Ethical Fashion in Glastonbury. In Magdalene Street you’ll find Haruka, where designer Amanda Chambers specialises in designing and manufacturing beautiful and timeless womens’ clothes in top quality fabrics.
Haruka is beautifully laid out, there’s room to appreciate the range of designs in the slightly muted, earthy colours that Amanda favours. Her changing room is vast and gives a real sense of occasion to a shopping trip. Over the two decades since she started designing, her skill and natural aesthetic has developed so that her range provides something to flatter and please women of all shapes and sizes. Her clothes provide a sensual experience, her natural fabrics – silks and cottons and knitwear feel great against the skin. It’s all in sharp contrast to the idea that Glastonbury is all tye-dye T-shirts and faux medieval frocks!
I’ve been friends with Amanda for years, but talking to her in her shop recently I found myself fascinated when she talked about textile production around the world. She has great enthusiasm for the people she works with at every stage of the process – from design, to dying and weaving, pattern cutting, sewing, the models she chooses and ultimately the women who leave her shop feeling special and beautiful. Meanwhile it was gratifying to learn how her business and environmental ethics are woven into everything she does.
Firstly, I ask Amanda why she loves Glastonbury:
“All the independent shops on the High Street. It’s a small town, but because it’s a place of pilgrimage it’s got a real international feel. All the love that people bring to it over the years, that’s what makes it sacred, I live at the base of the Tor and I try and walk up or around it every day.
I like that people think out of the box here. It’s a good place for empowered women, I came here to raise my child as a single mother, there’s a sense of community, there’s a lot of strong women here, it’s a big contrast to where my child was conceived in Varanasi which is a full on male Shiva place. I really appreciate my close girlfriends here.
It’s not my ideal landscape, I love Dartmoor or Cornwall, but I like the wildness of the levels. The adverse camber of the Levels roads makes me feel like a bandit!”
Exclusive Offer! Subscribers to We Are Normal For Glastonbury get 10% off everything on the Haruka website, in the shop in Glastonbury, even SALE items. This is just one of the exclusive deals from Glastonbury businesses available to members, who also get blog posts, news a member’s blog and more. Click the box on the right for details.
The Birth of Haruka – in India
Amanda started Haruka about eighteen years ago, she was in her early twenties and on her second visit to India. She went to Varanasi, where she was overwhelmed by the experience of seeing all the silks on the streets and her passion for textiles began. She was struck by all the shoe menders, the tailors:
“In India It’s really normal to go and buy your fabric and take it to the tailor, or make your own clothes. My Nana’s generation made their own clothes, I remember my mum making me a sundress. In India it’s still happening.”
Amanda asked a tailor, Kamu, to make her some clothes “I used to sit in his shop, I wanted to learn how to cut patterns, but I ended up just watching him while I ate samosas, smoked bidis and drank chai”. Amanda decided to make a collection for other people, as her friends had been admiring her clothes. She was quite ambitious, spending all her money – a couple of grand, on hand spun, hand woven fabrics. She got them pot dyed in the Muslim area in Varanasi. Her first collection was five garments in four colours and white, that were designed to go together. Some, like the pocket tunic, were so popular she still produces them today. She sold them in her friend’s shop in Nottingham, where she had been to Uni.
“Then I experienced a whole load of personal stuff – my mother died, I got pregnant, Haruka was birthed from that. I don’t know where my life would have gone if I hadn’t started the business. Isamu (the Japanese father of Amanda’s son) was studying Bansuri, (traditional Indian bamboo flute) in Varanasi, so I lived between Glastonbury and there, on and off. over a few years”.
She started working in Nepal, becoming more professional and learning to design her own textiles. She met Poonam, a designer and pattern cutter, who was to become her friend and “whose skills, work ethic, humour and sense of aesthetic I really appreciate”.
“Nepali people are quite entrepreneurial, I could access weaving fabrics to my specifications on a scale that was manageable there, whereas in Delhi you are forced to buy huge quantities. Working personally with the producers means I am working directly with small family run factories, I see all aspects of their business. I never bargain with them about the price, I pay what they ask. In Pushkar, the stitchers start at 9am, have a chai break at 11, lunch from 12 to 1.30 or 2, have a chai break at 3, then finish at 6. I sit with them on the floor during chai break. They are always going off for weddings and festivals. It’s really hard for production if you’ve timed it over a festival as the workforce will just disappear off to the village, for days!”
