Three years ago, devastating news hit our headlines when a garment making factory in Bangladesh called the Rana Complex collapsed, tragically killing 1,135 workers.

Both small start-ups and large international clothing labels are now calling for change within the fashion industry, including the Brighton-based label Lite Apparel; a dedicated team of 5 students on a mission to highlight the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion, through creating high quality and well-made produce.

Lite’s Co-Founder Kai Jones shares their story on how the business came about and what drives them to make a real change.

Who are Lite Apparel?
We’re a team of five University students who feel that although there is a clear conversation being made about the importance of conscious fashion, we feel that it somewhat lacks inclusivity. With that, we hope to inspire a collective movement and highlight that as consumers, we have the power!

Where did your initial passion for producing ethical clothing come from?
For me personally, I was very lucky to spend some time in Hong Kong and China last year and interned at a sourcing and trading company in mainland China – The ODM Group. They specialize in manufacturing and producing various promotional products for hundreds of world-leading brands.

Although my role was very much digital marketing orientated, I learnt a lot about managing production projects, and had the opportunity to visit various factories around the South of China. Although the factories I visited were impeccable, it did raise the imperative importance of knowing where your products are being made and crucially how. This was a real catalyst for getting things going with Lite and is definitely a big reason why I appreciate anyone and everyone who puts the time and effort into creating their own product!

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Why is ethical and sustainable fashion so important to you?
Though I’m definitely not one to pull out intellectual factual statistics, there are some circled around that really hit me personally and us a group pretty hard:

1) To date, 250 million 5-14 year old children are exploited in hundreds of thousands of sweat shops around the globe. These are the same sweat shops discovered to be, if not openly shared, utilized by various of our favorite high street retailers.

2) 25% of chemicals produced worldwide are used for textiles. With this, the fashion industry as a whole are widely branded as number 2 in the rankings of the highest polluters of clean water, just after agriculture.

3) In a regularly quoted study 16 out of 27 luxury fashion products, (59%), were tested positive for one or more hazardous chemicals!

These are only a handful of examples displaying the importance of a change from a producer and indeed a consumer’s perspective. I would recommend taking a look at the resources on the Ethical Fashion Forum, as they provide a simplistic overview of the complex issues in the fashion industry.

The great thing about being a consumer is that you have the power. Although ethical or sustainably produced products tend to be a little more expensive the reason generally speaking is because you are paying for a better quality product – and most importantly a wage of which the individual who produced it can, to be blunt, survive.

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What inspires you?
Before we started formulating our own identity, we wanted to extensively delve into the brands of whom initially inspired us to pursue Lite. Fred Perry, Farah, Lyle and Scott and The North Face all sprung to mind. What attracted us most to these well known brands were their clear match of higher-than-average quality material and their use of simplistic, clean branding.  As a new start-up we understood that we needed to bring our own unique value to the brand – as we simply didn’t have the 50+ years of heritage as the ones mentioned previously had.

We played around with innovating through design aspects i.e logos, colours, styles, but for us we wanted to keep our apparel as simplistic as possible.  Instead of innovating through design, we hoped to innovate, and utilise innovation through the processes that crafted our apparel.  Naturally, we wished to use the highest and most premium fabrics and I think organically it was only right for us to come across sustainable and indeed ethical methods of production as these offered the greatest quality of output.

Through research and discussions we learned about the likes of People Tree, Kuyichi and Apolis, yet there was one brand who really stood out for us – Patagonia.  They have found and embraced the happy medium between ethical and sustainable fashion and super high quality but accessible urban global-streetwear.  From the very beginning this is where we hoped to position Lite, and Patagonia have definitely provided inspiration to show that it is indeed possible.

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What changes would you like to see within the fashion industry?
I guess for me the biggest change I would like to see beyond anything would be a shift of mindset. From a creator point of view, I find it mind boggling that individuals don’t have the care for where their products come from or how they are made. If you are in a position to be able to design or create produce, I feel like you have the responsibility to provide that care and attention to your potential consumers. Though, similarly from a purchaser/consumer perspective I hope that the trend for conscious consumption continues and becomes as prevalent as it is in the food industry.

Describe your current collection
Our 06.16 Collection launched with four main items:

1) Unisex Urbanbrushed Black Tee – 100% Organic and traceable cotton
2) Unisex Black Pullover Hoodie – 100% Organic and traceable fabric
3) Lite Snapback Cap – 60% Organic cotton 40% recycled polyester
4) Unisex Summer Vest – 100% Organic and traceable cotton

We were very lucky to collaborate with the amazing Fair Wear Foundation with this initial collection, who ensure the following with their affiliated brands:

  • No use of child labour
  • No use of forced labour
  • Safe and healthy working conditions
  • Legal labour contracts
  • Payment of living wage
  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
  • No discrimination against employees
  • No excessive hours of work

What does the future hold for Lite Apparel?
We’re very excited to have some more additions to the current collection coming out very very soon!  In the long term we hope to continue to explore ethical and sustainable methods of production and importantly make some cool products that we are proud to call our own.

Follow Lite Apparel’s updates and progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.