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Minimalist and modern, The Giving Movement is a Dubai-based athleisure label that has sustainability and ethical practices at its core. “The vision for The Giving Movement was always centred around giving back,” explains founder Dominic Nowell-Barnes. Launching this concept during a global pandemic could’ve proved a real challenge, yet with shopping habits shifting online and gyms closed – exercising from home has driven demand.
Ethical practices, sustainable fabrics and a charitable initiative have combined with the contemporary look and feel to grow a client base almost overnight that spans a broad spectrum of demographics and ages. “Meaningful apparel to me are clothes that mean something to the person wearing them. They should have a positive impact and there should be consideration in how they are produced.”
Produced in the UAE from their in-house certified sustainable fabrics, the fabric is developed from recycled water bottles, while bamboo (that has similar properties to cotton) is used across casual and loungewear pieces. The brand’s approach even extends to packaging, which is made from plant starch and is also reusable.
Launching with 40 styles across nine seasonal colours, the selection includes T-shirts, hoodies and two-piece sets that look just as cool when you’re not training as they do in the gym. In addition, the brand is partnering with the local independent non-profit organization, Harmony House, and UAE-based global philanthropic organisation, Dubai Cares. Proceeds from every sale will be donated to fund projects that are dedicated to improving lives on a physical, emotional and intellectual level by providing free education, food, clothing and medical care to underprivileged children.
By the end of next year, he hopes to hit over $1 million in annual donations. Below, we speak further to Nowell-Barnes about his personal pursuit of career happiness and how he went about creating his own vehicle for positive change.
As a new brand, The Giving Movement appears to be an overnight success. Is that a fair observation?
I really appreciate that The Giving Movement is deemed a success, especially as we are only 14 weeks into this journey! In terms of the overnight aspect, there is a bit more of a backstory than that. Although I encourage anyone who has a dream or a goal to go for it, there was a lot of work involved to get us from idea to launch. Whilst The Giving Movement launched during COVID-19 in April, I had spent around 12 months before that delving into the fashion space and looking for gaps in the market and what we needed to focus on to have an edge in the industry. I visited many manufacturers around the world to see how they worked. I learnt to design and construct clothing from yarn to garment so that I could create garments efficiently and cost-effectively and I dedicated a large amount of this time to studying the most disruptive brands and designers to get some insight into what made their brand a success. I am a firm believer in learning from the best and then differentiating. It was only 12 months later that we were ready to launch the final concept.
The brand launched during one of the most challenging times due to the global pandemic, but then we all decided to exercise from home so has it been a somewhat positive time for the brand?
I think for The Giving Movement, the real benefit was the shift we saw in the region of customers who would traditionally buy from malls, move towards online alternatives because they had no other choice. This was a positive shift not only for The Giving Movement, but for all online brands.
What was your initial vision for The Giving Movement?
After 10 years running an e-commerce business in the UK, I read a great book by Tim Ferris called “The Four Hour Work Week”; the book helped me re-evaluate my life and goals. A defining moment in the book, for myself, was a question that you had to ask yourself; ‘If I continue living this life in the same way for 10 years, and I get 10 times more of what I am working towards, will I be any happier?’ The idea is that if the answer is “no”, you need to make a change. At the time my business, as is for most people, was based purely on financial gain and it didn’t motivate me. I had a vision for what the next chapter of my life would look like and that was to find a way to put my time and energy into a project that would not only provide the financial stability we all need to survive but where the main focus was being able to positively impact the lives of those who are most in need. As my impact was limited by the hours I could spend working in a day, I chose to create a brand where the vision was to donate $4 from every item to charities who support those who are less fortunate. Rather than being a vehicle for positive change, I could create a vehicle for positive change that everyone could use.
Why was it important for you to make everything in the UAE?
‘True cost’ is a term that is being referred to more and more in fashion. It’s the idea that whilst you might be able to buy a T-shirt for Dhs5 or Dhs10 from fast-fashion brands, often when the supply chain is looked into it might be at the cost of unethical practices such as forced labour, or even child labour. By producing the clothes locally in the UAE, we could not only support the local economy, but we could ensure the clothes were made ethically under our watch.
Talk us through the sustainability elements and the decisions behind the choices of fabrics.
One of the biggest surprises I had when developing the fabrics was how readily available sustainable yarns are, but how little they are used because they are around double the price of traditional fabrics. This really disappointed me when reviewing the choices major brands made and made me even more determined to make a change through The Giving Movement. Our soft skin sustainable activewear fabric is made from polyester, which is manufactured entirely from recycled water bottles. Our loungewear is made from sustainably sourced, FSC certified organic bamboo.
Sustainability has never looked more stylish; does the design element play a significant role in shifting the fashion landscape into a conscious direction?
Our primary design goal was to make sustainability cool. I personally love the shift we are seeing towards athleisure, and specifically streetwear. I feel like many countries have put their spin on streetwear, such as Japan and Korea, and so our focus is merging sustainability with activewear and streetwear.
How did you decide on the charities to support through the sales?
