Why would you shop organic food while wearing clothes that are both toxic and produced unethically? For previous shop owner and fashion designer, Sonja Lotz, this was one of the questions that prompted her to start a sustainable fashion store. Joined by sociologist Ester Fröhler, the two created Möon, a beautiful boutique that proves that fashion can be both sophisticated and ‘au courant’ without hurting either the people producing it or the planet.
I sat down with Ester and Sonja over a cup of tea to hear more about why they started a sustainable fashion store. During our conversation, the documentary The True Cost comes up several times, and fuels a passionate conversation over the state of the fashion world—which truly is nothing other than grim. Because these facts formed such an important basis for our conversation, you can find information and quotes gathered from the documentary throughout this story.
What were you doing before you started Möon?
[Sonja] I had another shop, Konk, in Mitte for six years, which I sold to my partner. I wanted to do something like that again, because it’s something I’m good at, but I didn’t just want a regular fashion store, it didn’t make sense to me, so I started thinking about sustainable fashion. There are a few shop in Berlin that sell sustainable clothes, but they’re more in the ‘hoodie and t-shirt’ category, and I wanted to create something more sophisticated. Then I met Ester and she was really into it too.
How did you two meet?
[Ester] We met through a common friend who also owns a shop. I’m originally a sociologist and I was new to the fashion business, but I really liked the idea of it. When I found out that Sonja was planning to open a new shop, we got together. I was really intrigued by the idea of doing something around sustainable fashion.
So then you left your work in sociology?
[E] Yes, all though I had been doing something different in between, which I’m still doing. I’m also a TCM therapist (Acupuncturist).
I had this revelation going to an organic grocery store and seeing all the people there, buying nice, fluffy, organic vegetables, but wearing Nike shoes and other mass produced brands and that made me think. […] Sustainability doesn’t stop with food, it incorporates everything from fashion to furniture and cars—everything!
The world consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than we consumed two decades ago.
Why sustainable fashion?
[S] I had this revelation going to an organic grocery store and seeing all the people there, buying nice, fluffy, organic vegetables, but wearing Nike shoes and other mass produced brands and that made me think. Why would you shop organic food and wear clothes that are both toxic and where people have literally died making them? Sustainability doesn’t stop with food, it incorporates everything from fashion to furniture and cars—everything!
[S] It is a movement that is growing slowly, and someone’s gotta move it along. Big name brands like Primark and H&M will probably always be around, but if we don’t do this, the big brands will never change their ways. When they see that there’s potential and demand from customers for good and fair products, perhaps they’ll start paying real wages to their textile workers.
[E] We can see this in the shop right now, that our customers are really happy that they can find an alternative. It’s not that people are stupid and that they don’t want better alternatives, it’s just that there’s not a lot of it available so far. What is special about us is that we have a fashionable approach to the choices we make and the clothes we carry—we want to show that it’s possible to be both sustainable and look good.
More than 90% of cotton is genetically modified, using vast amounts of water as well as chemicals. Cotton production is responsible for 18% of worldwide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
Is sustainable fashion suffering from a bit of an identity crisis or bad stigma, do you think?
[S] I think it used to, but this is changing quickly. It can be a real challenge though, when you have a small shop, carrying small brands, to find the combination of good quality, good design and good cuts that are working—all of this has to come together in one brand. This is already difficult to find in the fashion world in general, and we only have a very small selection of brands to choose from, so the selection process is a lot harder.
What criteria do you base your selections on? What deems a product sustainable?
[E] We do have a range. A few of the small labels we carry are handmade and produced in Europe, which is fine with us. Then we have the brands that are 100% sustainable, all the way from the way the cotton was planted and harvested and down to the finishing. An example of this is Kowtow from New Zealand, which is a label that is large enough that they can afford the GOTS labelling (Global Organic Textile Standard). With smaller labels that can’t afford this kind of labelling yet, the relationship is based on trust.
[S] Yes, but even with the non-certified products, we try to never move away from organic materials, and we do not sell any silk at the moment, except for wild silk. It’s almost impossible to find organic silk because so much pesticides are used in the silk fields. We also don’t sell any viscose.
Our customers are really happy that they can find an alternative. It’s not that people are stupid and that they don’t want better alternatives, it’s just that there’s not a lot of it available so far.
The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh was a structural failure where an eight-story commercial building collapsed, leaving 1.130 people dead and approximately 2.500 injured.
It’s completely crazy the amount of toxins we allow into our bodies through our clothes. How, like you said earlier, we’ll pay attention to the food we put into our bodies, but we’ll drape our bodies in pesticide covered fabrics. It doesn’t make any sense.
[E] And beyond that, it’s what you do to other people, the ones making your clothes.
[S] Besides the fact that workers have died in factory collapses, if their work doesn’t literally kill them, they’re working 15 hour days, with no time to sleep and barely enough money to eat. That’s not a life!
