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Lucy & Yak, a sustainable fashion brand, get down to business

Barnsley-born Lucy is the founder of Lucy & Yak, a sustainable clothing brand known for their colourful dungarees and personable ethos

Lucy: Myself and my partner quit our jobs in 2013 and went travelling for a few years. I worked in a bar for a few weeks and I hated it, but I knew we had to make money somehow, so we started making these little tobacco pouches out of old clothing that travellers left behind in hostels—big bins full of awful-looking shirts but with great prints. When we came back to the UK we didn’t really want to get back into full-time jobs, we just wanted to keep travelling. So we bought an old camper van and started selling vintage clothing on Depop, travelling around the country picking up gems in charity shops.

We did that for about a year, saving up, and then in 2017, we went to India. We’d noticed through our Depop that the 90s were making a big comeback, and dungarees were a huge part of that. There was nobody really making them really apart from in the workwear sense, so we thought while we’re here, if we meet someone who can make something, we’ll give it a go. The cook in our hotel mentioned that his brother was a tailor and invited us out to meet him.

“I did a business and fashion degree, but I then ran as far away from the fashion industry as I could”

That turned out to be Ismail, who is now our main guy. He was working with two of his friends, splitting all the profits equally. They had such a good structure in place that all we had to do was give him a good price and we could be confident about how much each tailor was going to get. Ismail actually laughed when we were trying to negotiate a price, because we kept going upwards. He thought we were just idiots from Britain who couldn’t negotiate, but we really wanted to give him a price that we felt was more than fair.

As the business has grown, it’s gone from Ismail and his two friends in India and Me, Chris and my Mum over here, to a sizeable team both sides, and both businesses remain really collaborative and dependent on one another. It’s a bit more special that just finding any old supplier.

Lucy and Yak’s Brighton store

What line of work/study were you in before it started?

I went to university 10 years ago and did a business and fashion degree, but I then ran as far away from the fashion industry as I could. I hated it; we’d have an ethics day every three months or so where we’d discuss issues in the industry and I remember seeing videos of sweatshops in China, and that’s the only part of it all that’s really stuck with me.

I was terrible for keeping jobs and just kind of jumped around between different bar and sales jobs. I met Chris in car sales—he was a manager in a dealership that I worked for and we became friends and then partners through that.

How does your work complement your personality?

It’s funny now, coming from my restless working background, I do still have days where I would normally run away but I just can’t, there’s nobody to run from! We’ve both been a little like that; Chris moved around a lot as a kid so has never really been able to settle. We’re built for the travelling life.

It’s why I really like what we’re doing now, because it still fits our original ideal earning enough to keep travelling and enjoying what we want to do, making stuff in countries that we love to visit with people that we love spending time with.

Can you tell us a bit the “slow fashion” ethics that support your business?

We set out knowing we wanted to pay everyone fairly and our workers are making roughly three or four times what an average tailor would in India which is great. We wanted to bring that to the UK as well, so we pay living wage as standard, and some people earn more.

The fabric was a funny one—in the beginning, we were just getting cheap end-of-rolls at markets, which I suppose is waste-reducing in its own way, but as we started growing, we wanted to be better. It wasn’t necessarily a focus on the environment from the outset, but rather a focus on people, and if you care about people you have to care about the way people are living. We began to buy enough fabric that we could go direct to a mill, and be able to order organic fabrics.

“If you care about people you have to care about the way people are living”

One of the hardest things is trying to design something but then realising that you can’t do it sustainably. We’re looking into using Tencel more as a sustainable fabric, and making these amazing new windbreaker jackets using something called Sorona, which is the first waterproof fabric that isn’t 100 per cent synthetic.

One of our main things has always been that it’s great to preach to people who are already aware of sustainability, but they’re already on the right train; how do you convert the people who aren’t? For me, a lot of sustainable brands aren’t really doing that with their designs and colour and expense. I love the brand Reformation because they have a grading system for how ethical their fabrics are, and tell you why they’re using certain fabrics so you can make an informed decision. Raising awareness is really important.

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