Friends since their days at high school, Elena Ferrara and Hannah Mayfield dreamt of one day starting a business together. After school, the pair both went on to work in the fashion industry – Hannah in fashion buying and Elena is fashion design and product development. Both spent their early career working in the industry, before Elena decided to do a Masters degree in sustainable business.
But, it wasn’t until Hannah took some time out to travel, that the seed of an idea was planted for their future business. Hannah bought a beautiful kaftan while in Sri Lanka, which she discovered had been handmade in India, using a traditional block-printed method. She was intrigued by the ancient craft that involves wooden blocks being carved by hand, then used to print onto fabric to create beautiful patterns. “I loved hearing about this unique way of printing and kept thinking I wish I could have this kaftan as a top and trouser set,” Hannah says of the garment that inspired the business.
LAUNCHING A BRAND
Hannah shared this discovery with Elena, and immediately the pair knew this process would be the beginning of their own brand. The friends took a low-risk approach, self-funding with a small amount of money, which was enough to create their launch collection. The first step was to find a suitable supplier whose values were in line with their own, before moving on to design the styles, colours and prints that would make up their first collection. The name – rho – is an anagram of their grandmothers’ names, which, coincidentally is beautifully similar to the old Norse word ró, meaning rest, calm and tranquility. Clearly inspired by the women in their lives, they also named each piece in the collection after their mothers and grandmothers.
PLANET & PEOPLE OVER PROFIT
Sustainability and a positive social impact is what drives Hannah and Elena’s business, with every decision and action informed by their values of compassion, transparency and accountability. When they started searching for a partner to produce their designs, it was imperative that they found a Fair Trade supplier who was also skilled in their beloved block print craft. Luckily, Mehera Shaw in Jaipur, India fitted the bill. “It’s important to us that we always share where our clothes our made and who made them as we want everyone to feel more connected to the craftsmanship and people who make our products,” says Hannah.
Their manufacturer is an environmentally conscious, ethical company that have a people-centered approach to sustainable production. For Hannah and Elena, it was essential for them to know that the people involved in producing their products were not exploited in any way, and that not only were their basic rights catered for such as a clean and safe working environment and a fair wage, but that they received added benefits including staff bonuses, paid holiday leave and ongoing skills training.
After working in the mainstream fashion industry, both women were adamant that the products they were producing would have the least impact possible on our environment. So right from the design stage through to production and packaging, careful thought is put into every detail. When designing their collections, the pair ensure their garments are trend-less and versatile – with some pieces even being suitable to wear out and about, rather than only being confined to the home. “From the very start it was really important to us that the pieces are versatile and can be worn from bed, to brunch, the beach and wherever else you fancy,” Elena explains, “we are responding to the shift and desire of people who want to buy less, buy ethically and know it is amazing quality that will last for years and years.”
They only use natural, renewable plant-based fibres with all items being made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton and the dyes used are low impact and AZO-free, which means they do not contain the main known carcinogenic compounds.
Hannah and Elena’s commitment to helping others doesn’t stop there. For every item sold, they also donate £5 to the Kent-based domestic abuse charity Oasis. In line with rho’s social mission – that everyone deserves a safe night’s sleep – Oasis runs two refuges offering a safe haven to those affected by domestic abuse. They wanted to support a small local-to-them charity and say that Oasis are equally as supportive of everything they are building through rho. “We are truly in awe of the work they do and knowing the more we grow, the more we can support them and this is a huge driver for us.”
Since launch, Hannah and Elena have created two collections – Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, both which offer mix and match options across the pieces – camisoles, shorts, shirts, trousers and robes – you can even add a luxury eye mask for an even better night’s sleep. The soft colour palette and variety of prints compliment each other beautifully and offer maximum comfort and versatility.
Hannah and Elena want their pieces to be in your life for the long run, so they even provide advice on caring for your garments as well as videos on how to mend them should they ever need any repairs. “We want to contribute to the shift of keeping things for longer and loving the pieces you already have,” says Elena. “The more we can do that and slow down our patterns of consumption, we become able to buy better quality products and ultimately help create a different relationship with the things we purchase and own.”
Every detail has been considered, right down to how your order comes packaged – completely plastic free, with even the raffia ribbon it is tied up with being compostable.
In today’s world, every business must be mindful of their impact on the environment and the people involved in the process and rho organic are a shining example of how to do this. As their brand grows, Hannah and Elena have a continued commitment to build on and expand on the help and support they give to others through what they do and strive to meet their goal of a safe night’s sleep for all.
Photography by: Georgia de Lotz