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Meet the Founder of the Ethical Streetwear Brand Otso Clothing


Otso – The Spirit of the Bear is a streetwear brand that is both contemporary and ethically made. Otso garments aim to be in touch with the people of our planet, nature and the great outdoors, FashionCapital.co.uk talks to Otso founder Simon Kenworthy about his company ethics, sustainability and developing his business…

Could you tell us a bit about your career route to date and how you came up with Otso Clothing?

S: I have always been a creative person (Simon pictured right). I remember designing and making my own skateboarding-inspired tees as a young teenager. I studied and worked as a graphic designer, and worked for 6-years at an agency in Huddersfield before leaving to go travel throughout India and Southeast Asia. Upon my return I set up my own design studio, KnownAim, and have continued to do so for the past 8 years. Otso came about three-years ago when I was inspired to revisit the idea of designing and selling my own t-shirts. The experience of running my own business together with the convenience of dropshipping, digital garment printing and using web platforms that allow people to build their own online shop, such as Wix.com, made me feel that I could really make my teenage dream a reality.

Could you describe Otso’s signature style, key products and who your core customer is?

S: The word Otso is Finnish and means the ‘spirit of the bear, the king of the forest, our friend, brother and forest cousin.’ This ethos sums up everything I wanted the brand to embody. I love nature and the sense of adventure, and there’s nothing better than collaborating with your friends. In the beginning each t-shirt design was centred around bears and was illustrated by myself or illustrators and artists I have met over the years. I also felt it would be great to use ethically-sourced clothing and really push an environmental side to the brand.

Up here in West Yorkshire, we have the benefit of being surrounded by beautiful countryside but also some fantastically creative cities, such as Leeds and Manchester. I wanted to develop Otso into a streetwear brand and have since created a broader collection of stylish ethically-made clothing, all the while keeping our designs inspired by the great outdoors.

Our core customers work in a predominantly urban environment but love to be in touch with nature. So, I want Otso to be a breath of fresh air to what can sometimes feel like a dull, grey world. I’d like us to continue to be current and fashionable while remaining fun and creative.

How was the experience of starting out – did you have financial / business support from elsewhere?

S: Otso is completely self-made. It has been a slow process, spending money as and when I can afford it. At the start dropshipping and digital print helped, as it meant I didn’t need to invest in lots of stock. We now screen print our garments in small batches, which makes the quality much better while also giving us enough stock to fill our shop and manage online orders. However, the biggest advantage of working this way is that we can have more fun. We can create different designs that remain exclusive. It’s like fast fashion without the tremendous waste. Aside from the developments in technology mentioned earlier, most support has come from friends and family. It always helps if your pals are on hand to help in the shop on a Saturday or when your girlfriend stays up for hours to help pack orders.

Any top tips for those wanting to set up their own brand / online shop?

S: With all the technology available, things are way easier than I imagine they would have been a decade ago. Creating the online shop is the easy part. With fantastic platforms such as Wix.com, you can design and build an online shop within just a few days for very little investment. The tough part is maintaining and building the brand. There are millions of websites out there but getting people to visit yours is the key to success. I’m still very much learning myself! While it helps being a graphic designer, if I would have had to pay someone else to do all the design work, along with all the continued photography and social media, then I would have never gotten things off the ground. If you have time, the skills to create new designs, the friends to call upon for help, and most importantly the drive and passion to not give up when some weeks you might not sell anything then just crack on! What are you waiting for?

Otso Clothing is centred on being ethically produced and sustainable. Do you think the fashion industry in general is finally getting a conscience?

S: It’s a trend and hopefully it’ll continue to grow. It’s important that people get paid fairly for their working and that decisions aren’t made at the expense of our already threatened and damaged environment.

There are plenty of ways that companies make their processes more planet friendly. For example, all of our tees are stored and shipped in plastic-free packaging. The bags are made from corn starch and are biodegradable, but look like clear plastic. While they are more expensive than plastic, these biodegradable ones cost pennies.

Top tips for consumers on shopping ethically?

S: Shop more consciously. If more people did little things to help, then there will be a greater effect on the whole. Try not to have the attitude that well that company is doing this, the other is doing that, so what difference does it make to buy one bar of soap instead of a bottle of soap? If one million people made that one simple change then that’s 1 million fewer plastic bottles bobbing around the oceans.

In terms of fashion, look for organic and recycled fabrics. Also look into Fair Wear and responsibly-sourced garments where the people making them are looked after and are paid properly. Think about buying a few better quality garments and wearing them more often, rather than a load of poor-quality clothing that you’ll wear once and throw to the back of the wardrobe.

Is there anyone in the fashion sector that you think is inspirational?

S: I really like brands such as Patagonia, and the graphic designer in me loves its advertising. Patagonia’s ads say: “Don’t buy this jacket” so that people can fix and sew up the clothes. Another brand I like is Passenger, which plants trees with every order. This is something we’ll be looking into doing in the New Year.

How do you see Otso Clothing developing as we head into a New Year?

S: We opened our new studio shop this year, so we’re going to continue to create new designs to stock there and carry on with launching new garments online. We’re already stocked by a few local retailers but the hope is to find new stockists across the UK. Brand wise, it feels as if we’ve finally turned a corner so we’d like to continue to build on this to keep creating new and more adventurous ethically-made clothing.

Thank-you Simon.

Otso Product Images by L McEwen Photography

To view the Otso Clothing website click here.

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