Is corporate greed the root of capitalism’s evil? Ethical fashion entrepreneur Claudia Radu believes so. The founder of Honest Department, a UK-based global conscious fashion platform is on a mission to drive positive change, hoping to raise ethical and environmental standards not just in the fashion industry, but in the business environment too.
“I believe businesses play a key part in addressing social and economic issues, and as founder of Honest Department I want to do just that,” reads Radu’s LinkedIn profile.
Like many social entrepreneurs, she was awakened to the world’s injustices from an early age and felt a responsibility to do her bit to help. Born and raised in an affluent city in Germany, she spent many summers in rural Transylvania where her mother was originally from.
“My childhood was one of contrasts,” shares Radu. “As I grew older, I started becoming more aware of the differences between these two places I call home, and what it means for people who happen to be born on one side of the fence or the other.” She had a growing sense that the world is unfair but didn’t know how to fix it.
Driven by her curiosity and an urge to make a difference, she would later go on to pursue a degree in Political Economy in London. “I concentrated on understanding how structural and cultural barriers create inequality and what we can do to fix it.”
Radu, however, was continually disappointed with the solutions being put forward. “Most of the worlds’ problems seemed to stem from corporate greed and so fixing governments and institutions seemed like a losing battle.”
It was when she learned of social entrepreneurship and the benefits of conscious business and conscious consumerism that Radu knew she had found a way forward.
She isn’t alone in this. The entrepreneur is one of a growing number of young people rejecting the call of ‘traditional’ workplaces in favour of launching businesses that champion social causes. In a free market that seems to have largely forgotten about ethics, humanity and the environment, there is hope that social entrepreneurs will improve capitalism for the better and fix some of the world’s most pressing social issues.
Through Honest Department’s curation of trend-led ethical and sustainable fashion, Radu is hoping to bring substance back into a fashion conversation dominated by profit-profit-driven fast fashion businesses.
But why fashion?
“Firstly, I love fashion and I have definitely been guilty of shopping fast fashion in the past,” she shares. “As my ethics became incompatible with shopping on the high-street, I came across the same problem over and over again. There just weren’t that many retailers that provide only ethical and sustainable options, and if they did, it was either not to my taste or the shipping and returns process was rather inconvenient.”
If you’re committed to shopping ethically and sustainably you may have experienced much the same thing, pouring precious time and exerting much effort into finding better, stylish alternatives, ordering from multiple websites which is inconvenient and inevitably increases the carbon footprint of shipping as well.
“The truth is, online shopping is terrible for the environment, especially when people opt for fast delivery (an option that we do offer). The increasing amount of delivery trucks on the road, coupled with the amount of packaging required to safely deliver products is worsening climate change,” Radu explains. “What’s more, about 85 percent of all clothing ends up in landfills.”
The Honest Department operates differently to most fashion e-commerce businesses. It takes responsibility for the environmental impact of all the products it sells, uses no additional plastic in its supply chain and its packaging is completely recyclable and compostable. The business also supports two carbon offsetting projects and plans to become carbon neutral in the near future.
“We plant trees for every delivery we make and we also support a Landfill Management Programme in Indonesia in the hopes of offsetting the negative impact of deliveries and the end-of-life of clothing,” says Radu.
With Honest Department, she also aims to make the purchase of ethical and sustainable fashion convenient and price-attainable, so that its accessible to the mainstream market and not just a privileged few. Stocking a broad range of women’s fashion, from workwear to wardrobe essentials to socks and stockings, Honest price points aren’t your typical empty-the-bank-account ethical fashion prices either, with tees starting at just £19.95, culottes £48, dresses at £34 and jumpsuits at £74.
Browsing the website, it becomes apparent that Radu has a great eye for detail and design. The online marketplace is aesthetically appealing, with a minimalist quality that is unmissable. Easy to navigate, you can search for items based on your priorities and values, selecting from categories such as ‘Eco Friendly’, ‘Natural and Organic’, ‘Social Change’, ‘Artisanal & Handmade’ and ‘Vegan.’
