I sit down with CEO and Founder of Onesta, the sustainable fashion brand you need to know about. If you want to know about sustainable fashion, and starting a slow brand – you have come to the right place. Gaby has worked across many industries and had some incredible mentors, and here she spills a lot of beans on the fashion industry and how to try it for yourself.

You founded Onesta two years ago – what inspired you to start a sustainable brand?

In 2019 I co-founded an animal charity helping animals suffering in Romania. Through this work, I met garment workers in Romania and learned about the low wages, poor working conditions and exploitation. I did a lot of research and I was appalled at the devastating impact of the fashion industry on human rights, animal welfare and our planet. I felt so disheartened hearing their stories especially knowing that I had indirectly contributed to this just from buying clothes from big high street brands. 

In parallel, I am from South Wales, a community which used to have a rich and vibrant textile history before factories were closed down and manufacturing was outsourced abroad. Thousands of people, some I knew, lost their jobs. 

It did not make sense to me that the industry as a whole has become so dependent on what I can only term as modern slavery, yet we have thousands of skilled people in Wales out of a job that they loved. 

I talked to a lot of friends and family who wanted to buy more sustainably and support local businesses. The more I talked to people, the more the idea really rooted itself inside me and it became a dream of mine.

I wanted to disrupt the industry and creative positive change… and that’s really how the idea of Onesta was born.  

I love this, positive change is something we can all incorporate into our lives in different shapes and forms and doing it with something you are passionate about is just incredible. Can you tell us a little more about Onesta?

We are a conscious lifestyle brand. We create small collections of timeless, versatile clothing and products for men and women that is made to be loved for a lifetime…

The name Onesta is a blend of my Italian and welsh heritage – in both languages it refers to Honest, and that’s the core of who we are – we’re committed to challenging the greenwashing in the fashion industry and being transparent about how we work. We consider all elements of our supply chain, to sourcing all our materials sustainable and ethically, manufacturing our clothes, how we manage waste and of course packaging distribution, making sure that everything we do has consideration for the planet, people and animals. 

There are so many layers to sustainable fashion, it is incredible to see the work that goes into making sure everything is created as ethically as possible! On the parallel to slow and sustainable garments we have fast fashion – would you mind letting us know what you think of the fast fashion model?

It’s such a damaging model to operate in, and unfortunately, it’s been the ‘norm’ for such a long time and so much has been kept hidden from the general public that it’s going to be a hard model to crack. 

The fast fashion model has become so far removed from its supply chain and from the people who actually make the fabrics and garments, that it’s easy for the big fashion brands to ignore the real consequences of saving a few pennies on each garment and pushing out new styles every week. Consequences such as workers not getting paid and working in dangerous conditions for long hours every day; rivers being poisoned with toxic waste; thousands of tonnes of unsold clothing ending up in landfills… and few brands are taking responsibility for all this. 

What I find disappointing is the new norm of marketing collections as sustainable and conscious when it’s so far from the truth. 

Take for example the £3.99 ‘sustainable cotton tees’ currently being sold by a famous brand. On the surface, a customer may feel good purchasing this top as it’s part of their conscious choice collection, however if we look in depth we can see this is Cleary greenwashing.

Firstly, it says 100% cotton. Then it says our goal is to use 100% recycled or other sustainable sourced materials by 2030. Then it says we’re currently using three of sustainable types of cotton – organic cotton, BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) and recycled cotton. This is extremely ambiguous and, in my opinion, purposefully confusing to the customer. It does not mean this top is made with just three types of cotton, but it could be 99% regular cotton and 1% BCI cotton. Of course, it could be a much higher composition, but we will never know because this ambiguity in the wording and lack of transparency is exactly how they get away with greenwashing. It also doesn’t talk about the trims and whether the labels, thread etc was made sustainably, it focuses only on the fabric.

Secondly, it doesn’t account for the sheer quantity of these tees that have been produced. Even if it was made with 100% recycled cotton, producing tens of thousands of these t-shirts is in itself far from sustainable, especially when those that don’t sell will eventually go to landfill.

Thirdly, it doesn’t talk about dyes and how the dye waste is safely deposited. What about the wasted fabric… where does that go?

Fourthly, it doesn’t talk about the people who have made the t-shirts. What are the conditions of the factories like? What are the wages? Do they have adequate childcare support, pensions, medical care etc. Have they been paid? We know that a lot of major brands have been called out for not paying workers.

Finally, how can this t-shirt be sold for £3.99 and still been made ethically? According to Statista, this brand makes approximately 50% profit margin. So this leaves £1.99 to cover the cost to make the tee. Breaking down, this includes materials, production, dyes, shipping, customs charges, taxes, VAT etc… £1.99 doesn’t cover much of this… so someone, somewhere is paying the price.

And this is the norm…

It is hard to believe that we are a society are conditioned to think less than £5 for a t-shirt is normal – sometimes I pay close to this for a coffee. Keep distributing the industry – it is what we need!  What are your goals for the future?

One of our goals is to grow our sustainable manufacturing facility in South Wales that will create jobs for more locals and help preserve the passing down of knowledge within the industry. Our current team is pretty small, made up of a team of 9, but we work incredibly hard and I am proud of what we have achieved! We’re also working with some fantastic social enterprise partners who are helping us to produce. These social enterprises are all based in the UK and are working to tackle unemployment and help women from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

There are lots of people who would like to start a sustainable fashion brand, what would be your best pieces of advice to give them?

Starting a brand is far from glamorous and such hard work, so be sure it’s something you are prepared to commit 100% to. Be aware that being sustainable is a lot more costly, so make sure you have a strong financial plan in place to help you as cashflow is key. Be confident in what you offer, don’t try and skip things just because of costs… people who really value sustainability will pay more their clothes because they know the real cost of things… make sure your prices reflect the amazing quality of work, fabrics and materials that go into your sustainable clothes. 

Going forward in 2022, what is one of the things you are most looking forward to?

I am incredibly excited about a few projects (some I can’t share just yet but hope to announce soon!), but in the meantime I can’t wait to show you our transitional spring pieces launching later this month and then our beautiful summer collection launching later in the year. 

And lastly, where can people find you and Onesta to find out more?

You can find us online at Onesta.uk and you can follow us on Instagram @onesta_style and Twitter and Pinterest. 

Thank you SO much for taking the time to talk to us today, we cannot wait to see what is in store for Onesta in the future. It’s so great to see brands with sustainability at the heart of what they do.

Hope you enjoyed reading this – I love this brand and everything the stand for, do check them out and support small and sustainable if you can.

El x