Jacob & Esau
Joanne & Esther are the creative geniuses behind the gorgeous ethical fashion label, Jacob & Esau.Two very inspiring and driven people, these ladies are on an epic adventure to bring back equality and fairness to the fashion industry.With Four Days to go till the end of the Pozible campaign we talk to them on a sunny afternoon at The Cutting Table about their passions, their faith and why it’s so important to be an ethical consumer.
There’s a lot of crowd funding initiatives at the moment, and it’s been awesome to see a lot of smaller start ups getting recognised. What do you think has brought out these changes?
Esther: Traditionally, we are brought up to finish school, start uni, finish uni and work full-time, but it’s pretty evident that our generation is starting to move away from that. There are more and more people that either don’t finish school or uni, change their course, do apprenticeships, or launch into start ups! It’s like we have a different mindset than our parents generation and I’m not sure what caused that shift but yeah, there so many more people pursuing big dreams or unconventional opportunities!
Is what you are doing now a different shift from what you studied?
Joanne: For me, I am the eldest child, so there are even more expectations and a lot of pressure… I finished high school, VCE, then law school which I did for four years. It was a huge amount of pressure to follow up on that and find a grad job with a law firm and such. It was really hard at first and it still is hard talking to family friends or other people that you meet who ask, “are you looking for a grad job now?” and you say, “um, not really…” *laughs*
My parents, thankfully, have been really understanding. They have said ‘okay, this is what you want to do and this is where you want to be.’ Thankfully I’ve felt really quite secure that this is the right path that I should be doing right now!
From starting this journey and meeting each other, have you guys learnt a lot about yourself or what you have actually passionate about?
Esther: Yeah, for sure! Like anyone, in your young adult years you learn and discover the most about yourself, like how you deal with people and how you make decisions among many other things. You are also given a sense of freedom in that time, for example you can drive, you can travel, you can do anything you want really. For me, I’m a middle child, so I think I’ve definitely had a case of middle child syndrome haha! I’ve always been strong-minded and a bit rebellious…
Jo: Haha, She’s the fun one!
E: Not even fun! I’m bossy and super independent haha! I’ve always made big decisions without really consulting anyone (sorry parents haha) but I think that taking on this new journey with Jo, has put a lot more weight behind my choices. I think I’ve been able to use my passion and my ‘bossiness’ in a better, more conducive way. Jacob and Esau is a long term project that allows me to channel my skills into communities and other people, in a capacity that is positive and for the better good, rather than for my own benefit.
So you are able to see yourself grow in these giftings and talents?
Esther: Yeah, I think that kind of links in to what we were talking about before. Our generation has moved away from the traditional transition into full-time work. There’s that saying ‘if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid’. I think it’s great that people are starting to recognise that creatives, trades and other roles are needed in society because it’s encouraging youth to pursue their individual talents and giftings, rather than beating themselves up about not scoring an impressive ATAR.
Have you guys always had this interest in sustainability?
Jo: To be honest, no. When I was growing up, like Esther said, there was no awareness of it. I grew up in Malaysia for sixteen years, and there was nothing, like nothing at all. When I first came here my first experience of it was op shopping. I was like “oh, that’s interesting and a cool concept” and I did it as well as shopping in normal stores. And I remember in year 12 I went for a World Vision conference, called Global Leaders Convention, where the focus that year was on slave labour – child labour in particular. They got us to simulate what it was like to be a child labourer and made us make match boxes. They pretty much treated us like slaves, saying “where’s your match box?!”, and yelling at us, and it was not even the real thing. That brought up the idea and helped me be more aware that there is someone, somewhere out there that is being treated like this. So from that day onwards, it was always on my mind. Even at uni, I was still thinking about it and after uni I was thinking about it more. And TA-DA Jacob and Esau!
Esther: It’s cool that more and more sustainable education is happening, that people are finding it more important to educate kids in high school and in the general public about unsustainable issues. Previously, it may not have been publicised as much and people found it hard to understand, actually they still do!
In fashion particularly, it has perpetuated some really negative aspects of globalised supply chains. To illustrate this, previously our clothing would be made by a tailor at the local store. We would know their name, value their sewing skills and pay them a fair amount because we know they have done a lot of work to be able to make these clothes for us.
Now, we can send an email to someone on the other side of the world, demand the lowest possible price for a huge quantity of garments (we don’t even have to talk to them face to face, so a little aggression wouldn’t hurt) and then expect it to be shipped to us so that we can sell it at a profit. We don’t know whose hands have made the garment, where or in what conditions they worked or how much they got paid.
The system is creating a divide where consumers demand low prices and lots of products without recognising where the products come from, and the makers, often in less fortunate parts of the world, are forced to keep up with providing products with little knowledge of where they are going! In traditional business, this model works fine because it’s how the most dollars are made. But I believe this is unsustainable because people are beginning to question where their products are coming from and are expecting businesses to be responsible. It’s the tip of an iceberg and there is so much more to be uncovered, so fashion businesses will have to make some changes to stay relevant!
Ah, so I guess Jacob and Esau is about bring those two types of people together?
Esther: Yep! People are all the same, whether they are a consumer here in Melbourne, or a maker born in a developing country! They want opportunities to care for themselves and their families under basic human rights, to work and play and have the freedom to make choices. In many places in the world that’s not the case, and we’re insistent on changing that!