“My things are quite complicated, I’m combining and using fabrics from the surplus market that need more cutting. It’s quite different from the usual market where people are making less complicated cheaper things. I’ve had to be persistent with the supplier. It’s taken me years to get him to crack a smile. I have to be careful, he’ll read this on Facebook! He’s a nice guy, our relationship has grown over time, I have my own room of fabrics in the factory”.
“I don’t really socialise in India, I isolate myself, that’s the way I know how to work, full immersion. I don’t speak fluent Hindi, but the pattern cutter speaks English. It’s all boys, you don’t see women working in Pushkar, apart from the vegetable sellers. Two of the boys call me Mum. There are no children working there”.
Amanda’s interest in handwoven textiles began years ago. She tells me Gandhi set up shops to bring back textile production to India, rather than the Northern UK mills. Each shawl they made featured the initials of the weaver embroidered on the corner. “I so love the way different weaves, or the drape of a fabric, or the simple cut of a jacket, or the absolute minimalist Zen of a Japanese aesthetic. I love the thought of heirloom textiles and blanket boxes. In Bhutan I’ve got these kiras that were woven in the home, they’d be handed down in the dowry”
Amanda gets most of her stock made in Rajasthan while a lot of her woollen fabrics, silks and cotton she finds in the surplus market in Delhi. Although she has an idea of the clothes she’s going to make, her designs are not fixed in stone as they depend on the fabrics she finds. So it’s an organic design process. It’s not all art and creativity, there are a lot of logistics involved in the process amounts, how fabrics combine together, “I kind of like the big jigsaw puzzle of it”. She sets herself a budget but does overspend when she comes across so many beautiful fabrics. “We’re coming out of a blue period in the shop because I started wearing a lot of blue!”
She tells me “If I lived in India I would love to have my own factory to do the entire process, but it’s not realistic to do it living in the UK. One of my little fantasies, when my son is grown up, is to go travelling to different cultures to search out traditional textiles and skills, I’d like to have a one of the kind section, do a one-off production of skirts from Guatemala for instance”.
You can find more about Amanda’s fascination with textiles here on her blog post ‘Textiles are an Old Language‘.
The Ethics of Haruka – Ethical Fashion
Amanda’s passion for what she does is inspirational, she talks about how, throughout history, and the world, textiles have personal expression and power woven into them, both of the weaver and the tribe or the family. “I don’t subscribe to an ideal of fashion and beauty, as touted on Instagram, but how we chose to dress signifies our tribe, as well as our personal expression. I don’t consider myself to be ‘in fashion’ but I’m not out of that reality”.
“None of my models are professional models, they are all women that I know personally, and they all do their own amazing creative things too. Everyone who works in my shop or models for me is worth a post on Normal for Glastonbury in their own right, they’re all empowered women on their own creative and spiritual path”
There’s a great blog post of photos of Amanda’s models through the years on her Haruka website. Amanda doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a Glastonbury designer. She’s rather be known for good natural fabrics that last and collections that build on each other in time, both in the colours and shapes she chooses. “I want my clothes to be accessible – for people to express themselves”.
“Sometimes I find amazing fabrics in the surplus market, that I couldn’t afford to buy in the huge quantities I would need to buy them in if I bought them ‘ fresh’ as they say in India. The surplus cloth doesn’t come with a description of the composition, so some of the fabrics I know are really good quality – like 100% crepe wool, but I can’t say that on the label!”
Amanda uses high quality fabrics. She tells me that the cotton lycra that she uses is 6% elastane, it’s a thin yarn, 200gsm weight, so it’s got a smoother finish, drapes well, retains its shape and lasts. For her Spring 2020 collection, she will be switching to organic cotton lycra. She has clubbed together with a friend so they can buy in bulk to get a better price. She points out another, thicker jersey fabric in muted colours of heather, indigo blue and green. “I worked for two years on my new cotton jersey, as I had to buy such a large quantity to get it, I had it knitted specially for Haruka, so I could specify the thickness, It’s brushed cotton so it’s got a nice hand feel, and it’s a subtle two-tone, so it’s not just a flat colour. It’s not a fabric I’ve seen on the high streets
Boobs and Curves
Amanda is a natural size 8, as she started out making clothes for herself she has had to learn about boobs and curves to make clothes for other body shapes. She likes her clothes to have a sense of elegance and luxury, so with the Tulip dress, for instance, she combines materials – the drape and flow of silk, with cotton jersey for the fit. She put a stretch fold down waistband on her trousers and they became really popular.
