Founders of upcycled fashion label Sottes discuss sustainable strategy, having a childlike wonder, and the need to be eco-friendly

Founders of upcycled fashion label Sottes discuss sustainable strategy, having a childlike wonder, and the need to be eco-friendly

Young and green

Text: Ho Guo Xiong

The founding of sustainable fashion label Sottes (pronounced as “sots”) can be traced to a fateful encounter at Vivienne Westwood. The creators, Jeanne Guenat and Elliot Upton, were both working for the British label — the former was a product developer while the latter was an intern. A mutual interest in eco-friendly fashion led the two to strike out on their own to start Sottes in 2017.

Sottes, which translates to mean childish and mischievous, prides itself on being fully sustained by upcycled materials. You'll never find more than 10 pieces for each design they produce. No two look alike either. Their genderless, seasonless creations have since caught the eye of multi-label streetwear store Surrender, the sole stockist of the Swiss-based label. In light of their arrival onto our shores, we picked the brains of Guenat and Upton to learn more about the label, their eco-friendly ethos, and how they got to work with Surrender.

How would you define Sottes?
Jeanne Guenat (JG): Sottes is a brand that challenges the way people see fashion. We want people to think twice before they consume by opening their eyes on how clothes are made.

Sottes is a sustainable fashion label with a childlike message. Tell us more about that. 
JG: Sottes is a fashion brand and we don’t want our message to be all that people remember. We want people to wear our clothes and not reduce us to an activist label. 
Elliot Upton (EU): We also want to have fun and enjoy our design process and not take ourselves too seriously. A child is the most creative because their minds are open and naive and we want to invoke that creativity in our work.

Where does the childlike creativity show?
EU: The scribble prints are hand-drawn by me at the studio. Some take around 10 minutes, but others can take longer. I prefer the quicker ones as they feel more organic and less thought out. It is a fun challenge to come up with a scribble that seems natural and childlike each time. The scribbles are then screen printed onto the garment by hand, which results in different finishes each time due to the application of varying pressures.

How do you decide which print goes onto a shirt?
JG: That is when personal opinion and attraction comes in. There’s no marketing push so the two of us will pick the one that calls out to us.

And has this caused tension? 
EU: Definitely [laughs].

Your garments have an unfinished quality. Is that deliberate?
JG: Our garments are made to show the trace of the hand, so you can see imperfections with the raws hems and uneven stitchings, for example.

What were your childhoods like?
JG: I was a little naughty. My uncle is a farmer and I grew up in that natural environment. I used to climb trees with my cousins. 
EU: We grew up in a time before iPads and everyone would just be outside playing. I used to play sports so I’m sure I had broken a few windows with a football before. But since I was a kid, I’ve been into art and was always drawing.

Would you say that Sottes an avenue for you to rebel now?
JG: I have never been a massive rebel and didn’t felt like I had to, so it isn’t a therapy of sorts. 
EU: I was brought up with certain morals and my dad has always taught me not to waste anything. So I think it’s just exercising what I was brought up with and trying to impart that message to others.

How did you two decide to focus on sustainability?
JG: It’s a necessity to go down that path because the fashion industry is very wasteful. From the beginning, it was important for us to make a conscious effort to change parts of the industry that aren’t right. We don’t feel like it’s an obligation, but it is something that needed to be done.

What challenges have you faced since going green?
EU: Educating consumers about the sustainable concept is a challenge because it is so new and different. We are working to inform consumers about what goes on behind fashion, the labour it takes, and why prices are the way they are. Our prices are set because we want to pay our workers well and build a community.

What are the positives of going green?
JG: We get very excited when we find amazing fabrics. In addition, we love that challenge of having the material dictate the garment instead of the other way around. 
EU: Having limited materials also challenge us to think outside the box. For example, we had a small amount of leather available to us but it wasn’t enough to make bags. In the end, it worked out and we made them into keyrings.

Would the finite amount of materials limit your ideation?
JG: Yes, but in a good way. If we had too much fabric and we produced in big quantities, we would lose our slow fashion purpose. Profits are reduced but we like the idea of exclusivity where only a handful own something special.

Where do source your materials?
JG: We get them from different partnering organisations and companies in Switzerland. We source fabrics all year long and we never stop.

How do you decide what fabrics to use?
JG: It depends on what’s available, the quantity, and the feeling it gives us. At the moment, we don’t limit ourselves because we never know when a new idea that can make use of the materials will strike.

Why are your creations made to be sizeless and genderless?
JG: Since we have limited materials to work with, going genderless, seasonless, and sizeless allow us to minimise our waste as much as possible because we don’t have to create a shirt in different sizes and cuts, for example. Some of our shirts can be worn as a dress for women and a shirt for men.

What do you mean by ‘seasonless’?
JG: We don’t do spring/summer or fall/winter collections like other brands. Instead, we focus on our line called Recommence, which we will continue to add to. Similarly, we will do capsule projects, such as accessories and jewellery, based on the materials we find.

If each collection has no more than ten pieces and no two pieces are identical. How do you make an edit as narrow as this?
JG: If people don’t order a piece, we don’t make it. Our website shows all the pieces we are doing, and if there is no demand, we don’t put the design into production. This helps us to limit our wastage and not hurt our profits.

How do you stay afloat?
JG: We don’t price our garments at fast fashion prices so that allows us to find a balance between paying fair wages and keeping the brand alive. We have quite a high price tag, but we think of it as a luxury that places emphasis on craftsmanship and quality.

How did you decide to work with Surrender?
JG: We first met in 2017 in Singapore and again in Paris during fashion week. We presented our first prototype and they loved our story and wanted to support and build the brand. 
EU: Surrender also shares our vision for a more sustainable future in fashion. They felt that this is the future of fashion so they took a chance on us.

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