Image courtesy Anton Jurina/Armedangels
Celebrated for its funky organic-cotton t-shirt graphics and activist messages, German ethical fashion label armedangels, which was founded by Martin Höfeler and Anton Jurina in 2007, is more than just two people who launched an eco-friendly company. The duo has also fostered the creation of a 6,000-person online community that is actively involved in the creation of the brand: Community members can submit t-shirt designs, become models, or activate their inner guerilla to help spread the message about the fashion industry?s eco-sins, such as child labour, wage exploitation, and environmental pollution. Above all, the armedangels label is all about style with socially conscious attitude. Below, Anton Jurina talks about how he graduated from student activist to ethical fashionist guru, and how fair-trade, organic, community-orientated fashion can be cool and desirable.
How did you get into this line of work?
I met my co-founder and colleague Martin Höfeler at university while organizing a student convention that became an internationally established event after Bill Gates participated in 1995. It was then that we first heard about the concept of social entrepreneurship and developed the idea of creating an ethical start-up in the fashion industry. After a short stint as an investment manager at a start-up think tank, I secured seed funding and launched armedangels in March 2007.
When was your "a-ha" moment?
When we got the first designs from street artists and began our search to find an appropriate manufacturer, it soon became clear that practically everything we wear is linked to child labour, exploitation, and environmental pollution. It was then that the real work began to figure out how street fashion can be made in a sustainable way.
Who is your green hero?
Katharine Hamnett. After discovering that conventional cotton agriculture is responsible for thousands of deaths from pesticide poisoning and working conditions for millions of people are worse than slavery, she decided to try to change the industry by campaigning for ethical and environmental production.
What is your ultimate green goal?
Our goal is to start a revolution in the sustainable textile industry, and we hope that as many people as possible are inspired by our motives.
What is your motivation?
To build a company in which everyone who is part of the production process—farmers, the environment, weavers, dyers, sewers, and, of course, customers, too—will profit. We want to prove that it is possible to respect nature and people and still become a profitable business.
What is most important to you, ecologically speaking?
That our fashion range is made from organic cotton, free of pesticides, is fair-trade manufactured and has a low carbon footprint.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Raising awareness about the need for ethical fashion and explaining the impact of the conventional textile industry on the environment. This is combined with building a brand from scratch and reaching out to many people everyday with very limited resources.
What is the most rewarding?
The letters and emails we get every day from people who appreciate what we do. Some of them tell us which particular piece of our collection they really love, or make suggestions for further improvement and support us by spreading the word. Not forgetting the loyalty of our team members, most of them sacrifice a great deal of time. It feels so good to see how enthusiastic they are in helping the armedangels vision come true.
Of the people you have worked with, who impresses you most?
Everybody who supports us just because they share our vision of "style with attitude" is impressive to me. That means a teenager who saves his money for weeks just to buy a piece of armedangels, or a green-minded musician who wears our fashion on several press pictures of his nationwide concert tour, or a journalist who convinces his colleagues that it is worth writing about ethical fashion and armedangels.
What green thing do you do everyday?
I live very well without owning a car; I walk or ride my bike to work and around town and use the train for most business trips.
What do you wish you could do?
Reach out to as many people as possible at once and thoroughly explain the impact of clothing and the textile industry on the environment. I am sure that if everyone knew about it, then they would really start to care.
What is your biggest eco-sin?
Occasional plane trips for business definitely don't help to reduce my carbon footprint.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
To give people more hope and confidence that it's possible for them to change themselves and their environment every day. To persuade them not to complain, but rather to start working on living with the right attitude!
What is your best green advice?
Buy less and live more sustainably. Start with using green electricity, car-pooling, buying whole food products and ethical fashion. Little things do count at the start.