"The Sinerji ethos is to create beautiful garments that are timeless, long-lasting and which connect the wearer to the garments’ production story..."
KT: What was the motivation behind the establishment of Sinerji?
AJ: Having my experience in the in the fashion industry, it didn’t make sense to me that there was this disconnect between the garments on the rack and where they came from, where they would end up. I questioned the pricing of garments versus the cost and how many labels were unaware of what was happening in either the beginning or end of each of their garments’ lifecycle.
I met Louise (co-founder) through a mutual friend. Our shared despair at the accepted norm of smoke-and-mirrors in manufacturing in the fashion industry led to this fire to start our own label where we’d start a more transparent conversation about garment manufacturing. My Mum has always said; “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”, so before we knew it, we were up at 4am for the West End markets armed with organic cotton A-line skirts and coffee with very little idea of what we were signing up for!
KT: What are the sustainable approaches Sinerji undertakes in its design and manufacture phases?
AJ: We see sustainability from both the perspective of the fibres used, the manufacturing process, and the end of life cycle of the garment. For us organic cotton is one of the most sustainable fibres; we use non-irrigated organic cotton, grown in a small permaculture-style set up so that it isn’t a monoculture, and it isn’t taking water from the river system. Our dyes are made from plants grown on the same property, which allows us to localise our production and reduce our carbon footprint. The whole dyeing process is done by hand and is biodegradable, non-toxic, and creates a soft, strong, uniquely textured fabric that lasts for years…customers often tell us about their 6 or 7-year-old Sinerji garment that they still wear…the fabric is amazing; it doesn’t wear out. But when its life ends, it will break down. We use coconut shell buttons, hemp swing tags, and very little packaging (which is compostable!).
We set our standards high, and it took a while to get there but technology has come a long way since we started. We use bamboo/organic cotton blends which are processed in a closed loop factory and with Oeko-Tex certification and G.O.T.S (Global Organic Textile Standard) certificates. The dyes are also non-toxic, eco-certified dyes, and the amazing digital and screen printing uses non-toxic water-based inks. The vibrancy of colours and the printing technology wasn’t available 10 years ago when we first started - but it is advancing rapidly, making it much safer for our team working with these materials too.
KT: Tell us about the challenges Sinerji faced to achieve its current success and how you overcame them.
AJ: Some of the challenges we faced have been really frustrating, others have been wonderful learning curves that started out seeming like the worst thing ever, but honestly, having fair trade partners to work with every day means that underpinning everything is a constant, extremely humbling reminder of what “difficult” and “challenging” means for some people in daily life. Sometimes it can be hard to tell ourselves to find the positives in any given situation, but when you’re working with someone who just wants to feed their kids and save up so they can go to uni, you find you get over stuff pretty quickly!! Having people understand what we do and why we do it used to be very challenging; some people were already asking where things were made, but many people didn’t know why “organic cotton” was beneficial, or what the term “fair trade” actually means in real terms. However, there seems to be wider mainstream media coverage about such issues after tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse. It also resulted in global movements like Fashion Revolution Day which made people so much more aware of the fashion industry’s dark past and has been incredible at driving positive change in our industry.
KT: What do you have in mind for the future of Sinerji?
AJ: We will continue to work with the beautiful team we have created, and we are branching out into the USA and NZ, which is exciting. We love seeing the stability we have helped establish in the communities we work with, and we have developed great friendships and other businesses have sprung up for our team, in part due to what we have learned together. Even though there’s still a long way to go, it has been an absolute dream come true for us to hear people asking us where and how Sinerji is made, and it’s a story we love telling. We will also try to get better at eating insects lovingly prepared for us in the village!
KT: And lastly, what advice would you give to other sustainable eco-fashion labels that are starting up?
AJ: We are so excited about the future of the Fashion Industry and for the up-and-coming designers to start somewhere and keep pushing the boundaries. It won’t be perfect from the start - it will take flexibility, re-working and absolutely dogged determination, but if you love what you do, then just get going, because it will evolve. And look after people - relish in the challenges, and nurture your relationships, because they’re more important than anything at the end of the day.
*Photo credit - Andrew Wilson