5 December 2018

Interview, Text & Photos: Martin Hufnagel
Intro: Celine Lika

Bye, bye fast fashion! With their label JAN 'N JUNE, Anna and Jula have been proving that clothes can be fashionable, affordable, and sustainable since 2013. Our editor-in-chief Martin sat down with the duo for a little chat.

Sustainability has come to be one of the most important lifestyle movements in Western Europe. Whether it involves food or body care, you can find organic products side by side with conventional products on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies. As an alternative to cabs, electric shuttles and rentable electric scooters travel through the city’s streets. The fashion sector is also promoting sustainable clothing. However, the seasonal rhythm of the fashion industry currently limits the effect, especially when international brands and big chains advertise “green alternatives, and it is hard to believe that sustainability is more than just a new marketing slogan.  

Anna and Jula prove with their label JAN 'N JUNE that sustainability can be more than just an empty phrase. The 2 met at university, where their class was small, only 30 students. Jula describes their first contact: 'We sat in a room at university, and I looked at Anna and asked myself, "Why is she looking so fierce?" When she noticed that I was watching her, she burst into a broad smile. At that moment I thought, "OK yes, she's quite cool." Through several group assignments and private meetings they got to know each other better, but it wasn’t until the final semester that the idea to establish their own label came up.

Both founders of JAN 'N JUNE had previously come into contact with the topic of sustainability at one point or another. Annas parents bought their groceries in an organic supermarket (my grandmother, too, by the way). However, 20 years ago, sustainability was not much of a hype. The stores were small, and they smelled like you were standing in the middle of a field. Jula grew up with the consciousness that clothes should be used more than just one summer, but her defining experience was an internship in Indonesia.

'I have to say, the production conditions are better compared to Bangladesh, for example. However, when we visited the factory, my only thought was, "At the end of the day, these are just clothes." For instance, 2 jackets were sewn parallel, and thrown in a corner right after they were finished. A short time later, the label that determines if the jacket is sold for 80 or 800 euros was sewn in. It was at that moment when I asked myself for what I really paid in the clothing business and where my money ended up.'

Back in Hamburg, the final semester had started, and Anna and Jula sat in their business formation class. 'At that time, we had a really cool young lecturer. He made it very clear that when pursuing your vision, nothing is impossible, and depending on your point of view, everything can work', Jula recounts. Their vision for JAN 'N JUNE was clear from the beginning: sustainable, affordable, fashionable. 

Finally, a visit to the ethical fashion week in Berlin, where they did not find what they were looking for, entirely convinced both of them. 'There was nothing that matched our expectations at all. There was nice clothing, sustainably produced, but it was super expensive', Anna says about their visit.

Afterwards, it all happened really quickly. Jula says, 'We weren't driven to establish JAN 'N JUNE. But we had the feeling that if we do not do it now, then somebody else would during the next year. There was a gaping niche in Germany's clothing market.' Influenced by her experience in Indonesia, it was important to both of them to show the customer where the clothes come from. Because of that, every piece has an own QR code. Scanning it, you can follow the product through every step of production.

Since that summer of 2013, a lot has happened, but sustainability is still central to JAN ‘N JUNE. Anna says, 'From the very beginning, the concept of Cradle to Cradle fascinated us, and we thought about how to use the clothing in a cycle, without producing waste. Transferred to clothing, this means for us that we always try to use as little newly produced material as possible.' Jula adds, 'From certified organic cotton to recycled material, there are more and more methods on the market.' Clothes from their new collection, for example the elegant black dress Sora, consist of recycled plastic waste taken out of the ocean. Seeing the finished product, that is very hard to believe.

Sure, a label that defines itself as sustainable like JAN 'N JUNE is vulnerable to criticism. Sustainability can be defined in many ways, and unfortunately, some think that their way is the only appropriate way. Anna says, 'In the end, we all fight for the same cause. It's a shame that we're not united, but divided into small groups.' According to Jula, 'We’re such a small niche, and we all want to work in the same direction. This is extremely difficult because especially in fashion, the percentage of sustainable clothing is small. Nobody does it perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, discussions and communication are always useful, but I think creating a debate out of everything can be self-destructive.'

Criticism of the way the fashion industry works does not just come from the inside, but also from the outside. Jula says, 'Narrowing it down, in the end you could ask, "Why do you even buy anything?" Everything fits just fine, and if the whole world stopped buying clothes tomorrow, most likely there would still be enough for everybody. But we shouldn't forget about reality. Consuming can be fun sometimes, and it's not forbidden. Especially when you consume sensibly, and you're aware of what you're buying.' 

Anna believes that when you work in the fashion industry, only surrounded by people working in fashion, you tend to forget that there are people who have never heard of organic cotton. 'These people aren't mentioned when it comes to discussions about transport costs, place of manufacture, whether you should use synthetic twine or how many collections you should produce as a sustainable label. Especially when it's important to reach those people.' With JAN 'N JUNE, Anna as well as Jula have been trying to change that.

Looking at the latest studies, environmental protection, organic food, and sustainability are major topics for young people nowadays. However, the financial means for sustainable clothing are limited, and the will to give up certain brands is non-existent. When I was in fifth grade, I had to draw a map of how many kilometres my breakfast had travelled. I was impressed, but at that point I had never been out of Europe in my life. So, those distances seemed too intellectual. Those elucidations seemed moral, and had nothing to do with me.

The thought that sustainability and consumerism do not exclude each other came much later. Still, I wonder how you can inspire people to engage with this never ending topic and how you can get people to analyse their consumption habits. 'I think there has to be a really good alternative...', Anna starts, and Jula interjects instantly: '… and these alternatives have to be visible.'

According to the duo, in the fashion industry, there aren't many options available. While in the supermarket, organic groceries are placed right beside conventional food, the textile industry isn’t anywhere near that. On Instagram, influencers promote themselves as being sustainable. The minimalistic, Scandinavian inspired style encourages us to possess less, but to possess the right items.

Many countries are experiencing newly found wealth at the moment. Limiting consumption isn't on top of their agenda, not to mention countries where the focus is just to have. Nevertheless, the founders of JAN 'N JUNE are optimistic: 'Some mistakes will be repeated. But life is so much faster today, the phases shorter. Some changes and new ways of thinking that took 40 or 50 years for us to develop may take less than a decade in other countries.'

Speaking of other countries, where would Anna and Jula travel if they could choose any flight destination at the airport? 'I would go to Iceland', says Jula promptly. 'I've never done it because it's only about 16°C there in the summer months, and it rains often. Then, I would have the feeling that I had no summer.' After brief consideration, Anna says, 'There's quite a lot I look forward to right now, but most likely I'd visit my boyfriend in Dubai.'

Thank you, Anna and Jula, for being part of wasted hour.

See more of JAN 'N JUNE here: