In Conversation With: Madara Freimane

In this first episode of the In Conversation With series, I talk to Madara Freimane, one of the forces behind the sustainable fashion platform, What’s Your Legacy.   Keep reading for some inspiring words on the site, sustainability and the future of fashion from this incredibly kind, talented and creative soul.

When did you get the idea to start WYL and what sparked your interest in sustainable fashion?
The first time I came across the term ‘Sustainable Fashion’ was due to my older sister. She came back from Sweden where she spent her summer during high school and ended up bringing back what she called ‘sustainable jeans’. Back then I had no concept of what that meant so I just laughed it off and asked her if they were made of paper. I always loved fashion and expressing my creativity through that but when I moved to London 5 years ago I felt overwhelmed by the amount of clothes available here. However, even though you could find almost every possible style something felt like missing. That availability took out the fun part of finding something unique since every garment was either from Zara, H&M or Topshop, and this naturally made me shop less.

Later while studying at London College of Fashion I quite innocently took up fashion production as one of my research subjects. We all know that the situation is not too good but when you really get exposed to what is happening you can’t go back. So I decided to start shop sustainably (whatever that means). Nevertheless, all I knew was high-street and when I googled sustainable fashion I saw things that I wouldn’t really want to wear. It was all very confusing but I kept on researching and slowly began to find some cool sustainable brands.  That’s when me and Anna, whom I complained to a lot about this, started What’s Your Legacy as both an ongoing research and as a way to talk to all of these brands. I knew that if I was having this problem there must be more people like me. With What’s Your Legacy we wanted to make shopping sustainably easier and show that you don’t have to sacrifice on aesthetics or any other of your values.

What’s the meaning behind the name of your platform “What’s Your Legacy”?
For us, What’s Your Legacy means thinking long term and once you start thinking long term your actions really change. You stop worrying about little things and think about what your impact will be, on a larger scale. We want people and companies to question their actions and we question ours as well. Instead of thinking about what would be your immediate business gain we wanted people to think about where would they be in 10-15 years time which actually is very necessary for a business. I think we all want to do good and have good intentions so we hope that this question makes people remind themselves of that.

I know it’s a huge concept, but could you briefly explain what sustainable fashion is, for those who might not be entirely aware yet of what those words really mean?
It is quite confusing term as it can entail many things but I would break them down like this:

  • Environmental Impact: That means not using toxins in the production of fabrics (using such fibres like organic cotton or other durable, less water consuming and innovative fabrics). A lot of toxins are used in the production of fabrics which not only pollutes the environment but also affects the health of workers and even the people wearing the finished garment. It could also mean sourcing locally or using dead-stock fabrics that are already there or recycled fibres.
  • Ethical Aspect: This means that the garment is not made in sweatshops where workers are exploited and are not paid fair wages but are instead made by artisans whose skills and craftsmanship are valued.
  • High Quality: This means that the garments created are long lasting quality garments.
  • Animal Friendly: For us it also means not using leather or fur (but also finding sustainable alternatives for that as large part of vegan leather is made out of PVC which is not environmentally friendly) and being very mindful about how, for example, wool is sourced or using Peace Silk which is a vegan friendly silk.

But sustainable can also mean second hand and vintage, it could mean innovative such as circular products that can be fully recycled in new products and so on. Different brands approach this in different ways.

What is your biggest aspiration for WYL?
There are lots of dreams and aspirations, but I think the biggest is just yet to come. For now we hope What’s Your Legacy becomes a useful source for sustainable fashion that would make it easy to shop, whilst simultaneously showing a wide range of beautiful brands that you love before you even know they are sustainable. We wish to achieve this by creating an e-commerce which would provide these options to people that are not yet ready to spend long hours researching. Besides editorial content this is what we are working on very hard at the moment. Overall, we want to create a place that we wish had existed when we first found out about sustainable fashion.

I wish that had existed for me too! I think I’ve wrapped my head around it now, and I’ve found a pretty good system when it comes to shopping sustainably, but what are your best tips for someone that is starting to look into transitioning into a more sustainable lifestyle?
I always tell people to do the best they can do in the situation and mindset they are in. None of us are perfect, we all find approaches that work best for us. Because, if we push ourselves too hard sooner or later we will find it difficult and will stop our efforts all together. So in general, of course, going vegan is a great way to minimise our environmental impact but if dropping all animal products at once seems scary, do it little by little and watch documentaries that will help you to educate yourself and understand why you are doing it. Buying clothes from smaller/sustainable brands can be great way to shop sustainably but it doesn’t mean that you can never ever shop on high-street again.Maybe buy one item less or by one item more from a sustainable brand and see how you like the quality and the design. I myself love when someone asks me where I got a particular item and I can tell them about a brand they might not know. Vintage is awesome as well and the feeling that no one else has what you have is pretty rewarding.  But little things like carrying refillable water bottle or reusable bags for groceries is an easy way to start. The important thing is that when you can afford to do something more you do more but until then you do the best you can.

Madara Freimane, shot by Aniko Legner

And do you have any tips for someone who might have the impression that shopping sustainably is more expensive? 
Firstly, second hand and vintage is a great way to start. It is not for everyone but works for some. It’s also really helpful to evaluate whether you need as many cheap items or if you can buy nicer, better quality item instead. I am all for having fun and being creative with my wardrobe but a lot of the time, we do end up buying things we don’t even wear or wear just once now and then and this is where you could save money that could be spent on something more sustainable. But as I mentioned before – start slowly. For example, buy one item from smaller/sustainable/ethical brand instead of high street and not all of it is as expensive so you can find options for sure. Different people find different approaches to this. That is why we started our video series ‘My Sustainable Wardrobe‘ on Youtube where we talk to people who are conscious about their shopping habits.

What are some of your favourite sustainable brands?
There are so many but some recent cool finds are Nude Label, EoE Glasses, Reformation, Pamela Wool, Diarte, Sunad, Martine Jarlgaard, RAFA.

You create such beautiful and creative content. Where and how does your creativity flow best?
Firstly, thank you so much! It is funny, I really love colour even if I wear mostly black myself so I try to put that in my work.I also enjoy art, especially impressionism, modern and post-modern art. I spend hours at exhibitions and come out overwhelmed and fascinated by the stories told. I also read too many artist biographies. Their stories really fascinate me. But for me I sometimes come up with an idea in the middle of night and if in the morning it still sounds 50% reasonable I will try it out and see if it works. I also love humour so hopefully I will involve more of that in our content.

What inspires you?
People and their stories! I want to have a fascinating story myself as well, probably, hence the Legacy. I get inspired by people who have challenged and changed things in the world. Like Malala who didn’t have any favourable circumstances to do what she did and is doing. People like Elon Musk who prove that you can have a highly successful business and it can help the world. We so often try to divide business from doing good which in my opinion is the wrong kind of thinking. Also someone like Ghandi that proved that non violence works. I guess, the creators and doers instead of those who just talk and contemplate things.

And what legacy do you hope to leave?
I have been thinking about this a lot since I get to ask this question daily to people that we film for our ‘Share Your Legacy’ video series. Some while ago I noticed that most of the entrepreneurs I look up to are male and I think as long as we as females won’t see high ranking female entrepreneurs it will be much more difficult to believe we can achieve great things as well. I think this happens very unconsciously. But why shouldn’t the new cool startup be founded by a female? So it would be my dream to create something in my lifetime that would not only be highly successful but also change the world in a positive way and inspire someone else to do that as well. I know sounds like really big thing to do but I am not allowing anyone to tell me that I can’t.

Follow Madara and What’s Your Legacy on Instagram and Facebook.

Madara Freimane, shot by Aniko Legner