Olga, founder of Wearfer, likes to call herself a change-maker, making a positive impact on the lives of people and the planet we live in. Business for good is what drives her and what leads her to create Wearfer; a transparent and margin-neutral clothing brand. She is experienced in fashion sustainability, fashion-tech and consumer research. Olga is also a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow exploring circularity in the fashion second-hand industry and is passionate about understanding consumer behaviour. She is an enthusiast of bridging academia and the wider industry.
Throughout this interview, we discussed slow fashion , the inequalities within the fashion industry and Olga shared some advice on making the switch from fast fashion to slow.
Firstly, starting off with a big question, what is your favourite item of clothing that you own, which was bought sustainably or secondhand and why?
My most recent purchase. An oversized vintage denim jacket that I got at a secondhand store in Berlin. It takes me back to the hipster streets of the city and besides, it feels like a safe cocoon because it’s so big!
Can I ask how and when you were introduced to the slow fashion movement, and did you know that you wanted to pursue a career within the industry?
It was a slow learning curve. I first learned about business ethics at University and quickly swallowed the red pill of sustainability in fashion and there was no going back. I got to know about the unethical manufacturing practices, which is why I am working in this industry, to change things for the better. In my first job I had the opportunity to work on a research project understanding the attitudes of the British public on sustainable fashion and it was then that I decided to move into the industry full time.
I first learned about business ethics at University and quickly swallowed the red pill of sustainability in fashion and there was no going back.
How did your business, Werafer, come about? And how would you like it to evolve?
Wearfer is a passion project/experiment turned into a business. I am entrepreneurial at heart, and I saw gaps in the ‘business for good’ movement that I wanted to fill. I decided to focus on local manufacturing in the UK, after I learned about the garment factory scandals in England during COVID. I saw that there is still so much to do in terms of ethical manufacturing. I also am a huge fan of peer-to-peer education so this is a direction I would like to take Wearfer into. Short-term, I am working on a unisex fit to include men in the conversation of fashion sustainability.
I am entrepreneurial at heart, and I saw gaps in the ‘business for good’ movement that I wanted to fill
Back in 2020, I wrote my dissertation on the fast fashion industry and how the role that photography plays in promoting it. I was shocked when I began researching about HOW MUCH I could include, I felt so overwhelmed by the information.
One area I really wanted to touch on was the inequality within the industry. There is a major sexism issue within the industry, from the garment workers in factories, to the advertisements on TV, everything seems to be directed at women? What are your thoughts on this and how do you think that we (as an industry) can draw more awareness to this issue of inequality?
You are right. The vast majority of garment workers are women, approximately 80%. I don’t see poor working conditions as a sexist issue, I see it as a human rights issue. I don’t particularly worry that it’s women who make my clothes, in the end if they have the skills and are passionate about the job, then why not? I am a woman in fashion, too. What I do care about deeply, is the exploitation in fashion, be it of women or men. As consumers, we must demand better working conditions for those who make our clothes, who happen to be women by large. I believe in ‘voting with our wallets’ and only ‘investing’ in brands that are transparent about their supply chains.
Advertisers are smart, they know that women make most purchasing decisions when it comes to fashion, so they are an easy target. We are constantly bombarded with images of skinny models wearing the next ‘it’ item. It comes down to the demand. As long as women dominate the demand in fashion, they will also be dominated in advertising.
As long as women dominate the demand in fashion, they will also be dominated in advertising.
Fast fashion advertisements and influencer culture focuses massively on selling clothing to females. What makes this issue worse is that trends change so quickly, many consumers feel they need to keep up with trends and constantly reinvent their identity. Do you have any advice for women specifically, about avoiding these pressures to keep up with the ever-changing trends?
I think first of all, a shopping detox is a great idea. Take a year off from buying any fashion. You will soon notice how little you really need, and how buying the next trendy fashion item isn’t making you happy, really. Once you do that, you can start experimenting with fashion. Buying vintage or second-hand. Because I guarantee you, what is trendy now, almost certainly has already been on top of desires at some point in the past. There are models like fashion rental or swapping that don’t involve the typical purchase element. You can be on trend without really owning anything.
As a woman, do you believe that the fashion industry is a major contributor in affecting women's mental health?
I see it by observing my female friends. Most trapped in the constant race for trends and getting the perfect instagram picture or fitting in with their circle. By trying to understand their relationship with fashion, I see that many are obsessed with the way others see them. I think it's a source of anxiety for females. Overthinking what they put on, rather than focusing on what makes them feel good. I also see that many fall into traps of credit cards or other prepaid methods of payments, just to get the desired piece of clothing or accessory. It’s crazy.
I see that many are obsessed with the way others see them. I think it's a source of anxiety for females. Overthinking what they put on, rather than focusing on what makes them feel good.
What do you think the industry can do to make it more inclusive and equal?
There are so many levels to inclusivity in fashion. Through my brand, I am trying to be more price inclusive, allowing customers to choose how much they pay for the products based on a cost price. I am driven by the rather premium prices that otherwise dominate the sustainable fashion industry. I am also tapping into the inclusivity of all shapes, sizes and sexes by going unisex. I also don't use typical sizing but rather complement the customer with each product by referring to (M)agnificent of (S)ensational on the label.
I don't use typical sizing but rather complement the customer with each product by referring to (M)agnificent of (S)ensational on the label.
There is so much wrong with the fast fashion industry, it can be overwhelming for those wanting to make the change and switch to slow fashion. What is your main piece of advice/top tip for having a more sustainable approach to the fashion industry?
That less is more. Buying less but better is the pillar of what I do in business and personally. Fashion and sustainability is polluted with terms that are ambiguous and I understand that it is a maze for anyone from outside of the industry. But ultimately, we all wear clothes so it is also our responsibility to make better choices. Spending a little more time to research the brand that you are buying from on the pillars of social and environmental responsibility would be the first step. Just use your common sense.
Spending a little more time to research the brand that you are buying from on the pillars of social and environmental responsibility would be the first step
Personally, I wish there were more events/ resources for the world of sustainable fashion, such as the Sustainable Fashion Scotland event back in March, where I was introduced to your brand! Are there any resources/platforms that you love and recommend to others ?
Good On You is a great platform which rates brands on their sustainability performance in an accessible and easy to understand way. Fashion Revolution is a Global movement that advocates for better working conditions in the fashion industry. They have representatives in almost every country in the world, so I would recommend everyone to at the very least, follow the social media of your local Fashion Revolution teams to keep informed about the problems (and solutions) in fashion.
Lastly, where do you see yourself in 3 years time?
Hopefully with a PhD in my hand! I am researching the second-hand fashion charity sector in the UK. I would also hope to be working on Wearfer and taking it beyond the current product focus, maybe in the direction of a platform for knowledge exchange. Ideally, with a team of passionate people!
Huge thank you to Olga for sharing her journey, thoughts and advice on the fashion industry! And thank you for being so amazing at answering my lengthyyy questions haha!
If you would like to keep up with what Olga gets up to with her incredible business, you can follow links below: