We met up with Noomi in her cosy atelier in a back courtyard in Münster where she has a small sales and show room and studio where her long-time employee Hauke is making a dress and her intern Noriko is working on little bags made out of left-over leather from a Münster-based upholsterer. Noomi serves us delicious pastries and tea as we take a seat in a cosy little corner of the room. Noomi founded KnowMe in 2006. After just a couple of years working for conventional fashion labels, the trained dressmaker and cut manager quickly realised that she wanted to have her own label under which she would only make “decent clothing.
ökoRAUSCH: How did you get turned on to sustainable fashion and how did you get started?
Noomi: It all happened by chance. After finishing secondary school, I went to a career counsellor and the woman there asked me a bunch of questions. At the end, she looked and me and asked: “What would you think about becoming a tailor?” I had never thought about that before. But I definitely wanted to do something creative and hands-on. So I signed up for the training programme.
It has always important to me to use good materials. During the training programme I realised: It would be so aggravating if you bought cheap fabric, made a great piece of clothing out of it, and after just one wash it doesn’t look the same anymore. And I don’t like the way plastic fabrics feel. That’s when I started looking for good material. At the time, good was called OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100. Now I know that this isn’t a real certificate, but it was what I could find at that time.
In the fashion industry, a lot of the work is done abroad. People work under hard labour conditions and make very little money producing things that are sold for cheap over here. I always asked myself how that can even happen because I knew how much work actually goes into making something before you can wear it. That’s why I wanted to do a “made in Germany” thing. That way I would be able to oversee everything to ensure its quality. There aren’t any complications with the cut or any mistakes that come about when you produce abroad.
In the beginning, I ordered fabrics in their original white and then looked for a dyeworks that dyed the fabric according to my wishes and sustainability certificates. At the time, it was really time-consuming and expensive because I had to order at least 50 kilogrammes at a time, which is 50 metres of fabric. And that was only one colour! Then at my first trade fair I met the guys from Lebenskleidung out of Berlin. They already had organic materials and that was great for me. That way I could buy smaller quantities of certified organic fabrics and didn’t have to purchase raw fabrics and have them dyed.
ECO FABRICS & RECYCLING
All of the pieces are made either from GOTS [Global Organic Textile Standart ] certified, organic or recycled fabrics. The wool comes from an organic farm in the Bavarian region of Allgäu.
LONG LASTING AND EASY TO COMBINE
Classics over trends. Many of the pieces can be worn by different age groups: The Hanko skirt is popular among younger and more mature female customers. The fabric’s high quality ensures the long life of the pieces. And the pieces can easily be combined with others: The college jacket is reversible and unisex. Even all of the baby clothes are reversible and all of the sleeves can be rolled up so that they be worn for two to three years.
FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS
Noomi and her employee Hauke sew all of the pieces themselves. If business picks up a lot, they hire on two freelance tailors or get support from the Stift Tilbeck sheltered workshops.
Each KnowMe piece can be tailored if needed. Because they usually work on customer-ordered pieces and don’t produce a lot of clothes to keep on stock, it’s easy to make longer or shorter sleeves and pant legs or use certain fabrics. And it is general practice to make changes to pieces that they have in the store.
Left-over fabric is used to fill cushions. Larger pieces are made into sweatpants or leggings. Noomi hosts DIY workshops where you can learn how to upcycle your discarded clothing by making them more modern, or appropriate for new situations or preferences.
Was your interest in sustainability inspired by your personal life or did it first come about during your training?
No, it came about during the practical work during my training. I wanted to produce high-quality pieces from the very beginning. If you come to me to have something tailored, you don’t do that every year. You will be wearing that piece for ten years! Those are classics. And knowing exactly where everything comes from. That’s just, wow. It was what I expected from my work from the very beginning. It’s just that now it’s easier to do.
What was the hardest thing for you when you first got started?
Marketing myself. The first time I went to INNATEX [International fair trade for sustainable textiles ] I wasn’t really sure about most of the fashion that was being presented there. There were a lot of wide-cut pieces and nothing that really spoke to me. I wondered how I could market myself there. But I quickly realised that this was the perfect fair for me because the people that came to INNATEX had already been running businesses that offered natural fabrics for a long time. Which is how I established my connections to my current retailers.
Who did you have to convince more about eco-fair clothing, the customers or more on the retailer side?
More on the retailer side. I have the feeling that retailers primarily want to buy cheap. But when you’re talking about made in Germany with GOTS certified fabrics, you just don’t have to negotiate certain prices. Which is why I quit the trade fair business two years ago.
And I have the feeling that a lot of retail dealers just want to sell their stuff and not the story behind it. But because we all work so individually, there is a story. Which is even too complicated for some stores in Münster. But hemming a pair of pants or taking in the sleeves of a dress are easy jobs. I just come over, measure the garment on the customer and bring it to their homes. Which is something we offer. But a lot of customers just come directly to us.
It really isn’t necessary for me to do any convincing on the customer side. Most of the people that are interested in sustainability and want to have decent clothing, they are prepared to go the extra mile and also to pay a little bit more. They also just treat their clothing differently. They appreciate them more.
So that means your market is more your store and personal contacts than online sales?
Yes, it’s more the end client. It was a big risk to stop going to the INNATEX twice a year and start focusing exclusively on the end client, and of course I took a loss. But in the end, I am happy I made that decision because it is less stressful not having to bring out two new collections a year and live up to expectations. Knowing what people want to wear in the winter of the up-coming year – that’s just crazy! And I don’t think it’s sustainable to come out with two new collections a year. People that are interested in sustainability tend to buy less items.
And the fact that you make individually tailored pieces, was that something you started doing once you quit the trade fair business?
No I have always done that. It actually started with me sewing pieces for my friends. An overcoat here, a pair of pants of there. And now that I have distanced myself from the retailers, I have more time for the individual customers, the number of which is increasing.
I have also found that it makes people happy to have something tailored for them. It’s not very common and of course I don’t reach the masses with it. But that was clear to me from the beginning and people just appreciate it that much more. When I get a phone call just before Christmas saying: “Hey, you know that dress you made for my wife? Can you sew on in red for her now?” That’s so great.
Earlier you mentioned that, in the beginning, it was hard to find fabrics that lived up to your standards. Do you have the feeling that the industry is putting pressure on the producers and that the textile suppliers are slowly following suit?
No. Well, in a way that’s true. Greenpeace has a campaign called [„Detox my Fashion“-Kampagne ]that calls on companies to disclose where each piece was made, which distributors are involved and which chemicals are used. A lot of companies wouldn’t even be able to do that, though. They have too many production steps. So things are happening in that respect. And Lebenskleidung isn’t my only distributor, I have a couple of others that I work with. And I know there are things that I just can’t do anymore, for example have stark colour combos or tulle with polka dots (laughing). So some things, you just can’t do.
Do you have any dreams? I would love to have a mobile KnowMe studio. A place people can come to exchange ideas, education on fashion and maybe also some DIY workshops. Hauke would run the shop here and i would tailor in a van.
Noomi, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
After leaving behind the trade fair business and the collections, KnowMe’s focus has become clearer: Their new website, which is still in progress, will not be featuring an online shop. That will mean a lot less time-consuming work and a lot more time for their core business and what they find the most enjoyable: designing and tailoring clothing. Avocadostore will be the only website were you will find KnowMe clothing. There will be more events that Noomi will host once in a while in the atelier, such as the Christmas flea market they recently had where they sold waffles and sample clothing items.
The interview with Noomi Lösing was conducted by Anika Paape, Frau Babic took the photographs.