As soon as we came across EST/WST we knew we had to do some digging. Turns out that our hunch was right; this was a brand that directly aligned with all of the things we aim to promote with Ethical Made Easy: ethical practices, sustainability, and empowerment. What we weren’t ready for, though, was the extent to which this incredible brand upholds these values. Buckle up ‘cause we’re about to take you on a ride.
EST/WST sells a range of backpacks, totes, and convertible bags, as well as small clutches and wallets, hats, and scarves. Defining themselves as being “an expression of universal values; values that prioritise the planet and the global population”, EST/WST are aware of the impact our daily choices can have on the planet, therefore their own choices come from the understanding that “everything we use comes from somewhere, and every choice we make has an impact”.
It’s with these choices that this company focuses on the connection between the East and the West, and the traditions, lifestyles, and insights that make us all unique. It’s from this joining of both the East and the West that that EST/WST’s founders have created partnerships in both India and Nepal with skilled artisans, artisans who are now the key pillars in the production of the EST/WST products.
Now to their products. Fun fact time: microfibers from our clothing make up 85% of all human-made debris found in our oceans, the majority of which come from synthetic clothing that has been dyed using harsh chemicals. Yeah, that’s actually not a fun fact at all, is it. EST/WST didn’t find this fun either, which is the reason why they only use natural or organic recycled fibers in their products. Pretty groovy, huh?
They also use a range of premium materials to create these products, and what makes it even better is that every element of their supply chain, from the natural vegetable fibres to the vegetable tanned leather, can be traced back to its original source. Speaking of vegetable tanned leather, EST/WST is aware of the devastating environmental impacts tanning leather chemically can have, so choose to use leather tanned only by tannins found in vegetables, fruits, tree bark, and other naturally derived sources.
We hope you’ve soaked in all of that goodness because there’s still a bit more to come. Every season, EST/WST features an artisanal collection that incorporates custom hand-woven textiles from their partner collectives and then donates a portion of the profits to face a particular community issue, such as inadequate access to education or clean water. They even partner with WaterHarvest—a non-profit that has spent the last 30 years providing sustainable water solutions to the poorest of communities—and give $10 from every bag sold through their Indian organic cotton collections to WaterHarvest’s water development projects in rural Indian communities. Here’s why:
“In rural India, women are typically in charge of fetching water, and often walk for hours each day just to fill a pot with unsafe water. By making clean water more accessible, WaterHarvest is helping to free up time for women so that they can pursue other activities, such as education and income-generating activities.”
For EST/WST, fair trade practices are an absolute necessity throughout all aspects of their supply chain. They pay a premium for high-quality materials and ensure their partner collectives set fair wages, and all of their products are made in factories in the USA or a fair trade factory in India. The transparency displayed by EST/WST is insane, and they even encourage you, as a valued customer or conscious consumer, to ask questions and suggest how they can do better, better.
And get this! Even after discovering how much of a socially and environmentally conscious business they were, they had one last surprise for us when we received our own EST/WST parcel: the goodies arrived packaged in cardboard with recycled paper. This company has not only exceeded our EME expectations in product quality but also in their core values, values that are inherently good from extraction to consumption. Good on you, EST/WST.
Behind the Brand:
An interview with Jhana, the co-founder of Est/Wst Collective.
What made you start EST/WST?
Our parents met in Nepal back in the 70’s and worked there for 12 years. My older brother and I spent the first few years of our lives there before moving to California. I always wanted to go back and experience the country as an adult so I moved to Kathmandu and started volunteering with a couple non-profits.
While I was there I was drawn to the textiles I’d see around the market.
Most of the things I saw that were made with hand woven textiles were your typical looking products that were cheaply made and often covered in dust from sitting on the shelves for too long or hanging outside a shop on a busy street.
I started working with tailors to make my own clothes with the textiles I’d find in the market.
This naturally lead me to look into where these materials were coming from. Just like more and more of us want to know where our food came from before it ended up at the grocery store, I thought that we should be able to ask the same questions about the clothing, bags and accessories that we use everyday.
This way of thinking inspired me the idea to design products that could support artisans and traditional craft, have a low impact on the environment, while still being functional, well made, and in style. My older brother shared this same vision so we partnered up and started EST/WST in 2014. Our younger brother later joined us, so it’s now a complete sibling team
What is the meaning behind the name EST WST?
