Affordable, ethical & green: Yes Friends clothing interview

Photo of Yes Friends founder Sam Mabley

Affordable, ethical & green: Yes Friends clothing interview

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I have to be honest, since I started my sustainable fashion blog Good Maker Tales, I’ve been a massive fan of this cooler than cool ethical clothing brand. So when the founder of Yes Friends, Sam Mabley, agreed to give me an interview for my new Interviews with Founders series, I did dance around the living room a few times.

So, what’s so great about this UK-based ethical fashion brand? Here’s an extract from their website that illustrates my point:

Capture from Yes Friends site about why they started their brand

I love this! 

Not only do their products offer exceptionally good value, but you’d actually want to wear them! And this goes right down to their boxers (ask my better half, he loves his).

Yes Friends are a great example of a small-scale company showing the big fashion giants how it actually should be done! They care about worker conditions, and their environmental impact, at the same time.

 

Yes Friends girsl in t shirts and hoodies
Yes Friends clothing girl in green t shirt

Your new ethical tee shirt has been made with eco-friendly materials using 50-60% renewable energy and the workers who made it have their wages topped up with a bonus scheme from Yes Friends to make sure they are paid well.

Your jeans and denim jacket have been made in a factory that pays a living wage to all of its employees.

All of this at an affordable price. Not what you’re programmed to expect when looking for ethical and sustainable fashion. And to back up their ethical credentials, they score the most coveted “Great” on the Good On You sustainability rating tool.

The interview

So here we go, this is our interview with Sam. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Tell us about your sustainable fashion brand, what sets you apart?

Yes Friends exists to make ethical & sustainable clothing affordable.

We know that everyone would buy ethically if they could, but often cost is a real barrier. So Yes Friends is providing an affordable, ethical alternative to the high-street. We do this by selling direct-to-consumer and taking smaller margins to keep prices affordable.

Yes Friends clothes

What is your background and what made you decide to start up your brand?

Around 10 years ago, I went shopping and my conscience wouldn’t let me buy anything that wasn’t ethical, so I started buying from ethical & sustainable brands.

Fast forward a few years and I set-up Found Hea, a clothing store in Bristol retailing lots of sustainable brands. This gave me a front row seat, watching different brands’ supply chains and mark-ups. There I discovered that with a little bit of scale it could be done far more affordably.

So in April 2021, I launched Yes Friends to make ethical clothing affordable. We started with an ethical & sustainable T-shirt for £7.99 and sold around 4,000 in our first month.

Tell us a bit about how you source your fabrics and base materials?

We primarily use organic cotton across our range. We work with Fairtrade and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) on the sourcing side, and are currently working to make sure all our cotton is Fairtrade certified across the entire range.

Yes Friends clothes on models

Do you take into account the recyclability of your products?

Yes! One of the problems of recycling in fashion is mixing materials, for example combining cotton and recycled polyester. So, where we can, we look to use just one material for a garment, including all the care labels to help the recyclability of products.

Solar powered factory Yes Friends
The big green knitting machine in Yes Friends' solar powered factory!

Who makes your clothes/products?

There are so many people involved in making Yes Friends products, right from the cotton farm all the way to them arriving at our door in Bristol. But our primary supplier is an amazing Fair Trade and solar powered factory in northern India, we chat with them daily. Mihir manages our account looking after all the bulk production and Tanvi works on all our samples. They’re a great team.

I made your clothes Yes Friends' factory workers
Yes Friends workers
I made your clothes Yes Friends workers

Are any animals used in the production of your products and if so how do you make sure that they are treated ethically?

Animals aren’t used in the production of Yes Friends products.

What else makes your brand sustainable/ethical?

On the ethical side, the main thing we focus on is living wages for garment workers. The vast majority of clothing factories don’t pay living wages and even certifications don’t guarantee a living wage. But the truth is, it costs pennies extra per T-shirt to pay a living wage.

So we’ve set-up a pioneering bonus scheme where for every Yes Friends garment made, we pay an additional bonus that goes directly to the garment workers to ensure they get a good wage for Yes Friends products.

Then on the sustainability side, we work with a water positive and solar powered factory, all our garments are packaged in compostable bags and we’re currently switching all our mailing bags to be biodegradable too.

What are the biggest challenges in operating as an ethical and sustainable fashion brand?

It’s always going to be more expensive producing ethically and sustainably, so this definitely provides a big challenge, keeping prices affordable whilst meeting the highest standards of ethics and sustainability.

“Sustainability is not about being perfect, but a journey”, how can you further improve what you do and what plans do you have for the future?

There are two areas we want to grow in. Firstly, we want to expand our bonus scheme so that our factory can pay a living wage to all garment workers. And secondly, we want to improve the recyclability and circularity of our products, so that we know Yes Friends products will never go to waste.

Yes Friends hoodie in pale green

What one thing could fast fashion brands do to improve?

There’s so many things, but if I had to choose one, it would be paying their garment workers a living wage. It costs pennies and would make the world of difference to millions of people’s lives across the globe.

I made your clothes Yes Friends factory worker

What are your favourite products in your range right now and why?

For me it’s got to be the ecru T-shirt, because it goes with pretty much everything and I wear a lot of white tees, so it’s nice to mix it up sometimes. I’m also really proud of the quality of the new women’s tanks and tees, so they’re a favourite, even though they’re not in my own wardrobe!

Men's fairtrade organic ethical sustainable organic cotton t shirt in ecru
Men's organic fairtrade t-shirt in ecru (which is the colour of unwashed natural linen)
Ethical sustainable organic cotton ribbed athletic tank top in white
Ethical sustainable organic cotton ribbed thletic tank top in black
... and in black

Thanks so much to Sam for taking part in this interview and we at Good Maker Tales wish the brand tonnes more success in the months and years to come!

To get your hands on these cool women’s tank tops, or to check out their ethical and sustainable denim range, hoody range, t shirts or even underwear, check out the link below:

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