashion can be hypercompetitive, quite cold and isolating, but with the growing community of sustainable fashion, people are more open and want to offer advice as they realise they are all in this together.”
With this growing community and presence in the industry, the team now receive emails every week from sustainable fashion brands asking them to stock their products.
Anna said: “We have tried to go slowly with our production group. In the future we would like to explore the American market but at the moment we are just keeping things small and letting things grow in their own time.”
Whilst the shop has served them well in terms of establishing their brand, all the women here have other commitments which make managing the brand AND running a shop demanding to say the least.
Julia runs a BA at Ravensbourne College, having previously been a tutor and researcher at LCF. Anna is a lecturer at Bucks University and also works for Migrants Organise, whilst Katelyn is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion.
It is great to see they are all so involved in the fashion industry research and education, whilst also pursuing their own business. They have been proactive in taking the steps needed to expand their business further and I am very excited to see what the future holds for them.
All images © Francesca Tye