I discovered ethical and sustainable fashion company Free Label on Instagram last year. They are the second sustainable fashion brand that I made a purchase from! You can see how I styled their Evan Dress during my Fall 10×10 and keep reading for an interview with Founder, Jess Sternberg.
Introduction! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Jess Sternberg and I am the owner of Free Label – a consciously made clothing company. I’m originally from Toronto but, spent some time living in Montreal and South Korea. Now I am settled in Vancouver with my partner Julian and cat Mugatu.
What inspired you to create Free Label?
I managed a womenswear boutique in Toronto for a few years. The boutique specialized in Canadian made activewear, and I was in charge of the buying. I spent a lot of my time searching for great Canadian made brands that made flattering pieces for women with busy, active lives and couldn’t find what I was looking for. After that, I asked the store owner whether he would let me stock a brand at the store if I created one and he said go for it! We started with one style – the Betty Tank – named after my mom for the number of times she drove me to and from the Toronto factory during that first season. The Betty Tank sold like crazy and our customers gushed about how they wanted more options like this. I knew I had to pursue this dream further.
What is your favourite Free Label item?
I think my favourite items, even after 5 seasons of making them, are the classic Johnny Tee and Betty Tank. I’ve been wearing one at least 4 days of the week for the past 2.5 years. I try to reach for other items, but I feel so confident and comfortable in the tops that I don’t bother anymore. At this point, I think jeans or leggings with a Johnny Tee or Betty Tank is my life uniform.
Where do you find inspiration when designing new items?
To be completely honest, I design for myself and for my life. I can’t say I follow the trends and analytics of fashion. I just want to make clothing that will fit into my busy life and make me feel good. Each piece has to flatter my not-so-perfect figure, be comfortable enough to wear to yoga, look polished enough to wear to dinner, and go with everything else in my closet. I figure if I want to be comfortable, feel polished, and buy items that last, other women must feel the same way.
What is the good cause that you promote and support through your brand?
In a general sense, Free Label is founded on the belief that clothing can be a solution to the problems of fast fashion. We promote buying fewer, better quality items and supporting locally and ethically made brands. It’s a conscious decision to make all our garments in Canada by fairly paid workers and with sustainable textiles that will biodegrade.
In addition to our company ethos, there are a few charities and causes that we support. This year we supported individuals affected by MS. All the profits from our limited edition Buggers Pullovers (there are a few left! 😉 ) went toward the sponsorship of women affected by MS. This year for Boxing Week we opted to celebrate “Un-Boxing Week”, in which we took 6 styles with incomplete size runs that we would have had to put on sale and donated them to Covenant House BC before Christmas. We also partner with “buy one” programs, so we can plant a tree or donate a meal for every purchase made during special promotions. We are always looking for new ways to give back to our local community, so if you have an idea we would love to hear it.
How are you planning on growing Free Label and continuing to be a part of the slow and sustainable fashion movement?
My biggest next step in growing Free Label has been to leave my job so I can put more time and energy into Free Label. For the past two and a half years I have been working a full-time job while running my own business and I’ve decided in order to grow, I need to take the risk. I look forward to spending more time nurturing wholesale partnerships with local boutiques, marketing via social media and local pop-ups, and connecting deeper with the ethical and sustainable fashion community. A few of my goals for 2018 are to introduce a men’s capsule (men love to shop ethically too!), offer a wider range of sizes, show body and cultural diversity in our photoshoots, and learn to blog.
What advice would you like to give to today’s women?
My biggest advice would be to take some time to really hone in on your personal style. We are constantly being pulled in different directions by big box retailers – “velvet is so in” “trade in all your skinny jeans for wide leg silhouettes.” It’s hard to know what our person style even is! Go through your closet and mark everything you LOVE and wear the most. What do these pieces have in common? What do you love but maybe don’t wear so often? Is it possible that these items are more fun to want and not necessarily to buy? Once you get a sense of the pieces and styles you wear the most, it’s easier to shop with intention and learn to genuinely love the closet you already have.
Just remember: be kind to yourself in the process. You are not a bad person for buying an affordable coat at H&M. Let’s shift our shopping habits without tearing ourselves down.
We welcome you to share your thoughts about sustainable fashion in the comments below. We would love to start a conversation with you!
Peace and Love,