With today being International Women’s Day, there’s no better way to illustrate the achievements of strong women than an interview with Store of Hope. More than just a fashion brand, Store of Hope shows the story of two strong women with a passion for fashion and philanthropy. Anna, and her colleague Eeva work in Nepal with underprivileged local artisans to create clothes and accessories that embody traditional Nepalese techniques and Finnish flair.
Last week I was lucky enough to connect from rainy Manchester to a cozy Finnish log cabin, where I had a chat with Anna. Anna is head of marketing and branding at Store of Hope, and she spoke to me all about the brand, its fashion, its production, and most of all, its values. Read all about it below:
A bit about you guys, what’s your background? Have you always had an interest in fashion?
Eeva’s a clothing designer with a fashion background. She started Store of Hope six years ago. I jumped in a few years later and got involved in the branding and sales. My background is actually with furniture, where I dove into the world of branding, fair design, and ethical manufacturing. It all started as a passion to design and manufacture locally in Finland but when I met Eeva, I realised the true importance of working in developing countries.
So, Eeva had the fashion, you had the branding. How exactly was Store of Hope born from this?
Eeva had been working in Ethiopia and Nepal before she started Store of Hope. She realised she wanted to start a business to work with the local talent, do product design and manufacturing whilst still having a positive impact on the locals.
When we met, Store of Hope was just beginning. Working in Nepal was quite a tough environment. We had to figure out a lot before we could actually start manufacturing top quality products. Eeva had built contacts, she was ready to produce and even had a small customer base. But she had no knowledge in sales or branding. So that’s where I came in!
Was it always important to you to be sustainable and help people?
Yeah, that’s at our very core. Consumerism isn’t going to stop anytime soon, at least not in our lifetime. We just hope that we can create a more sustainable type of consumerism. Our question was: how can consumerism be used as a force for good? A force to help people who live in tough situations. It’s about trying to find this win-win situation.
What inspires you at the moment?
How does this show in your brand?
What inspires me is that the conversation of sustainable fashion is moving in the right direction. People are waking up and it’s so inspiring to be amongst the first brands at the forefront fighting the way. We love being a part of the pioneer spirit. It’s interesting to work in a field at such a shakey time and to find solutions for fashion’s previous mistakes.
Did you made any mistakes when starting the brand? How did you overcome them? Have you learned any life lessons whilst creating Store of Hope?
So many. One of the biggest mistakes was trying to listen to too many different opinions and serve too many customers. We were trying to be a brand that can answer to everyone. When we were finding our style and searching for who we are as Store of Hope, it became clear that we have to stay true to our style and focus on a more selected customer group. It’s like our own little Store of Hope family.
Your production takes place in Nepal. Why did you choose to produce there?
Store of Hope actually started as a Finnish humanitarian project. A group of guys were fundraising to build schools and safehouses in Nepal. Eeva fell completely in love with what the guys were doing and wanted to take part. The safehouse offered employment for women through jewellery making, so Eeva did some design work with them and then the jewellery was sold in Finland to fund the safehouse. It was so successful, they even made a movie out of it! Eeva found some fashion connections in Nepal and she started to work with them and develop the work more. That’s the long story short (I don’t know how to get it shorter!)
In what ways has the project been a success?
We’re still working with some of the women who made the first lots of jewellery but they actually were able to build up their own company and aren’t living in the safehouse anymore. They’ve gone from living in these safehouses to becoming entrepreneurs and employing other women and people in vulnerable situations.
What are the working conditions like?
Our cashmere products are made in a family-owned factory that is dedicated to a more ethical way of doing things, even if this means not always striving for the cheapest price. It’s not always easy for workers in developing countries to demand quality working conditions, so they need to find partners who are willing to pay a bit more to educate them in that field. That’s what we do. We partner with locals where we see potential that we can grow our businesses together. For example, our cashmere manufacturer is in fairtrade certification preparation. When he gets it, we’re applying for it hopefully this year or early next year.
In terms of fairtrade certification, have you found it difficult for smaller brands to get certified?
Yeah. Some parts of fairtrade are really hard to get. In Nepal, for instance, if the employees are uneducated, they don’t have the knowledge to go out and look up what is required, what needs to be changed or how to implement the certification.
It’s often the case that the fairtrade certified producers are owned by Western companies. but we want to help the locals build their organisations themselves. Even, after we’re gone in the future, we want them to still be able to run their own business.
What is your favourite item at Store of Hope at the moment?
I’m a massive earring person, so I’ve got to choose the bead earring collection. I love how they’re not the most traditional type of earring you’d find here in Finland. I like the urban touch and the combination of Scandinavian and traditional Nepalese.
What items would you recommend for a great springtime outfit?
It would have to be my cashmere scarf – I use it daily! The weather in spring really varies; mornings and afternoons have a massive temperature change. You can easily throw the scarf on and off. So it’s practical! I also love how you can change up your outfit with the scarf in so many different ways.
What is your favourite fair fashion brand?
That’s tough as there are just so many! I really love Jungle Folk – their style is great. They’re the pioneers of ethical fashion. I look up to them in so many ways. The quality is crazy good, it’s like it’s tailor made!
What are your plans for the future of Store of Hope? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Instead of mainly offering accessories, we’re heading toward clothing. We’re hoping to get our knitwear collection out by next Winter. I’m looking forward to having a bigger brand so we can manufacture more things. We have this vision to lead the conversation about sustainability at least in Northern Europe. If we had to pick one topic, our priority has always been with the people and it always will be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that ecological production has become so huge recently, but we want to keep the voice for the people. For example, in Nepal, sometimes we have to make sacrifices with our material choices as there can be stuff they don’t import or political situations where there is only a small variety of materials you can use.
If you could sum up your brand in a sentence, what would it be?
Our slogan is Wear Your Values. That’s what we do!