article: Vanita Badlani Bagri, LaBante founder and CEO
photos: Roger Marks Photography
It was a usual busy rainy morning at the LaBante London headquarters, and I was going through my emails.
Suddenly I received an email from a gentleman called Duke asking for us to sponsor some prizes for Dr Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots awards being held at the Barbican Centre in the City of London.
Now for those of you who know me, I get about 20 emails every minute and it's genuinely not possible to go through all of them - so I skipped past this one, but then something niggled at the back of my mind and I went back to the email. I re-read it: Dr Jane Goodall, my idol, is requesting prizes for children across the UK who are entering a fashion show to make clothing out of old things?? Gosh, I was floored! It took me couple of minutes to digest the email and to get my wits together and pen a prompt reply.
Not only did we want to sponsor just the first prize, we wanted to give more. This was my response:
"Oh that's amazing Duke and so kind that you thought about LaBante London! Thank you so much - it's an honour for us.
We would love to sponsor a vegan handbag worth £200, a pair of wooden sustainable sunglasses worth £120 and a piece of jewellery worth £80 as a LaBante special prize – we would love to be official sponsors - also I would personally like to get involved as this is something very close to my heart. Do let me know if there is anything else I can do to help :)
I think she does amazing work and I am personally a big fan so if there is anything else you need please feel free to shout."
I heard back almost immediately and Duke put me in touch with another of his coordinators who wears LaBante London, of course - a lovely young lady who immediately put our logo on their Instagram as a sponsor.
On the day of the awards I went to the stunning Barbican Centre and saw first-hand these gorgeous kids handpicked from 14 schools across the UK make such an amazing effort. They were aged 6 -14 and each one had ideas on how to be more sustainable. One school had tied up with a school in Goa, India to get the garbage around their school collected and recycled.
Another school was working on trialling Aquapax, a recycled tetra pack bottle that could be used for water or juices in schools, and which could be refilled and reused so kids did not have to use plastic water bottles at all. Aquapax makes these tetra packs out of single use plastic bottles so they help the landfills, just like us here at LaBante London.
There were other children who were looking at creating little hedgehog habitats and there was another small child almost 6 years old who came up with the idea of 'adopting an endangered animal.' Another school was making a reusable cling film made from old recycled fabric which is washable and can be reused, which would eliminate the need for plastic cling film completely.
Now for those of you who don't have hope for this world, you just needed to be here at this event that Dr Jane Goodall's amazing team had put together. You would know that although there are only 11 years left to really rectify what is wrong with this world, there are few people like Dr Jane Goodall who have been put on this planet especially to help our species - because we all know that despite being the smartest of all species have done the most damage.
After that we broke for lunch, which was a heavenly gluten free vegan lunch served in the garden of the Barbican Centre. Here is an image of me just before lunch getting ready to devour the yummies (as my 9 year old daughter would call them) with the gorgeous Rachel Kan, vintage stylist.
I also met the lovely Lucy, who works with the Miss Dorsets to collect and recycle old clothing into fun amazing new fashion that they sell to raise money for their charity. She taught the little children how to make the cling film from old clothing so that they could raise £2000 for their charity.
What a lot of inspiring people. The most amazing were Duke Ingram and Reuben Besureis who genuinely support and work with Dr Jane's charity here in the UK and as part of an amazing British eco-pop band 'Besureis' Not only do they work with the charity, they also give back to it.
Here is a lovely picture of all of us with Dr Jane Goodall. On the far left is my friend Nina, a very generous and kind young lady who runs the charity Lady Freethinker, next to her is Duke and then Dr Jane Goodall of course, and me on the far right.
Just before the fashion show I had an opportunity to talk to Dr Jane and I pretty much told her she was God's gift to our planet. She was humble and generous. I have met so many people who become small celebrities in my daily business life and here was a lady who was a real celeb and who just stood out so tall and strong and gentle at the same time, yet with so much oomph and gumption that a 20 year old standing next to her would be embarrassed with the level of energy she has. Here are two shots of us together.
For those of you who do not know much about Dr Jane's work look at this YouTube video here:
After lunch we had the Trashion Show, which was being judged by the lovely Livia Firth of Ecoage and my awesome friend Duke Ingram. These designs in the Trashion show blew me away.
There was one young lady who had made the full dress out of Lindt chocolate wrappers, there was another who had made a dress out of old newspapers but crafted it so beautifully that all the colours matched and the craftsmanship was just divine. Yet another dress was made from used tea bags.
As we had the foresight to gift so many prizes, I was able to give the winning prize to the lady with the stunning sustainable dress created from Lindt chocolate wrappers, and another girl whose recycled dress was made from bottle top openers and another one made from recycled bin bag liners.
Not only did we get to meet little children who have been working for months together putting their presentations together - here was the younger generation making a seriously amazing effort at making fun couture style clothing with garbage – this is when I think my heart started to sing.
I feel exceptionally strongly about animals, but life is a circle and you have to care about the planet if you care about the animals - because one cannot live without the other. Here is a shot of us giving the prize to the winner, Amelia Litherland from Accrington St Christopher¹s Church of England High School.
To end the lovely evening we had prizes for the young ones and a closing speech by Dr Jane. In this speech Dr Jane spoke lovingly about her best friend – her mum who had supported her to go to the jungles in her early 20's and actually went to the camp with her in Tanzania for six months. They had very little funding and Dr Jane was required to show her research around community behaviour in chimpanzees before the monies ran out.
She spoke about how difficult it was and yet her mother was her main support. Finally, just about at the end of the six months Dr Jane saw the chimpanzees using tools to eat their food and she was able to report back to the National Geographic, who gave her the additional funding she needed along with a videographer to film her findings.
That was the beginning of the making of Dr Jane Goodall – the tireless chimpanzee worker, the philanthropist and the activist. Her speech spoke to me as when I started LaBante London it was a hard upward climb - the word 'vegan' was new and I had to battle with boutique and store buyers who would not understand what ROI a vegan brand would bring to their stores.
The challenge of doing something you believe in despite all rocky beginnings is something I could relate to.
I could feel as her eyes sparkled when she spoke about her mother and the chimpanzee families that she was very passionate about what she does, and this struck a chord with me because I have run LaBante London on that very same passion. That sense of needing to make things right in this world by giving people a more sustainable option than leather - because leather is not a by-product of the food industry, it is a direct industry all by itself - I could identify with.
Today, as we are approached by stores from across the world and we grow I feel happy about what we have achieved, but the underlying humility that comes with the struggle is always in my heart.
At the end of the evening I felt really overjoyed to have supported such an amazing charity and I wanted to share this with you.