The dark, unethical truths of the commercialised fashion industry have come under scrutiny in recent years as Highstreet brands have been known to exploit sweatshops abroad. However, Kate & Aud designer Katy Whittingham has been challenging the unethical side of the industry, stitching sustainability into everything she creates.
Brighton Journal caught up with Katy at her stall in the North Lane, where she told us the name of her clothing label stems from her love for vintage, and has connotations of Audrey Hepburn. Inspired by her travelling and experience of buying vintage clothing and denim in America, Katy had a desire to delve into the trading business. Her fashion label came first came about when she was spending time in India as a single mother.
“I was looking to be creative but I also needed to somehow fit in motherhood, so I thought I’d make clothes out of recycled saris.”
“I’d regularly go to the markets and just look at the beautiful saris and fabric” Katy told us. She stressed how the fabric inspired her vision to create funky but feminine clothing, a hybrid of 1950s and 1970s style.
“Coincidentally, one day a guy came up to me in the market and asked if I could help him. He wanted to start a clothing manufacturing business, whilst I was looking for someone to make my clothes for me.” The match made in fashion heaven has resulted in Katy working in collaboration with the same man for twenty years.
“He’s very ethical” explained Katy. “His team have 7 hour days, they have lunch breaks, he picks them up in a rickshaw, they have holiday pay. It is all so important to me.” Katy’s fashion label is an emblem of morality, supporting local people instead of using an external manufacturer who may not practice entirely ethical trade.
Slavery to sales: Shop vintage to shop ethical
Sustainable, fair trade clothing is becoming more easy to source, particularly with independent businesses like Kate&Aud, and vintage labels that upcycle materials. Despite this, we are living in a world of fast fashion, where the next trend is more unpredictable than the weather. This means that major fashion brands (some of them you’re most likely wearing now) such as H&M, Gap and Primark exploit overseas workers and use sweatshop labour.
“I think if you’re knowingly manipulating another country, it just doesn’t feel very moral. I think a lot of people in Brighton are quite ethical in their stance. It’s not easy, but you have to try your best by using recycled, vintage fabrics and creating a good product.”
Katy emphasised the importance of both investing in and creating classic designs rather than throw away fashion to avoid waste, and in a sense, boycott the unethical trade industry.
Fashion markets help independant designers grow
Katy told Brighton Journal that her love for trading at markets has helped her fashion label grow. “I used to trade at the West Pier market in Brighton, but you can also find the Kate&Aud stall at music festivals such as Wilderness, Latitude, and Glastonbury”
“One thing I’ll say about Brighton, is that a lot of the clothing markets have died, but it has also given me an incentive to expand and employ people.” Katy reflected on how the transition from market stall to a shop requires a huge investment, whereas markets allow artists to get their foot in the door and then develop themselves.
Without markets, independent artists and designers may struggle to make sales. This could mean that designers look to the sweatshop labour trade in order to produce products for a fraction of the price, contributing to the exploitation of an extremely unethical trade.
“I’ve had my own shop before, but I prefer being in the Brighton Lanes because you’re not shut away, you’re in a community where you can meet inspiring and supportive people.”
Katy hopes her designs and story inspires people to do what makes them happiest in life. She said, “a lot of people I’ve collaborated with in the past have been writers, artists or even chefs and I just think you have to go for it in life, whatever that may be.”
She also discussed the importance of creating clothing that makes women of all body shapes look and feel good. Beautiful, vibrant, and ethical clothing that makes you feel fantastic – what’s not to love?