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Ethical Conversations

Ethical Conversations: A Talk with Alchemist

The smallest yet crucial change someone could make is asking questions about where and by whom the garment is produced.”

25 JUNE 2024
Otrium continually works towards the  mission that all clothing  produced should be worn. There is no such thing as a perfect, “ethical” item or fashion brand: it’s not a black-and-white topic. There are, however, a lot of improvements brands can work on. We want to support fashion companies that strive to do better and empower you to understand what this journey entails. 
To provide an objective third-party perspective, we have collaborated with industry rating specialists Good On You since 2021. By doing so, we want to make it easier for our members to find items that are labelled “Ethically rated” and support brands that are working to create a better fashion industry. Most brands on our platform are rated by Good On You. “Ethically rated” qualified items come from brands rated 3/5 (It's a start), 4/5 (Good) or 5/5 (Great). Find more information about Good On You ratings on this page.
In this Ethical Conversations series, we’re exploring the approaches of “Ethically rated” brands featured on Otrium. This time, we interviewed Caroline Mewe, the Founder of Alchemist.
Great to meet you! I’m curious to hear how the idea behind Alchemist came about.
After my studies, I joined the Dutch department store Bijenkorf as a buyer, which I loved. I travelled around the world, enjoying every single moment. Through this experience, I was able to get a close look at the different sides of fashion: on the one hand, the world of glitter & glamour, and commercialisation, and on the other, the stark reality of the industry. I visited clothing manufacturers where I couldn't tell if it was a chicken coop or a factory.  It was terrible to see people working in the circumstances that we consider unacceptable in Europe. At some point, I could no longer ignore it. That's when I founded Alchemist. This was 20 years ago.
Please tell me more about Alchemist's sustainability initiatives.
First and foremost, we source and select the most sustainable fabric options. At the same time, we are very strict about choosing our production partners. I am thrilled with the materials  Alchemist uses. Take our wool, for example, it holds the following certifications: Responsible Wool Standard Certification (RWS), Global Recycled Standard (GRS), and The International Alpaca Association (I.A.A). We buy our alpaca and merino wool from certified suppliers where the animals don’t have to suffer. We don’t use any leather or fur, and we are non-mulesing (mulesing is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin around the breech of the sheep). I have always found it very important to keep the well-being of animals in mind. As a mother, I taught my sons that food is not a given. It is essential to see the value of the “obvious “ things we often take for granted.
How do you involve consumers on the topic of sustainability?
By nature, I am not a very loud person. This translates into Alchemist, but we could do much more to share our sustainability efforts. While you can find what we do on our website, it doesn’t even cover half of what we initiate and undertake. We speak about our efforts with retail buyers in our showrooms and directly with consumers at sale points. That is our strong suit.
How is Alchemist different from other fashion brands?
The passion for Alchemist comes from within the team, from a place of joy and love. When you think about it, we don’t produce large numbers. But we create beautiful clothes with a personal touch. You have to keep the fun in this loaded industry.
What is the biggest challenge for you when it comes to sustainability?
As long as the big companies don’t start using better materials in larger quantities, these fabrics will hit the market less. When these materials are produced on a small scale, the prices are too high to compete with regular materials. At Alchemist, we want to show that the industry can use more responsible materials to create beautiful clothing!
And your biggest goals?
Apart from changing external legislation factors, we must continue and evolve with what we're doing now at Alchemist. This may mean we have to scale down or look at reuse. There’s a lot that could be done. By the way, we want to become a certified B Corp! That’s one of our key goals.
What is going well in the fashion industry?
Awareness is growing. Now factories in India provide the option for better materials and “green” certificates, without being  asked. All our suppliers have at least one social certificate and undergo annual audits of several NGOs. We require nine criteria for the production of our clothing, including no child labour, safe working conditions, and fair living wages. And more factories - which I've visited, at least - are looking at the basic needs of workers. When I started twenty years ago, this didn’t exist!
And what REALLY needs to change?
