My heart always does a bunch of enthusiastic cartwheels and High School Musical jumps when a new ethical clothing brand comes along. It did about 80 reps when I heard about Jacob & Esau! Our fellow East Melbournians are kicking goals in design, ethics, and being quality humans. So whilst we're still keeping our eyes and ears peeled for the first collection - which is being made by local garment makers/husband & wife team, Kholil and Wiwik in Bali - we thought we'd have a chat to the co-founders, Joanne Yu and Esther Chin.
How did the idea of starting J & E come about?
E: Despite having an interest in design and sewing I was quite reluctant to study fashion at uni as I considered it to be quite a superficial or materialistic industry. However, the more I learned about how complex the fashion supply chain is and became aware of the need to combat slave labour and dangerous working conditions, the more I felt assured that this was the industry for me!
I grew my own vision of starting a fashion label, even giving it the name Jacob & Esau, but found it hard to stay focussed and be productive on my own. Then Jo came into the picture! In a crazy ‘coincidence’, Jo had the same vision to begin an ethical fashion business since completing her studies in law, but lacked knowledge of the fashion industry to know where to begin. A mutual friend heard our separate visions and put us in touch last November and so J & E was born! (Which now aptly represents Jo & Esther, as well as Jacob & Esau!)
J: Exactly the crazy coincidence as Esther has said! I spent much of last year finishing up my studies while contemplating how to go about this vision of setting up an ethical fashion business. In other words, seeing underprivileged communities benefiting and experiencing real practical help through our shopping choices. I researched a whole bunch of stuff and spoke to plenty of people, one of whom ended up leading me to Esther! Yay!
Why is the ethical aspect important to you?
E: The word ‘ethical’ is pretty hard to define because it will mean different things depending on who you ask! For J & E, ‘ethical’ goes back to basics with the idea of ‘treating others as you would want to be treated’. It’s a little ironic that we are being marketed as an ‘ethical brand’ by paying people fairly, treating them well and building positive relationships, because when you think about it, shouldn’t that be the norm?! This is why being ethical is super important to me, because people from different cultures, backgrounds and demographics should be given equal opportunities in all aspects of life.
J: Choosing to go down this ethical ‘pathway’ stemmed from a desire to intentionally invest in people from a business perspective. Ensuring fair treatment of our workers in the supply chain was a natural next step! We felt that we needed to take that larger risk, pay that higher wage, and go against the culture of fast-fashion to truly make it worthwhile.
Who do you want to see wearing your clothes?
J & E: Everyone and anyone! We are pretty unique as a fashion label because we aren’t selling to a particular age group or demographic, but to everyday individuals who share our value of treating people well! As a result, we are determined to produce everyday clothing (think t-shirts, casual shorts, easy summer dresses) that a wide range of people can wear, so we need your input! Send us a message with suggestions of clothing styles you’d like to see produced (the sort of stuff you’d wear to death!) and we’ll do our best to design with those garments in mind!
We want to see a mixture of ages and cultures united for the same cause – standing for a difference through their shopping purchases!
Anything exciting in the works that we should look forward to?
J: Our first collection! I am so keen to see the designs Esther has come up with (she is mad talented, trust me!), produced and worn by people walking down the street!
E: Definitely the first collection! To see people change their point of purchase because they understand and believe in the power of their decision is our vision coming alive! Throughout this entire process however, we’ve had the opportunity to work alongside so many creative, like-minded people that every little shout out, blog post or newspaper article that gets published is just as exciting and surreal as the last!
What's your big dream/vision for J & E?
J: Our big vision is to be able to continuously expand across as many communities as possible (Indonesia and beyond!), get more people and companies aware and on board to normalise this alternative way of making clothes.
E: The vision from the very beginning of J&E was to make ethical manufacturing the norm in the fashion industry. So while we love that we can design beautiful garments under the J&E brand, we are growing our capacity to manufacture on a larger scale with more complex garments, so that we can be a manufacturer for other fashion brands that want to make their supply chains more sustainable. This is also why we are intentional about being a business, rather than a community project or charitable organisation. We recognise the importance of having a profitable business model but not taking advantage of the people that are involved throughout the supply chain.
What do you want your impact to be?
J: For people to be more mindful and aware of those involved in the supply and manufacturing chain of our purchases - our food, clothing, technology etc. For a shift in perspective, and a realisation that what we choose to do/eat/buy, can affect others and the future.
E: Education is definitely a huge part of the J & E model. We recognize that ‘ethical fashion’ is a new concept, so our role is first to educate people, then secondly to give them the platform (through our label and many other ethical fashion labels and organizations) to be able to make decisions that support what they have learnt. Every ‘what’s ethical fashion?’ is a win in our books!