Ana Carnerio, founder, director, and designer of Be For Change, speaks all about creating a business based around sustainable products and what living in a conscious way means to her. I am so grateful to be getting insight into small ethical businesses as they are growing and expanding because I find is so interesting and inspiring. If you’re reading this and feeling discontent towards where you are within your life, job, or career just remember that you have the power to change it. You can achieve anything.
Business Name: Be For Change
Personal Name: Ana Carneiro
Job Title: Founder/Director/Designer
So what does sustainable fashion mean to you? And what led you to focus on sustainable fashion in particular?
To me, sustainable fashion is all about high-quality items designed to be timeless. Two things need to happen to disrupt the fast-fashion cycle: clothes need to be produced ethically and to last, and people need to love them enough to keep them for a long time!
As to the second part of the question, I grew up surrounded by the fashion industry (my grandmother was a seamstress and my mother has always worked in fashion) and because I was always so curious about what they were doing, I ended up picking up a lot of knowledge I didn’t even realise I had! That said, I studied product design precisely because I wanted to work on products which would be long-lasting. When I decided to start a company which is sustainability centred, I leaned towards the world of textiles again because I wanted to lend my product design approach to this wasteful industry. I think that in the future I’ll work with other materials as well, so for now I’m definitely keeping the possibilities open and thinking of Be For Change as a company focused on the creation of sustainable products (as opposed to sustainable fashion).
What is the meaning and ethos behind your brand?
With Be For Change I literally want to inspire people to change.
At the core of the company is the belief that change at a large scale starts with change within ourselves – or, as Mahatma Ghandi said, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’ (cliché, I know, but it’s true!). This is allied to the belief that the environments we find ourselves in can shape our behaviour.
So the aim is to inspire people to consider their values and if these are aligned with how they live their lives, as well as creating products that nudge them to be the best version of themselves. Our ethos revolves around doing this by creating value for all the stakeholders involved – from the manufacturers, to the clients, to the environment.
What was the thought process behind the decision that led you to create the products that the brand sells? And how did you come up with the idea for the brand?
There’s only one product on the market for now, and that’s our Bag For Change. I had always had an interest in sustainability and I had just started changing my lifestyle into being more sustainable when the 5p charge on plastic bags was introduced here in the UK. At the time I thought the campaign around the 5p charge was a missed opportunity to inspire people to be more mindful of the waste they create each time they go shopping. I also saw that there weren’t any large, well-designed shopping bags which weren’t plastic and had an interesting story behind them. So I set out to create a fabric shopping bag that I’d really like to own, and because of my background with the textile industry I knew how much fabric goes to waste at the cutting floors, and thought that sourcing that fabric was a compelling way to raise awareness about waste in more than one way. It was only when I was in Portugal and got my hands on some amazing fabrics that I decided to design these bags in a more versatile fashion which would lend itself to many uses.
The idea for the brand took a lot longer, but noticing how much I enjoyed bringing the bags to market myself I thought that maybe I could create the company I had been hoping to find. I grew tired of all the voices telling people who to be and how to act, I just wanted a transparent brand doing something I believed in and generating discussion. It took me months to find some clarity on the direction of the company and its goal (I don’t think of ‘being sustainable’ as a company goal, rather acting in an environmentally friendly way is the best way to do things according to my values). In those months I questioned my own values, the things I find value in, if other people share those values and have an interest in what I find of value. In the beginning it felt quite self-centred to want to create a company based on what and how I think, but in all honesty it now feels like the only way to do something I’m truly passionate about.
What makes your products ethical, sustainable, and eco-friendly?
Our bags are made from leftover fabrics which were likely to end up in a landfill (despite their high-quality), they are designed to last, sourced, cut and sewn in Portugal by people who have worked in the textile industry their whole lives and get paid a fair wage.
In what ways do you live your life in a sustainable and eco-friendly way? And what does sustainable living mean to you?
There are a few ways in which I consider myself to live sustainably, and others in which I know I still have a long road ahead. Firstly, to me, sustainable living means living in a way that the planet can not just support, but thrive in the process of. It’s impossible not to have an environmental footprint, especially when living in the city, usually having to purchase one’s food and using electricity from the grid, but we can find ways of minimising our impact within almost everything we do/buy, and incorporate in our lives ways of having a positive impact.
The first measure I implemented in my life was to be a mindful consumer; for years now I’ve always bought quality over quantity, and as a result most of my wardrobe is filled with pieces I’ve owned for years and which carry a lot of memories with them. In terms of food, I often eat vegetarian or vegan at home; though I never completely excluded anything from my diet, I try to buy British produce and when I go out I give preference to restaurants which source ethically. I always try to take home as little packaging as possible and I have a few produce bags. I recycle as much as I can. I also started cycling when I moved to London (four years ago), and while I studied that was my main means of transportation, though now I usually have to arrive to work in a suit with my hair looking half-decent and so I don’t cycle as much (I take public transportation instead).
For people wanting to start a more ethical and conscious way to live but are feeling overwhelmed, what would be your best advice?
I think the first thing to do to start living in a more conscious way is to dive deep it what are the most important things to you, what are your values. Question your habits and favourite things to do – are they aligned with your values? If most of us are being completely honest, there are usually quite a few things that we know we could be doing differently (my main guilty pleasure is long showers!). This might sound a bit vague, but unless you have personal reasons to start changing your life, you’re probably going to have trouble adapting to new habits and want to go back.
