The creative process is all about bringing an abstract idea to fruition. Throughout the process scribbles on a napkin or vaguely interconnected ideas crystallize into something actionable and a tangible product is the outcome. For some, that end point is an ad, a painting, a beautifully designed object, a film. For Matt Cooper, founder of The Fableists, the endgame of his “big idea” was a design-led sustainable clothing line for kids.
A veteran of the ad industry, Cooper is no stranger of making things happen–he’s launched several advertising related businesses over his career. Delving into the weedy world of the garment industry, however, was another story altogether, but one that he and his wife Sarah (also long connected to advertising), saw this as just another creative challenge.
“What inspired me to launch it was spending time in India on business, a country I had kind of fallen in love with. I studied the garment industry there and began to realize that my four kids were mainly wearing clothes possibly made by other kids, in horrible conditions. All the high street shops were setting targets and goals for ethical production and sustainable business–some of which were over a decade away and I thought that I could do better than that. That I could change things. And the way I knew how best to do so was to work with the brilliant creative people I had meet over the years in my other businesses within the advertising and production worlds.”
The Fableists is line of classically utilitarian clothes made in India from ethically sustained organic cotton, without the use of child labor. But it doesn’t bear the hallmarks of a “green company.” Instead, it’s got a bit of a punk attitude, something that reflects the partners involved, which include a number of advertising players in the U.K., where The Fableists is based. Ad agency Brothers and Sisters are equity partners in the business and have created the brand’s advertising and marketing, a luxury for a small startup. The brand also partnered with artists and graphic designers, such as Crispin Finn and Anthony Peters, to create limited edition T-Shirt designs, top photographer Sam Robinson has helped shaped their visual identity, and London production company Great Guns is a production partner. All of this, along with quality-made classic styles like denim shirts, smock shirts, and Breton tops (“They reflect the clothes that are being worn in the creative industries from NYC to Japan to Paris and London,” says Cooper), has helped The Fableists garner significant media attention. Now, the company has launched a Kickstarter campaign (which ends on April 23) to help fund its second line of clothing.
To raise awareness of the brand, they’ve just released a brand film, directed by Great Guns director Oliver Venturini. Titled “Finn,” the sun-dappled piece is like a love letter to childhood. In it, the eight-year-old titular character spends his day skateboarding around London, sometimes with friends, but often in moments of solitary study. “The concept of the film was to feel brave and slightly rebellious–to see a kid with a real talent or passion that we could capture,” says Cooper. “Finn is an amazing skateboarder. We didn’t want to go crazy with his tricks–that may have been too obvious. We just wanted to shoot a lovely slice-of-life of a wonderful kid. Finn reminds me of how kids used to behave, outside and free. He is what I want to think of when I think of the brand.”
What people think of the brand is one of the most important factors, says Cooper. “I always saw the kids wearing our clothes as a bit of a gang. I loved the punk scene when I was younger and all the other rebellious crowds that were trying to do something different. I wanted the brand to feel very different from many of the other organic/ethical clothing companies. I wanted the clothes to feel like they could be worn by kids who understood what we were doing and for the people buying them (normally parents) to understand it too.”
This attachment, he hopes, will prompt another action key to The Fableists ethos: treating the clothes as something other than disposable. With mantras like Dress Good, Grow Honest, Wear Me Out, and Make Art Not War, the pieces speak to the company’s brand values. But Cooper also anticipates the designs will stand the test of time. “We like to refer to our clothing as ‘future vintage’ because we see them being worn over and over and taking on a new identity with each new wearer,” he says, making reference to an original Vivienne Westwood/ Jamie Reid ‘’God Save the Queen’’ Sex Pistols T-shirt he has hanging in his home as inspiration. “It’s framed in a huge gold frame and I just love it. It’s a piece of art. I wanted our T-shirts to feel that way too. That’s the reason we got so many great artists working on our tees. We want to also start breaking new artists on these T-shirts and will have a constant flow of new designs.”
The Fableists is a quintessential example of slow fashion–a thoughtful rejection of fast, cheap, disposable clothing–meaning each step of the process is, well, slower. The current Kickstarter campaign will specifically fund the purchase of the organic fabrics, as they are made to order. But Cooper has the patience needed to build the brand and offer something different in the realm of kids clothing.
“This is obviously a business and we want to make money, but we are really passionate about the production process of the clothes,” Cooper says. “So there is a long wait for the fabrics before we can even go in to production on the clothes, but here is no reason we should be wearing clothes full of toxins, produced in sweatshops by kids. It is just unacceptable. It’s 2014! I thought bringing these great people together would give us a great chance of getting people to listen. Where we hope to end up is truly having changed the way parents think about buying kids clothes, to help other brands who want to do the same thing as really it’s not that difficult. We want to collaborate with many more people and create a lifestyle brand that brings like-minded people together to build momentum for a change in the way that we think of, consume, and dispose of clothing.”