We spoke to Jo Godden, founder of RubyMoon. RubyMoon is an ethical and sustainable swimwear brand and social enterprise, that offers sophisticated, well made swimwear, with a conscience. As well as being durable, all their swimwear is made from recycled fishing nets and 100% of the net profits generated by RubyMoon are lent out as small loans, to empower women entrepreneurs in eleven nations.
What’s the story behind the name ‘Ruby Moon’?
The ‘Ruby’ part of Ruby Moon was named after my Grandma, who was a really important influence in my life, who was a very creative person. The ‘Moon’ part came from a trip to Asia actually. I was looking for a name for the brand, and I was in Indonesia and there was a huge red moon… so it just came to me. It’s worked really well because we started using the Luna calendar as part of our marketing, so sync it up accordingly to when there’s a full moon or a new moon.
In your opinion, what’s wrong with the current industry?
The current industry is a mess. It’s too wasteful and it’s obviously the second most polluting industry in the world, only after oil. The fashion industry employs a sixth of the population, mainly women who are paid below minimum wage, and as a result, it is the industry that needs to change. If we could just flip the fashion industry to be something positive, as opposed to something negative, that would be amazing. The influence is far greater in fashion, garment and textiles industry than anything else in the world.
What inspired you to start an ethical swimwear brand?
I’d always worked in swimwear and lingerie, and I knew I wanted to have my own brand one day. When I came back from living overseas for a very long time, I started to learn more about the ethical fashion industry. This was in about 2008/2009, and the more I found out, the more I decided that my business had to be about making positive change. I decided from the get go that it would be an ethical brand.
The more you find out about how bad the industry is, the more sour everything gets. Did you find that you just couldn’t look at anything in the same way anymore?
Precisely. It’s almost like, you can’t unsee things can you? And then it affects the way you look at things, and buy things, which I suppose is only a positive.
I went most of my life without thinking twice about buying things from high street shops. It’s only in the last couple of years that I really started to have my eyes opened about it. Do you think the unethical and unsustainable production of our clothes has become normalised in our society?
Well yeah. Even someone like me who’s been in the garment industry and trade all my life. I’ve been to a billion factory visits, and I’ve seen a billion women bent over sewing machines. I’ve seen that social side but I was busy, I was doing my job. Of course, I’m not the kind of person that wouldn’t be affected, but at the time, I didn’t actually think of the negative effects of it all, only the positive effects. But actually they were both surrounding those women. Yes, the industry offered them employment and it’s sometimes the only wage they can find, but how brilliant would it be if it was the only wage they could find, and be empowering for them as well. We all just need to question, why it is alright for us to manufacture in those countries under conditions that we would never accept for ourselves as women!
What makes your swimwear sustainable and eco-friendly, and how does this make you different from other swimwear brands out there?
Our swimwear is made from re-generated fishing nets. The nylon used is from nets that are pulled out of the sea, so are a waste product. The nylon is then re-spun in Europe. We only manufacture in Europe, so that we know we can keep an eye on on our supply chain. As a result of that, we have 43% less carbon emissions than other high street swimwear. But also, because we are removing the nets from the sea, we are also helping clean up the sea. One of the biggest causes of sea life death is used fishing net entanglement, so we have a double environmental impact there.
So why is it important to you that you use sustainable materials to make your products ?
Because our resources are limited, it’s really important that we don’t use them to make garments that either are never worn, or if they are worn they are just thrown away after a few uses. At least I know that my swimwear is really strong. It’s Oeko-Tex certified and we design it to last, so the environmental impact is much less, and obviously that’s really important for any garment manufacturing these days.
You’ve been working closely with Lend With Care, a charity that offers micro-loans to people in poverty. Are they an important organisation to you?
It’s important to me because, as I mentioned before, it’s women that change the world. In developing countries, where women aren’t given a voice, those societies fail to develop properly. Once you give women an income, it empowers them within their society, where sometimes they don’t have rights even over their own children. So, if they have an income, people actually start paying them attention and they have a voice in their community. This allows women to be able to provide for their families, where sometimes men do not provide. Also, women invest more in housing, in nutrition, children, and education than men do, so it’s really important that we invest in women that are living in regions of poverty!
What are your top three tips to being more conscious when it comes to purchasing clothing?
The first and most important tip is that we have to make our clothes last. We should only be buying clothes that are well-made, that we know we are going to wear all the time. Elongating the lifespan of your garments is a key issue.
