Meet Novel Being, Rachel Fortune, Founder of the Sustainable Lifestyle Awards

Rachel has made our list of #novelbeings because she has launched a truly unique offering with the Sustainable Life Style Awards – something we are very proud to be involved with. 

Her background as a Visual Merchandiser at Nicole Farhi, allowed her to develop  a passion for strong aesthetics which engaged with consumers,  in conjunction with her long-aimed ambition of helping people live a more sustainable lifestyle by educating people on how to tap into brands and products that truly support this conscious way of living.

In 2008 she set up personal shopping and wardrobe maintenance service ‘Style the Sustainable’, which works with brands who provide transparent production methods. It enables customers to learn exactly how products are made and the support, both financial and educational, brands offer their employees. Rachel’s role involves dressing individuals who are looking for style inspiration and body-shape advice, guiding them on how to dress and shop in the most sustainable way possible for their budget. 

We love the concept of the Sustainable Lifestyle Awards and think the initiative is more important than ever. What made you take the leap and launch this world-first award? How did the idea come into fruition?

I have always been interested in fashion brands that promote sustainability, but it was only while watching “The True Cost” – an eye-opening documentary about the impact fast and disposable fashion was having on the environment and the disadvantaged works within the supply chain – that I considered being a part of the solution to the problem.

My venture as a sustainable stylist, Style The Sustainable, signalled this intention to influence others into a more mindful and conscientious type of consumption.

A natural evolution of Style The Sustainable was setting up the Sustainable Lifestyle Awards, which launched only this summer. I had been in contact with Katie Hawkshaw, founder of Sage and Stars, which produces sustainably made beautiful silk nightwear. Katie had spent considerable time researching relevant and prominent awards in which to nominate her products so that they had some kind of ‘stamp of approval’; a verification that her goods were ethically and sustainably made. It transpired that no such system really existed. And that was my eureka moment.

So I set up The Sustainable Lifestyle Awards with the strong support of my family. It’s the first awards of its kind to verify and celebrate brands that hold both style and substance in equal measure, genuinely helping consumers to live a more sustainable lifestyle and shining a spotlight on the conscientious creators who are dedicated to making beautiful products with a positive social and environmental impact. Its very existence is to champion daily change.

What unexpected challenges have forging your own path and launching the awards thrown up for you?

I suppose that as the mother of two young children, I always knew it would be a struggle to juggle my family life alongside my career as a founder. However, what I had not accounted for was the feeling of guilt I would encounter in doing so. I often feel as though I am never able to give myself fully to my job as a founder or my job as a mother – whether that’s taking work calls while I am supposed to be spending time with my children or indeed when parental duties eat into the time I have set aside to work. I think this feeling of guilt is common with all mothers; it’s part of the whole package of being a working mother really! It’s a complete balancing act. The SLA’s has grown enormously in the past few months and I am so impressed and delighted that we now have 27 judges of judges involved as well as an advisory team. Nonetheless, as the number of those involved has shot up, so have the administrative tasks of organising a large team! I’ve definitely had to fine tune my organisational skills but I am so incredibly grateful for the time and support my team continuously offer me – so this is a joy rather than a chore, really!

What advice would you give entrepreneurs or businesses who are looking for ways to become more sustainable and drive positive change?

First of all, do not delay in starting. Even the smallest steps towards positive change can make a massive difference overall. It’s great to recycle office items like paper and ink cartridges but why not think outside the box and upcycle vintage or second-hand furniture to create a unique office space? A lick of paint can make all the difference, and it adds to the character and individuality of a space. It’s also often cheaper to deck out an office this way rather than buying all new furniture! Above all, it’s important to keep positive. Sustainability doesn’t have to be a chore.

We live in an uncertain, confusing and bizarre times. What have you experienced or witnessed that gives you hope for a brighter, more sustainable future?

I have received an overwhelming amount of support for the SLA’s, least of all from those not themselves directly involved in the incentive. This alone proves to me that there is so much to be hopeful. This support  truly drives me forward and only cements more determination in me to make a success of the initiative. I have had countless comments from both consumers and those in the industry thanking me for setting up a programme which will ultimately help them live more sustainably. From conversations I have had, I really do believe that the majority of people want to change their lifestyle and become more sustainable. And that’s not just those in the industry!  

There are so many great brands out there who are leading the way in ripping up the unsustainable rulebook – Maple, People, Project 0,  Eden PerfumesRiley Studio and Green & Blacks are all great examples of brands we could learn from those who demonstrate innovative and creative thinking. Big brands are capable of buying into the thinking of these smaller more sustainable brands too. After all, Cadbury’s stood up and took note from Green & Black’s business.

