Alice Cracknell is the founder of the UK’s first not-for-profit fashion brand Origin, based in Devon, UK. She and her husband create ethical garments and use the products to fund important projects in Africa. She talks to 35 Thousand about the kitchen table office in Lockdown, their fair trade suppliers and the life-changing projects they help to support in Africa.
Tell us about your work
“I am the founder of the UK’s first not-for-profit fashion brand, Origin. We create ethical garments and use the products to fund projects in Africa. I founded the company with my husband 3 years ago and we are based in North Devon but run pop ups across the UK and support projects in Mali, Gambia, Togo and Ethiopia.
We support a variety of projects run by local communities, they span from healthcare initiatives (for example we support an HIV clinic in Gambia) to remote sanitisation in the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia.
The key thing is that these projects are all locally championed, sustainable and have a positive impact on the community. In addition to this, during the past few months we have also funded sending PPE to Gambia, Togo, Mali and Ethiopia to protect the healthcare providers and enable them to continue providing life saving treatments to their communities.
I love my job because we’re doing something with purpose and I’m really connected to the projects that we run so it’s a very fulfilling career.”
What was your ‘normal ‘day-to-day life like pre COVID-19?
“A normal day for us normally starts with cycling to the Studio, where we check in with our projects in Africa over WhatsApp or video calls in the morning and often spend the afternoon updating the website adding new garments or blogs.
We are very lucky that production was not affected by Covid-19 and we made a commitment to continue to order from our suppliers and support the artisans we work with in Africa. Though lead times took a little longer than normal, we managed to avoid any big gaps in stock by placing orders throughout lockdown.”
Tell us more about the fair trade element of your business.
“We currently use two brilliant wholesale suppliers for the creation of our base garments (before printing them in the UK using Vegan and non-toxic dyes). Our first supplier, Rapanui, has a renewable energy and fair trade factory in India, which is Organic and Soil Association certified. Stanley and Stella, who create our base tees have a factory in Bangladesh which is FairWear Foundation certified and is committed to ethical and sustainable production.
Our ambition is to move all production to Africa within the next two years to create jobs and empower local production, however we have to ensure that standards for workers, fair pay, and all sustainable certifications are met before we make this move, which takes time working with local suppliers. The key thing for Origin is to be transparent about the entire supply chain which is why we use block-chain technology powered by Provenance (https://www.provenance.org/) so our consumers can track the production of every garment and their certifications from factory to store.”
What’s your context outside of work?
“I’m married and we don’t have any kids yet but we have a beautiful dog (a cocker spaniel called Jeffry). We live in North Devon by the sea, so a lot of our hobbies are outdoorsy (I pretend to surf but I can’t really).”
What is your day-to-day life like now?
“Unfortunately the Covid-19 situation did mean we had to shut down the studio for some time. We normally open it as a shop so that was a bit of a hit for us. However we were very lucky we received a lot of support and some amazing online sales during lockdown. Plus we we’re used to running the business from the kitchen table (as we had done for 2 years) so we switched back to that quite easily!”
Do you feel that Lockdown has changed your outlook and if so how?
“We have been really fortunate as it hasn’t had to change our outlook a lot because we’re a small and growing organisation which means by nature we are dynamic and always adapting. We are constantly dealing with all sorts of hurdles and challenges in the developing countries where our projects are based so we are very aware of the need to remain vigilant and aware of our communities’ needs. We have to stay responsive to issues that arise… and arise they always do.”
What raises your stress levels and how do you manage that?
“We have a great following on Instagram however from time to time I do find the world of social media difficult to deal with and a little bit stressful, especially as I’m on it for so much of my day. I’m happy to say we have an amazing team around us and they help support me.
I think it’s fair to say that when you put your life and soul into something you feel everything very personally, so we are grateful to have such an amazing and loyal following on Instagram who have been a big part of our journey of growing as a business.”
Who/ what has been the biggest inspiration to you in life/ in your career? Why?
“There are a number of things which have been an inspiration to me during my life and have definitely been a catalyst to starting Origin. I was always inspired by my parents growing up, which is an obvious thing to say, but they were a huge part of the person I have become.
Secondly, there were a number of authors whose books I found inspirational during the time of founding Origin including Muhammad Yunus’ book Building Social Business and Leila Janah’s “Give Work.” Their innovative thinking and perspective completely reframed my thinking. Finally meeting my wonderful husband who has always really challenged me and inspired our ideas on aid and how to help alleviate poverty, these concepts are of the soul of the business we have built together.”
Are you travelling currently?
“Unfortunately as a result of Covid-19 and the travel restrictions in place, we have had to cancel a number of trips to Africa including one to Ethiopia this year and a more recent trip we were supposed to take to Gambia last month. At present we cannot travel to the countries in which we work as it wouldn’t be safe to do so for us or our projects to do so. Therefore we will be putting travel on hold for the time being. However, we have close relationships with the founders and leaders of our projects in various countries across Africa and we fully support them in managing their incredible initiatives through these uncertain times. We chat to them all the time about how they’re getting on and how/if we need to support them.”
What do you wear for work?
“As a founder of an ethical fashion brand I live in our garments. I’m always wearing an Origin tee or sweatshirt to work. They are so easy to style, dress up or dress down.”
If you had to edit your wardrobe to 10 items what would you keep?
“Ooooh tough question. I would keep my favourite pair of jeans (they are several years old but so comfy I live in them), and a casual white shirt. I’d have a pair of classic flip flops as I live by the beach and wear them a lot. There would definitely be a pair of Lucy and Yak dungarees, a few easy-to-chuck-on dresses… and obviously my favourite Origin tees ❤️.”
What are your handbag essentials?
“My handbag is a MESS! I always have dog treats for Jeffry (this is key to an easy life!), a good face moisturiser, a pack of tissues (#hayfever) and a random selection of Origin tags, leaflets and labels so I have it all on-hand whenever I’m chatting to anyone about what we do.”
What are your home working essentials?
“Numerous cups of tea! And it definitely helps me to have a good routine (a proper lunch break and a walk with the dog). I think a bright sunny spot to sit in really helps too – surrounding yourself with plants and being in a calming environment is key.”
Who or what do you rely on for managing life’s juggle?
“I’m a big fan of an old fashioned list. I would be nowhere without the millions of lists I make. I’m hopelessly disorganised but somehow a simple pen and paper makes all the difference.”
How do you manage your mind and wellbeing on a daily basis?
“It’s hard, on some days managing your own business can be totally overwhelming. However, we have an amazing purpose behind the business and that definitely keeps me going on the tough days. I also try to maintain a good work life balance, having regular breaks and finishing work at a reasonable time then turning my emails OFF. This doesn’t always happen… But I’m working on it.”
How do you stay healthy?
“We are so lucky to have a very outdoorsy lifestyle here which is why we moved to live by the sea. Long walks on the beach, a swim or surf and cycling to and from our studio keep me happy and healthy.”
How do you relax?
“I really adore cooking and for me it’s a signal that the working day is done and the relaxing can begin. Trying new dishes and being creative in the kitchen totally chills me out and winds me down after a long day.”
If you could speak to yourself when you were just starting out your career, what advice would you give yourself that would have made the most difference to you?
Lastly, trust yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think, just trust your gut, and that way you’ll have no regrets.”
For further information go to Originfafrica.co.uk