Start changing some of the small things you do, and once you’ve replaced a handful of small habits by more eco-friendly ones you’ll find it easier to make bigger changes! Each time you go grocery shopping, look for more eco-friendly replacements to the products you usually buy. I found it particularly useful to declutter my life – I donated a lot of my goods which I didn’t use anymore or I didn’t need or had been gifted to me but I had never liked. This really helped me get a sense of where I want to go with my life and now I feel like I’m surrounded only by things which I care about and make my life easier or richer in a non-material way. Since so many environmental problems are linked to the rate at which modern societies consume goods and throw them away, I also made a rule for myself that I can only buy something new if it is replacing something I already own – and because I love everything I own, I find it very rare that I want to replace anything.
What are your favourite eco-friendly and sustainable fashion brands? Or favourite brands in general?
This is such a tough one for me, because I don’t have any brands that I love in the same way many of my friends do. I started looking at almost everything with a different set of eyes and now I might like the aesthetic of certain designs, or the materials and detailing of certain products, or even the photography and graphic work of a campaign – but that doesn’t make me want anything which doesn’t fit in my life! That said, a few brands that stand out to me are Tome, Nudie Jeans, Everlane, Veja and Boody – I really like their stories and the ways in which they’re changing the industry.
What is your best advice for other people wanting to get started and create a sustainable business of their own?
My best advice is to take up some kind of meditative practice, because things will go wrong, take longer than you expected, not everyone is going to understand what you’re trying to do or even if they understand they might not support you. And carving a bit of time into your busy schedule to put things into perspective will go a long way towards keeping your sanity.
My second piece of advice is to do things is a sustainable way from the beginning, despite what others might tell you about ‘just getting started and then building a sustainable story’. To put it simply, that’s not how it’s meant to work. And you’ll be glad you didn’t take that route when you can explain how each decision you made aligns with your/ the company’s values.
What inspired you to start your own business?
At the beginning I thought of the bags as a one-off project, but because I quite liked it I started re-thinking what I wanted my life to look like down the line, and it wasn’t doing consultancy or freelancing for a variety of companies, I wanted to continuously work towards something. So I thought that instead of trying to find a company whose values I share and try to work there for years, I could start my own company and put my time towards something I really believe in.
What challenges have you faced so far within your business, if any?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced was of a personal nature: when I started the bags, I was working with a friend, but a few months down the line I couldn’t see a partnership between us taking off, and so I decided to move alone in the direction I wanted. That break really caused me to question a lot of things, but now I’m quite happy that it happened when it did.
A more business related challenge has been to reach the right target audience, I’m the first to admit that I still have a lot to learn about Marketing and that a lot more work needs to be put into that before this company really takes off.
What would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
If I am to be completely honest, I don’t feel like I’ve achieved much so far. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to achieve, but implementing it has been a rather slow process – mostly because I have periods in which I’m very focused on my business and others in which I’m only putting time and effort into other areas of my life. This is not something I’m particularly proud of. I think I’m getting better at putting steady effort into it, but it’s definitely a work in progress.
If I really had to pick one thing I consider an achievement, I’d say I’m proud of the choice to keep going and turn this side project into a business.
Do you believe that everyone can adopt a conscious lifestyle and live more ethically?
I really, really do! I think there are two main barriers to be passed: raising awareness and ethical products becoming more mainstream.
Awareness is different from education, a lot of people have been, in one way or another, educated about environmental problems and measures they can adopt to be more sustainable in their everyday life; but change is uncomfortable and living constantly aware of problems or things that can be improved on is challenging, and so people choose to forget.
Ethical products are still not the main choice in the market, they are now easier to find in physical retail spaces (as opposed to online only) but often they are more expensive or not as well designed as other products within the same category. One good example currently on the market are the cleaning products from M&S: they are effective, competitively priced and the packaging is simple and beautiful!
Do you bring sustainable ways of living into every aspect of your life? For example, natural skincare, body products, and eating habits?
I try to bring it into as many areas of my life as possible, I know I still have a long way to go towards living a zero-waste, all organic lifestyle. At the moment, most of my skincare, hair care and body products are from eco-friendly companies. As far as my eating habits, I haven’t cut off anything from my diet but I can’t remember the last time I cooked meat for myself and I reduced my overall consumption of fish and dairy (I still buy cheese every now and then, and I regularly take whey protein). I try to buy organic as much as I can without breaking the bank, and when I’m eating out I give preference to organic/ sustainably-sourced food restaurants. I also use laundry and cleaning products which are eco-friendly.
I guess we all have areas in which changing feels harder, and a guilty pleasure I haven’t been able to completely loose is taking long showers.
If you are a user of natural skincare, what are your favourite skincare products?
Everything I use is natural except for my face cream (from La Roche Posay, because my skin is very reactive but likes their products). I cleanse and remove make-up with Micellar water from Simple, when I need extra hydration I use Divine Oil from Caudalie and for my body I use organic coconut oil. In the shower I stick with organic Savon de Marseille because it is so gentle on skin.
Quick Fire Questions:
- 3 office essentials? A plain notebook, a black pen and post-it notes
- Describe your personal style in 3 words. Practical, elegant, fitted
- What is your favourite go-to outfit? White blouse, black jeans, black boots, beige coat and gold accessories.