Sololu — the kind of fashion we were missing

Written by Alexandra Muntean

We live in a world where everybody is on the run. Fast food, fast fashion, fast living, our life seems to resume to consuming and producing as fast as possible. I ask myself: Is life supposed to be this way? A world run by reckless consumerism, where people only care about maximizing their gains at all costs? Where do culture, environment, human rights or values stand in this equation? Why do we live for ourselves, and not together, why do we ignore the world we live in instead of protecting it? Maybe I am one of the few ones which believe that life should look different. Maybe I am the only one who thinks that life shouldn’t look this way. Or maybe not?

This is not an anti-consumerism shout out, it is a call to consume differently. I know there are a lot of problems to solve and a lot of solutions to these problems: Too many, too difficult, too idealistic, but what if each and every one of us tries to solve them their way? Small steps, big reactions. This is the start of a series aiming to show you that it is possible to make a difference through your ideas, through your creativity and your motivation to shape a better version of our world.

In this series I will present to you incredible ideas, concepts and projects that follow this goal and of course the change makers, the innovators and the creators behind them. We don’t all have to make a big change in this world, we just have to leave our mark on it and have a positive impact through our actions. This is the start of a series of we can do differently. We can do it UPSIDE down and defy the pattern of fast everything. Let’s hear “unusual” stories on how our world should be.

The first project that caught my attention and which I find most appropriate to start this series with is Sololu. The clothing industry is one of the first ones that pop into my mind, when I hear of crazy consumerism, so I started looking for a brand that defies “the rules” of fast fashion and stands out through creativity, sustainability and uniqueness. I present to you: Sololu and its founder Rosanne Hertogh. I will tell you no more. I’ll let her speak and amaze you with her brand.

Dear Rosanne, for the beginning, please tell us a little about yourself.

From a young age, I knew I wanted to be in the creative field. I loved arts and crafts, photography, DIY projects, fashion design and styling, interior design and styling, etc. I grew up in the Netherlands and finished two studies in the creative field — interior/spatial design and all-round fashion styling — however, ever since I was 16 I had a dream of starting my own fashion brand and I knew that one day I was going to make this dream a reality. In 2015, I was inspired to do so when I discovered what type of clothing I was missing. Currently, I’m passionately working on my business Sololu, while living and traveling between Canada, the USA and Mexico with my partner.

What is Sololu?

Sololu is a lifestyle brand specializing in seasonless, minimalist-bohemian clothing ideal for women that travel on a regular basis or lead active lives. As an avid traveller myself, I decided to start my own clothing line as I was missing quality clothing that’s ideal for travel, stylish, comfortable and sustainable at the same time. The styles I design are based on the clothing styles I love to bring on my own travels and are ethically made by hand in Bali, Indonesia. The collection can be effortlessly mixed and matched year-round, dressed up or down and worn anytime, anywhere.

When and how did “Sololu” begin?

I launched Sololu (formerly called WANDERWELL) in the beginning of 2015 after having traveled to many different places and having seen many interesting cultures. The first products I started offering were one-of-a-kind, fairly-traded fashion accessories handmade by artisans from hill tribe villages around the globe. I’ve been offering a wide range of unique tote bags, shoulder bags, clutches, coin pouches, jewelry and hammocks — with the “Wayuu” (mochila) shoulder bags from Colombia and “Hmong” clutches from Thailand being the most popular items.

When I launched Sololu, the idea of adding a clothing line was already up in the air and shortly after the launch I started developing the clothing designs. This process took about 2 years, as it wasn’t easy finding an ethical manufacturer with the same values as Sololu that could deliver exactly what I was asking for. The clothing line was finished and became available in the summer of 2017.

What led you to create or design sustainable or eco-friendly clothing?

While traveling I learned to appreciate my home, my surroundings, the world and people around me so much more. I noticed how much trash, pollution and dirty drinking water there is in the world, and absolutely did not want to contribute to these issues with my own brand. So, as a brand promoting slow fashion and not fast fashion, I wanted to start off by focusing on ethically made quality clothing designs that last — to avoid the issue of clothing being discarded within a year of purchase. The choice for being ethical was simple — I can’t imagine my clothing designs being made under terrible work conditions. I like to treat people the way I’d like to be treated and that’s why I found it important to have my clothing made in an ethical work environment. In regards to the fabrics chosen for my first collection; I wanted to stay away from synthetics and plastics, which lead me to selecting rayon and cotton as these are biodegradable and derived from natural sources. Both these fabrics aren’t ideal either, as rayon uses a lot of chemicals in the manufacturing process and cotton uses a lot of water. Moving forward, I’m looking at better, eco-friendly fabric options such as hemp, tencel and organic cotton for future collections. It’s been difficult finding that perfect fabric, as none of them are 100% eco-friendly I suppose, but I’m very much against polluting our world and how the people involved in making clothes are being treated (and harmed in the process).

