We female consumers like to think we are shopping in a way which is true to our values and sees us demonstrate true conscience, but how easy is it to discover the right labels and brands with which to spend our hard-earned cash? We’ve been chatting to Roberta Lee, the dynamic founder of Ethical Brand Directory, who is certainly on a mission to make it that much easier for us all.
However much of a distant memory the birth of ‘The Body Shop’ phenomenon is to you as a female, you’ll likely have had at least some conscience-based awareness around whether your make-up and other ‘life luxuries’ were being appropriately produced and sourced.
We’ve come an awful long way since the days of thinking Anita Roddick was the only one championing environmental and humanitarian issues through retail, however.
These days, there’s a huge movement of women really wanting to make ‘the right impact’ through the entrepreneurial businesses they germinate, the products they bring to the masses, or the clothing they sell, either direct, or through other larger-named fashion houses.
Ambassadors for this area come in all guises, and perhaps one of the more ‘accidental’ entrants to the arena is the hugely engaging and gregarious Roberta Lee.
Not heard of her name? Okay, you’re forgiven. But you may already be navigating your purchasing decisions based on her enlightened brainwave.
From London, Roberta is incredibly candid about the fact that she has taken ‘anything but’ a direct path to the one she is on today.
In fact, roll the clock back a little less than a decade, and you would have found her pacing from one corporate meeting to another, frantically trying to please everyone and anyone, turning down social appointments, clutching to the idea of the next tier of promotion – and generally gaining no real satisfaction from her frenetic life.
“My world was absolutely out of control,” she says, frankly.
“I was living for the next chance of a pay-rise, working all the hours God would send, never developing the right relationships, and frankly ‘getting myself into an over-worked pickle’.
“I think the biggest thing that was happening though, was that I’d stopped taking care of myself and, despite having been someone who always actually liked fashion and beauty products, now I was just putting on weight and not really viewing make-up or clothes as anything other than armour.”
It was in 2015, with her health deteriorating and her stress levels soaring, something snapped.
Her background as a performing arts student made her all too aware that she had become the typical example of someone who is ‘projecting a persona’ rather than being one.
It was not a place she wanted be.
Moreover, she knew that there were many many women who must be in the same boat, and she was determined to do something about it.
She says: “The first thought about my escape from the trap I was in, was to start styling women, and helping them gain their ‘confident self’ again – just as I needed to do.
“At that time, it hadn’t even been on my mind that I would need to be looking at recommending fashion and beauty which came with more of a ‘conscience’ attached, but it’s very quickly the space I started to fall into.
“The more I was immersing myself in something as a profession which felt centred, and authentic, and values-focused, the more the universe seemed to be encouraging me to take it a step further.
“It just didn’t sit well to be helping women to use clothes and styling as a framework on their journey to feeling more authentic and purposeful – if the garments they were wearing were just fast-fashion, and had know ethical values whatsoever.”
That intuitive lightbulb moment was the start of a journey toward creating what Roberta has now gone on to establish as the rapidly expanding Ethical Brand Directory.
Over the last year, she has reached out to independent fashion retailers, jewellery houses, cosmetic creators, all with the intention of drawing them into a focused database (or, if you will, network) of companies we can all interact with as conscientious consumers.
“For me, it was like the penny dropped, the day I realised women needed to be styling themselves in tune with their values,” Roberta goes on.
“The more I started to take an interest in where things were coming from, who was operating in this space, and how much women would actually want to purchase from businesses with ethical intention, then the floodgates opened and people really wanted to know about Ethical Brand Directory.
“I’m in no way naïve as to the enormity of what I’m trying to achieve, and I know, at just a year in, we’ve only touched the very tip of the surface of the amount of brands and producers who are out there leading by example.
“That said, I’m so excited by what this journey is already looking like, and the feedback both from those who are listed in the directory, and from consumers wanting to access more ethical brands, is just incredible. It’s so motivating.”
Those brands have come from far and wide, and they reflect a vast array of items being purchased on a daily basis – both by women, and indeed, men too.
There are companies like Flock by Nature, a mindful luxury knitwear brand designed with style an wellbeing in mind.
And then there’s Annaborgia, a brand created to provide a conscious alternative to wedding attire. Annaborgia’s “minimalist glamour” is designed to be multi-functional, transitioning seamlessly from casual settings to formal events, and is one of Roberta’s stylists picks.
There is even a selection of clothing for the boys on there too.
Lyme Terrace is a menswear brand dedicated to producing clothes in harmony with nature. They have a small but perfectly curated collection of casual basic for men.
Coachman Bespoke is a contemporary men’s tailoring brand that is made from sustainable cloth and is constructed in London, by a co-op of tailors, for a living wage.
For Roberta, who only ever perceived she would be leaving that wearisome rat-race to allow herself to become more centred again, this incredible period of her life has already giving her more satisfaction than any corporate salary could offer.
“It’s honestly like I have rediscovered myself,” she says.
“I’m so in tune with what I am doing, my values, beliefs, my desire to give back and make a difference is all coming together”
“By making this change in my life, and becoming actively involved in a pursuit I feel so passionate about, I feel I’m finally travelling a journey which has always been meant for be. I feel like I have found myself and the rest is just being mapped out by opportunities because I have found my why and I know my purpose.
“Happiness comes in all forms, but right now, I’m in a great place and hope to inspire others with my passion, my never dwindling enthusiasm, energy and perseverance to make this world a better place.
“I hope that by leading by example, collaborating with others with shared beliefs, and showing that it’s possible for everyone to contribute towards positive change – not just in our wardrobes, but in everyday life, we can all have a happier, healthier, more sustainable future. ”
For more information about the Ethical Brand Directory, go to ethicalbranddirectory.com
Roberta is also a coach and stylist, passing on her wisdom to other women who have suffered a loss of self and want to explore issues around confidence and presentation.