Offset Warehouse is a social enterprise which brings together a huge range of hand-picked eco fabrics and haberdashery. All of Offset Warehouse’s products benefit either the people who make them, or the environment, and usually both. This includes products that are organic, Fairtrade and made in cooperatives. Charlie Ross founded the company five years ago. Graduating from the Royal College of Art with a Masters in Menswear Design, she continued on to work with some of the biggest names in the fashion industry. I had the pleasure of interviewing the Offset Warehouse founder Charlie Ross, to find out more about eco fabrics and their work as an ethical brand.
What inspired you to start your business?
Throughout my education and design career, I, Charlie was determined to work only with ethically produced fabrics, but found this a real challenge. Resources, particularly for small purchases, were very limited. Even information about eco fabrics was difficult to find. As a result, I made the decision to put my design and consulting work on hold to focus on solving these problems, and my textile company Offset Warehouse was born.
How is your business ethical and sustainable?
Eco textiles are about making sure that the people who make the fabrics are safe, and treated properly – this is from the farmers, all the way through the production to the weaving. All of our manufacturers and weavers are paid fairly for their fabrics. We also work with individuals who weave outside their houses, choosing their own hours and setting their own prices. We stock natural and synthetic textiles, but source alternatives that are more beneficial, and we look to the old fabrics, such as linen, hemp and banana to show the range of cultivation to suit a particular brand or product.
As well as sourcing more sustainable fabrics and supporting the small scale producers, we also ensure we’re not ordering or holding excess stock. Occasionally, we also find deadstock that would otherwise go to landfill, and give that another life. Any waste that is produced from remnants or swatches are utilised in our creative workshops, or sold as fabric offcuts bags.
Alongside the fabric shop, we also run The Sustainable Fashion Collective, a holistic guidance and expert advice platform with monthly- refreshed resources, aimed at providing fashion businesses and entrepreneurs the means to work more responsibly. This is a knowledge sharing community, with networking events and workshops.
What does an average working day look like for you?
We are a small team, each with our own roles but ones that interlink. For me (Charlie), the main focus is The Sustainable Fashion Collective – liaising with guest speakers for video calls, in-person consultancy, attending events and trade fairs. Essentially being in as many places as possible in order to catch all of the knowledge that can be collated and transferred to our online subscription platform. There’s also the need to reach out to new suppliers, and continuing work with existing producers, plus organising events and workshops with guests and other businesses. The rest of the team work on customer enquiries and orders for the fabric shop, wholesale, digital content and social media, fashion and textile research. So then I will oversee all of this to ensure both businesses are running smoothly.
When did your ethical/sustainable journey begin? What prompted you to become interested in eco-friendly materials?
It was during my fashion design degree that I was made aware of the terrible social and environmental impact of the textiles and fashion industry. Until that moment, it had never crossed my mind that the big brands we all shop from in the West would be actively exploiting workers, or dumping hazardous chemicals into our environment in order to squeeze out every last penny of profit.
As a designer, the products I created were meant to be beautiful and cherished. I couldn’t bear the thought of my designs actively harming the person who made them or destroying the environment. That’s when I decided I would only use ethically-produced fabrics in my work, which is when my challenge began. Sourcing these fabrics was a nightmare! There were no fashion-forward fabrics, and the ones I could find were either really expensive or had huge minimum order quantities. It was this challenge that inspired me to set up Offset Warehouse. I wanted to bring together a collection of on-trend, unusual fabrics that were environmentally and socially beneficial. A place that both designers and home-sewers could fabric shop guilt-free.
How are your materials better for the environment?
Ethical fabrics are those that are environmentally or socially beneficial, and preferably both. This includes fabrics that are organic, Fairtrade, made from responsibly-sourced raw materials, are recycled, and are manufactured by workers who are paid a fair wage or have a stake in the business. One of the main aims of Offset Warehouse is to raise awareness of why we should choose fabrics that benefit the planet and the people who make them. We want to fight poverty, create sustainable jobs and lessen the environmental damage caused by fabric production.
Each product page explains the eco-credentials so that a customer can make the decision on whether it suits their particular values. We stock recycled polyester to organic cotton to peace silk, all of which are sustainable and ethical in their own way.
What is the first thing people should know about choosing ethical fabrics?
Driven by today’s culture of fast consumerism, and in order to compete with increasingly low prices, the textile industry has had to cut corners. Most conventional fabrics are produced by untrained, underpaid, overworked staff, in unsafe surroundings. These textiles require highly toxic chemicals to produce them, and these are often handled by workers without the proper safety equipment.
Eco textiles are about making sure that the people who make the fabrics are safe, and treated properly. All of our manufacturers and weavers are paid fairly for their fabrics. They set their prices, their hours and their manufacturing timelines, and we never, ever, pressure them to decrease either. Fast fashion, and the majority of fabric shops can devalue the true cost of textiles, either through the cost of a ready-to-wear garment or as a a textile purchased by the metre. By highlighting the production method and location of a textile, we aim to show the real cost of materials: for the fibre and for the people behind the production of it.
What piece of advice would you give to somebody who wants to live a more conscious lifestyle?
There are alternatives, so there shouldn’t be an excuse. As the demand for more sustainable and ethical products (or lifestyle) increases, the supply should also increase. By accessing resources such as those found in our Sustainable Fashion Collective, you can further your knowledge, and therefore set off a domino effect of curiosity. Whether you’re a dressmaker or fashion brand, working in marketing or production itself, by taking small steps, you can make a big change, so you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed, but rather inspired. There are already so many examples of sustainable business models, ethical production, better practice and inclusive social enterprises that you can’t help but feel motivated. Ask questions, be curious, be proactive.
Thank you so much to Charlie and the Offset Warehouse team for this interview and all that they do for ethical fashion!
You can follow Offset Warehouse here: