September 18th, 2014

In collaboration with Brothers & Sisters, the Mill+ design and animation team, headed by Kwok Fung Lam and Ivo Sousa, created a charming, colourful and engaging short film for children’s eco-fashion brand The Fableists.

The film, narrated by Jennifer Saunders, tells the story of a young girl, taken on a whimsical journey by the loose thread on her t-shirt, in the quest to discover its origins.

We caught up with The Fableists founder Matt Cooper to talk about the brand and how this energetic and fun film also raises the important issue of where our clothes originate …

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How did the concept of The Fableists come about? 

It came off the back of me travelling to India on business. I fell in love with the country and read loads about how people lived there and the caste systems. Through this reading, I learned about factory conditions and basically found out that most of my kids’ clothes were being made by other kids and that really saddened me.

This happens in a lot of countries, but there was a link to India. I then read more and found out that farmers were dying in the thousands through suicide (as they couldn’t get enough cash for their cotton crops). They were also getting sick through the vast amount of chemicals they were using, as were kids wearing these clothes. Many of the skin issues (and possibly) even some cancers are caused by our body absorbing all of the toxins that are in cotton used to make our clothes. Factory collapses were hitting the headlines and 1,000's were working in awful conditions for a pittance. There is so much more to tell but this is what pushed me to launch a new type of clothing brand for kids, a brand that had appeal to both kids and their parents.

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Tell me about the ethics behind the idea?

Basically, we wanted to fix many of the above issues. Many of us shop for organic food and drive clean cars, yet not many seem to worry about how and where their clothes are made. Two thirds of the world’s population is employed by the fashion industry and it can be unbelievably filthy.

We wanted to create a company that told its brand story and hid nothing. We want people to read about how we work with small, marginal farmers who crop share and rotate. We want people to give a shit about factory conditions and how the cotton for the fabric is farmed. We use rain fed organic cotton and use dyeing techniques are clean. We make sure factory workers are paid correctly and that every little last detail on the clothing is considered.

The clothes we have created are chemical free and pure, so not only are they soft to wear but they are also very hard-wearing. Part of our ethics was a bit of a nod to times gone by. We build utilitarian clothing that can be passed on and believe the clothes are future vintage. One of the cool things about our clothes is that they are mainly unisex, so you really can pass them on from kid to kid.

One last thing - we really want to educate parents (and kids) to look after their clothes. Don’t over wash - you don’t need to, and give the tumble dryer a miss. They are filthy beasts!

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How tough has it been trying to compete with established brands and get your message across? 

If I’m honest, it’s interesting and it’s a long slog. We are, of course, first off trying to get people to embrace and buy a new brand, but we are also trying to change people’s mind about how they buy clothes and to get them to think about their choices.

With the rise of cheap shit and huge supermarkets, it is natural for someone to think buying trousers at £2 is okay. It’s not. You can’t make trousers for that price. No matter how many you order, it’s just not possible. Put simply, these clothes are made to either draw a parent into a supermarket (so the will spend more) or they are built in really nasty places.

It’s difficult to get the message across online, but when people see and feel the clothes, and hear the story, they always buy into it. Our clothes are mid-priced – not too high – and when people realise they can buy really nice clothes that are ethically produced (at a good price), they will - and they enjoy it. We are opening beautifully kitted out stores to help with this. Once buyers feel the cotton, they ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ as our clothes really do feel completely different.

I find that people want to be part of the story and like what we are doing. There will always be those who say I can buy a pair of jeans for half that price elsewhere and I always really enjoy explaining why we are doing this. In the end, most people can see the value and reason in what we are doing.

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The Fableists range is effortlessly cool but also has to incorporate an element of practicality – what are the challenges in designing for children? 

We have never really thought about kids differently. Firstly, we believe kids like clothes (we have four so have some experience!) - but not fussy stuff. Our stuff allows kids to be kids. The concept of The Fableists’ wardrobe is that you can wear the clothes in the city, in the park, by the sea, up a tree, or to Sunday lunch at grandma’s.

A lot of it is based heavily on the clothing we wore as children and classic companies like Osh Kosh. They were a company that made denim and overalls for manual labourers in the USA. What made them was a parent being asked by his kid for a pair of dungarees. The father put this idea to the company and – boom! They were selling more to kids than adults. The kid just wanted to be like his Dad! Our stuff is classic kids clobber; baseball tees, Bretons, dark denim, graphic tees, mixed with classic French chore coats and workwear shirts.

One of the challenges is of course for kids to like the stuff. We have a line of fantastic graphic tees, designed by top artists (all numbered in runs of 500 only). Kids seem to love them and parents seem to want to own them. That’s nice. Now it’s our job to get more people to find them.

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What have been the highs and lows of getting to this point with the brand? 

There haven’t been any lows really. We LOVE the brand and what we have started - and we truly believe it has only just started. Obviously we have had the pains of any business. There have been disappointments, I guess. We thought that putting sustainable stuff online would gather an audience and it’s not that simple. Like any brand you have to work at it and find the right market places and that, I believe, is our own shop(s). It’s constant and we are always learning.

Highs are quite simple – we have had emails from parents around the world telling us that our clothes are the only ones their kids will wear. A lot of kids have allergic reactions to clothes that are full of chemicals - and ours suit them.  We have had some amazing press and when you see someone in the clothes - that is a mental buzz.

It’s not all about the clothes either. This process has changed our lives. We think about all of our purchases and how we care for the clothes and other things we care about. We think a lot about waste. We all need to make these small changes. It feels good and in a world that has gone completely consumer mad, there is something nice about telling people to buy less, not more.

What does this film say about The Fableists?

I think it tells our story - in a really beautiful and fun way. We have created this fantastic, strong, ballsy character in the film. She is a lovely, inquisitive rebel, which is what we are really. I think it also shows how serious we are. Not many young brands launch with the incredible films we have had and I think it says we are here, come on the journey.

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How did you work with the Mill+ team to achieve the final result?

Working with the Mill+ team was amazing. From original storyboard to final delivery, it was seamless. When I first read this script at the agency (Brothers & Sisters) I fell in love with it. It instantly reminded me of books that I read as a child and now read to my own kids. I pictured great journeys like ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, and others.

When I saw the original characters, I knew they would nail it. But when I saw the end result, it was just the sort of magic I had pictured. The use of negative space was all their idea and I think it’s dead clever. There are some bits of the animation that just blow me away, very clever and understated. I think they have come up with something completely original and I feel it’s a very special piece. They have been such a big part of how the whole thing worked out and when we first saw the marriage of music (Eclectic did an amazing job) to picture, it took my breath away.

Watch the full film below...