What drives your passion for sustainable fashion?

The many negative changes in our world and the effects these changes have on the people, animals and environment — and not to forget our future generations.

What are your thoughts of today´s fast fashion and its effects?

A lot of people don’t think about their actions and the effects these actions have in the world. It simply doesn’t cross their mind, mainly because they’re not aware of it, but the impact of fast fashion is huge. The clothing industry is one of the largest polluters in the world. If more and more people start to become aware of this, I’m sure we’ll see a change in the fashion industry. I don’t think fast fashion will completely disappear, but the awareness of the impact it has on our world, the people, animals and environment spreads. We’re already seeing more and more ethical and sustainable businesses. More and more people become vegetarian or vegan, they’re starting to purchase ethically made, vegan, vintage, up-cycled, organic or natural products and starting to live a greener or zero-waste lifestyle. Documentaries such as The True Cost are huge eye-openers that make people aware and inspire them to change their daily living and purchasing habits. I think we should try and make everyone — who isn’t aware — aware of the effects, so everyone can make better decisions in regards to what they spend their money on and how they live.

What is the target group of women for Sololu and which unique characteristics can your customers find in your brand?

Sololu’s target group is women between 20–55 who travel on a regular basis or lead active lives. To stand out from other brands, I focus on creating comfortable, stylish designs made of soft, lightweight, breathable, pre-washed and biodegradable fabrics that are more durable, as well as ideal for travel. There’s nothing worse than wearing a cute dress in 30°C, but sweating your ass off because the fabric isn’t breathable (pardon my French). Or having found the perfect pair of pants, but finding out they shrunk 5–10 cm in length after one washing and you can’t wear them any longer. My mission is to inspire women to live life to the fullest and empower them to feel beautiful and confident while doing so, in sustainable clothing they could effortlessly mix and match year-round.

How does your business work? Who designs the clothes and who produces them? How does the whole production process look like?

Sololu is a small business ran by myself. I focus on everything from designing the clothes to updating the website and from marketing to bookkeeping. My partner often helps with the photography and my parents do the order fulfillment when I’m abroad. I have my own “system” for developing the clothing designs, which works as follows:

  1. Once I’ve made up my mind on what I’m going to design, I make a sketch.
  2. I decide on the color(s) or print.
  3. I create it in Adobe Illustrator.
  4. I decide on the measurements for each size.
  5. I fill out all measurements for each size and extra information such as fabric, accessories (buttons, zippers, tassels, etc.) or other details in Excel and add the design I’ve created in Illustrator. This is called a line sheet.
  6. Once I’ve finished the line sheet, I send it off to the manufacturer in Bali to have a sample made. We often Skype to make sure everything is clear.
  7. Once the sample has been finished and delivered to me, I check if anything needs to be changed. If not, the design is ready to be created in bulk. If things do need to be adjusted, they create a new sample until it’s perfect and ready to be created in bulk.

It might seem like an easy and quick process, but it isn’t. It takes a lot of time selecting the right fabric, color(s) or print and to make sure the fit is perfect. The best way, and to speed up this process, is to go to the manufacturer and be there in person to select the fabric, color(s) or print and to make sure the fit is perfect. The clothing designs are ethically made by hand in Bali, Indonesia — this means the clothing is made in a work environment where there is no child labor, the employees have normal working hours/days, don’t work during holidays and get paid at least minimum wage earnings. Being ethical was (and always will be) my main focus when creating the collection. I want all people involved in creating Sololu’s products to be treated fairly.

Where do you get inspired from for the Sololu clothing? Do you collaborate with locals from around the world?

The pieces in my first collection are based on the clothing I love to bring on my own travels. I found it very important to create styles that are comfortable, lightweight, can be dressed up or down and can be worn anytime, anywhere. Color and detail wise, I’ve been inspired by online influencers, street style, my travels and what I’ve seen on the runway. Even though I don’t want to focus on trends too much, to keep the collection timeless, I did incorporate some on-trend — but classic — details into the current collection such as the bell sleeves, off the shoulder neckline and red color. This keeps the collection interesting.

What I would love to do for a future collection, is work with artisans from around the globe to incorporate their unique artistry in designs to create true one-of-a-kind pieces and to support — and keep alive — their craftsmanship.

Could you tell us about the evolution of Sololu? Please share the most important milestones of Sololu.

