I met up with a game-changing entrepreneur from east London named Jonathan Mitchell to talk menswear, sustainability and the future of fashion…
Jonathan is the founder of Brothers We Stand, a new menswear retailer unlike any other. Supported by brands, creatives, entrepreneurs, designers and taste-makers who believe in turning the fashion industry around, the platform aims to put an end to unethical fast-fashion, changing the way we think, shop and live.
By curating a selection of ethical brands that champion seriously good-looking design and fair, responsible practices, Brothers We Stand presents an alternative to throw-away fashion and encourage us to think about where our outfits come from, and at what cost.
You’ve recently been named one of the top 25 under 25 working in sustainable business by 2Degrees. Tell us about your retail revolution…
I created Brothers We Stand because I want to stand with the men and women who make the clothes we love. I believe there shouldn’t be a compromise between ethics and great fashion which is why we source well designed, quality clothes that are made ethically. The sentiment towards ethical fashion has tangibly changed in the last couple of years. It has become something desirable and exciting and we want people to join in and be part of transforming an industry. This business is for Ruyna the seamstress in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Ali the cotton farmer from Tamil Nadu, India.
From a young age i’ve been interested in entrepreneurism and selling things. At school my friends and I sold sweets and fizzy drinks and that’s how I funded my first mobile phone. Actually from the age of about 7 I really wanted to be a farmer. I’d draw diagrams and make plans for my farm and I think that was the first evidence of me really trying to create something. I had a lot of business ideas when I was young, none of them particularly revolutionary. One was a market stall that sold muesli. Everyone’s got bits they like and don’t like when it comes to muesli so I wanted to create a pick and mix pop-up.
Ive always been interested in the whole world, travel and people. Social justice is important to me and I studied International Development at uni which was really interesting. At that point I wasn’t thinking about setting up a business and didn’t go straight into a job after that. I did lots of internships, worked as a waiter and had many different experiences. That gave me the opportunity to really think about what I wanted to do. Then little-by-little things started coming together.
Do you feel that opting for a less traditional route and shopping around for experiences after college or university is valuable?
I think definitely. I think it’s encouraging to constantly be coming across people working on lots of different projects and it makes me think, ‘yeah, this is all possible.’
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I’ve always appreciated great design but it was actually a bit of a surprise to get into the fashion industry. If you’d have told me when I was younger that i’d be working in fashion now I might have thought that was funny, but I really love it. I love the design, the creativity, the stories. I feel really excited that i’ve ended up here. I think it was while I was doing my internships when I noticed that there were a few menswear brands doing quite interesting things with their supply chains. I also noticed these brands were fairly small and hard to find and thought it would be a good idea to bring them together. Brothers We Stand started with that idea and the further I looked into it, the more I realised that I really appreciate ethical design.
Have you faced many limitations along the way?
Definitely. It’s hard to set something up and for everyone trying to make something happen there are all kinds of challenges. Much of the time we don’t talk about this. If you’re trying to start something, you need to be painting a picture of it as a happening thing that’s really taking off. It’s worth the struggle to create something but there’s almost always a challenge that you’ll have to overcome.
What are your most valuable tips for creative entrepreneurs and campaigners for social justice? How can we mobilise ourselves and succeed?
I think this is particularly tailored to people who want to do combine business with strong social consciousness but, really think carefully about your business proposition and question whether you will be providing something that people will want. This is what we’re trying to do with Brothers We Stand. Don’t rush and spend time understanding what people are looking for, then work on taking it forward. Another tip is that a team is really important. There’re advantages to doing things on your own, especially when you’re starting up, for example you can have a really clear direction but I feel that when it comes to scaling things up a team is very valuable. Finding others to encourage, motivate and inspire is important for a project like this.
Tell us about your team and the brands that Brothers We Stand work with…
I’m really excited about what our people and the brands that we work with are doing. It’s really amazing and innovative. ECOALF for example are a Spanish brand set up by a guy called Alfredo. He curates products that are made from recycled materials to show that you can make amazing things without using this world’s resources endlessly. I feel that this is a really important point because in the future, we could make so many products from recycled things, creating a closed-loop system where things don’t end up in landfill.
ECOALF are a company who are really showing that this is possible. Their jackets are made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles. They’re technically designed, strong because of the materials they use, and are awesome. We also work with brand called Idioma. Their designs are great and their t-shirts are made in a wind-powered factory from organic cotton. This is just another example of how easy it is to make things in a conscious manner with quality in mind.
Our focus is on curating so we want to showcase a wave of designers who are combining aesthetics with game-changing ethical production but we do have a small backbone collection of our own products. People seem to really like them and want to wear them to show their support of the brand. The jumpers are made of recycled plastic bottles, they’re simple sweatshirts made by a partner of ours. They’ve got a really innovative process for making them, where they gather up organic cotton scraps and make new thread, and blend that with the thread made from plastic bottles to make a really high-quality garment.
The vision is to have a simple collection to represent the wider message and then let the awesome brands speak for themselves and tell complex stories. Each season we’ll work with 12 or 13 brands that we feel are really leading the way so that the customer can come to the site and view products that we’ve chosen because they’re the best of the best. I feel our curated collection can grow over time and i’d really like Brothers We Stand to be a place where there’s a great range of stuff that meets a really high standard, where you can find the most well designed and fairly and responsibly made products from all categories.
What inspires and influences you and your work with Brothers We Stand?
Steve Jobs is a bit of a classic one but I think he had such an exciting vision of something that he wanted to create, and a very clear vision, and he saw it through, creating something that was very different and exciting. I wouldn’t have thought this guy would inspire me but Alan Sugar has such a great mind for making things work and making things happen. I think he’s great at seeing what needs to happen to actualise something. That influences me, it’s something to aim towards. Toms shoes have really shown that it’s possible to create a business with a social cause at its heart and be successful as a result. That and other small businesses encourage and inspire me every day. It’s all possible.
How does the Brothers We Stand team stay motivated to keep on pushing forward?
It sounds simple but watching videos or looking at pictures that show people making our clothes or working towards making a positive change makes us think, ‘this is worth it, because it matters. To these people in Bangladesh, to these people in Cambodia, and to us. It matters.’ Its difficult but it’s worth doing. Alongside that I feel that challenges keep us moving and being able to create something that has a positive impact on people inspires me all the time.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
The plan is to continue taking Brothers We Stand forward and to get a solid foundation in place so that we can grow this into something that has a far-reaching impact, and play a really significant role in the fashion industry. We’ll keep doing what we can each day. Brothers We Stand is a place where people can find the products that align with their values and i’m really passionate about the user experience and building a creative place where customers can come and experience things. I’m excited by our customer being quite diverse, some of them are guys who appreciate nice clothes, some follow specific brands, but they’re always the sort of people who want to have a positive impact on the world, and leave a positive legacy.
What can we do to help?
You can help by sharing Brothers We Stand with your friends, giving your opinions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and engaging with our message and our brands. This is something I feel really excited about and I feel that it will work if you and your community become part of ours. We’d love for you to come to our events, buy the clothes, share the stories and get behind us. With the support of others we can make something special happen here.