“We care deeply about our people, our customers and our planet” (Baukjen de Swaan Arons).
The House of Baukjen is a family-run women’s slow fashion business located in North West London. It comprises two branches, the core brand, Baukjen, and their maternity brand, Isabella Oliver. Its focus is on environmentally, ethically and socially conscious styles for a sustainable future and, apart from being a leading global B Corp, has been recognised as a Carbon Neutral Leader in the UN’s 2021 Global Climate Action Awards at COP26.
It was founded in 2003 by the Anglo-Dutch husband and wife team of Baukjen de Swaan Arons and Geoff Van Sonsbeek. They left their jobs with Orange and Shell, respectively, to open Isabella Oliver after identifying a gap in the market when their first child was born. Baukjen itself was opened somewhat later in 2011 to serve the broader fashion market but was based on the same principle, namely “a solution for women needing an everyday wardrobe that’s contemporary, effortless and chic”. Accordingly, the competitive advantage of both brands, apart from their design, is that they are manufactured from high-quality fabrics that last. They use such natural fibres as cotton, wool and viscose in their fabrics as they are biodegradable and continuously strive to increase the content of recycled organic and sustainable fabrics, while at the same time they work with their mills to reduce the volumes of water consumed and pollution created during the production process. Indeed between 2019 and 2021, they achieved an average saving of 1.19kg of CO2 and 8.30 litres of water for every garment they produced. To achieve this, they work closely with their manufacturers, 20% of whom are women. They are all selected with care and required to agree to and sign Baukjen’s Factory Code of Conduct. This is intended to ensure that “their environmental, ethical and social needs are upheld and protected”. These include living wages, safe working conditions, regulated working hours and no child labour.
Their mission is to introduce sustainable practices and an ethical supply chain to create timeless, carefully crafted clothes that drive lasting positive change in the fashion industry. In so doing, they put the planet and people at the heart of everything they do. To minimise their carbon footprint, for example, more than 90% of their collections are produced in Europe, and their fabrics are also sourced locally, while in order to minimise waste and reduce the amount of clothing going to landfill, they have introduced a pregnancy clothes rental service for UK customers coupled with the opportunity, once a year, to return all Baukjen products for recycling.
They believe that their team, 78% of whom are women, are core to the success of their business and Baukjen finds working with them “inspiring, exciting and fun”. As they spend much time together, they ensure “the environment and culture we work within are friendly and supportive”. So, during the pandemic, when their employees have been working from home, they have held daily zoom calls to help maintain morale, offset any sense of isolation, and ensure their employees are mentally and physically well.
According to their quarterly impact reports for 2021 (htpps://www.baukjen.com), they address SDGs 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life below Water), 15 (Life on Land), 5 (Gender Equality), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 1 (No poverty), 8 (Decent, Work and Economic Growth), and 12 Responsible Consumption and Production). When they do not support an SDG directly, as in 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), 4 (Quality Education), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities),11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), they do support them indirectly, and at least 20% of their profits are given to charities. Also, in 2018, they launched their “Circle of Life” initiative whereby expectant mothers who placed an order with Isabella Oliver could mark the birth of their child by planting a tree in areas affected by deforestation or forest fires. To kick start the initiative, Isabella Oliver planted 1500 trees in areas of California affected by the forest fires, 100 trees for every year since the brand was founded.
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