 We have every reason to be positive for the future, we are all collectively and individually capable of great change. There is no reason not to believe that, with a positive attitude, we will reverse the damage we have made to our environment.

The SLAs wholeheartedly only encourage consumers to buy products which contribute positively to the circular economy through their design and longevity.

Rachel Fortune

The SLAs is setting up a new agenda by both spotlighting game-changing brands and helping consumers live a more sustainable lifestyle. What changes from brands and businesses would you like to see moving forward?

Transparency is utterly key and far too few brands are honest and open with their customers. We, as consumers, must be cognisant that brands are aware that green-washing works positively in relation to their sales and brand identity. As consumers, we should aim to only interact with brands who are transparent about their products.

Everlane has really stood out to me as a brand that has adopted a form of quite radical transparency, which I really admire. More brands need to open their brands up and offer their consumers absolute transparency.

In what way do you think the SLAs can contribute to a brighter, more sustainable future?

We all need to understand the necessity we currently have for a circular economy where we encourage a continuous use of sustainable resources and work on eliminating our waste. The SLAs wholeheartedly only encourage consumers to buy products which contribute positively to the circular economy through their design and longevity.

 I want to use the SLAs to educate and inspire consumers into making more sustainable life choices. My overarching goal for the SLAs is to build the programme into a platform where brands who truly hold sustainability at the heart of their brand can be given a seal of approval by our panel of professionals. Through this platform, shoppers will be able to purchase products safe in the knowledge that they are making the best choice for the planet as well as themselves without having to compromise on beautiful design.

Just Some of the SLA's Brand Partners

There’s a growing sentiment towards being more sustainable in all aspects of life. How do you see us enjoying fashion, beauty and lifestyle in the future?

There’s no doubt about it. If we are to reverse the damage we are continuing to make to our environment we have to move away from our society’s ‘throwaway’ attitude and nurture our experiences with products for longer.

In the future we will buy into products and clothes for their longevity as well as their appealing properties/ design.

What sustainable lifestyle brands do you admire, and why?

I really admire Notpla. They are innovative in their move away from using plastics. 

Lucy and Yak is an example of a British business from which I take inspiration. Lucy and Yak demonstrate through their quirky and fun designs that although sustainability is serious, sustainable fashion can still be fun and interesting. 

I’ve really enjoyed watching Not Just a Label grow into a global community grow which spotlights conversations around not only where clothes are made but also on sustainable brands we might not have heard of otherwise. 

Another favourite brand of mine is Brother Vellies. Brother Vellies was founded with the goal of showcasing traditional African footwear to the rest of the world whilst also supporting artisanal jobs within Africa. The brand creates footwear in styles which showcases the spirit and durability of traditional African design as well as celebrating African cultures and supporting a local and sustainable economy, something we all must be aware of.

What role do you think collaboration plays in working towards a more sustainable future? Have you collaborated with anyone for the SLA’s?

Collaboration is absolutely critical in working towards a more sustainable future. The more companies, brains and resources that can collaborate, the better!

 I am appearing on a panel event with the ethical concept store Lone Design Club this month to unpack the issues around responsible consumption and production, looking at the challenges, innovations and initiatives that are shaping the industry, the phenomenon of greenwashing, and how changes in production practices are impacting on the trend of fast fashion.

We’re at a turning point in our planet’s history and we all need to collaborate and use our collective expertise to find a solution to our predicament.

Are you working on any projects or initiatives that you would like to share with our community of Novel Beings? Or do you know of any events or actions that are worth spreading the word about?

I am excited to be appearing as a panelist on a panel hosted by Lone Design Club during fashion week to discuss sustainable fashion alongside Deb Bee, Group Marketing and Creative Director at Harvey Nichols and one of the judges on the SLAs and Rebecca Morter, CEO of Lone Design Club. Tickets to the event are available here.

I am also attending Stories Behind Things next ‘Big Clothes Switch’ on the 30th September. The Big Clothes Switch event is a clothes switching experience where over 150 people collaborate to ‘switch’ clothes. It’s a really exciting event and I am delighted that I have the opportunity to have an SLA stall at the event. 

What’s your biggest environmental pet peeve and why?

Without a doubt, single use plastic. It’s so infuriating and so unnecessary.  This really is something I’ve drummed into my children. They never use plastic straws anymore and I’ve taught them to understand the negative implications of plastic toys.

Aim for excellence, not perfection

John Doe

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