Q&A with Ethical Clothing Brand OTSO

This week I have teamed up with UK based clothing brand Otso to get to know them a little better. I had the pleasure of trying out a few pieces and also had a chat with Simon (founder) about Otso and the brands ethical qualities.

Simon also had a few questions for me – so I have included them at the bottom of the blog!IMG_02195 questions from me to Otso

So who is Otso and can I meet your team? 

Otso is our pet bear!  – No he’s not really – bears should be roaming free in the forests being all majestic, grizzly and wild. It’s this idea that drew us towards having a bear as our mascot for our nordic inspired fashion label. Hence the bears face hidden in our logo. Our team is very small at the moment – It consists of me; a graphic designer and founder of the company, and then some very nice people at Huddersfield Screen Print who hand screen each of our tees, a lady called Amanda who does our sewing and another local company who help us out with embroidery. Then there’s all of our arty friends who have pitched in since we started to help create new designs and my very awesome girlfriend who helps me keep my chin up when things don’t always go to plan.

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This is Simon – founder of Otso and graphic designer

How did you create your brand name and tag line? Otso sounds very contemporary and ‘The Spirit of the Bear’ feels old, wise and traditional – I really like it! 

It’s funny you should say that as that really sums up what we wanted to achieve with the look and feel of the label. We searched high and low for a short and rememberable name that sounded like it could fit a modern clean street wear brand but also have a rugged heritage edge to it. Otso is a Finnish word and means the ‘spirit of the bear’ in their folklore.  He’s the king of the forest – a friend, brother and forest cousin. I wanted to create a street wear label that was contemporary enough to wear out in the city but heavily influenced by the great outdoors and in keeping with all the pursuits my friends and I enjoy like mountain biking, camping and climbing.

I found Otso in a search for ethically made clothing – was this part of your initial concept or did it develop later in the design process? 

At first I just wanted to create an outlet for my personal design work that would allow me to be more creative and less governed by my corporate graphic design clients. This moved on to getting my friends to design spirit of the bear influenced tees. In the process of finding a really good quality tee to have the designs printed on I discovered some that were ‘fair wear’ ethically made.We started with the tees and gradually expanded our range with other ethically made garments as we developed our understanding of the fashion industry.  I felt using these would complete the picture of having a nature inspired brand that used garments that were also more environmentally minded.

So I know your clothing is ethically made – can you explain what this really means and why it is important?

All of our clothes are ether manufactured in association with the ‘Fair Wear” foundation or can show they have a commitment to excellent working practices for the people who manufacture them. Theses movements became much more prevalent after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 where over a thousand people were killed. It is considered the deadliest structural failure accident in modern human history.

The Fair Wear Foundation commitment makes sure among other things that the people working in the garment industry get paid properly, there’s no child labour and they get to work in a safe environment.

Since starting Otso we have also used our social media channels to raise awareness on other environmental issues and have made most of our packaging plastic free.

We feel its important to try and build a better planet for the future and not add to its destruction – it’s also important to try and get people who otherwise might not know or care about such issues to start taking note. In my experience ethically made clothing used to be aimed solely at certain, lets say hippy types but now it’s becoming much more main stream we can create garments that are more of the now without jeopardising the people and our planet along the way.

Sum up Otso in three words… 

Creative, Contemporary, Conscious  – they all begin with C for extra points!

Otso also had a few questions for me… 

I see you live in Glasgow which is a large city – how does this work with your love of nature and passion for outdoor activities?

 I do – and I love it! I grew up in rural Scotland and moved to Glasgow when I started uni at 17. I was absolutely petrified and panicked so much about being separated from the outdoor lifestyle I had at home. But Glasgow has heaps to offer for the adventurous type – lots of climbing gyms, indoor skiing, and a wake park in the city centre. But most importantly, Glasgow is in the perfect location for someone who likes both rural and city life. It takes me less than an hour to be surrounded by hills and lochs in The Trossachs, Glen Coe’s mountain range is less than two hours from me… and the list goes on. So the west coast (the best coast) and the highlands are very accessible from this fine city!
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You look to have travelled far and wide – Is there a special place you love to visit time and again, if so why?

Hopefully it’s not too dull to choose somewhere in Scotland, but my favourite place to revisit is always Tiree. It’s a small island in the Inner Hebrides known as the ‘Hawaii of the North.’ Tiree is a paradise of white sandy beaches with incredible surf – I have made some amazing memories there over the years. I’m actually heading there very early tomorrow morning!

You look really cool in our Otso wears – They’re aimed at blokes traditionally but we’re happy for anyone to wear them. Do you feel the divide between the genders is closing up these days or even really exists anymore? 

Thank you! You know, I hadn’t even considered that you were aimed at guys when I first looked at the website. I just really liked the designs. I think there is certainly still a divide in gender stereotyping – especially for children’s clothing (the pink and blue thing). But there have been some interesting movements towards closing that gap recently which I am all for. Personally I choose clothes that I want to wear, if they are aimed at blokes I am not put off buying them. The only time I do find this a problem is when brands (particularly outdoor brands) have a tendency to make female clothing in typically ‘girly’ colours – pink, purple – and I always prefer the male colour choice; for jackets and things that need to fit to be functional I can’t always get away with the male sizes. But hey – that doesn’t apply to you guys!

What does the term ethical fashion mean to you and is it something you actively seek out when making clothing choices?

Absolutely yes – as I’ve gotten older I have grown to understand the importance of buying clothes that are made ethically and in good quality. I hate waste, and when buying clothes I am careful to buy less for more in the hope that it will last me for years. I want to know products I am buying are being made in a safe working environment and employees are being paid correctly.

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Are there many ethical fashion brands that you know and like or are there still lots of room for more?

Room for more – yes! I am also really happy to see existing brands like ASOS, Levi and Zara all producing specific clothing labelled as recycled or ethically made. I can only hope more high street brands follow on. One of my favourites is Finisterre who design functional and sustainable outdoor products. I’ve also recently come across some great sustainable & ethical swimwear brands that I am itching to try – Davy Js, Salt Gypsy and Bower Swimwear.

Keep up with recent adventures @ronamcmillan