Are you wondering how to become a sustainability consultant? A great interview on Lifelong learning with Rachel Kan who is a sustainability consultant/Fashion impact specialist and troubleshooter.
University seems a whole lifetime away & I guess 22 years is a lifetime! Then my main thought was I need to be a designer and get out of this town that the industrial revolution left behind. I left home with vigour at 17, moved away from my father, his mental illness and depressive mother. University was a chance to start a new path. It was the last year of student loans & so someone of my ‘working class’ background could just about get to go. I studied Fashion design & loved every second of it.
I chose fashion as my grandmother installed a love of sewing within me, my sister and I would make clothing and costumes from old curtains, trimming them with pom poms and doing fashion shows. My mother was a great artist and so I got my artistic hand from her. My father was an upholsterer so sewing was always a large part of our growing up. My mother was also an amateur dancer and would hand sew sequins and costumes for the shows.
I think a lot of what you love and understand is installed by your parents and grandparents. I also found my love of nature through my mother; she was at one with the earth. I didn’t know it but that was to feature much later on in my journey within my career change.
Uni life was great, practical whilst being creative and readied me for the world, there were times when I thought gosh I still can’t do this! When I finished uni and worked at miss Selfridge on the shop floor back home in Stoke for 5 months whilst I caned looking for a job. I get that one could give up in that situation, I am a very determined woman.
It has always been my connections and determination even from that point, that got me into places, I remember being in the break room eating a sandwich when my old lecturer called me and said – right there is an opportunity with a babywear and ladies sleep company. I jumped at it and went onwards.
I learnt’ loads and did a lot of jumping from one design job to the next. Learning from the other designers around me – how to CAD mainly being one of the shortcomings of uni, but it was much better to learn that on the job. I spent many a day on my knees under the computer trying to get it to work at my speed.
All this seems a world away from where I am now, I feel like in a way I’ve been gearing up to start again for 4 years. I spent 21 years in an industry which I eventually feel out of love with, Knowing the shortcomings of the industry in terms of sustainability and ethics overall made me really feel sick to design stuff in the end. I had gotten to design manager after around 10 years in – just after the 2008 recession.
After my mother passed away, it really made me view my own mortality, I sat there with my two children and thought you know what I need to start to work towards sustainability in my life and within fashion. I had no idea how to go about it, my first act was to go vegan, as it was something that I could do straight away just as a person, marking my intention for everything else.
I actually started with a re-wire of myself, I kind of had to get over the idea that I had placed in my head that ‘who am I to do anything about this’. I had made a story that as a mere designer I couldn’t have too much say. Indeed, I had spent many years building other brands or ranges. I went through much needed therapy and propelled myself through a course that helped me to propel into the sustainable world.
Steps to become a sustainability consultant
From this I created an events series called ‘style yourself sustainable’, of which I still have an influence channel. The thought of even doing the events was scary at first – but through the course I was able to hold with integrity what I needed to do to create it. I was broke & living on credit cards, after years of accepting less money than I was worth after the 2008 recession & indeed having two kids. But none the less I went for it. Working a new day job and building the events around it. I brought together Vintage and eco brands, sewing workshops, swap shops and talks.
The first event was a success and I continued to network from the back of it, going to other sustainable events – meeting people.
I taught myself fashion sustainability and with my background knowledge from 21 years grafting with critical paths, supply chain management, fabrics & printing -and the rest. I armed myself and went out to chat and connect like a mad thing. I met a wonderful and intelligent lecturer in a toilet queue at one sustainable event, she helped me with one of my events and then offered me the chance to lecture. I started teaching sustainability and Ethics in business. The knowledge collection continued, was like a hoover sucking up all the information, checking papers, super geek like, reading as much as I could about everything. I love teaching, the fact that many of my students take on sustainability in some way after finishing is so amazing. To know that I am creating ripples from within.
Can you imagine before all this I thought myself un-intelligent! It is so hard to remember myself in that state before, feeling so small. That’s how I was, now I realise that I am indeed quick and can form solutions.
And that leads us to now, I never wanted to set up my own brand. I thought it needless & lots of people want to set things up, I feel that there are enough brands in the world. I wanted to do something from within, for the brands that want to be sustainable and need my knowledge and staying power. I started to slowly but surely set up my consultancy ‘Circular Earth’ around these two jobs and my two kids, just after the time that my marriage collapsed. It was a time of re-birth, and now I am starting to feel things moving from that phase in life. I mean Covid put a little bomb into everything, but for me it was the time I needed to get going properly without too much distraction. Well you know bar two kids asking for snacks every half an hour.
So here I am now at 41, asked to come onto talks about sustainable fashion, called an expert, coaching, and starting to lead start up brands in strong sustainable futures. I am open and interested to continue more consulting with brands who are not currently sustainable, and what’s most interesting to me is to coach the teams from within, because sustainability is not about me keeping my knowledge inside, it is about collaboration not competition.
Slowly but surely one foot in front of the other I move into the next phase of lifelong learning and development. I will say to any students out there, you certainly do not and shouldn’t stop learning after your uni days. I did hide for a long while, I learnt on the job for years, but it wasn’t until I took a stand for myself and my children on my day turning Vegan, that I really shifted my intellectual powers.
Continue to be curious and constantly garden yourself. You are big, do not let yourself be small, it doesn’t help you, others or the world.
Introduction to Rachel Kan – Fashion impact specialist and trouble shooter.
I have been working from within the fashion industry for 22 years as both a designer & design manager. I have always worked from within the supply chain, meeting with factories and working out critical paths, as well as with design teams to get the best product for each brand landed on time and on trend/brand, helping to form the brand identity & persona.I have seen with my own eyes from the ground up how the industry harms the world and ethically degenerates people.
I am standing for a world of fashion with integrity and transparency.
From my background in the industry at large and my sustainable knowledge and contacts. I am now bringing them together to consult and coach brands on how to not only be sustainable with their choices – but in their integral action and how it will impact the planet, people and profit. Trouble shooting on sustainable choices and introducing bespoke action for each brand and idea.Mindset shift is happening before our very eyes & actually instead of framing things in terms of climate disaster I think looking at things from a proactive and intelligent transformation has a better prospect to evoke lasting change.
I enjoy inspiring teams and people to move towards a sustainable future. At the moment am consulting with SMEs Creating a lecture series for start-ups. I am looking for larger clients from within the fashion/ textile industry
Also read How I got the retail job – Interview with Nick Glassett