It’s an abbreviation for East West; the Eastern and Western sides of the world. The logo in the middle represents the two sides crossing over to signify a connection and collaboration. It also represents a single stitch, or weave, created by bringing together the two sides.
What is something others wouldn't know about starting an ethical business that you think they should?
Doing things ethically in the fashion industry should be the norm but unfortunately, the opposite has been normalized. An ethical business is almost always more expensive and more challenging to set up because you’re doing things an alternative way, outside of the norm. You have to compete with mainstream brands who are doing things much faster and much cheaper, at the cost of others and the environment. I think before starting you have to have a strong purpose outside of just making a profit, a realistic attitude, and be prepared to face those challenges.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
There are a lot of different ways to be ethical and it’s very hard to check every single box in the beginning. When we first started out we wanted to be everything—vegan, fair trade, artisan made, hand woven, completely sustainable, all natural materials, recycled, cradle to cradle. Then we realized that by doing everything we would actually miss out on doing one or a few things really well. Sometimes by choosing your main focus, you’re actually able to create more impact.
Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'who made my clothes?'. In the scope of EST/WST, who made your bags and accessories? Can you tell us a bit about them?
This is definitely the question that inspired EST/WST. Our materials can all be traced back to the weaver group who made them and even to the organic cotton farm or hilltop where the fiber was grown before it was spun into yarn and woven. We have visited these villages and have a direct relationship with the weaver groups.
We previously made our bags with a fair labor factory in Nepal and India but decided to shift the majority of our production to the US so that we could be more involved with the production and insure that our quality is up to standard and aligns with the value of the materials themselves. We’re now working on our Summer collection with a small workshop in Portland, Oregon, but our materials continue to come from partnerships with artisans around the world.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
When I was living in Nepal I bought a card that had a quote on the front by the Dalai Lama.
It started our with “No matter what is going on, never give up, develop the heart...” I had this in my studio and used to look at it sometimes when I was working at my desk and it definitely helped me, not only to remember to persevere but to remember why.
One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Never give up! Or if you do, make sure to use the experience as a learning and growing opportunity, as well as every little mistake or “fail” along the way.
Where do you envision EST WST in the future?
We hope to branch out to be a full lifestyle brand. Eventually, we’d love to have our own shops that further allow customers to connect with the people, places, cultures, and stories behind everything we make.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
It comes back to our motivation, to create more awareness and respect in the world through connection.
Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I started putting my phone on airplane mode when I sleep so that in the morning I don’t go straight from turning off my alarm to looking at notifications and social media. I turn my alarm off and then try to remember how fortunate I am to be alive and healthy then I try to generate an intention to get up to use my body and mind to do something meaningful and develop into a better person. I wash my face with cold water and do at least 15 minutes of yoga, depending on my time. I then sit and meditate, which is something I learned when I was in Nepal. The time I sit depends on my mood (how lazy or how distracted I’m feeling that day) and the time I have, but the most important thing is that I set my daily motivation and do at least some mindfulness meditation. It’s come to a point where if I don’t do this at all I really notice a difference in my day, like if you forget to brush your teeth in the morning.
One book everyone should read? Why?
“Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Chodron.
I first read this when I was in Nepal in 2015 after experiencing the devastating 7.8 M earthquake there. We were in the middle of sampling our first collection with our new partner in Kathmandu. The factory shut down afterwards for more than 3 months and along with that we lost an entire year of our production which set us behind significantly when we had only just started getting the ball rolling.
I had no idea what was going to happen with EST/WST and I suddenly became aware that things can happen in life that you cannot control and that you are unprepared for but it’s up to you how you choose to handle those experiences. This book was incredibly helpful for me in all areas of my life.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers our there in your world that you think people should know about?
Our friend Danny has set up an amazing project based in Nepal called Gravity Water. He’s also from the Bay Area but we shared an apartment at times in Kathmandu and he’s someone who genuinely has a pure values based motivation for what he’s doing. Another friend, Briony Mackenzie, based out of Melbourne and NYC, started the Global WomensProject.
We were riding my scooter together in Kathmandu during the earthquake. Immediately afterwards, she worked with her partner non profit to offer shelter and food to hundreds of people who had lost their homes. She continues to do amazing work in Nepal supporting women with the tools and resources they need to build better lives.