Expensive doesn’t mean well made

Expensive doesn't mean well made - Ethical Fashion Guide

– Karolin Helou on luxury clothing, educated customers and her love for ethical fashion.

Karolin Helou is truly part of the fair fashion revolution in Germany. After working as a fashion editor at a popular magazine for just under two decades, she decided to turn away from the glitz and glamour of fashion journalism and become a freelance stylist and fair fashion entrepreneur. Karolin is very upfront with her dedication to conscious consumption. She loudly speaks out against fast fashion in her work as a stylist and creative director. Her involvement with ethical fashion was taken to a further dimension through thewearness.com, a beautifully curated online store for luxury sustainable fashion that she founded with three colleagues who, just like her, occupied major positions in the German fashion industry.

Therefore, I was truly excited to find out more about Karolin’s journey and inside perspective on the fashion industry.



In three sentences, how would you describe your career in fashion from the beginnings until today?

After studying fashion design and a quick jump into sales, I started working as an assistant at MADAME [German fashion magazine published by Bauer Media Group]. From that point on, I worked my way up to fashion editor and was able to stay in this position for 18 incredibly exciting years.

However, the rise of the Internet and social media changed the print industry and my consciousness of fashion and my work. Therefore, I decided to become self-employed as a creative director and stylist for print and online media. Alongside, three industry colleagues and I started a business that is immensely close to my heart: “the wearness”, our online market place for sustainable fashion and beauty.

Why did you want to work in fashion in the first place? What took your attention and fascinated you about the industry?

To me, fashion is a form of expression of both the personality that wears it as well as the designer that created it. In the context of society and history, it even displays the current zeitgeist and culture. I have been fascinated by these aspects from childhood on.

You have been a fashion editor for a long time, in fact for 18 years. Was the fashion industry conscious or interested in the implications of clothing on people and the environment?

To be honest, this was not a widely discussed topic. Except for when the conversation was around fur, but even then, the part of the industry that focused on luxury fashion wasn’t very open or understanding for this topic.

After these 18 years at MADAME, you quit to become self-employed. What was the key reason or experience that made you take this step?

To speak the truth, the glitz and glamour of fashion had just lost its appeal to me. Every aspect of it just became so fast moving and replaceable.

Additionally, the commercial pressure on print publications rose to a high level. Besides having to be profitable, there was very little space for independence and creativity. I did not have a certain key experience that made me quit. However, I felt that my work did not align with my standards anymore. I needed to change something and one day, the time was just right.



When was your interest for ethical fashion born?

My dad is from Syria; my mum spent her childhood in Peru and Venezuela. I had grown up with stories and beautiful memories and pictures of these countries. We travelled a lot and were always searching for beautiful and unique pieces made by artisans. Local fabrics, carpets, art…

The bag that I took to kindergarten had been handmade by Indios. As a teenager, I wore Indian wrap skirts and combined them with embroidered Bolivian blouses I nicked from my mum’s closet, along with local Arabian jewellery and clogs (laughs).  So I have always loved unique, ethnic, and locally handmade fashion.

You took the step into self-employment as a stylist and fair fashion entrepreneur. In both these positions, you clearly position yourself against fast fashion and advertise for ethical clothing. Did this big change require courage?

Actually, I wouldn’t consider it courageous. I had never been a fan of fast or mainstream fashion. I would even consider big labels or IT pieces a personal no-go. Thus, going sustainable was a logical evolution for me and my style. Who would start a label in this day and age without considering its sustainability? It just goes hand in hand with a conscious lifestyle and mindset.

When you started promoting your message of sustainability and your self-employment, how did your colleagues from the “conventional” industry react?

Everybody was very positive and supportive. That was truly a great experience and I am really thankful for everyone’s encouragement.

Nowadays, fair fashion seems to have made its way into the middle of fashion industry. Many large companies advertise for their sustainable production, garments made from recycled material and transparent manufacturing conditions. As a true expert on the field, how sustainable are clothing lines such as H&M Conscious or Join Life by Inditex in comparison to dedicated fair fashion labels?

Even if these product lines are sustainable, the companies that launch them are not. Producing cheap, disposable and short-lived mass products is nowhere near sustainability.

In my opinion, these claims are made in order to gain a positive public image and, maybe, to compensate for their guilty conscience. However, we have so many young fair fashion labels that produce under fair working conditions, make innovations and deliver clothing that is individual and totally fashionable. They truly connect environmental awareness and fashion. And yes, these garments might come with larger price tags than ones you would find at the huge chain stores.

But, if we are honest with ourselves, do we really need brand new clothes all the time?

Your shop “the wearness” is located in the high-end market. It therefore fills the gap that has been left open by the rather mid-priced fair fashion online stores that have positioned itself in the sustainability sector so far. How open are the consumers in this very special market on questions about sustainability and ethical fashion?

The luxury sector is currently experiencing a significant mentality shift, too. Our customers have come to the realization that, unfortunately, expensive doesn’t mean well made. However, this naturally leads to insecurities in shopping for new clothes because the knowledge of origin, production conditions and sustainability of clothing is rarely ever made available to the customer. This is exactly where “the wearness” offers transparent and easily accessible information.

We have developed icons that are divided into sustainability aspects. By assigning the icons to the products, our customers can immediately check which sustainability criteria the product of choice meets. We transparently communicate the garment’s origin. And interestingly, behind each product, there is a unique and great story.

So, to wrap up this fascinating journey of yours: as a studied designer, former fashion editor and stylist/entrepreneur, you are and have been surrounded by fashion each and every day. How has your relationship to fashion changed professionally as well as in your private life?

I consume much more consciously than I did before. It’s the stories behind each item such as those we offer at “the wearness” that make clothing valuable to me. Clothing that I do not wear anymore gets sold, gifted or donated.

As a mother of two, you can imagine how much work that is sometimes. However, I get great fun from selling our old clothing on second-hand markets and discovering someone else’s joy over what I don’t need anymore. Before buying a new piece of clothing, one has to leave my closet. Thereby, everything stays neat and I always have an overview that prevents me from shopping for things that I don’t need. I love fashion, so my wardrobe will always be extensive. However, I have come to appreciate every single piece that is in it!

This post has been proofread by Kendall Norman.

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