Laws and regulations need to change. Take, for instance, implementing a checklist at the Port of Rotterdam for every fashion brand that imports clothing. This checklist would ensure no child labour is involved, materials are respectful of the planet, and so forth. There also needs to be a shift in mindset: people should accept that ethically produced clothing may have a higher price tag, but that this reflects the actual cost of what it took to produce it.
What is the biggest misconception about sustainable clothing?
The biggest misconception is that beautiful clothes can be produced responsibly. In reality, it’s a matter of making the right choices at every step of the process. 
Name a change that a consumer could make to become more environmentally conscious.
Start by simply asking questions about the production process and materials used in the garment. People can significantly contribute to sustainability by being more mindful about who produces the garment. This increased awareness is crucial because consumers ultimately vote with their wallets, deciding which companies and practices to support.
And a tip : invest in sustainable, good quality pieces, they will take you through a few seasons.

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Conscious Series: So Good To Wear

Otrium continually works towards the  mission that all clothing should be worn. We do this by helping to eliminate unsold inventory and using  technology and data to change the way clothing is created and sold. On our journey towards a smarter, more sustainable fashion industry, we’ve teamed up with Good On You, the leading source of fashion sustainability ratings. We’ve used their know-how to highlight brands on our own platform that go the extra mile to be more sustainable, which helps our customers make more informed shopping choices. Using Good On You’s data, we’ve introduced the Otrium Conscious filter. And now we’re speaking to conscious-rated brands carried by Otrium  to find out more about their approach towards sustainability. This week, we chatted to Eric Otten, CEO of cashmere brand So Good To Wear, who believes that ethical fashion should be the rule instead of the exception. So what does sustainability mean to you? “People have always thought we could  take something inexhaustible from our earth, to drive  mass consumption and economic growth. Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite. Sustainability means that we have to give back more to the earth than we take” Tell us more about your brand. “Cashmere without compromises sums it up. We redesign the production process of cashmere with new and restored values. It’s a more conscious and personal process.” What’s your role… and how did you get there? “As CEO of the company, I have to be a farmer for our Nepalese business and at the same time a fashion specialist for our western business. I bring those two worlds together, always with consideration of our vision and goals.” What’s your career background and when did you start working on creating a positive impact? “I have been in the fashion business for almost my whole career. I worked for private label brands and premium brands like Wolford. After five years, I truly realised there are no limitations for the welfare of our planet and so I joined the sustainable and fair trade brand MYoMY. From there, I moved to  So Good To Wear.” What achievement are you most proud of? “Putting the whole chain theory in practice! From our own cashmere goats to our spinnery, natural dying atelier and production in Nepal to our “slow fashion” models in the retail industry. The whole chain is fairtrade,  animal friendly and committed to rebuilding the economy in Nepal.”What are you working on at the moment? “We are expanding our retail network internationally and expanding  our own cashmere goat herd in Nepal.”What is the biggest challenge on your  roadmap of improvements? “The coordination between high demands in the western world and the limitations of the relatively primitive possibilities in Nepal. Some things take more time to realise in Nepal – time we sometimes don’t have.”What’s the best feedback you’ve ever received from customers? “I have never worn a more comfortable piece of clothing than my So Good To Wear sweater – it’s physical and emotional.”What do customers value most about the brand and products? “It’s high “slow” fashion without compromises, made from the finest quality cashmere, fully fairtrade, sustainable and animal friendly”Who inspires you and why? “Stella McCartney – it became a movement of a luxury fashion brand built on sustainability.” What’s the most important aspect you keep in mind when shopping for more sustainable fashion? “I ask: is the brand really concerned about sustainability or is it a form of “greenwashing”?”Do you have a quote you live by? “Without action, we only have words.” What’s a quick change that people could make in terms of being more sustainable? “Actually, that is very easy! Start changing small and easy things in your life because it all helps: take your bike, not your car, don’t let the water run when you brush your teeth, don’t throw away food, put the light out in rooms you're not in, wash only a full machine and use biological soap, throw waste in a bin, not on the street, don’t eat meat every day and many more things that make more difference than you think, in your head and for nature.”
