We spoke to founder Isabella Broden about the inspiration behind her ethical clothing brand Oramai, the sustainable priorities for it, challenges and more.
By Robyn Hamilton
What inspired you to launch Oramai?
I somehow ended up working in the fashion industry. Believe me, I grew up as a tomboy and still don’t really know how I became a fashion insider. I studied art in my gap year in Florence and one thing led to another, and suddenly I was an intern for L'Officiel Magazine in Paris - putting my doctor studies on a lifelong hold and entered into the fabulous world of fashion.
All the parties, all the glitter, it was really the golden era and I loved it. You get sucked in, you know, everyone is beautiful and fabulous and the clothes... So many outfits and so many discounts!
Later, living in London, I was shopping a lot, ran to all sample sales and had weekly shopping sprees at Zara to find the latest outfit. Lunches were spent buying extensive plastic wrappings and eating by my desk at Vogue throwing away plastic and freebies like it was the most normal everyday thing.
Living in London is an expensive life choice and I quickly moved seat and started working in-house at a number of luxury brands, which also meant more salary. Being in-house you get a real feel for what really goes on behind the scenes of the glamour that we normal people get to see. I witnessed the gross misuse of resources, where things got burnt if they didn’t get sold and suddenly I struggled to align my own values to those of the industry.
I began to conduct some research and realised that fashion is the second largest polluter in the world after the oil industry. A personal voyage took place; I analysed my everyday life and realised how unsustainably I was living. I questioned my everyday choices; who did my electricity, I discovered recycling, to name a few and realised how delicious my homemade lunch tasted in my reusable box and how many of my clothes I actually didn’t need. Then 18 months ago, I was invited to a friend's wedding and I decided to make my own dress.
I discovered, from the many, many options of fabric, that linen is the most sustainable material out there, needing very little water and almost no pesticides. I came across some organic farmers in Belgium and made my first dress. The dress was a success and in 2018 my vision took shape; Oramai was born.
What are your sustainable priorities for the business?
Being inspired by the Italian timeless elegance I chose the name Oramai, which is Italian and means “by now”. At Oramai, we want the fashion industry, by now, to break the cycle of fast fashion and the customers, by now, to start expecting it to be made in the most environmentally aware way possible.To achieve this, we are producing locally, in small quantities, using GOTS certified organic linen grown in Europe without the use of any fertilizers or chemical pesticides.
How is your eco strategy developing as you grow?
We always thrive to be better selves. Being a young company one can say it's “easier”, as we truly influence every aspect of the process instead of changing some old models. However, as we grow and scale we have bigger issues to solve, and we want to be in a great place to really influence in the fashion industry. We want to promote a complete circular economy, and being Eco-Age Brandmark approved we have the luxury of their amazing support and guidelines that we will continue developing as we grow.
How challenging has it been to maintain your eco principles?
Very - entering into the fashion world your starting point is a very old-fashioned way of trading. I was choked once I discovered the mark-up model and how many intermediaries there are in-between the consumer and the production; how luxury brands charge crazy margins and how the high street squeezes their producers and compromise ethics to increase their profits. At Oramai we focus on direct sales via our web platform and by improving our supply chain management we aim to be the sustainable lifestyle choice in luxury fashion without compromising on quality and craftsmanship and keeping our price range attainable.
What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?
The biggest personal milestone was the soft launch, taking place in my friend’s living room, where I was sure everyone was going to think I'm crazy. At first, I pictured myself alone, but people came and they loved it! I am so happy and reminded every day of the positive reactions we are getting in the market and from our clients.
For the business, the biggest triumph is when we get a new random sale, a costumer that believes in our product and vision - it is very rewarding. Also, as we need to make revenues to execute our long-term vision, seeing customers return and receiving notes of appreciation is super rewarding and gives us the energy to move forward.
What have been the main prohibitions to your progress in building a sustainable business?
Everything! You try to convince an investor that you can achieve a sustainable luxury collection at a lower price point than the competition, accessible to a larger market. Anyone seeing some contradiction in that business model?! Everyday, my CEO and I are juggling these questions, but without compromising on our values. The more we engage with industry experts, the more inspired we become and that’s everything to us.
Do you feel pressure from your customers to be more eco?
I always push myself to think deeper and harder about how we can become even better and more eco in everything we do. I hope our customers will do the same, challenge us and challenge the industry. That will inspire everyone towards the mission we have in place.
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?
Believe in your vision, and don’t be afraid to do things differently.
Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?