We recently caught up with Jonathan Mitchell, the founder of online ethical menswear store, Brothers We Stand. We decided we needed to ask him a few questions, on behalf of your good selves. In return he tells us why he’s wearing a jacket made out of plastic bottles…
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I think since a young age I’ve been interested in entrepreneurial things and business. In secondary school, me and my friend used to sell sweets and fizzy drinks out of our lockers, and that got me the money for my first mobile phone. So I always had these little ideas when I was younger, and I really liked planning them. I think it’s something that comes naturally to me, as something I quite like to do.
What about the ethical fashion stuff?
Well I was always interested in social justice-y kind of stuff. My mum and dad always had friends who were doing interesting things in the world, so I was always aware of things that were going on. I heard about international development when I was 16, and straight away I knew that was what I wanted to do. So I studied that at university, and that was where it all began, really.
Then towards the end of my study, I realised I was interested in how business and development come together, and I did my dissertation on the Nike supply chain. My last year at uni was really difficult, and I wasn’t ready to go straight into a career. I was working at Pret as a waiter, and doing an internship at Rubies in the Rubble. And it was Jenny who really encouraged me to take my idea of Brothers We Stand further, and just start a blog to explore some of the ideas I was having.
After I’d started the blog I started on a business plan and about a year and a half later, we were ready to launch.
So tell me about Brothers We Stand – how did that begin?
I just noticed that there were a few designers around who were designing sustainably, but they were quite hard to find. I thought it would be nice to bring them together to one place, to make it easier for people to discover them. The idea was as simple as that, really.
And the name – where does it come from?
The name comes from the idea that the men and women who make our clothes are our brothers and sisters in humanity – that they are just like us in many ways: they have the same dreams as us. It’s the idea that when we’re buying clothes, we can stand with them, in solidarity. And as the clothing is menswear, that’s why it’s ‘brothers’, really. Women can wear our clothes as well, of course, but that’s the reason for the name. It’s the symbol of standing with people just like you and I. The decisions we make when we purchase those products, whether we realise it or not, does impact them.
Was there anything in particular that made me you feel this was your cause?
In some ways, it wasn’t this massive burning anger or anything that compelled me to start Brothers We Stand. Now, I’m much more informed, and I can see the importance of it at a different level to when I started. At the start, to be honest, I just thought it was a great idea, and I knew it would be a positive thing to do, ethically. It just seemed a natural thing for me to do, with my interests and experience.
If someone were wanting to explore more about those issues, where would you recommend they go?
Supply chains are such a massive topic. Every product has a story of how it’s made. The main thing I think is for us to have an awareness that all the things we can see have been made somewhere, by someone, and they have an effect on the environment, too. If we want to have mindful lives, and consider our impact on the world, we need to think about how the products we consume are made. It’s very easy to not think about that. We’ve lost the connection that we used to have with our products as we outsource more and more, so it’s like out of sight, out of mind. But I’m so encouraged that this is a conversation that is coming up more and more. As the world becomes more connected and people travel more and more, I’m hopeful that it’s something that people will just naturally start to consider. I think it would be amazing for our generation to be the one that regains our connection to how things are made.
People associate cheap clothing with slave labour and factories. Do you think that’s a misconception?
Designer labels and high-end stores often have really poor supply chains, so it’s not a problem that just exists on the high street. You can’t tell a product is unethical just by the price tag. There’s a responsibility on us to ask the right questions.
Have you seen any people doing cool things in ethical fashion that you’re excited about?
Yeah, I’m really excited about the direction that the fashion industry is going. There’s still room for lots of change obviously, but all the time I’m hearing about new materials, and new designers who are doing exciting things. There’s a growing awareness and conversation going on, about how clothes are made and a growing group of designers pioneering a more sustainable way of making clothes. We’re working with a designer called Alec Bizby, who uses off-cuts to make beautiful clothes and they’re really well-priced. And the jacket I’m wearing right now is made from recycled plastic bottles, it’s from a Spanish label called Eco Alf. And we work with We Do Nothing collective, who make these really nice, simple tshirts (pictured) made in Bangladesh, which aims to show that it’s possible to produce ethically in Bangladesh, which is so important for the Bangladeshi garment industry.
What are some of the highs and lows of running your own business?
In some ways, it’s just like any job. You can be in a good place in your life, and everything seems good, and then in not such a good place, and everything seems difficult. But what I love about it is just to be able to have an idea and then just go ahead and create something. I also really love meeting new people, so I get to do a lot of that in this business.
It can be too much at times and a bit stressful, but I genuinely really love every part of it. I just could do with an extra couple of days in the week, most of the time. But I find it fascinating – I get to learn so many different sides of a business. I get to be the ad agency or the accountant; none of which anyone would have let me do in any other job! It’s great experience. The only thing is, I’m absolutely not a specialist in anything, because this job has meant that I have to learn a little bit about everything!
What about job security? Was that tough, that sense of responsibility?
I was lucky enough to be able to live at home while I was setting up my business. So I was very fortunate with that. But it can be stressful. You don’t know what’s going to happen and if something doesn’t work, you can battle fears about being left with nothing to show for it. Or the idea that people will look at you and see you as a failure if things don’t work out. That can be daunting.
Nine out of 10 start-ups don’t survive, so it happens all the time, but I have so much respect for anyone who starts anything. It’s not easy, but just creating something – there’s something special in that, whatever happens. But I try to not focus on the things that could go wrong. I just trust that things will work out the way they’re supposed to.
If I didn’t do this job though, I don’t know what I would do. I love it.