Meet the ethical fashion designer who made it to Forbes 30 under 30 in under a decade
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Charli Cohen’s fashion genius has earned her a place on the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list— one achievement amongst many, including a partnership with Reebok. But perhaps the most admirable of all is Cohen’s commitment towards sustainable production methods - a topic that has been on the rise following this season’s London Fashion Week.
Down to earth, relatable and fun-loving were the words that came to mind when I think of my encounter with Charli Cohen. At just 29, Cohen has built a name for herself designing high-quality activewear. She builds her company on the ethos of “empowerment and evolution, with a dose of humour."
Cohen was kind enough to have agreed to meet up with my colleague and I, where we sat down for a short interview.
Charli Cohen // Image courtesy of Charli Cohen
How did you first make the brand Charli Cohen into reality?
I started out with my first fashion brand when I was 15. I was really keen to get a grounding in the industry and everything that I needed to do beyond actually designing. I did that for four years, until university, and then through my degree. My plan in the end was to launch my real brand. I did social media consultancy and also online wellness consultancy whilst at uni to start saving to invest in the business. I used my final year and my graduate collection to conceptualize the brand so my graduate collection was a launch, really.
What have been the challenges been in beginning your own brand?
The challenges are always finance. Fashion is a very expensive industry, it’s a slow industry to build a business in especially building in a sustainable way, not just environmentally but financially sustainable. It’s a challenging one to balance and grow in the right way. Certainly, at that time it was a very closed industry and figuring out how things work was really quite difficult.
One of Charli's designs // Image courtesy of Charli Cohen
Why did you decide to design technical wear?
Sport is another passion of mine; it’s why I qualified as a personal trainer. Whilst at uni, my designs started very naturally going in that direction; it wasn’t something that I planned to do. I realised that that was the aesthetic that I liked and also I enjoyed the challenge of creating something that was beyond something that was visually appealing. I have kind of a geeky excitement about it.
With regards to sustainability, why do you think it was important?
Now, it seems foolish not to build out of a sustainable business model. We understand enough now about the environmental impact and the human abuses caused by the fashion industry. It’s a matter of conscience and common sense to be making that kind of front of centre of any brand model.
How do you keep your brand sustainable?
The first thing for me was making sure that all the people in the brand are being looked after. So with our supply chain, that means working with factories that are fully audited; spending a lot of time in factories myself. Most of the factories we work with are family-run so it’s a nice tight circle. Making sure that the people are paid fairly and that the working conditions are good. Beyond that, it’s making sure that how are supply chain are as environmentally sustainable as possible. All the mills we work with run on renewable energy. They have a lot of initiatives on recycling as well; a lot of our fabrics are made using recycled ocean plastics.
Image courtesy of Charli Cohen
What do you think about fast fashion?
I’m sure there are brands out there who are going about things in a more sustainable way, but on the whole it encourages unhealthy consumption and a lot of waste from the consumer perspective and also results in a lot of waste, because in order to meet the price points, really, really significant quantities of products have to be produced - far more than they could ever sell, and you’re left with products that go into landfill. And again, to hit that fast fashion price point, a lot of corners tend to be cut with ethics as well, which is where you get a lot of these human abuses within the supply chain
Do you have any advice for consumers on how to change their shopping habits and shop in a more sustainable way?
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