Robin Grey is a start-up ethical fashion brand that promotes a philosophy-driven lifestyle. They are currently running a crowdfunding campaign for the launch of their first Winter Collection 2017-2018. Who are the women behind the brand? To find out, read more about Robin Grey and its co-founders in our interview.
"We want to create a world where humans collaborate for the greater good of all and are in harmony with nature." - Sarah Gloor
What is Robin Grey and where it's located?
Rina: Robin Grey is a philosophy driven fashion brand located in South Africa. We just launched our first collection, featuring three unique coat designs made of alpaca wool and hand-made prints. I would highlight two aspects that make our brand unique: The first is the focus on social and environmental value. Be it the fibers we use, the way we compensate for CO2 offsets, or offering training and mentoring to the people we work with, we are dedicated to creating positive impact in everything we do. The second focus lies on the customer side. We try to create items that speak to the customers need for individualistic expression. Therefore, we offer fit adjustments and only produce on per order basis. Our unique design represents a love for nature and conscious production and no product is exactly alike. We also give consumers the chance to directly contribute to positive change, such as planting trees with their purchase.
Can you tell us about yourselves and your roles in the company?
Eva Komvos: I am a graduated fashion design student living in Cape Town. I became interested in the sustainable fashion field about a year ago after watching the documentary film The True Cost, which made this company the perfect fit for me when I was approached by Sarah. I am the fashion designer (although I run the designs by each of the girls to ensure we are all happy with them!) and also the production manager.
Rina Strydom: I am the voice of reason. Currently working in the local fashion industry, I provide professional guidance and construction. I have been passionate to change the current climate in the local fashion industry, and Robin Grey has giving me the opportunity to do so. I have been inspired to design the patterns and I also help with the communication and art direction of the brand.
Sarah Gloor: I became very passionate about social change and development when living in Nairobi, Kenya for five months. After returning to Switzerland I wanted to address the problem of inequality in our global economic system and came across the fashion industry, which is the pinnacle of inequality; rich consumers on the one side, and a poor work force on the other side. My role in the company is strategy and big picture thinking. I try to bring the right people and knowledge together to create a product that is enriching for everyone, from consumer to workforce alike.
Why the name Robin Grey?
Sarah: We chose the name “Grey” because “Robin Grey” is a brand that is initiated by GreyC2, an ethical fashion incubator the three of us started. The name GreyC2 reflects our three core values:
1- Grey; Thinking grey instead of thinking “black and white”. We want to foster curiosity and encourage people to challenge their beliefs.
2- Collaboration over Competition = C2. We want to create a world where humans collaborate for the greater good of all and are in harmony with nature. We are not in favor of the philosophy that competitive markets automatically lead to greater good for all, but believe that humans have to focus on creating value for everyone involved.
3- The bird in our logo represents courage and hope. It is inspired by a story from the Kenyan Nobel Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. It’s about a hummingbird that decided to do something about a huge raging fire in a forest. Whilst the other animals were standing by passively shouting that the fire is too big and the humming bird doesn’t stand a chance, it keeps flying back and worth dropping tiny bits of water, telling the other animals: “I am doing as much as I can.”
The name “Robin”, you might guess, is inspired by Robin Hood ;) We would like to take resources from where it is available and invest it into places where it is most needed. We capitalize on the “Robin Hood effect”, as we sell coats to the overseas market and invest the profits into the local South African economy.
What gave you the inspiration to start an ethical fashion brand?
Rina: Fashion has always been a way for an individual to express their identity. Unfortunately, the industry has only given a small group of people this opportunity whilst oppressing others. I would like to make clothing and fashion that gives all people a platform for expression and offers inspiration to pursue a lifestyle that is in harmony with others and nature. The fashion industry is the 3rd biggest polluting industry in the world, and is driven by profit instead of people. We do not value our clothing and the process it takes to make them. Often, people are not aware of the impact their demand creates. I would like to give the shopper an alternative way by offering fashion as well as stories that might change their view and shopping habits.
Photo Credit: Robin Grey
You have a crowdfunding campaign going on right now till September 15, 2017, tell us what are your objectives and how we all can participate and help?
Sarah: Our first objective is to reach a target of 10’000 CHF (approx.: $10,500 US). This amount will allow us to order a set minimum quantity of wool that makes the processing of it economically sustainable for us and our partner Quenti Alpaca in Wellington. Any profit that we make is invested into further infrastructure as well as training for our seamstresses. We are also working on a new platform for GreyC2 which can promote ethical brands we collaborate with to an international audience. The more funds we raise, the more we can do.
All Robin Grey designs are ethically made, sustainable and eco-friendly. What are some of the fabric used for each garment? What are the benefits?
Eva: All three coats are composed of completely natural fabrics. The main fabric component is Alpaca wool that is locally sourced from surrounding farms. We chose this fabric base as it was the most eco-friendly option that we could source locally (as we still had some doubts about merino wool). Alpaca wool has many benefits, as it is warmer than merino, water repellent, hypoallergenic and breathable (to name a few). It also has a luxuriously soft feel. This wool is turned into beautiful felt, which can also be felted onto transparent fabrics (where we use organic silk) to make it sturdier. Where two of our coats are lined with organic hemp/cotton linen, we do not felt onto silk as we have the structure from the lining. The organic linen was another fabric we chose based on being able to source it locally (although it is still imported). in creating the coats, we really tried to use the best fabrics we could based on ethics.