Second to this is to choose better garments in terms of how they are made and how the fibres come into being. Consider where they are from originally, and look at the environmental impact and where the fibres come from. That includes where they are sewn and who sewed them.
Thirdly, if you’re not able to buy the right kind of new clothes, then only buy second hand. Do not buy mass market, mass produced fast fashion.
How would you like to see the fashion industry change?
I would like for all manufactures and retailers to take responsibility and to monitor their entire supply chain, from fibre through to the end product. When I say take responsibility, I don’t mean just send in auditors every few months, I mean have people on the ground that are their own employees. They should be western employees. People can get corrupted, so they must be totally neutral and objective at all times. They also need to be there 24/7, monitoring and making sure there isn’t any sub-contracting being done. The industry as a whole really needs to take a different approach to their manufacturing right now, a more responsible one including paying living wage as opposed to minimum wage.
What are your designs inspired by?
All our prints are donated by Sarah Arnett, who also lives in Brighton and it’s these beautiful prints that inspire us to create beautiful garments. We like have lots of clean finishes on our garments because we don’t like a lot of excessive trims, and embellishments. We like clean lines, and just really well fitted pieces. Functionality is really important.
What do the words ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ fashion mean to you?
Well, that’s a really good question, because it’s so open isn’t it? For me, sustainability means making sure that your use of the world’s resources is considered. Ethical is a much wider term, and means many different things, to many different people. We do consider ourselves to be an ethical brand, but it’s just quite wide open. Ethical means to me, considering the social impact, as well as the sustainable impact of what you’re doing, and what you’re producing. This includes everything, from being responsible in the manufacturing, to the workers that are involved and also considering what you are doing with your profit. Is it adding something to the world, or is it taking something away?
How have you overcome the ‘stigma’ of ethical fashion?
The brand has just become ‘cool’ as the years have gone by. I don’t think we’ve had a job to educate people, because over the years, more people are becoming educated about ethical fashion. But we have never gone out of our way to say ‘hey look how cool we are’, because I think that people can see from the products that it’s not a million miles away from what everyone else is doing. We are just doing it a bit better, a bit more considered and a bit more about the quality of the product. It’s not going to disintegrate after a season, it’s going to be about for a number of years. So, it’s almost like an investment piece, rather than something you buy, and wear for one season. But we haven’t set out to educate people about it at all, however it is a small part of our mission, because we do want people to know about the ethical side.
What inspired you to create your modest range?
It’s difficult to say, I lived in Indonesia for a while and I’d been to all the water parks. It’s very strange to see the wide range of clothing worn, from Australian women, to Indonesian women, all the in same water park. I just wanted to be able to extend the range to more women, particularly because Lend with Care also loans to women in Pakistan and Palestine. Those Muslim women are benefiting from the micro-finance, so I thought it would be a nice link to be able to offer more privileged Muslim women the direct link to be able to invest in the less privileged Muslim women in those countries. Also, a lot of women are moving towards towards wanting to be more covered, and I just felt that the prints we have work really well with the look of ‘modest’ swimwear.
What do you think are the biggest challenges to an ethical and sustainable brand in the current market?
In the current economic climate, I don’t think people are willing to pay more. However, there is now a lean towards buying investment pieces, rather than a whole range of different bikinis every year. So, it’s swings and roundabouts in that sense, the tide is turning slowly. When I first started, no one was talking about ethical fashion. I’ve never seen so many articles as I have this year, especially about ocean pollution. So that’s really been good and we’ve benefited a bit from that publicity, with articles in the guardian and so on. Whereas, when we first started no one knew about the oceans or ethical fashion so it’s getting there. In terms of the obstacles I suppose it’s hard for a not-for profit to justify spending money on marketing, whereas with a for profit business, you don’t really have that. I have to juggle with, am I going to spend that money investing in women? Or am I going to advertise? And that’s really hard. We say we give 100% of our profit to female entrepreneurs, so we need to make sure that happens.
As an ethical and sustainable sportswear brand, how important is it that you keep up to date with fashion trends?
We try to, but we don’t want to be really, really, fashion- led because that kind of goes against our ethos. We want to have a focus on more classic cut pieces that you’ll wear again and again. But also, you might want to get the same piece the next year in a different print. We don’t want to keep changing our styles all the time, because that’s what drives the whole fast-fashion ethos. So, we try to have one collection a year that comes out in spring summer. We don’t want to be adding new items all the time because that’s unsustainable in itself.
Find out more about Ruby Moon by visiting rubymoon.com.