Future Leap Member Spotlight: Advocating Transparency in the Future of Fashion with Jess Strain of Ovrbloom

In the spirit of Sustainable Fashion Week launching on the 16th of September, we wanted to take the opportunity to interview one of our very own Network members specialising in conscientious clothing.  

Jess Strain runs Ovrbloom, a brand that seeks to uphold and emphasise the importance of transparency when it comes to fashion and the supply chain.  

Here, you can learn about the origin of Ovrbloom and their approach to sustainability, as well as challenges faced along the way.  

Tell us about Ovrbloom and your recent HatBag launch. 

Ovrbloom is a sustainable and traceable accessories brand that tells customers exactly who, where and how their products are made. I create limited edition runs of 15 designs; all hand made in Bristol. My HatBag has launched in two colourways – I sold 1/3 of stock within 2 days of my brand launch. All the products are fully traceable and transparent in how much they cost to produce, down to exactly where the cotton came from. At the end of 2021 I was awarded the highly prestigious Young Innovators Award from Innovate UK and The Princes Trust. This has provided me with the financial backing and mentor support to elevate Ovrbloom and my business proposition to the next level.  

What inspired you to start Ovrbloom as a brand? 

During my second year at University, I got involved with climate activism and successfully campaigned for Loughborough University to divest £132k from fossil fuel investments. This grounding in environmentalism has had a long-lasting impact on my design practice. My design practice has centred around alternative ways of thinking and when I started designing the Ovrbloom HatBag I knew that I had to create as little impact on the planet as possible. I was totally sick of seeing greenwashing from large high street giants and knew there must be an alternative way to tackle this. With every Ovrbloom product I produce a visual transparency report with easy to read and engaging facts about the supply chain and material origin. 

Tell us what sustainable fashion and transparency means to you. 

Sustainable fashion is a tricky phrase, it’s been totally hijacked by the fast fashion industry. The answer in my eyes in radical transparency: allowing customers to see exactly where each company is actually putting their money. Transparency will allow accountability, and with this, you’d hope, will come more responsible decisions from big companies. 

What has been your largest challenge as a purpose-driven fashion brand? 

To be blunt, cost. When you’re up against the high street as your customers alternative, it’s near impossible to match their price point. Sticking to my guns and keeping my manufacture in Bristol is certainly not the easiest or cheapest way of making the HatBags, but supporting local talent and keeping carbon emissions down is a priority for Ovrbloom.  

Do you have any top-tips for entrepreneurs starting out in the fashion and clothing world? 

I’d advise new fashion entrepreneurs to network like crazy. Collaboration is everything when you’re starting out. Whether that’s just a collaboration of ideas and contacts, or whether it’s a creative business collaboration. They’re so valuable, and often you’re all pedalling twice as hard trying to achieve the same goal or research about competitors.  

Following your recent successes, how do you feel you can support fellow members of the Future Leap Network? 

Seconding my point about collaboration, if any future leap members have any ideas for potential collaboration or exchange of skills and ideas, I’d love to hear from you. I’m more than happy to feedback on applications for the Young Innovators Award or any other grant applications too. 

What appeals to you about being part of a Network of fellow purpose-driven organisations and individuals? 

Being able to talk to and share experiences with likeminded entrepreneurs who are facing similar challenges. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely at times and it’s great being able to talk to people who face similar issues with finance, suppliers and distribution.  

How do you envisage the future of fashion? 

I envisage a radically transparent future, a future where small designers aren’t ripped off by high street giants, where the future of the planet and its people and prioritised over profit. Recently, with a scorching 40c day in England and what feels like heatwave after heatwave, the impact of climate change is stark. The drive to act quicker and act bigger is stronger than ever.  

What do you see on the horizon for Ovrbloom over the coming months? 

I’m about to embark on a business knowledge exchange with a Spanish producer of organic cotton fabric. They’re a registered Bcorp and have impeccable supply chain transparency. In November I’m going to work in Spain to help them identify areas of improvement for their Bcorp recertification in a few years’ time. This will help me develop a method of transparency reporting that I can offer to other small fashion businesses to help them create more transparency within their supply chain. I’m passionate about responsible corporate decisions and this is how I feel I can create most positive impact on the planet. 

Thank you to Jess and Ovbloom for taking the time to share your experience with the Future Leap Network.  

What is the Member Spotlight?  

This new feature seeks to highlight engaged members of the Future Leap Network, while promoting their successes, challenges and stories.  

If you are interested in featuring within the Member Spotlight, please contact our Communications and Marketing Manager – chloe.raynor@futureleap.co.uk  

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