What are your standards of quality when it comes to the materials and execution of your designs?
Eva: In using completely natural and organic fabrics which are at a high price point, we have to ensure that they are of an impeccable quality to meet the standard. With the felt being handmade, we ensure that the thickness of the fabric is enough to keep the fabric long lasting, and of course we have opted for quality woven fabrics. Our coats are produced by a highly skilled seamstress who pays high attention to detail and who is a professional in the field of tailoring, as it is important to know how to deal with the live felt fabric in comparison to the structured woven fabrics used.
Photo Credit: Robin Grey
How long does it normally take to create one Robin Grey coat? What’s the procedure like?
Eva: Assuming we have the wool and printed fabric on hand (as the processing of the wool and fabric printing stages take the longest), the felting process can take up to a week as it is processed first through a loom before being worked by hand and then dependent on weather for drying. The actual manufacturing of the coats takes 2 - 3 days. Therefore, we can say that creating a coat can take up to 2 weeks if you factor in anything that may delay the time, but most of the time it will take shorter than 2 weeks.
What was the inspiration behind this collection? What makes it unique?
Rina: South Africa is rich in culture, color, nature and history. It is hard not to be inspired by the flavours in the streets, people's languages and laughter's. We took inspiration from the vibrant traditional Xhosa printed fabrics, and local plant types to create the hand drawn print. We added the GreyC2 hummingbird that represents the symbol of hope. The coat designs, combined with the unique print, all have their own personality and practical purpose.
Photo Credit: Robin Grey
"When you are driven by passion the energy shortly follows." - Rina Strydom
What's been a specific challenge since you've started your business? How did you overcome it?
Sarah: Ugh! there are a lot. One challenge was related to our goal to produce as locally as possible. Because of that goal, we first sourced fabric, and then decided on the product. Whilst sourcing, we realized how difficult it is to produce locally in an industry that runs globally. Nearly all fabrics on the market where imported. Cotton, silk, or hemp is either not grown at all, or not organically grown. Only after a while of frustrating research, we came across Alpacas in the Western Cape, and from there our journey to produce winter coats started.
How do you all maintain a work/life balance?
Eva: In running your own business, I found that work tends to become your life sometimes! Especially when you are working at 2 jobs to try make ends meet. But I don’t regret a second of it. Things are going to be super busy at the start, but once your business has found its feet you will be able to find more balance.
Rina: I am currently working full time for a big company, and spend most of my free time, after working hours, on Robin Grey. When you are driven by passion the energy shortly follows. I have been working with an amazing team, that supports my time schedule and has been helping to be flexible. Balancing two full time working environments is very tough, but is possible when you are motivated by a bigger cause and purpose.
Sarah: I moved to South Africa particularly to start this business. Therefore, most people I got to know were somehow related to it. On one side this was amazing, because everyone I came across was inspiring and I loved the intensity of developing work and friend relationships at the same time. On the other side, it made it hard to switch off and think about other things. Also, if you enjoy your work, it sometimes doesn’t feel like work, the lines between work and free time become more blurry. Nevertheless, I find it’s important to dedicate some of your daily time and weekends to activities that are completely unrelated to work and help you to recharge your energy from other sources.
As women entrepreneurs, what do you think are the most significant obstacles to women’s leadership? As a society, do you think we're failing to take more actions regarding the gender pay gap situation?
Sarah: I believe the obstacles women face in already established corporations might be much bigger than the obstacles you face when running your own business. In our case, we are an all women run business and we have a lot of freedom in choosing whom to partner with. If someone isn’t aligned with our values because they might discriminate us or others in any way, we get the chance to walk away. I previously worked for bigger corporations, where I faced a predominant white male environment and couldn’t run away from sexist comments or people acting in a way I wouldn’t agree with. I think society could definitely do more to address sexist behaviour in such corporate environment where women often lack support and female role models are rare. Also in case of female entrepreneurship, I believe it is important that women can learn from other women. Unfortunately, there are definitely not as many female leaders as there are male ones.
After the crowdfunding campaign, what’s next for Robin Grey?
Eva: If the campaign is successful (crossing fingers!) then we have successfully established our brand (YAY!). We'll launch our online store and fulfill our coats orders for the season. Robin Grey definitely plans on expanding our product base for the next season into menswear and adding sustainably sourced merino products as well. We have currently explored initiatives in order to become zero waste and carbon neutral which is something we will slowly put into effect.
Photo Credit: Robin Grey
Do you ship worldwide? Where can customers purchase your designs?
And if you happen to be in Cape Town, it is also possible to order a coat from our Studio in Hout Bay, where we also offer to take your specific measurements, if you wish to get a truly perfect fit.
To Connect with Robin Grey:
Hope you've enjoyed this interview and don't forget to subscribe to our Newsletter. If you have any questions, comments or would like to be featured in our #LadyBossInterview Series, please don't hesitate to contact us. Thank you!