“I really love the feedback from friends and customers on how things fit. I spend time in the shop so I can get feedback, I’m trying to edge closer to the plus size market with some of my new clothes!”.
Other Designers in Haruka
Amanda always refers to Haruka as ‘we’, although she’s a sole trader she has strong bonds of community and friendship with both the other independent designers whose clothes she stocks and the Indian and Nepali family businesses she works with to make her own designs. She talks about Sophie who founded ‘Elfn’ and makes her merino wool felted waistcoats and wraps in her studio in Butleigh, with other pieces made in India and Nepal where she’s been working with small family businesses for over a decade.
Amanda also works with Felicity, an American married to an Ecuadorian from the Southern Andes, she set up a clothing business to protect indigenous craft traditional skills. Amanda sells her beautifully patterned scarves which have been made by the Ikat dyeing and weaving technique, so important it has been recognized by Unesco as being an intangible cultural heritage. The yarn is first tied in knots, then dyed (some are vegetable dyed), then untied and finally woven and finished with hand knotwork. The weavers are generally over 75 years of age, one even weaves for the pope.
The shawls retail at £121, I’m thinking this sounds expensive, until Amanda says “All the scarves differ in length because they are woven on a backstrap loom, so the length depends on the length of the weaver’s arms and body. In fact a lot of handwoven textiles come in narrow bands sewn together, because of the size of the loom in the home”. I realise how used to cheap factory production we have become and what a personal ‘labour of love’ these handwoven textiles are. Buying from Felicity means that Amanda knows the money goes directly to the weavers.
Helen is the supplier of ‘The Door to the Himalayas’ products, She’s a lecturer in textiles, who travels to India with her daughter to buy handwoven and traditional textiles directly from the communities where they are manufactured. Like the Botiya Tribe from Uttrakhand, she shows me the handwritten label on one item which proclaims “Lovingly handmade by Dilli Devi”.
Closer to home is the Raggedy label, designed by Hayley, who used to be based in the Silk Mill in Frome but has now moved further afield. She upcycles but also gets end of rolls from Welsh Mills and offcuts of high-quality fabrics from other designers, like linen. Her trademark design is her lagenlook ‘Coatigan’.
Amanda is heartfelt in her concern for the environmental impact of the fashion industry. “What I love about my shop is it feels good, it’s really tactile. I’m freaked out by the number of synthetic fibres in High Street clothes shops. I’m shocked by the static electricity, and that people don’t care as much as me about that”.
“I use all natural fabrics so they biodegrade, re-using a waste product from the industry by buying from the surplus market – I call it hunting and gathering. There’s a big debate about cotton and water usage, but still cotton is more environmentally friendly than synthetics. I want to make things that last, this isn’t throwaway fashion, something you only use for a season. I often have people telling me ’your clothes are really well made, I’ve had these for years’. My pieces are designed for longevity. I believe in preserving traditional skills – hand weaving, knitting, I’m over fast fashion. I consider myself to be part of the slow fashion movement. Even then I hesitate over the word fashion, I don’t want to diss the creativity of the fashion industry. I love shopping so much, I’ve ended up with a shop, but I don’t like the connotations of blind consumption. Part of my ethics is a step back from that consumer whirl, but I’m aware of the irony in saying that when I have a shop!”
I’ve never really thought of fashion as ‘important’, but I really learned something chatting to Amanda. Like me she has a tendency to obsessively fret over the ethics and long term consequences of her every decision. However, her passion has led her on such a journey of human connection that her love for what she does embraces not only her customers, but everyone around the world who has contributed to making the clothes she sells. I feel her business has ethical fashion at it’s heart.
Exclusive Offer! Subscribers to We Are Normal For Glastonbury get 10% off everything on the Haruka website, in the shop in Glastonbury, even SALE items.
This is just one of the exclusive deals from Glastonbury businesses available to members, who also get blog posts, news a member’s blog and more. Click the box on the right for details.
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