“Globally, wages in the fashion industry are only half of what could be considered a living wage. There are an average of 5.6 accidents per 100 workers – nearly double compared to similar industries. Our brands ensure their workers are paid a living wage in a safe environment.” Honest Department
The collections, ‘Under £50’, ‘Going Out’, ‘Chasing Summer’ and ‘Workwear’ are filled with carefully selected wardrobe basics and contemporary pieces featuring feminine styles and classic silhouettes from lust-worthy ethical labels such as Symbology, All the Wild Roses, Diarte, Dorsu and Sugarhill Brighton just to name a few. Each piece is undeniably fashionable, but has the capacity to stay ‘on trend’ season-on-season, year-on-year.
“Every item we curate must stand on its own in terms of design — we stock fashion that everyone would want to wear, wether they are an eco-fashionista or not.”
We were keen to gain more business insights from this kick-ass female entrepreneur, so we interviewed Claudia Radu to learn the ins and outs of running a startup conscious fashion business.
EWP: Highlights of running your business?
Claudia Radu: Being able to use my creativity and passion freely is definitely my favourite part. We haven’t been around for long but I’m most proud of the positive and friendly culture amongst everyone we work with. Part of my job is to make sure everyone has what they need and are in the right environment to do what they do best, so I’m always thrilled when people say they had a great time working with us.
EWP: Any entrepreneurial challenges?
CR: The most challenging aspect is sometimes not knowing where to look for an answer, and even when you find it, wondering if it’s the right answer. When you have a ‘boss’, you have someone to turn to when you’ve run out of ideas. Knowing you are solely responsible for the decisions you take for your business is definitely not easy, especially if your missions it to ‘do good’.
EWP: Favourite sustainable lifestyle brands?
CR: Maybe not the first thing most people would think of, but I love the Ecovero range of eco-friendly cleaning supplies! Their factories are environmentally conscious, the ingredients they use are naturally derived – and it’s not expensive either. I also love the Salt of The Earth deodorant.
EWP: How do you unwind after a big work day?
CR: I love to cuddle up on the couch with my partner and our dog for a quiet movie night. That being said, I am not opposed to a fun night out with my friends after a tough week!
EWP: Best business compliment you’ve ever received?
CR: I don’t think I have one favourite, but whenever people reach out to tell me they love what we‘re doing and what we stand for, it makes it all so worth it.
EWP: People, books and films that have influenced your sustainable thinking?
CR:Joseph Stiglitz’ ‘The Price of Inequality’ and Dani Rodrik’s ‘The Globalization Paradox’ must be the two books that riled me up against capitalism the most and shaped my outlook on corporate responsibility vis-à-vis communities and the environment, and the necessity of wealth redistribution.
I’m a huge fan of Safia Minney – the work she has done to raise awareness around ethical fashion and Fairtrade in general is incredible! Her book ‘Slow Fashion’ has been incredibly useful in shaping our companies’ internal process and policies. Blogs such as Sustainably Chic, Marta Canga and of course, EWP have provided me with so many tips and tricks on living a sustainable lifestyle. Lastly, the now cult documentary The True Cost was shocking – I was already familiar with the wrongdoings of the industry but seeing it with my eyes, on film, shook me to the core.
EWP: What are some things that you’d like customers to know that you rarely communicate or promote on social media?
CR: This is quite a hard question! We try to be as transparent as possible so there‘s not much to tell about Honest Department that you can‘t find on our website. Personally, however, I would like people to know that I am reading every single comment and email sent my way! I take everything to heart – the good, the bad and the ugly – so if you think you have an idea on how we can improve ourselves, please reach out and talk to me.
EWP: Quotes you live by?
CR: Sent to me by one of my bestest of friends whilst I was going through a rough time:
“And to demand too much is the surest way of getting less than is possible..” – Bertrand Russell
“There’s no need to worry. If something can be changed, change it. If something cannot be changed, accept it.” – Unknown
“When you don’t know what to do, look at your values and they will show you the answer.” – My dad
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Honest Department. Opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Images supplied. Editorial photography by Anna Anagnostou. All other images by We Are Studio. Specific product information is checked with the business. For more information about our policies, click here.
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