When I started Sololu in 2015, I participated in a government business program and received a grant of $5,000 which I used to purchase most of my inventory — this was a big achievement as my presentation and business plan had to be approved by a jury, which was nerve-wracking, but it got approved. The business program and my mentor helped a lot in getting the business set up. Sololu started off by offering handmade and one-of-a-kind accessories from around the globe, and has changed from being a brand specializing in these accessories to a brand specializing in women’s clothing. A big milestone was when the clothing collection came in, in the summer of 2017 after two years of working on it. There have been a lot of ups and downs during the process of creating the collection, but when it came in there was nothing that made me happier and prouder at that moment! Also, seeing Sololu in Vogue magazine felt like a huge accomplishment, so 2017 has had some big milestones.

What is your perception about the future of ethical fashion and eco-brands globally?

I think ethical and eco-friendly fashion will become more popular and the fashion industry will improve. Recently I read about this amazing initiative of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) — a leading environmental NGO in China — and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). They’ve created a map that shows all the manufacturers for major brands, that have agreed to be part of this project (Zara, Target, Gap, etc.), and the pollution each one of these factories is producing, in real-time. Anyone is able to see which factories are performing bad and which brands they’re supplying. The brands themselves could use the data and switch to good performing manufacturers or force the underperforming manufacturers to improve, or risk losing them as clients. Of course, it’s up to the brands to decide to improve and switch manufacturers or not, but it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully the initiative will help in reducing the impact caused by the factories and spread to other countries.

What are the steps to switching to a more sustainable lifestyle? How was your experience?

I’d say start with small things like instead of buying and using plastic jars or containers for use in the kitchen, buy glass ones or reuse mason jars. Instead of using plastic straws, use stainless steel ones you could reuse. Instead of driving your car to the store around the corner, walk or ride a bike. Instead of buying from fast fashion chains, buy locally or purchase from ethical, sustainable businesses. If you could reduce your plastic consumption, reduce your waste, reduce air pollution and stop promoting fast fashion, you’re doing great. Start slowly and improve as you go.

As I’m on the move a lot, traveling from Canada (where Sololu is currently based) to the USA or Mexico and back, it’s not always easy but I try to be as sustainable as I can. I started slowly as well and am still improving daily. I’ve reduced my plastic usage, recycle, try to reuse things as much as I can, bring my own reusable tumbler or mug when getting beverages at coffee shops for example, hang clothes to dry instead of using the dryer, bring my own bags to the grocery store and use natural beauty/skincare products — because what we put on our bodies may be absorbed into our bloodstream. I’m also looking into using natural cleaning products as these end up in our waterways and affect the environment as well.

What would you recommend young people who want to start consuming sustainable fashion?

I’d recommend purchasing ethically made, sustainable pieces that last. If you’ve stopped loving and wearing a piece, maybe someone else would love it and you could sell it — or you might be able to get creative and upcycle the piece. It’s all about reusing items, instead of throwing them away.

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What is your life motivation quote and the slogan of Sololu?

There are so many inspiring quotes — I have a lot of quotes saved on my phone, however, a personal quote I live by is “be wherever you’re happy, do whatever makes you happy, share this with whoever makes you happy and live sustainably”.

What is your vision for Sololu and your future plans?

To minimize the negative impact on the world and the people we share it with, my vision for Sololu is to continue to create sustainable clothing, ideal for travel, and create pieces that are as eco-friendly as possible. The plan is to develop and add new styles to the collection and add more collections, such as swimwear and lounge wear collections. It would be amazing to become an inspiring, sustainable go-to brand for women that travel on a regular basis or lead active lives.

Do you see money as an obstacle for young people, for example students, to consume sustainable fashion in favor to the fast fashion trends? Why so or why not?

Not at all. There’s so much available nowadays, from vintage clothing to new clothing that’s sustainable. There are ethically made clothing designs that are timeless and you could wear forever, and there are ethically made clothing designs that are stylish (somewhat trendy) you could wear forever. If you mix up those styles, voilà, you got yourself some perfect outfits that are sustainable. It’s not a bad investment if you could wear the pieces for a long time to come.

Do you think your brand could have a global impact or ignite a global change in fashion consuming?

Of course! I don’t know if Sololu will become well-known or not in the fashion industry, but even small businesses can contribute to a more sustainable world and spread awareness about the fast fashion effects. Plus, if more and more businesses start to focus on being ethical and sustainable, this would lead to an actual change in the fashion industry (and our environment) — which is kind of the main goal for a sustainable brand like Sololu.

How does your brand contribute to the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations?

As a slow fashion brand, Sololu is contributing through being ethical, having created a collection that’s biodegradable and not mass produced, and supporting artisans around the globe. In 2015 after the earthquake in Nepal, Sololu has supported a Canadian non-profit organization that rebuilt homes and schools in remote villages in the mountains, by sending them a percentage of each item sold. Sololu is small and there are definitely things that can be improved on, but if every small business can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, it should make a difference.

Thank you Sololu, thank you Rosanne and keep up the great job in promoting sustainable living.