FOLLOW YOUR PASSION :: Interview with Charlie of Offset Warehouse

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Hello everyone! I hope everyone had a great weekend.

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to give up your day job and follow your passion, and make it work. Last month I was not about to change anything, but now everything has changed of course and I am not sure I can find the motivation or meaning in my previous job. I am wondering more and more what it would be like to do something with this crafting obsession I have. To find out more I have decided to interview those who just went for it.  

This month I am talking to Charlie of Offset Warehouse about her experience as an ethical online fabric shop owner. I came across Offset Warehouse quite quickly when I started looking for ethical fabrics - just because in the UK there are not many shops solely dedicated to ethical fabrics. However my stash is so big, that I have only made two garments out of Offset Warehouse fabric - my maternity pink tova and the Alice Top I will blog about later next week. I do have some Offset Warehouse dark denim fabric and hope to use it really soon. 

- Hi Charlie, can you let us know how you did get involved in the fashion industry? and when you decided you wanted to go for ethical fabrics?

From a young age I was fascinated by clothing. I always knew I wanted to be in this industry. During my design degree I was made aware of the hugely negative impacts that the textile and design industries have on both the environment and the people who make our products. Irresponsible farming destroying vast areas of land, carcinogenic chemicals killing the workers handling the fabrics, slave labour, farmer suicides due to debt - you name it!

I couldn’t bear the thought of my designs, which I wanted people to love and cherish, to cause another person harm, or damage the environment in any way. I became a designer to do good, and to make a positive impact, but I quickly realised just how some businesses will do anything to make an extra cent. So I began to use fabrics that I could safely say did not harm the environment and positively impacted the people who made them. I wasn’t trying to be a crusader, or to guilt trip anyone, I just didn’t want my work to do any more damage and support irresponsible businesses who know exactly the horrors they are causing.

 - When did you start your shop? How did you acquire the skills you needed to feel you could start of?

As a designer, I really struggled to source the fabrics I wanted in fashion forward styles and in the quantities I wanted. And I noticed that other designers had the same issues. So when I graduated, I put all my research up online, began testing the market and Offset Warehouse was born!

- What is the shop ethos?

Offset Warehouse sells fashionable, ethical fabrics online, with one metre minimums. For us, ethical encompasses anything that is environmentally or socially beneficial. We support artisans from around the world and pay fair wages. We also promote the use of sustainable fibres, including organic and fair trade products. 

- Who are your usual customers?

Our customers?… Anyone who uses fabrics! We work with lots of designers, particularly in the fashion and interiors industries. And we work with many home sewers who appreciate high quality, handmade products.

- What is your best selling fabric?

This is a tricky one! We have several really popular styles: our prints and ikats are very popular. I think because they are so unique, and all completely made by hand. They are true beauties, and our customers really appreciate diversity and the quality of the skills involved to create them. Similarly, our bamboo and banana fabrics are so unusual and everyone loves them! Who’s ever heard of a banana fabric before?! Better yet, to say your jacket or sofa is made of banana … amazing!

 - How do you typically choose your fabrics?

I approach our range like a beautiful “curation”. I put together the fabrics that are on-trend, in colours that will work with the seasons. It’s a real art form! I hate the thought of “hippy”, ugly fabrics.

- Do you have to make choices when it comes to ethics (for instance supporting a local community but not an organic fabric)?

While we do sell fabrics with certifications, such as Organic and Fairtrade, I often feel more passionate about supporting smaller, underprivileged communities who can’t afford the certifications. These are the people who need the sales the most. This is why I have such a close relationship with all of my producers. I visit them personally and see exactly how the work is done, and how they are being paid. It’s so important to me.

- When did you make the switch from 'regular work to make business out of your passion? (if you did?)

Great question! I continued my design consulting while I tested the market to see if Offset Warehouse was going to work. It was about two years in, when orders and emails were coming in so thick and fast, that I didn’t have enough time to do my other job any more - that’s when I decided that I could make my passion a full time thing!

- How do you run the business side of Offset Warehouse? When did you hire more members to your team?

I’m so lucky, I have two great team members. Jaime is our Resident Eco Fabric Whizz and helps with any customer enquiries. With an MA from the Chelsea School of Art, she’s an incredibly talented textile designer herself and absolutely mad on ethical fabrics! Kimberley is in charge of Business Development and Support. She ditched her corporate life in search for something with more meaning. She’s passionate about creating her own textiles and about sustainability as well. It’s a crack team for sure!

- What are the challenges of running a business on your own?

Not enough hours in my day! I have to be really strict with how much work I take on. I’m an absolute workaholic, and I absolutely love my job (a dangerous combination!!) So I have to force myself to get out and about, or I become a hermit.

- What would your advice be to people who want to become their own boss?

Surround yourself with positive people. You want to be met with high fives on your first order, not the response “..well that’s not going to cover the rent is it?” (and yes, I have heard that before!) Surround yourself with positive people who are in the same boat, or understand what you’re going through.

- What do you do to make your workplace an enriching and inspiring place to be?

I love pink. It’s no secret. So anything that I hate looking at, like my to-do list or accounts, I colour pink! I also sit by a big window, and surround myself with lots of greenery and potted flowers (pink and purple, obviously). A clear desk is also really helpful - I try and get that desk cleared by the end of the week, so I start lovely and fresh the following Monday!

- We live in such a mass-produced, buy-it-now society where everything is either a click or a short drive away, do you think people will continue to make things by hand?

Yes! Making things by hand is coming back in a huge way. We’re all SO sick of seeing the same mass-produced clothing. I never want to be caught wearing the same jumper or dress as someone else - so I make it! We’re also seeing a huge resurgence in consumers understanding the beauty and skill behind hand made products. You can see it in high fashion: Hermes, Isabel Marant, Manish Arora - all the big names are going back to artisanal skills. The time invested in handmade is absolutely unrivalled.

- If you had the time to sew anything for yourself right now, what would you choose and with which fabric?

I have such a huge list of things I want to sew! But on the top is an oversized coat made from our banana fabric. It’s so beautiful and soft, and I adore the minimalist Scandinavian trend. 

Thank you so much Charlie, it is so inspiring for people interested in ethical issues as well as those wanted to start their own business.

For more inspiration, you can read my interview with Pauline of Pauline Alice Patterns here


  1. very interesting article Nat, and great to spotlight smaller manufacturers.

  2. I found this so inspiring! Thank you Nat and Charlie!

  3. Wonderful article. Blessings on your business

  4. Great interview and best of luck with your business dreaming, you will be great at whatever you turn your hand to in this industry :)