To celebrate Otrium's 2022 Impact Report, we're shining the light on brands rated Conscious by Good on You. Through our collaboration with Good on You, a leading independent rating organization, we aim to empower our customers to shop responsibly. Good On You assess brands on three key areas, people, planet, and animal welfare. Together we've handpicked CLOSED, a brand that showcases its unwavering commitment to making an impact. Blutsgeschwister's JourneyThrough an interview with Blutsgeschwister's CEO, we explore the heart and soul of the brand, shedding light on its journey towards sustainability, and their vision for a more conscious future. “Tell us a bit more about Blutsgeschwister?” Karin Ziegler, founder, head designer, and managing director co-founded the brand Blutsgeschwister in Stuttgart (Germany) on a sunny Ash Wednesday in the year 2001 with a handful of free spirits and visionaries. Fresh out of her studentship as a women's tailor, her mission was clear: unconventional, everyday wearable, and colorful fashion that brings joy, doesn't follow trends, and is worn with love – genuine favorite pieces, then as well as now. We create feel-good textiles that are highly wearable, matchable and easy to personalize. That’s  what clothing is all about: truly expressing yourself. Not just who you are as a person, but also how you‘re feeling right now. After all, you can only feel comfortable in your own skin and be YOUnique if you don‘t have to pretend. That‘s what our customers love about Blutsgeschwister. Stand up for yourself, and express yourself. Our clothes may have labels, but our customers definitely don‘t. “What is your role at Blutsgeschwister & what achievement are you most proud of? I am the CEO of the company. I have been working for the company for 12 years – it is wonderful  to contribute to seeing the company thrive. What we do is meaningful, makes our customers happy, brings colour to the world and is done in a sustainable and fair way. What job could be better? Since 2022 we are working with 100% sustainable materials, and we continue to have LEADER status at the Fair Wear Foundation. In 2016, we succeeded for the first time in achieving the highest membership status of "Leader", which we are proud to have maintained to this day. This  does not mean we are going to sit back and relax. There is still so much to do and to improve. We  set new goals for ourselves every year to achieve sustainable improvements in working conditions  in our value chain. The membership status of "leader" implies that Blutsgeschwister is recognized as a leading brand within the context of sustainable and ethical fashion. This designation means that we have demonstrated significant commitment and progress in terms of sustainability practices, fair working standards, and overall ethical conduct. It showcases our leadership role and sets us apart as an example for others in the industry to follow. Achieving 100% sustainable garments is a result of a dedicated and ongoing process at Blutsgeschwister. Over the years, we have made significant efforts to improve sustainability practices. This includes assessing and reducing the environmental impact of our productionprocesses, sourcing materials responsibly, and prioritizing ethical practices throughout the supply chain. We focus on choosing materials that are sustainable, such as organic cotton, recycled fabrics, or  other eco-friendly alternatives. Additionally, we value the durability and quality of the materials to  ensure longevity and reduce the need for frequent replacements. “What are you working on at the moment?“ We are working on the ongoing optimization of our production standards – other than that we choose different projects that help us improve further. At the moment we work on a project against gender violence. In India, we have a long-standing factory partner we have supported for years. Training on gender-based violence, on women's rights etc. is vital to help the employees grow. We sustain this process by enabling the factories to train their employees. CO2 neutrality is something that we are also working on. We are constantly switching over to sustainably produced raw materials. All garments are shipped to our customers via carbon-neutral DHL GoGreen. Our packaging materials (polybags) are made of recycled and recyclable polyethylene (LDPE). Our labels are now free of plastic and made from paper sourced from sustainable forestry (FSC certified). Our customer catalogue is printed in organic ink, made using renewable plant resources such as soya or linseed oil. Where do you see your brand in 5 years? And what are the biggest challenges on the roadmap? First of all, the biggest challenges lie within: logistical matters, cost increases, and interruptions in the supply chain. We want to continue to be a best-practice company. Our products have to be at the pinnacle – still transporting Blutsgeschwister details and outstanding design value. We will improve the life cycle of a product by different means – so we’re working on setting up a second-hand and preloved platform where customers can trade in their items that are still in good condition but no longer worn regularly. So, another person can be happy with a preloved item – that platform should launch in autumn 2023. Altogether, we aim and continue to be a true Love  brand.
