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Interview with co-founders of sustainable startup Folde

By Rosalie Wessel


Fashion |Interview

Image: Folde

As of November 9, sustainable and slow fashion brand Folde has officially started its crowdfunding campaign.

The brand, which seeks to find the best possible way to produce environmentally conscious clothing, chose crowdfunding over corporate investment in order to avoid a goal for profit overshadowing its sustainable mission. Placing style over trend, the brand’s focus on craftsmanship and reducing unnecessary waste hopes to provide customers with long lasting and treasured pieces.

FashionUnited talked to the founders of the brand, Sally Graveling and Louise Petranca. The two friends came together to launch Folde after finding themselves disillusioned with the fashion industry’s response to sustainability and fast fashion. Discussing the thought process behind the brand, and its commitment to sustainability, Graveling and Petranca revealed their hopes for Folde’s present and future.

How did the idea for Folde come about? Was it always meant to be a slow fashion, sustainable brand, or did it first evolve as something different?

Louise Petranca: Well I think we both found ourselves in a very similar headspace, didn’t we.

Sally Graveling: Yes.

Louise Petranca: We’d been working in the fashion industry for a long time, and both of us were getting to the point where we’d be coming to feel a bit uncomfortable with the level of pace and stress, and that a lot of our time was not being used for the right purpose or for as big a purpose as it could be. So when we started talking about creating something, we both came from a very similar point of view. If we’re going to stay in this industry, we want to do something that is part of the solution, not just for the environment and society but also for our own lives. Slowing down felt absolutely fundamental to anything that we were going to do.

Sally Graveling: When you’re working at that pace, you don’t get the opportunity to stop and think and research properly. You’re just surrounded by deadlines and so you have to go, okay, that’s my allotted time to solve that problem, and that has to be good enough. We wanted to be able to give ourselves the time to keep working at a solution until we actually felt we found the best solution possible.

Do you think that the fashion industry is slowly evolving into a more sustainable one or is it not? Or is it up to individual fashion professionals to change that themselves?

Louise Petranca: I think there’s definitely adaptations. Five years ago none of these brands would have had a sustainability team, or a sustainability mission. There is engagement, but I don’t think enough is being done. A lot of brands don’t have those missions baked into who they are. They have to unpick every single aspect of their business and that is incredibly hard to do.

Sally Graveling: Being a profitable business and being truly sustainable are very hard to marry.

Louise Petranca: It will always overshadow sustainable missions and I think that a lot of people, a lot of brands, are struggling with that balance, because to do that properly to a greener standard costs more money. Success is so tied into profit, that maybe we really need to reevaluate what profit and success mean.

Image: Folde

That’s what Folde really shows - it is something that is part of its DNA, because your first collection won’t be released until Autumn 2022-

Louise Petranca: Yes, it's a whole new concept of slow!

How has designing a slow fashion collection changed your creative process?

Sally Graveling: It's absolutely changed it. It’s allowed us to put the time and emphasis into things that we think really count. For us, that meant going back to the agricultural roots of the fibres, and being inspired by the producers and farmers and allowing the fibre source to inspire our process. So by going back to fibres you can’t help but feel a pull to align with nature, which also means producing less, doing it slowly and paying respect to each process as you go.

Louise Petranca: Yes. We’ve ended up now with the three pieces of knitwear for our first collection. If we’d made the decisions back when we started and saw the products for the first time, we would have gotten rid of products that actually are now our favourite. Time allows products to develop naturally, otherwise you tend to force the products into the hole you need them to be.

Sally Graveling: Yes, and we’ve both been wearing the pieces, and living with them, and seeing them on other people.

Louise Petranca: It’s thinking about how the product is consumed after we’ve passed it on to the next donor. Fast fashion is so much about itself, what I want to wear today, tomorrow, this week. We are actually thinking about - will this design be desirable in fifteen, twenty years to come, and through that lens you become a bit suspicious of trends. You bypass them for style.

Who you’re aiming your design at, is there a specific target audience that you feel will really appreciate the design direction you’re going in?

Sally Graveling: It probably started with thinking about our friends and our community and the people we understand.

Louise Petranca: Everyone in that section of people are people who care about clothes, but they care about more than just what they look like. It’s beyond just the aesthetic. We would imagine quite a lot of our customers are climate conscious.

Sally Graveling: Yes, I think we’d also hope that by telling the story the way that we planned to, people who maybe wouldn’t normally spend that much money on a garment might actually consider that price point.

Louise Petranca: We always talked about value per wear. You know, how many times you wear a garment is really the most important thing. If you buy a piece and treasure it and look after it and wear it time and time again, the value of that item might seem quite high at the beginning. But at the end of fifteen years of wearing it every week, then actually it probably equates to way less than buying ten items that fall apart.

