The Keep

 

“Only through knowing more about the thing that we’re spending money on can we really love what we’ve bought, otherwise it’s simply a trend-led purchase that will last as long as the trend (and in fashion, that’s barely a day).”

Working with something you love and that inspires you daily is merely a far off dream for most people I know, including myself. Although to pursue what you love, even if it might seem a crazy idea at the time, is a lot harder than to just stay idle and keep on dreaming.

Sustainable shop ‘The Keep’ is a reflection on owner Kate Richards, dedication and is a true labour if love. Since the shop opened in March this year, her mission has been to seek out and promote clothing that represents a story. Each story must embody integrity, craftsmanship and sustainability and all these components shine through in her lovely boutique located in vibrant Brixton Village. ‘The Keep’ is certainly true to its philosophy and are located in a suitable environment of a bustling community full of artisans and local craftsmanship. Modecut had the pleasure to pop down to Brixton and meet with Kate to hear her story about being brave enough to follow your true ambitions. 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself and how The Keep was initiated?

In what now feels like a previous life I used to be an English Teacher. The combination of creating lessons and having very real daily interactions were the most unforgettable aspects of the job.  But it was all consuming, and after two years I wanted to break away from the intensity, so I went to work for a management consultancy.  On day one I knew I’d stumbled into the wrong environment for me, but it took a year before realizing I couldn’t force myself to adapt.

I started writing a blog – ‘Cuckoo Couture’ – the purpose was to unlock people’s inner style and couture creativity, but essentially its main function was as a creative outlet for myself. Reading the blog now is like walking down memory lane as it charts the path I took to get to The Keep – I quit my job, attended a few start-up seminars and began to develop the (still very badly named) ‘Cuckoo-Couture’ concept (my crowdfunding video is still floating around youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED5cL22dRpA).

Around this time, I came across the Ethical Fashion Forum, and had a few sessions of consultancy with industry insiders who helped shape my business plan. Esthetica (the ethical section of LFW) was also instrumental in my route to The Keep as I began to meet lesser known designers who were passionate about a positive way of doing fashion, one that aims to mutually benefit all involved, rather than churning out cheap clobber to feed our insatiable hunger for new things.

Constantly wanting more is a very human condition, and one that requires both the desire and the discipline to curb.  The fashion industry is onto an absolute winner because the introduction of a new trend is all it takes to initiate our appetite, and because it’s all so cheap, we consume without really thinking about it.  So that’s when my vision started to really take shape, I wanted to strip everything back and start from the basis that we should want to buy clothes to keep.  I became focused on creating a space where the focus isn’t about consuming-what-we-can-because-it’s-under-a-fiver.   Instead, the buying process should be far more considered. Only through knowing more about the thing that we’re spending money on can we really love what we’ve bought, otherwise it’s simply a trend-led purchase that will last as long as the trend (and in fashion, that’s barely a day).  As a result, I wanted the people who come into the shop to leave knowing a bit more about what’s on the hangers – that may be the designer’s personal background, the organic nature of the materials that have been used, where the threads have been sourced from, the dying process, who stitched the hem… I think it’s important to share that information, and hopefully we’ll not only cherish what we buy, but begin to demand greater transparency from everywhere else.

What has influenced your approach to the sustainable fashion industry?

I grew up in North Wales so there’s always been an environmental side to me.  I’ve also never been that inclined to follow fashion trends religiously so the more independent nature of the sustainable fashion industry really appealed.  In fact, independence for myself has always been appealing because of the sense of achievement that comes when you do something off your own bat. My time teaching, in retrospect, was instrumental in making me want to do something of benefit, whilst my time at Accenture prompted me to question how much fulfillment money can bring.  It was perhaps this period of unhappiness that gave me the impetus as I’d spent quite a bit of time thinking about what brings happiness.  For me, expressing creativity, through clothes was always fun.  But traipsing through high street shops had become quite depressing, and fashion magazines are just a passive aggressive form of self-abuse! The pace, the constant comparisons, the faceless nature of where it’s all coming from, the wastage, the homogenization – it all just became too much.

