Eleanor O’Neill, founder of STUDY34, created her ethical fashion online space in order to understand and ethically justify the way that clothing is produced. STUDY34 is there to encourage innovative and responsible fashion brands in their mission to produce modern clothing and accessories, in a sustainable and ethical way.
At AmaElla, we had the chance to interview Eleanor and now we would like to share it with you.
Our first question to you is, what motivated you to start STUDY 34 and as a designer when did you become conscious about sustainable fashion?
The idea came on gradually. I went studied fashion at university and I worked for a few brands before I started STUDY 34. My last job was at an Italian company where, in a design role, I became increasingly frustrated with how repetitive the job was. I wasn’t finding it rewarding because I felt I wasn’t learning, which made me unhappy. The process that goes into creating clothing is very fragmented and as a designer you only occupy one small box in the chain. It was difficult to gain insight into the other stages that make up the clothing supply chain and I felt that it was key to understand all of them and how they connected in order to be the best designer I could be. I felt that I didn’t gain enough insight into understanding the mistakes I might have been making because I wasn’t involved in the process that came after my input. I didn’t feel like I knew how to get better.
So I thought about the knowledge and skills I had gained so far in my career and whether it was enough to do something on my own that I could build on – and so STUDY 34 began. I do so many different things now. I have my own knitwear to design, I write a lot on the topic of responsible fashion and I try to collaborate with other brands to do new things. STUDY 34’s role is always evolving and I enjoy that.
You do designing, branding, blogging, interviewing and e-commercing. How do you manage it all?
It can be difficult. However, all of these things compliment one another I think, which works well. I’m also lucky, because I enjoy all of it…most of the time! I like the variety and I don’t back away from a challenge. Sometimes I struggle with how much there is to do but it’s about trying to refine each processes so they all work well alongside each other.
What motivated you to come to sustainable fashion?
I first started thinking about STUDY 34 for many reasons and many of them were to do with the fashion industry I had experienced until that point. It felt odd that we would all be in an office not knowing anything about the production of the products were designing. If felt wrong. So when I decided to set up STUDY 34 I know that it was going to be built on this idea of knowledge around a product and understanding its origins. I think designing products responsibly comes hand in hand with a certain company mindset – and without that mindset, company may never find its feet in sustainable production.
Fashion industry is feeding our need for new fashion repeatedly, with the concept of micro collection which is a technique by companies that invest in fast fashion. What is your view on the agility adopted by fashion?
I think it’s incredibly damaging. Fast fashion allows people to express themselves creatively and without a high cost – which is good concept. But you have got to think of the process as a whole to appreciate how damaging it is. Where does your clothing end up after you no longer want it? How to you think your clothes have such a low price tag? The questions go on….
In terms of sustainable materials, what sort of materials and fabrics do you work with and why?
I used to use a 100% reclaimed natural yarns but I have changed this because of souring complications as STUDY 34 knitwear has evolved. So for my new collection (which I have VERY excited about!) I have been using baby alpaca wool sourced from Peru, which is a very interesting and luxurious fibre. I visited Peru twice in the past year. I’ve seen the spinning mill where the yarn in processed made as well as the factory where the garments are manufactured. Why Alpaca wool you might ask? Check out this post I wrote about it an you’ll find out why!
What has been your main challenge along your journey so far?
There are two main challenges that I have encountered. One of them is convincing people to pay more for their clothes. This is difficult because money is tight for many people. In the long run it’s worth it because good quality products last longer. I truly believe that if you buy something that is good quality it can outlast 3-4 comparable products that are poor quality and much cheaper. However, many people don’t think of the long-term advantages and they choose a cheaper option. I believe that people are less keen to act when they don’t see others around them act. What difference will their purchase of a more responsibly made dress really make if none of their friends would make the same choice? It’s sad, but I can understand that to a certain extent.
The other big challenge is self-doubt. You wonder if you are working hard enough, if your idea will ever work, what happens if you run out funds? Ideas? Determination? It can be very challenging.
Do you have any tips for anyone who would want to be a sustainable fashion entrepreneur?
You need to be very interested and motivated by what you are doing. You need to be able to pick yourself up and be patient. And above all, you need to enjoy the journey – because ultimately, we all have aims and ambitions but we can never know what they will bring in the end.
We saw that you attended the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. What are the main points you took away from the event?
That the industry is very far away from uniting under a common understanding to change and move forward. But that uniting, collaborating and sharing knowledge will be the way forward.
Changing consumer’s attitude towards sustainable fashion is difficult. Have you observed an impact of your work?
It’s difficult to say because it’s hard to measure the impact something may have on people’s opinions. There are digital tools out there that can help measure how your ideas are resonating. Yet, it’s never something that will be concrete and actionable I don’t think.
What do you think we can do to ensure that sustainable fashion becomes more than just a trend?
We must stay motivated and dedicated. I do truly believe that things will change – because they have to. We cannot continue this way. Our environment will not be able to maintain itself if we keep harming it the way we are. We need to engage with these issues seriously and we need to do it TOGETHER.
THANK YOU Eleanor for sharing your thoughts with us!