Is fashion self-care? Revelations for Fashion Revolution Week with Ilk + Ernie

This is Fashion Revolution Week, where we ask #whomademyclothes to coincide with and commemorate the Rana Plaza factory, which collapsed seven years ago today. This is the day Fashion Revolution was born. 

A month in lockdown has likely resulted in more time for self-care for some, and forced self-care for others. Sometimes it takes getting sick to remember the importance of taking better care of our bodies and minds because we shy away from acts that soothe the self.  Me-time is usually last on the list. Self Care is the name of the new collection from ethical fashion label, Ilk + Ernie, which has me contemplating is fashion self-care?

Arguably fashion is moving towards pillars of self-care practice with the emergence of kinder, comfortable shoe styles and athleisure that makes it easier to go from office mode to exercise mode.  On a deeper level, I truly believe clothes have the power to transform our mental state, and the emergence of ethical fashion labels like Ilk + Ernie can make buying fashion a happy thing – both for yourself and the people that made it.  If fashion is to find its meaning again then it will surely come from a pivot towards kindness to ourselves, others and the planet. 

Jessica McCleave, the woman behind Ilk + Ernie took some time this Fashion Rev Week to share her journey into the sustainability scene. 

What did you do before you started Ilk + Ernie?

Much like you, I began my career working in the fashion industry. I started out as a visual merchandiser for Topshop HO and later moved into styling and PR. If I’m honest I really struggled with it, I found fashion to be a cruel, cut throat and at times very unkind industry. I once got told by a manager of mine that I was “too nice to work in fashion” which as you can imagine was very unmotivating! I think what I struggled with most is why we weren’t celebrating each other’s creativity instead of squandering it.

So I left! After some time working as a PA I became miserable enough to want to go back, but on my own terms. Working in high street fashion made me realise how wasteful the industry could be. I grew up designing and decided I wanted to give it another shot. I’d heard good things about textiles in India, so I booked a one way flight, packed up my life and went. I spent 4 months looking for ethical production and eventually found Sam. His father opened their factory 30 years ago and have been working with start-ups like mine ever since. Their business is Sedex certified, which means they’re on the map for doing things ethically. 

Sam made your clothes if you shop with Ilk + Ernie

What is the inspiration behind the name?

Ilk + Ernie was not the businesses first name. Back in the day it went by the name KIN LDN. Named so because I wanted to start a business that celebrated kinship amongst women. I was tired of the negativity I’d experienced in the industry and I wanted something positive; a sisterhood to buy from and be a part of. The name felt perfect. However after a feature in Vogue and some other mags my business got noticed by John Lewis, who was in the middle of launching a collection in their department store called KIN. They slapped me with a cease and desist and that was that, a classic case of the struggles of a small business against the big guys. I took a year out to restart and rebrand my business and in SS18 Ilk + Ernie was born. The name is unusual haha, but I learnt my generic naming lesson! Ilk was my follow on from KIN, I loved the name and meaning so much that I wanted to hold onto it in another form. Ernie is from my Irish dad. The first born son of every generation of his family was called Ernist. I was the first girl. The name means a lot to me and I wanted to carry it on. So in sum, the name is for family and community!

@ilkandernie Instagram post of women that dedicated a rainy Sunday to filming the label’s Crowdfunding video

Do you have any self-care routines or recommendations?

Right now self-care is the biggest thing on my agenda. I think it’s something that all human beings can do more of. For such a long time people didn’t talk about their mental health, yet we’ve all suffered from poor mental health at some point in our lives. In this crazy time of uncertainty, self-care is the most important kindness we can give ourselves. We all need to find our own way to stay sane and healthy! For me right now that’s routine. I wake up at the same time every morning [apart from weekends!], do my friends live stream hiit class, finish up with some yoga, shower, eat a tasty breakfast and then sit down to work. I don’t work past 5pm because I really rely on my afternoon stroll these days. When I’m feeling crap and unmotivated I let myself. When I want to eat junk food I let myself. When I want to sleep I let myself. I try not to allow myself to feel guilty – being overwhelmed is normal, especially when you’re running a small business. I have an amazing boyfriend and I live in a guardianship community with lots of incredible people, and for that I am grateful. Basically I allow myself to think and feel what I need to think and feel. I find that helps me stay positive. 

What is your favourite thing to do in Brighton? And assuming it is something you can’t enjoy right now – what will you wear when you can do it again after lockdown?

GAAAD! I miss being out and about in Brighton soooo much. After 10 years of living in London, I was so bowled over by the kind, friendly people of this city. My favourite thing….being able to walk to the beach in 15 minutes. I love the Laines and the amazing community Brighton has. The food scene is insane! I’ll never tire of eating out here. I can’t wait to sit out on a cobbled street and sink a glass of wine haha, so English. 

After lockdown I will be parading around in Ilk + Ernie’s SS20 clobber! I am genuinely so excited about this collection. It’s colourful, fun and can be worn all year round. The green Mom Suit is my favourite 🙂

Ilk + Ernie’s Mom Suit

What does Fashion Revolution mean to you? 

Fashion Rev has created a much needed voice for an industry that was in such dire need of change. It has brought ethics and sustainability to the forefront and forced people to listen. There has been such a surge in people’s acknowledgment of how damaging fast fashion is. I honestly don’t think people considered the links between fast fashion and global warming. Over consumption of poor quality garments made by exploited garment workers wasn’t exactly a thing people wanted to admit to knowing, but on some level we all knew. How else could companies like Pretty Little Thing be producing £6 dresses? 

What Fashion Rev has done is amazing. They’ve created a passion in people to do the right thing, shop responsibly and care about where their clothes come from. It’s an exciting time to be part of the ethical fashion community as a small business. When I was starting out no one cared about the sustainability behind my business. It’s so great to finally see people take notice. 

I grew up in Brighton, where the brand is based, so like Jessica, I am keen to soothe my soul with the creativity and kindness in Bri-Town when we are allowed out and about again.  But until that time comes, enjoy some Self Care

We hope you stay safe, sane and well in these times of madness. 

© Photographs courtesy of Ilk + Ernie 

Reclaimed Woman