Elegant, poised and fresh faced- drinking a green smoothie. When I meet Emma, she might easily be mistaken for an off duty model, straight from the Topshop Boutique catwalk. Nevertheless, we’re here to talk business. She’s the founder of an ethical and sustainable clothing line, HODA. Unlike other brands in the ethical and sustainable market, she chose not to launch her company online. Selling first at Portobello Market and festivals, Emma has used the natural magic of her silk designs to draw in customers organically. Now she’s hit the jackpot; stocking seasonal collections for the last three years at Topshop’s Flagship store on Oxford Street. It’s a natural progression for HODA, as Emma truly believes that clothes made with care, ethics and sustainable production carry good karma.
Inspired by the craftsmanship, creative spirit and beautiful fabrics in India, she has followed her intuition (and creative flair) to put together a collection of simple dresses, co-ords and kimonos; letting the allure of pure silk patterns mesmerise girls all around the world. Her designs have travelled to South America, Italy, Hong Kong and Ibiza (for those taken by wanderlust, these silk slip dresses take up zero space in your travel luggage).
For a party, I wear my slip dress with nothing else, I keep the dress simple and put my hair up, with vintage earrings. I think the dresses can make you feel really ethereal.
Let me take you back three years. Emma left school early, her creative spirit jarring with the structured environment of minute by minute timetables: “I’ve always been instinctive and impulsive…. I’m not very good at being in a super structured environment and I don’t like being trapped.” Carving her own career in digital retail and marketing, the night after she was offered a promotion, she had a dream she was in India. The next day she left her job, booked flights and set in motion her travels to Rajasthan, India.
Then 24, Emma wanted to train as a yoga teacher. However, that didn’t happen until a couple of years and many trips back to India, she sidestepped a little: “I fell in love with the sky and the beaches; then the creative energy and the craftsmanship of Rajasthan.”
Things should be made with love, I really believe that.
At first Emma just produced dresses for herself. Then, many compliments later, the idea grew into a 200 unit order, which was sold back in the UK at Portobello Market. Gradually building up stock, success and reputation in London, a Topshop buyer scouted HODA and asked Emma to put together a seven piece collection for their basement of independent designers in the flagship store, Oxford Street.
Although she is the sole founder, Emma describes her clothing line as a collaboration. She works in a transparent partnership with a local family business in Rajasthan. There are no factory secrets. The family source the silks, offer opinions and advice and sew all of the dresses. This happens alongside daily family dinners where Emma joins all four families of brothers, including grandparents, children and grandchildren.
When I asked Emma about the growing ethical and sustainable fashion movement, she admitted how oblivious she was to clothes manufacturing before she started HODA. Now enlightened, Emma describes going the production quality of standard highstreet designs, “now when I look at the clothes, I look at them and realise the quality is disgustingly synthetic and mass produced with a huge mark up.” Whereas, at HODA, the fabrics are natural, durable, but still affordable.
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only to oil in terms of its environmental impact. 25% of chemicals produced worldwide are used for textiles and the industry is often noted as the number 2 polluter of clean water – after agriculture.
Deloitte, Danish Fashion Institute 2013
‘Young optimists’ ages of 18 – 34 are the most engaged on sustainability. 2/3 actively buy sustainable brands and 1/4 always consider the social and environmental ethics of brands when making purchasing decisions. 67% say they recommend brands that behave responsibly.
Accenture and Havas Media RE:PURPOSE 2014
Before ethical fashion became mainstream Emma was deeply moved by “To Die For” by Lucy Siegle. “People want stories behind their clothes now. Everyone’s ethics have really evolved in the past few years. From the food we eat, where it comes from and where our clothes come from. We want to be the best people we can be. If you have a good product that people like and its ethical/sustainable, then you feel so much better wearing it. I really really feel like clothes carry karma and energy.”
Emma talks about her lucky clothes; the ones with previous wear and a history to them: “I genuinely believe better things happen to me when I’m wearing these clothes with good karma. Things should be made with love, I really believe that.”
How to wear HODA
“I love how different types of girls wear them. Some really girly girls but also more grungy girls who layer them up with t-shirts, doc martins and leather jackets. I really like everyone to make it their own. Florals… stronger reds and greens… aztec prints… they each attract a different type of person. I think with fabrics people get very instinctive and drawn in. The fabric chooses them.”
Emma wears her HODA over a tshirt or polo neck in the daytime. Here I’ve styled my blue HODA slip dress (£35) with a flared blouse from H&M and a vintage marabou scarf.
In the evenings, Emma lets the silk speak for itself: “for a party, I wear mine with nothing else, I keep the dress simple and put my hair up, with vintage earrings. I think that the dresses can make you feel really ethereal.”
Watch this space because HODA is investigating the history of sari silks and other fine vintage fabrics with the plan to launch an exquisite evening wear collection soon!
All images, unless credited, HODA LONDON.