In recent years awareness of bad practice and ethical issues in the fashion industry has risen. Having recently watched Stacey Dooley Investigates, on the impact of Cotton Farming, and listening to Dawn O'Porter's podcast with Aisling Bea it inspired me to revisit the reasons why I started M.Hulot back in 2011 and what remains important to me. I am writing this post in the hope of engaging with you, the customers, and to start a conversations about ethics and what it means to you.
M.Hulot was founded first and foremost to produce beautiful, good looking pieces, grounded in simple design and truth to materials. I couldn't understand the obsession with the 'it bag' and the association between a desirable handbag and heavy handed branding and logos and aimed to buck this trend with timeless and ageless pieces made to last. The next thing of utmost importance to me was ethics, most specifically Materials, Manufacturing and Transparency.
What struck me about Dooley's documentary was the lack of any retailer or brand, aside from Levis, being available to comment on Ethics and Sustainability. I understand the need to protect your brand. Certainly as a small label it takes pretty much all my time, energy and resources just to produce a small range and sell it, without the additional time and money needed to research ways to do things differently. But that's me as cottage industry, working part time and raising a family. The big players should have the courage to come forward, admit that they are making mistakes and don't have all the answers. They should be letting us know they have identified problem areas, and the measures they are putting in place to improve things.
So, I would like to outline why I chose to focus on certain areas, how this has played out, and where to go moving forward.
Having studied clothing design, I had always favoured fabrics such as linen and cottons, and so it was a natural transition into veg leathers with their beautiful, untreated surfaces and patina. I must be honest and say that although veg leathers were the sustainable choice, to begin with, they were a visual choice in M.Hulot's quest for its own aesthetic. It was a brilliant bonus, and now something integral to what we do.
- M.Hulot leathers are processed in Italy, famous for its premium skins, using thousand year old techniques and plant based dyes. Not only does this keep traditions alive but it also means no chemical or toxic substances are used.
- Many of the tanneries we buy from invest in recycling and depurations systems, meaning that waste in the manufacturing process is reused, and any potential nasties in the water are purified.
-Natural Tannins make the leather biodegradable and can be safely discarded at the end of its life cycle (Not anytime soon!)
-Our leather lasts and ages so beautifully; it is the perfect antidote to the throw away culture of todays retailers and shoppers.
Having worked for some large high street brands, I had learned so many brilliant things about the manufacturing process and worked with some wonderful and kind people, but on the other side of that I had also seen bad practice and behaviour I knew I didn't want to replicate.
I had seen instances of design and buying teams regularly making impossible orders to manufacturers, with the implication that this is the way to negotiate confidently and effectively. I wanted M.Hulot goods to be made in studios/factories where people were paid fairly and were valued and treated with respect. Over the years M.Hulot has worked with many manufacturers and built up good relationships based on honest communications and trust.
- We always visit our factories prior to working with them and meet not only the owners and managers, but also those working and making the goods. We pay a premium for our products knowing that workers are being paid accordingly for their skills and time.
- We contribute to keeping alive our leather industry, which has a rich history and very specific skillset.
- A proportion of our pieces are made start to finish by the same hands, lending a greater sense of accomplishment and job satisfaction.
- Although, we all have deadlines and needs to meet, M.Hulot prides itself on listening to the needs of the manufacturers and finding solutions when things go wrong, without being detrimental to the physical and mental health needs of those making M.Hulot.
Provenance and transparency are also very important to M.Hulot. Back when I worked on the High St, I saw product being labelled 'Made in England' when a belt was made else where, but the buckle was stitched on over here. Although this is legal (bizarrely) I found this completely unacceptable, especially if you are using 'Made in England' to tell your story, as a selling point and charging a premium price.
- All M.Hulot pieces are designed at our studio in Cambridgeshire and then made in the UK, currently in London, Melton Mowbray and Margate.
- Each piece is made from start to finish in the UK, no making straps or compartments elsewhere. Everything single process is done here.
- We use the terms ‘crafted and ‘craftsmanship’ legitimately. All our makers and manufacturers love what they do (possibly not everyday!) and have worked hard to train and perfect their leather working skills. Many of them also happen to be entrepreneurs, having set up their own small businesses and manufacturing operations.
As with any business, but particularly a small one, its hard to shout about the Ethical side of your business. People might feel you’re saying you’re perfect and try and trip you up. It is so hard to take every single aspect into account and actually get anything made! Thinking what I've created with M.Hulot and what I hold dear, I know there are areas that I need to work on. Here are some problem areas to give my focus:
-Our buckles and hardware are solid brass, sometimes with nickel plating, and are sourced from a reputable and well known supplier in London. However, it is difficult to know the exact provenance and their eco credentials. I have been told they are made in Spain and India. The next step is to source some with more transparency, hopefully closer to home.
- Our Dustbags are made in China. We have previously tried to source organic bags, where we know the credentials and manufacturing history, but we couldn't find a company that would make in the small quantities we require. These are things you come up against, and that become hard as a small business, even when the intention to do things the right way is there. The time I tried to do this was around two years ago, so maybe now there will be more available to smaller business wanting small volumes.
- As M.Hulot starts the research for a small clothing range, organic cottons and linens will be high on the agenda.
There are so many more aspects of the business I could touch on, but without wanting to overload you all, I though this was a good start. I would love to hear from you if you have any questions about the ethics of the business or even any suggestions. I will put some excerpts up on Instagram stories and we can start a conversation!
Thank you for reading such a lengthy post and I hope that you found it useful,