Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand.
A. Hi, I’m Vanita, the founder and CEO of LaBante London. When I was 18 I would go to university and walk through a market, and there was a live butcher’s shop. For all of you that don’t know what a live butchers shop is like, it’s a counter with alive livestock, in this case chicken in cages. Every time I passed, and a customer walked into that shop, the butcher would take his hand and put it in the cage to grab a chicken. All I would hear was a unanimous roar of squawks, it was like a high-pitched sound full of pain, I had to close my ears and walk past it because it was just too much to handle. The smell of the livestock being hacked alive and the sounds, the fear you could smell it, and that’s what turned me vegetarian. From that experience came one of the greatest transformative times in my life.
I grew up in fashion, my family had garment factories in South Africa, Philippines, India, and Hong Kong. We supplied the big boys, like Calvin Klein. We had state of the art factories in South Africa, machineries that at that time were too advanced and there was little work ethic at that time. Export markets were controlled with quotas and that then got abolished, so China flooded the market with cheap goods. It was really hard for factories to sustain themselves. So, we had to shut that factory down.
Fast forward and I graduated from International Business school in Arizona, filled with enthusiasm and excitement, ready to start my own fashion brand, my parents on the other hand said no way, don’t touch fashion with a bargepole, because of the experiences they had had.
I was very lucky to take a job in investment banking in Chicago and New York, then moved to London, still working in Investment Banking. Eight years ago, I was like this is it, it’s enough. I took all my savings and put it into LaBante London.
It was a Vegan brand from the start and I was very lucky to have an amazing team, we faced a lot of challenges at the start. At that time Veganism wasn’t heard of, it was a very new concept, people hadn’t heard of it and buyers didn’t understand it. So, we went through everything that was in our way, and grew in leaps and bounds, and I’m very proud to say my family stands resolutely behind me today.
We have launched handbag and jewellery lines, sell in Department stores and multiple boutiques across the world. We have recently launched a sunglass line to add to our collection.
Q. Why is sustainability in Fashion so important to you?
A. Sustainability in fashion isn’t given enough importance, especially by the big boys out there. It’s something that is important to us from the get go, years ago you could see the great barrier reef from space now all you can see is a big convergence of trash in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a lot of plastic being thrown in there, it impacts sea life, it impacts those turtles that think the plastic is jelly fish. So, they go and eat the plastic and it goes into their stomachs and stays there, and they can’t get rid of it, so they feel full all the time. So, they inadvertently die of starvation. The baby turtles go towards the can holders thinking its jelly fish, they try to eat that and land up getting stuck in it and it gets stuck around their shells and then they grow up looking like coke bottles. How much more is it going to take for everyone to wake up and see the problem? We can all see the problem on social media someone needs to take a stand.
Q. How are you guys dealing with the plastic issue in your brands and packaging?
A. This is of extreme importance to us, plastic, we hate it. We try not to use any of it. The sunglasses line is packaged in a bamboo case and cardboard box, no plastic. Handbags has one layer of plastic on the top which we are now moving into Cornstarch plastic, as soon as it touches the ocean it turns into fish food. Plastic is a big problem for all of us. All the handbag interiors are made from recycled material as well. Where we can recycle, or whatever we can use that’s recycled we use. It is expensive and requires a lot of research and travel, but we do that, so why aren’t the bigger brands doing this to. Transparency is key, the more brands will join the revolution and more of them will come because they want that customer to buy from them as well. If you are asking the right questions and you are asking for real ethical products you will get it, we need to do more of that.
Q. Top Tips on Repurposing your wardrobe and where to start?
A. If you make everything last a bit longer it just works so much better, so put the handbag back in the dust bag and put it in the wardrobe, take care of it. If your shoes which are running thin, go and have them resoled and they will last you an extra 2 years. So, we must find ways of taking care of our products to make them last longer.