So how did you even find the people in Bali who makes your clothes?
E & J: ohh.. *laughs*
J: That’s God! We went to Indonesia in January for the first time – we had never been before!
E: Yeah, even before we went to Indonesia and even before I met Jo, I was asking people at church for any connections overseas. I think it was one of the young adult pastors, Dean Rompis, who is assisting in projecsts in Indonesia, who suggested the island of Sumba, where he does most of his mission. After researching a bit, we realised this was a tiny, tiny island with limited electricity and decided it was not going to work, at least for our first project. To get to Sumba, you have to fly through Bali, so we thought “let’s just go with Bali!”, so we went to Bali instead!
So really? You didn’t know anyone?
J&E: Yeah! We didn’t know anyone.
J: We just talked to lots of people. Actually, the guy who filmed our video for us, he knew someone who knew everyone! So that friend of a friend introduced us to other people and we met this one particular missionary couple. One Sunday, they took us to their church where we met our now production manager Kezia, who has a background in fashion, who then introduced us to Kholil and Wiwik – our garment makers.
E: So it’s pretty much through this person we met this person and so on! When we got any sort of lead, we asked to meet them and chat with them, which has always led us to the next step.
So it’s really through spontaneous connections and people helping you along the way! Would you say it’s the people that really matter behind Jacob & Esau?
E: It’s all about the people! You can’t get anything done without people. You can have technology and everything, but if you don’t have people to use it, it’s useless. And that’s a big part of J&E – valuing people. Whether they are at the top of the supply chain, or whether they are at the bottom, they should be treated the same.
J: Yeah, and that kind of goes against the culture of today which is all about ‘ourselves’. So when we concentrate on others, people are like “Whhattt?? What are you doing?”. And they say, “Why aren’t your profits maximising yourself?!” So thinking of other people is really counter cultural at the moment. (At the moment though! Hopefully it will change!)
Wow, Jacob & Esau seems to have a different purpose and a different way of seeing things. How do you keep focussed and persevere for the end goal?
J: I mean despite what we have previously said about how surprisingly smooth it has been, it’s not ridiculously easy all the time.
E: Yep, it’s definitely keeping the big picture in mind, like you guys! That’s why I love your name, Big Picture Stuff! So even though people on the outside can see our label on the surface and can buy clothes that are ethically made, it’s really all the little stuff and the tedious tasks that you do leading up to that point, that are the things that actually make it happen. Most of the time, those things aren’t fun to do, so we just have to keep the end goal in mind, the big picture! Which for us is not even about the clothes, it’s about reaching out to God’s people.
What was it like meeting the people that are going to be making the clothing and what did they say when you approached them with the idea?
J: Yeah, they are really simple, grateful and content. They were and still are working at a clothing company Kezia works at, that’s how she knew they were really high quality garment makers and they had this desire of wanting to start up a home business. And when we met them they were so cool, really friendly, and really genuine nice people.
E: If anything, it was like a mission trip. We were exposed to the simple way they live their lives, and it impacts you. You realise they don’t have a lot and when we were doing an interview with them and asked, “why do you want to start your own business?”, they anwered “we want to make sure that our kid, can go and study what he wants to study at school”. It’s such a simple desire that we take for granted. We can do anything we want to do, but their only dream is for their son to go to uni and to get an education. And if we can have any part in that, that would be awesome.
So how do you see this working? So as demand grows you find more people to partner with?
J&E: Yeah, the vision is to find more garment makers, so not just people in Bali, but anywhere in the world. They could be working from home or if they need a workshop space, we want to be able to supply a space for them to work also.
It would be great if we could sell a lot of our label but it would be even greater if other brands ask us to produce garments for them through our makers and the ‘Meet Your Maker’ initiative. That’s the end goal – to be ethical manufactures for other labels and to direct them to our garment makers, recognising them to be everyday people!
J: In Australia we have so many opportunities, not just us four here, but everyone. We have so much to give, so why can’t we have a thought about others?
So is J& E’s mantra or tag line?
E: Our tag line is ‘Clothing for the People’. Obviously it’s clothing for people, because people wear our clothing haha, but it’s working for them. The common system in our world is where people are driven for the company and for the profits. We are for the people. We want to make sure that every person that we deal with, comes away with value and has been treated well.
J: From the customer, to the suppliers, to everyone…
E: It’s for people instead of against them!
Jacob & Esau is an ethical fashion label based in Melbourne, Australia.
While there are many ways for us to be sustainable, we have chosen to focus on the people who make our clothes. For our first collection, we have teamed up with local garment makers in Bali, Indonesia. Kholil and Wiwik are a husband and wife team who recently started running their sewing business from home. We have chosen to support and invest in their home business vision.
Website / Pozible /Facebook / Instagram
VANESSA BONG – TypographyVess is a writer, graphic designer, illustrator and creative director based in Melbourne, Australia. Passionate about design, art, fashion and story telling. She has worked with a number of well known clients including the Melbourne Zoo, Kelly Thompson Illustrations and currently holds a position at SMASH enterprises as a junior designer. Website / Instagram
VALERIE BONG – VideographerVal is an Arts/Commerce student currently based in Melbourne. As a photographer and documenter she loves celebrating the beauty of the world. With her love for capturing special moments she specialises in fashion, wedding, family and event photography.Website / Twitter / Linkedin