Today I’m super excited to share an interview with Kerry, founder and genius behind the beautiful, sustainable and ethical UK brand Verry Kerry. They sell a range of clothes, and kindly sent me one of their organic cotton dressing gowns to try out for myself which you can see more of here. Their playful patterns and cute colours are the perfect way to add a splash of fun into the winter doom and gloom, and beyond that they also have a very special black Friday initiative going on next week. Verry Kerry don’t believe in participating in Black Friday (hear hear!), but instead will donate 20% of all orders made from Friday 25th to Monday 28th November to buying socks for the homeless which they will personally hand out. Last year they reached 500 pairs, and they’re hoping to pass that goal this year, you can read more about their initiative here, so make sure to set a reminder to order between the 25th to the 28th to make your purchase go even further than just supporting sustainable and ethical practice. And keep reading to hear more about the heart behind this wonderful brand!
Where did your passion for sustainability and ethical fashion come from?
When I started Verry Kerry awareness about wrong practices in fashion wasn’t as widespread as it is today. However, having had the privilege to grow up in Africa, I knew that I didn’t want to be just another clothing brand. I started Verry Kerry with the intention to give back to less fortunate people and I could never have accepted to exploit someone in the process. I am also a passionate animal activist and I will never use animal derived materials in any shape or form, in any of my products. The same goes for polyester in our clothing as well as plastic in our packaging.
Trying to help others and the environment is at the forefront of everything we do. We also work with different projects like Kikora, in Kenya, Malambo Grassroots, in Zambia and Streets Kitchen, here in London, to help the less fortunate where we can. Being ethical and as sustainable as possible was never something to contemplate – it was an absolute must.
It is of course, an ongoing journey, we are constantly trying to learn, grow, develop, and improve our efforts.
You started trading in 2010, how have you seen attitudes and approaches to sustainable/ethical fashion change in that time?
Yes, at last we are seeing a change in attitude and of course awareness, though in my opinion, not enough. It should be a prerequisite to be ethical, a fundamental must. Especially for the giants in the business. They can afford it more than the little guys, but are ruled by larger profits and less morals. Tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 still resonate with me deeply, and while it brought more attention to the issue, unfortunately people tend to forget quickly, and sadly, cheap prices still prove virtually impossible to resist.
What does your design process look like? Where do you find inspiration for your beautiful patterns and prints?
I literally find inspiration everywhere! Shapes from some things, colour combinations from others … I am constantly taking pics on my phone of beautiful colour combinations of plants, flowers, carvings, stones, arrangements, food, or shapes on the ground, in carparks, on fruit, or the way the light hits something, a cluster of autumn leaves, or the funky mosaic tiles in my kitchen from Mexico. But mostly I get inspiration from the loves in my life; Travel – Africa, Australia, India, South America, Festivals, nature, flowers, mosaics, animals, fireflies, mangos .. to name but a few things!
Sometimes I illustrate a print with water colour and colour pencil, and then scan it into the computer, but mostly I illustrate on the computer and play with endless colour options and combinations from there ensuring to capture the energy intended. Each print has a feeling and energy, a desired mood. So as long as that is not compromised, I will work with whatever brings that out the most.
The screen printing process has its limitations for some designs, so for the more intricate prints I get them digitally printed. I develop my final print designs with the amazing screen printers – finalising the scale, colours, borders and fabric to be printed on. The same colours react very differently on different fabrics so there is a long testing period before hand. I am extremely hands on with my printers and am there with them for every part of the development. It is always such a thrill to see something that has been in my mind, then on the computer, come to life on fabric. I literally squeal with delight. And if I don’t squeal, I don’t run it.
I love your mantra for creative, comfort, kind and a little wild, how do you keep that spirit alive and fresh alongside the practicalities of running a business and having to create new designs?
It is a constant! I feel very blessed that I get to create pretty things and then do it all again in 6 months time. But it’s not only about that. Once the pretty things have been created, there is a huge deep development process in the clothing design and delivery. It is quite technical, and you have to become a pilot, coordinating and guiding the plane into land, as smoothly as possible. I have learnt a lot along the way and there have certainly been bumpy rides and landings! It is not easy. You then need to shoot all the pieces, write the content, get them online and then promote them so the job is never done, and before you know it, you have to do it all over again. And fast! But the innate passion and desire I have to create and design and the excitement of it all, keeps my colourful spirit alive!
I don’t work years in advance like the big brands .. I work in the season, and because I don’t mass produce, rather create special limited edition pieces, I don’t have unrealistic expectations on my workers or factory. I personally don’t understand how you can possibly know what you would like to create in 1 or 2 years time?! I work in the moment, and have wonderful relationships with my team who allow me to do so.
How does Verry Kerry source materials and how does this influence design?
We work with a selected few organic and natural fabric suppliers, that we have been using for years. They have all kinds of fabric from banana, to soya, milk, bamboo, tencel, organic cotton and anything you can think of. Not all fabrics handle or fall the same, especially when dyed or printed. So it is a long trial and error process knowing what works best, not only for my prints but the fall of garments they will ultimately become. I am constantly looking for new more sustainable options in the fabric world.
We also use AZO-free Earth-friendly dyes for all our printing.
Where are your pieces made?
All my pieces are made ethically in Delhi, India. My prints are hand screen printed by a expert, family run factory that has been mastering their trade for over 30 years. My prints are made into my collection in another close by exceptional family run factory. I spend most of time in these factories and they are my home away from home.
How do you decide on your suppliers (both materials and garment workers), do you have an ethical standard they have to comply by?
Yes, all our suppliers have clear labour practices that do not involve child labour and where workers are paid fair wages, in good conditions with excellent tools. In some cases they are paid 1.5 times the average wage. There are regular tea breaks, lunch breaks, holidays, promotions and training.
All suppliers are vetted personally and we regularly visit the facilities to ensure the standards are maintained.
But the biggest testament to these standards, probably comes from the fact that, in a high turnover industry, the majority of the workers have been there since the beginning.
I am extremely hands on and involved with every part of the process so I see for myself who my workers are, how they feel and where they work. I value each and every person and make a point of not only meeting everyone, but going around hugging and thanking everyone, as well as watching, observing and learning from these incredibly talented people in the process.
Where would you like Verry Kerry to be headed in the next few years?
On the product line side, I would like to expand into children, homeware and bedroom in a more significant way, as well as a small swimwear range. But I have a big vision to expand in to experiences, like vegan supper clubs, parties, events that bring passionate like minded people together, share skills, collaborate, create and ultimately give back, and inspire a more considered, kind, ethical approach to life, the planet and each other.
Thanks Kerry! You can shop more Verry Kerry online here – make sure to order from November 25th – 28th and 20% of profits will go to helping the homeless.
Photos by Yeshen Venema
Until next time, stay magic y’all