To bridge the gap between consumer demand for slow fashion and sustainable retailers, Helene Oudman founded IKIGAI LABELS just a while ago. What drives her and what does the sustainable future of fashion have in store for us? We asked her everything we wanted to know to this interesting and inspiring lady.
Cover photo: © Unsplash
Helene Oudman isn’t a new kid in the scene. With years of experience in the sustainable fashion industry, she knows what’s important and what’s not. Therefore, she started IKIGAI LABELS: an online shop selling solely sustainable and slow fashion brands. With her webshop, Oudman offers a diverse range of slow fashion brands, while expanding weekly. Her goal is to make slow fashion more approachable for everyone. At the moment of writing, her shop consists of 14 labels. Soon a few new brands will be added. Oudman doesn’t want to be just another ‘niche’ webshop with sustainable brands. With IKIGAI LABELS, she rather wants to become the biggest in the world.
“I felt there was a gap to be filled. Therefore I created a user-friendly website where international slow fashion brands are at the core. From made-to-order to vintage: everything that’s slow and ethically crafted deserves a place on my website.” Her desire to create a place at which different sustainable collections were bundled together, marked the start of IKIGAI LABELS. To make these durable collections available for literally everyone, Oudman offers free worldwide shipping. In this way, she competes with fast fashion retailers like H&M and Zara. “I don’t want to be the hard-to-get alternative. I just want my collections to sell as easily as those from fast fashion retailers. On top of this, I want my social impact to be as big as possible. Free shipping simply helps.”
The question: “what is slow fashion?” rises here. On IKIGAI LABELS, Oudman explains this very clearly:
1. Valuing quality over quantity.
2. Having a transparent business model.
3. Focussing on doing good socially.
4. Doing business in a planet friendly and responsible way.
Oudman adds: “When I talk to the slow fashion designers I collaborate with, they always speak with so much pride and love about their creations. They take the sustainable production process and fair labour to the next level. From contributing to daycare and massage therapy for the craftswomen in the factories to paying well above the standard legal minimum wage. […] To me, that is what slow fashion is all about.”
Both slow and sustainable fashion are container concepts according to Oudman. Often, brands and companies use their own sense of imaginary to give substance to these concepts. To her, both concepts mean more or less the same. “I rather call the brands I sell “slow”. It’s simply because people get tired of another person talking about sustainability. Slow fashion sounds more fresh and new. Furthermore, it fits more closely to the core of the concept: to live more slowly, to use products with more care, to make thoughtful decisions when you buy something and to pass on clothes to your children.”
Creating awareness for sustainable and slow alternatives, is another important value for Oudman. After working in sustainable fashion for a couple of years, she noticed the lack of accessibility to sustainable alternatives. People who were looking for slow fashion brands often weren’t able to buy them.
The goal of IKIGAI LABELS is to reach fashion-savvy people as well. When ordering a high end made-to-measure coat, it should be a welcome bonus that this coat is sustainable too. “When I contacted fashion designers to join the concept, one of them said: “No one has really grabbed this yet”; and that’s exactly why I truly felt the need to do this.”
When Oudman gave birth to her twins girls one and a half year ago, she immediately felt the urge to become a good example for them. Becoming a mother nourished her excitement for a concept like IKIGAI LABELS and to invest in a sustainable future. “I strive for an inclusive, durable and diverse fashion industry. There’s a lot to win.” This pursuit of inclusivity partly stems from her partner and kids; because of the mixed ethnicity of her daughters, Oudman became more and more aware of the topic.
On top of this, the entrepreneur hopes to add plus size labels as well. This kind of “social sustainability” is very important to her as well. Everyone should feel welcome and be able to buy slow fashion.
Current state of slow fashion
Some claim sustainable fashion is just another hype. Currently fast fashion retailers like H&M, Weekday and Zara offer sustainable options and encourage people to buy smarter. However, Oudman doesn’t think this is part of a trend. “I’m convinced it’s more than a hype. I rather view slow fashion as a lasting change. We’re all aware of topics like climate change, plastic soup and so on. We know we have to take action. Hence, it isn’t that long ago that fast fashion didn’t even exist. I think we can turn the tide.”
How to make a difference?
Making a change can be very simple. While laughing: “Just purchase your clothes on my website, so you buy ethically sourced garments without doubt.” Then she adds: “Without joking: it’s nice to buy something that’s good for the world, animals, plants and people. Something that has been recycled, upcycled or something in between. Some of the brands I sell are high-priced. I understand they aren’t affordable for everyone. However, there’s a large group of people who are into fashion and spend a lot of money on it, but in a thoughtless way. They just buy the latest trends and it-items without knowing where it’s made. I would encourage many of those people to buy less and more thoughtful. Save money for an item you’ll cherish your entire life.”
Future of the fashion industry
Oudman is quite idealistic about the future of fashion. “Hopefully, we’ll only be wearing clothes of which we know who’s made them. On top of this, I hope we won’t shop that much anymore and solely buy made-to-order pieces. It may sound like an utopia, but I sincerely hope that people will stop buying crap and start investing in pieces they will cherish for a lifetime.”
When asking about the future of IKIGAI LABELS, Oudman gets visibly excited. “There are so many brands I would like to work with! At the moment, we have 10 brands on our website. Soon it will be 25. I hope to grow IKIGAI to a big international webshop with hundreds of sustainable brands. Every day, I discover new sustainable designers and brands and this excites me a lot.”
After all, slow fashion comes in many ways. Let’s contribute all together.