An interview with... Kjersti Willet, KJ London Designer
Sweetie, its reeaallly refreshing to see that your label is an antidote to fast fashion! What made you want to create something differently?
I think it was a rebellion against fast fashion, to fight against the direction of the way I think we’re heading. It’s always been a hobby to create, and I’ve always said if I could use my hobby usefully or make it a job, it would be a dream scenario. Fast fashion isn’t stable – it’s against everything I stand for and I feel like I have to lead by rebelling against it. Thankfully I’ve done this for years now and there are a lot of brands that are catching on by also being sustainable and slowing things down.
We heard on the grapevine that you use organic leather, how wonderful! Can you tell us about it?
I work with two tanneries, which I have chosen because of their conscious attitude to the environment. The vast majority of the leather I use is from Italy and it’s called veg tan. Leather is a very dirty industry; it’s hard to deal with leather in a conscious way because of all the chemicals they use. The guys I use in Italy follow a very long, old tradition of tanning the leather without the use of chrome; they use bark. It’s a very slow process; they soak the leather in different bark and that’s how they get the hair off the hide. It takes 6-8 weeks to go through this process, so it’s very time laborious, but it gives a completely different product and one I most enjoy working with. Most of the people I know that work with leather prefer this way, because it behaves and ages differently. Most importantly, its biodegradable and it doesn’t release any chemicals when it goes back to nature.
I love that it’s very natural. I love that you can trust it.
Kjersti, we want to be like you! How can we all work together to combat unsustainability in the fashion industry?
I think the main thing that everyone can do is what I call “considerate purchases”. Consider everything we buy. It doesn’t matter where we start; “do I buy the imported beans from Kenya in a plastic bag, or do I buy the local produce? Do I need another fake fur coat which takes 10,000 years at least to break down?”
What has become more and more interesting is that every bit of plastic that has ever been produced is still around – it hasn’t gone anywhere. If we consider what we do, it isn’t actually that difficult to cut out or cut down.
We know what you’ve been up to, Kjersti, so spill the beans! You were a model in your teens, weren’t you? How glamorous! Is this what sparked your interest in fashion or were you always a fashionista?
I was already interested in fashion, but through working in fashion, I learned how you can use it to create an identity or make your identity seen. We are tribal; humans have always been tribal and we use fashion to show where we belong. I think it’s interesting to go from being so into fast fashion in the nineties when I started modelling, to now rebelling against it.
Outside of your fashion label, what do you do to live a natural or organic lifestyle?
I buy virtually everything I can organic; I buy all my vegetables and a lot of meat from Riverford Organic (pictured below) – there is not a plastic bag in sight. We’re just about to start doing up our house and everything we do to it, we ask if we can use natural materials. It’s all choices, and getting the kids involved to understand. The same with furniture, I buy a lot of old pieces and I do the same with clothes – I love vintage. I buy second-hand wherever I can. With shoes I use small shoe makers and have a lot of bespoke shoes made. If you think about the cost-per-wear, it’s not that expensive. I think of it as not buying fashion, but collecting clothes. I’m a collector, or a hoarder I guess!
What is your inspiration?
Everything! Nature, art… I go back and I try to create very classic pieces which could withstand time, so rather than looking forward, I look back. I look back to the 50s, 60s, and 70s to see what is current and what will come back, because it was all in fashion once upon a time, and we can use it to predict what will come in fashion again and again. I am inspired by old magazines, like old Vogues. I have old magazines from the 60s and 70s that I get out every now and again.
What does the term ‘Go Natural’ mean to you?
To be organic and less synthetic in every aspect – what I put in and on my body and what I surround myself with.
If you could advise someone to go natural one way or another, what would it be?
Reduce the use of synthetic materials, buy less meat, buy less and buy personal. Buy a little bit less and buy a little bit better.