Going to the Esthetica was such a dramatic contrast, despite it being in the middle of the feeding frenzy that is London Fashion Week.  Speaking directly to designers about the production of some incredibly unique collections; the time and effort that goes into researching more sustainable methods; their commitment to working with artisans and producing on smaller scales, it was uplifting.  So perhaps more than anything, it’s these personal interactions that have really shaped and strengthened my passion for sustainable fashion.

When you source designers and other participants for The Keep, what key aspects do you look at?

Central to The Keep’s ethos is fashion to keep, so there has to be a sustainability thread running through all the brands I stock. Evidence of production methods that are mutually beneficial to both employer and employee, organic certification of materials, protection and promotion of artisan techniques…essentially a more mindful approach to doing fashion is what I look for. However it doesn’t have to be overt, nor does it have to tick every single ethical box.  It does however, have to be stylish, fashionable and affordable.

Being a buyer without a fashion background was initially a big concern, and I’m incapable of designing anything because I lack the ability to visualize what I’d want to create, but when I fall upon a sustainable designer producing stylish pieces, with robust ethical credentials, something inside comes alive.  That’s when I know I want to pass my excitement for that brand on to people who come to The Keep and staying true to this instinctive sourcing approach means that I can be genuine in my selling role as well.

 Based in Brixton village, how is this an inspiring hood to be located in?

Up to now, my experience of living in London always carried with it a sense of isolation. Brixton Village, despite being so close to the city, is unlike anywhere else in London.  Whether you work in one of the many independent shops, cafes, restaurants, fish stalls, veg stalls, etc., or are just passing through, there’s an inescapable sense of community. Working on my own means I’m alone quite a lot of the time, but being in the village means that it’s anything but a lonely experience.   What inspires me most is seeing how hard working everyone is, and how kind – perhaps an odd way to describe a place but it’s nurturing, and that’s quite unique in an urban environment.

 How would you define The Keep and your approach to fashion retail?

My approach to fashion retail is one of collaboration rather than consumerism.  Not perhaps the most economic business model, but in my mind a more sustainable version and in keeping with the sort of integrity I value.

The Keep’s tag line is ‘sustaining style’ as it’s a stronghold for stylish, affordable, and sustainable fashion, where customers can find pieces to cherish, because they look and feel lovely, and there’s the added value of knowing more about the provenance and therefore treasuring it more.

 Name one thing that you think we should change with the fashion industry today?

I’d like to see governments demanding greater supply chain transparency from big names in the fashion industry.  In a world where information is so readily accessible, there’s no excuse for how little accountability and traceability there is.  Greater knowledge should also be passed onto the consumer through standardized labeling, similar to food, indicating percentage of toxic dyes, volumes of water, age of laborer, carbon footprint.  Detailed labeling would allow for more informed choices, and so buying clothes becomes more than just a cost-saving decision.

However, if the fashion industry is driven by the consumers demand for more, the beginnings of any great change may have to start with the individual consumer demanding greater transparency from their retail outlets.  If the market dictates cleaner fashion, my hope is that mainstream fashion will start to clean up its act.

Looking at the future – where do you see yourself in five years?

Keeping on keeping on! Still in Brixton Village, but hopefully not at 11pm like I am now!  It would be nice to have an assistant at that point.  I also really want to expand into offering stylishly sustainable clothing for men – it’s interesting to see that the brothers, boyfriends, fathers etc. who come into the shop really love the idea of clothes made out of natural fibers like Bamboo – so there’s definitely an appetite for it.  I just don’t have the space at the moment, but I wish I did because there’s some amazing ethical menswear out there.

 

 

 

 

 



One Comment

  1. [...] presenterar stolt vårt senaste tillskott av återförsäljare: slow fashion-butiken The Keep Boutique i Brixton, London. Kate som driver The Keep blev för en tid sedan intervjuad av bloggen Modecut, och där hittar ni [...]

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