My goal, even before deciding to produce clothes as part of The Giving Movement, was to focus on the major challenges we face in the world today. If we can provide the basic needs for those most in need, such as food and education, this offers them the best chance of breaking out of poverty. Our chosen charities are Dubai Cares & Harmony House, whose focus is just that.
Why did you decide to donate exactly $4 from each sale?
$4 is a rough estimate widely recognised by several charities to be the rough amount required to provide one child or adult with shelter, food and education for a week. The concept was that; in every item you purchase, you can impact one person’s life for the better.
How has your background helped shape the brand?
Growing up in the north of England, I got to see all the different standards of living. I was always frustrated and upset by inequality and the difference between the poles of wealth and the impact that would have on the quality of life or health. It seemed so unfair. It makes me uncomfortable even now to enjoy a nice meal without the thought of those who aren’t so lucky coming into my mind, it unsettles me. I think that was my primary motivation to want to do something that could help those most in need.
Did you aim for the brand to have a balance of functional activewear and day-to-day lifestyle pieces? Why?
We have designed a mix of both active and loungewear, which is now more commonly referred to as athleisure. We chose to focus on this, as it’s what we believe the market is moving towards in fashion, especially post-COVID. Whilst a few years ago it was more common to wear a suit, we are seeing a shift towards more comfortable attire.
What were the most challenging elements to get right?
Because it is now so much easier to create a brand than only a few years ago thanks to apps like Instagram and websites like Alibaba where you can pick clothes off the shelf and stamp your logo on them, and have it delivered from China in a few days. The real challenge in creating a brand, in my opinion, is the points of difference you create. These are what separate you from the rest and will ensure your long-term success in any industry.
We have tried some of the pieces and they are extremely comfortable.
Thank you! Points of difference are for me the most challenging, but most important factors to success. I looked at products from every major sports brand, tried to establish what the ‘standard’ was and then spent the majority of the 12 months developing the fabric to ensure it was noticeably softer and more comfortable than anything else available on the market.
The ethical elements stretch into production, how do you make sure that the team behind the brand is treated fairly?
By producing the garments locally, it’s much easier for us to keep tight control on the supply chain and its practices. We have established various policies around only working standard hours, five days a week. My philosophy on employment is to build a team where each person is doing what they love every day. If you love what you do, it won’t feel like work and that’s what we want everyone to feel like at The Giving Movement.
How has the pandemic impacted your business plans?
Having a 24/7 lockdown on our launch date wasn’t ideal! It made preparing the items for packing and delivery really challenging. We managed to solve this by working with third-party logistics companies. The rise in popularity of Zoom made working as a team from home fairly straight forward.
Do you feel it’s now easier than ever to be sustainable and shop consciously?
I really do. If we can fly into space and land back safely, there are very few limitations on what we can do here on Earth. Google is a great tool to be able to learn anything and a lot of my research was done working from home on Google. So, I do believe all fashion brands can be sustainable, it’s a choice. In terms of shopping consciously, there are very few brands that have made the shift to sustainable products, but we are hoping we will create a movement towards that with The Giving Movement.
What can we as consumers do more?
The awareness I think is always the first step. There is so much information available online about brands that are sustainable and/or ethical. There is a lot of information around the most sustainable fabrics and the least sustainable fabrics. I believe if we all make small changes, it will have a big impact.
And what can the industry do?
I do believe sustainability is a choice in most cases. It depends on what your goal is and what’s more important, bottom line profit or looking after the planet and its people.
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What goals are you setting yourself for 2021?
We are on track to deliver over $150,000 (approximately Dhs550,980) in donations in 2020. In 2021, we have an aggressive growth strategy in place to grow to 10 times our current size and this will hopefully take our second-year donations to more than $1 million per year.
This is ‘The Power Issue’, when was the last time you felt empowered?
The Giving Movement is the first brand I have ever created. I wasn’t university educated; most of what I have learnt about business has been self-taught through reading books or watching YouTube videos ever since leaving school. So, it took a lot of courage to have the confidence to create a brand and publicly share it to strangers online. I was told countless times that it was too competitive of an industry, sustainability is too expensive, and $4 is too much to give to charity and often, this came from the people closest to me. Seeing the positive response we received on the first day of launching was the last time I felt truly empowered.
How do you empower the team?
I have always believed that an autocratic management style is out of date and that instead, a collaborative environment is one that is the most motivating one to create. The Giving Movement’s vision is to be a movement towards conscious consumerism and I want everyone in the team that’s involved, and every customer to feel a part of that.
How can fashion be a powerful tool for change?
Clothing is something everyone needs, and this was one of the reasons for choosing this as the product, to donate $4 an item. The more items we sell, the more we donate and the more impact it has. The philosophy of The Giving Movement is that small acts multiplied by many people can transform the world.
What is next for the Giving Movement?
Our only KPI at The Giving Movement is the positive impact we can have through our donations. Our goals as a team and brand are firmly set on disrupting the fashion industry and proving that conscious consumerism is possible!
Fashion that looks and feels good? Join the movement by consciously shopping at www.thegivingmovement.com
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Images: Supplied, Instagram