- Partnership will give Otrium’s three million members greater visibility of brands going the extra mile when it comes to sustainability.- Shoppers can now select a filter showing only conscious brands and products, rated using Good On You data - Partnership comes as Otrium announces new Good On You accredited brands onto its marketplace including Alchemist and Closed joining longer standing partner brands including Karl Lagerfeld, Alex Chung, and BelstaffOtrium, the premier fashion outlet marketplace today announces a partnership with Good On You, fashion’s #1 source for brand sustainability ratings. The partnership represents a significant step forward for the industry in making sustainable fashion more accessible. Otrium’s three million members around the world can now instantly see what brands go the extra mile on sustainability directly on the search results pages.  Otrium members can now select a filter on the website or app that shows only ‘Conscious’ brands and products. This ‘Conscious’ label is based on Good On You’s rigorous ratings methodology, which evaluates each brand’s track record on the environment, labour and animal welfare. On Otrium, brands are asked to consent to show their rating.  Good On You independently rates brands on behalf of consumers. The focus on transparency is why ratings are based solely on publicly available information including industry-leading standards, certifications and brands’ own reporting. To date, Good On You has rated more than 3,000 brands including mainstream fashion houses, smaller designers and ethical labels. Otrium co-founder and CEO, Milan Daniels, said: “We’re committed to finding ways to help our members shop more consciously, giving our fashion-lovers the best possible online retail experience while making sure every item of clothing produced is worn. Our partnership with Good On You will help to improve visibility for our millions of members so they can easily choose brands that go the extra mile to be more sustainable.It’s essential that we collaborate with external experts like the Good On You team. We are in the business of helping fashion brands waste less with a purpose-led vision of a circular future for the fashion industry. There are enormous challenges ahead as the world pushes towards a more sustainable future and we’re playing an important role by working with brands to help them reduce waste in fashion.”  Sandra Capponi, co-founder of Good On You, said:"Fashion urgently needs to make progress on sustainability issues, and consumers have significant power to push the industry forward. We believe everyone has a right to know how brands impact the issues that you care about. That’s why it was natural for us to partner with an innovative platform like Otrium. We already share so many values around making sustainable fashion more accessible and combating waste.Thanks to this partnership Otrium is helping more customers than ever discover leading conscious brands—and that can make a real difference. Collectively, when we're all choosing to support the brands doing good for people and the planet, then the industry will have no choice but to respond. That’s how we help create a sustainable future for fashion.”Otrium’s fashion marketplace was designed to help solve the enormous multi-billion dollar industry challenge of unsold inventory. Currently, approximately 12% of clothing produced, or more than $200 billion, stays unsold sitting in warehouses.Using proprietary technology, Otrium works with fashion brands to help find a buyer for every item of clothing produced to reduce the clothing waste. It offers brands an easy way to set up an online outlet store, leveraging its in-depth analytics to ensure brands maximize their revenues and ensuring customers get the best fashion brands at exceptional prices, all with premium service.Significant momentum behind OtriumThe news of the partnership with Good On You comes as Otrium announces new brand partners to its marketplace of over 300 brands including Theory, All Saints & Joseph, which have been added to longer standing partner brands including Karl Lagerfeld and Belstaff. On top of this the marketplace is seeing revenues more than double in 2021 and is launching in the US at the end of this month.Otrium has 3 million registered members and over 300 fashion stores now on its app. It serves over 20 markets across Europe and the US from 3 logistics hubs located in the Netherlands, UK and the United States.For further information, please contact [email protected]

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