Folde’s website is dedicated to educating its customers as well, with a glossary page aimed at defining words such as regenerative agriculture. Additionally, the brand has gained the support of sustainability activists Livia Firth and Arizona Muse, and plans on releasing its first collection in autumn 2022.

With each planned collection to focus on just one material or yarn, the brand also plans on only using one supplier. Two collaborations have already been established, one with the Oshadi Collective in Erode, India, and the other with Herd Wool in the North West of England.

The Oshadi Collective plants regenerative cotton and is focused on both the preservation of the environment and the enrichment of the community it supports. Herd Wool aims to restore the value of British wool and reduce the carbon miles associated with global knitwear production.

Folde has received support from sustainability activists like Arizona Muse and Livia Firth. How has that benefitted Folde?

Sally Graveling: With the way fashion is feeling so overwhelming at the moment, and we’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable with it, coming up with Folde has been quite a test of self belief. We’ve both questioned ourselves many times, if it's right to put more clothes into the biosphere. We did resort to thinking that we should use our experience to try and be a part of the solution. Having moral support from the likes of Arizona and Livia Firth has really given us a boost of confidence.

Louise Petranca: They've been so helpful in our crowdfunding campaign

Sally Graveling: It’s that community spirit. Once you come into this sustainable space it's actually really welcoming. Everybody is on the same journey and trying to help each other.

Louise Petranca: Brands are about protecting their information, it's about not wanting people to copy you. But we both believe there’s absolutely no way that we’re going to tackle this issue unless we are working as a collective unit. So many people have been welcoming. We’ve been really fortunate to work with Joss Whipple, from the Right Projects. She’s like an encyclopedia of knowledge.

Sally Graveling: She’s been a sustainability campaigner for fashion since the early 2000s.

Louise Petranca: She is so generous with her time. We are so adamant that we want to be honest and transparent, and it's been helpful having people to brainstorm and double check ourselves with.

Image: Folde

Would you say that your respective backgrounds in fashion have aided you? And have they also challenged you as well?

Louise Petranca: It's definitely aided us. For people to know we have the experience to make and produce products that can stand the test of time is really important, especially for people who don’t know us as well. I firmly believe to be making clothes in this world you need to understand the dynamics of it. You need to understand the system, and I think that stands us in good stead to make a change.

You also have two different collaborations with regenerative organisations, Herd Wool and the Oshadi Collective. Can you just explain a little bit about those collections and your intentions with them?

Louise Petranca: The first thing to clarify is that the Herd Project is not regenerative, Herd Wool has a regenerative philosophy. It's really important to them to help renew the communities in which they work, and restore value to those artisanal communities. They have long term aspirations to transform into more regenerative forms of farming. The Oshadi Collective in Erode, India is fully regenerative. The principle behind it is that each one of our edits will be based on one natural fibre that’s grown and produced in a way that looks to regenerate the land or community.

Sally Graveling: Yes, that restorative mentality. Herd Wool is really trying to revalue the price of British wool, which then incentivises the farmers to make changes in their farming practices because they have more justified income for the goods that they are able to offer.

Louise Petranca: Any project we work with, it's important that we have this dialogue between the artisan, the farmers and us as a brand. It's the same with Oshadi isn’t it.

Sally Graveling: That’s very much based on the Oshadi philosophy. The founder, Nishanth Chopra, grew up in Erode, India, in this community which was heavily reliant on the cotton industry as its economy. He’s taken it upon himself to slowly transform the land and his community acre by acre into regeneratively farmed lands. It's about offering a fair stable wage, allowing them to share in the profits and ensuring that they get paid upfront at the right time.

Louise Petranca: One of the main reasons we’re crowdfunding is because we desperately want to work with the Oshadi Collective. We will need to concern how many acres of regenerative cotton we’re going to plant in January, so it can be planted in March, harvested in September and processed and woven in the autumn months. Then in the winter months, it can be sewn. [Chopra] plants everything regeneratively, so the quality of the soil is so amazing by the end of the process that it is able to draw carbon down from the atmosphere.

Is it a goal to have more collaborations like these in the future?

Sally Graveling: We’re not in a rush to grow, and have multiple projects, we’d like to stay committed to the projects we have found. One of the things we’d definitely like to do is perhaps create linen as a natural fibre. But that’s a long way off, because currently there aren't the processing facilities available in the UK for linen, even though we have the perfect climate for growing linen.

Louise Petranca: Making sure that we have the time to consider the next project is really important to us. So there definitely will be another project, it's just a timescale.

Image: Folde
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