We currently live in a world that is slowly, but surely, changing and becoming more aware of the fact that every single action of ours has a direct consequence on the environment. Although this is definitely a great step towards somehow ‘alleviating’ some of climate change's effects, we can't pretend to be ‘eco-friendly’ every step of the way – not because it is draining but it is almost impossible to do so. We talk to co-founder Saeed Al-Rubeyi (who works alongside his partner Katy) about slow clothing and how the British nature-led fashion brand Story Mfg is authentically and unpretentiously carrying this way of living out, with real and achievable goals through collaborating with craftspeople.
Hi Saeed, what first inspired you to start your brand Story Mfg?
I’d like to say we had a grand vision for the brand but the honest truth is we initially wanted to do a project that pulled together the worlds of craft, consciousness and a kind of clothing style we liked. Initially, we were just going to make a pair of jeans built from the ground up so we could make them with organic materials, natural dyes, and with positivity in mind but before we had even finished the first product we thought that we should make a jacket too, and it (slowly) snowballed. Shortly after that, we wrote the manifesto so people could read our core values.
Tell us more about how Story Mfg situates itself in today’s sociopolitical environment?
I used to work for a company that would consult for big brands, and the last project I was working on was one where a giant company wanted to know how they could appear ‘authentic.’ That project more than any other made me cringe deeply, and more than ever showed me that while companies can and do fake it, being really authentic only comes out of not trying to be something you aren’t.
We as a brand don’t really situate ourselves anywhere in particular – we sort of just focus on our passions and our people and if it vibes with others that's wonderful. As people. I would say we are on the progressive side, certainly. 
A big influencing factor for you is workwear and outerwear. What attracts you to this style?
Our design process and business is really based around what we as people like and our personal style – and these are things we love to wear.
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Your garments value the cultural and environmental positives of natural dyes. Would you say culture and heritage play an important role in your brand, and how?
Culture and heritage are so important. Coming from a mixed race background myself, I understand the deep value craft plays and I’ve also seen craft and heritage used, abused, packaged, sold and devalued. Art, craft, stories must be protected and treated with the respect they are owed, and fashion has a dirty habit of being really bad at this. We aren’t selling traditional craft items, as a brand we work with craftspeople together to create new work with them that respects the heritage and brings something new.
You stated that being a part of the nature-led fashion community is a powerful form of activism; thinking in solutions, not problems. How do you think your regenerative mindset empowers you?
There are lots of ways but the most empowering thing, counterintuitively, might be how restrictive it is! The walls we have to work within in terms of materials, colours and practices can be frustrating but they force us to see new perspectives.
Natural dyeing can be a sort of a meditative act – there is so much to explore and sometimes dyeing is unpredictable. Has that been the case at Story Mfg? Can you share any anecdotes about exploring materials and dyes with us?
We are constantly working with our partners to find new solutions – the most exciting part for me is how much of this is science meets a kind of archeology. In so many places there are ‘old ways’ of working with natural dyes that are forgotten but were more advanced and yielded different results to what we use now – so we are constantly ‘researching ancient technology’ to tease this answers out. Some of the old dye methods are similar to what we do now, but some are mad – like there's this one that involved coating yarns in oil and sun baking them for 10 days.
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In this digital era, your designs, prints, and garments tell contemporary stories whilst also keeping ancient techniques and practices alive (using natural dyes like bark and jackfruit, to name just a few), which is kind of paradoxical. What does creating a hybrid of contemporary ideas and traditional methods mean to you?
As well as being exciting, this is really about respecting art and respecting history. So many companies would go to a place like India, Thailand, China, Turkey, Nepal – anywhere and say “that print is cool! I want it,” and either buy and use it – or worse: copy it. That develops nothing for anyone, creates no reverence for the art and devalues it.
Not to be martyrs, but we believe if we are to work with people we need to act more like patrons than a brand and develop new work that is a collaboration not just a transaction. We never want to ‘appropriate,’ we collaborate and this is really important to us and those we work with.
What are some of your favourite materials and techniques to incorporate in your designs?
It’s impossible to choose – some are so wild. I love the printing methods and hand weaving but I know Katy loves the fermented indigo dyeing the most.
You mentioned that the culture of sustainable fashion can be a toxic controversial environment – where people are constantly trying to test each other’s purity. How do you deal with criticism and still stay true to who you are?
I’m quite a sensitive person, if we get a mean comment or rude message I really take it to heart, so, in short, I deal with it poorly. That said, we are open about our strengths and shortcomings and I really believe we do a really great job – but we cannot be everything to everyone. People come at us with their own values and exceptions but, for example, it's not our responsibility to make a waterproof, a hundred per cent natural, compostable, zero impact, naturally dyed, packable, expandable, branded, unbranded, insulated, vegan jacket under fifty pounds. We are a craft-based brand making slow clothing and we do our best (which is really good).
Finally, how would you say your professional sustainable practices spill over into your daily lives?
We do our best!
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