I’m sure most people know that sustainable fashion is both better for us and for our world. Why aren’t more people seeking it out and buying it?
[S] Because it’s still more complicated to find and there’s not such a big range. I often have the same problem myself. Last weekend I found myself at a big chain store buying leggings for my children, because they’ll get ripped almost immediately and we need access to affordable underwear, socks and basics. I generally buy everything used, but you can’t find that kind of stuff second hand, because it gets worn out. There aren’t many organic alternatives, and the ones available are really expensive. It’s hard to spend 40€ on leggings for my daughter when she’ll wear them for a week before she falls and rips them.
[E] I think it’s also a problem of awareness and education around the topic. Most people don’t really know or think about where their clothes come from. When you go into H&M, you don’t see photos of the people making your clothes, and the whole industry behind it. The process is completely removed from the shopping experience.
For obvious reasons!
[S] Yes, it’s far, far away. At the same time, you can go crazy when you really start thinking about it. You start scrutinizing everything you own.
One-in-six people work in the global fashion industry. The majority of these workers are women earning less than $3 per day.
I’d say the problem is also that we’ve come to accept, and even expect that a t-shirt should cost 5€. We take the ridiculously low prices for granted and without questioning how they can be that cheap. The challenge lies in changing our mindset to accept fair pricing.
[S] Yeah, we are really spoiled. Another problem is that we are used to getting everything everywhere. We have so many choices available at all times. We’ve been made to believe that we need four pairs of jeans each season, while one might be enough, or maybe two. We end up buying a lot of stuff that we don’t need and don’t end up using.
Yeah and then it ends up in the landfills, just to decompose slowly and release harmful chemical into the atmosphere. The whole industry is really quite grim. I used to feel good about giving my old clothes to donation bins, but after learning that only a small percentage of it actually gets sold in stores, I feel very different about this.
[E] And not to mention all the pollution that comes from producing the clothes in the first place. It’s huge.
[S] A huge problem is the attitude towards shopping as a form of recreation. This weekend when we went to get the tights for my kids, we went to a really big mall in Brandenburg. I never go to malls, and we were like, ‘what’s going on with all these people, they’re just shopping-shopping-shopping’…
[E] …and they do it in their spare time, this is what they do for fun.
Most people don’t really know or think about where their clothes come from. When you go into H&M, you don’t see photos of the people making your clothes, and the whole industry behind it. The process is completely removed from the shopping experience.
Only 10% of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold. The rest end up in landfills or flooding markets in developing countries like Haiti where they are bought by the box and kill the local industry.
What do you think needs to happen to change our attitude about the cost of fashion and for us to stop seeing clothes as a commodity that can be easily thrown away?
[E] We need more good alternatives, more awareness around the subject and time… There’s this really good advertisement by Armed Angles… Sonja, how did they do it again?
[S] There was a picture of jeans and the price of 39,90 was crossed out and replaced by 99,90* and it said *Made by Humans. They up-price it and show why it has to be more expensive.
[E] Clothes shouldn’t be that cheap and I think this campaign did it really well because it’s simple and it sticks with you.
What’s the nicest thing about owning your own store and running your own business?
[E] Time. The ability to have control over your own time. Also, I like that we can set our own trends.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from running this shop so far?
[S] The fact that customers are used to getting everything, everywhere in seconds. There are so many choices available, and as customers, we’ve gotten accustomed to thinking about and searching out the best thing, at the best price, at the closest location. I remember when you’d need a pair of jeans and you’d go to your regular store and come out with a new pair of jeans. Now people are like, ‘I’ve seen these jeans with that particular wash, and I want them, just a tone lighter and without the zipper’. People waste so much time thinking about what to get and where to get it, it’s hilarious. Even when I had my last shop, ten years ago, it wasn’t like that.
And Ester, what’s been the biggest challenge for you?
[E] Focusing exclusively on sustainable fashion, it’s been a challenge combining the fashion element with sustainability. We’re always searching for the right styles and fits amongst what’s available, and sometimes it’s just not possible to unite our vision with our beliefs. But new labels are popping up all the time, so we’re getting there.
The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter.
Right behind the oil industry!
Do you gave a favorite brand that you work with.
[E] I think each of us have a favorite brand. Kowtow is great because they’re really professional and good to work with. Style wise, my favorite brand is the French brand Base Range. One of our best sellers is the sneaker brand VEJA, and we offer a pretty large range of their shoes now. Because they’re quite famous, people come in here just looking for them, which works great for us. We sell a pair of their sneakers every day.
What do you see in the future for Möon?
[S] We would love to open more shops, and a men’s shop. Right now we’re getting rid of our men’s clothing because it’s taking so much space and we sell so little of it, but our vision is to have more space and to also have a good selection of clothes for men.