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Fashion : Starting My Sustainable Business: Chaos and Colour’s Pariss Cozier

Chaos and Colour founder Pariss Cozier set out to put a fun, colourful alternative on the sustainable fashion scene, often dominated by ‘neutral-hued clothing’ for ‘a neutral-hued customer base.’ Cozier tells the story of how she began her vibrant fashion line, designed to uplift both its makers and its wearers.

I will never forget reading the story of the Zara customers finding hidden messages in their clothes. Sown into the seams of dresses, hung up on glossy shop floors, were messages like: “I made this item that you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.”

Like many other London born, twenty-something, millennial women, I grew up on a diet of ASOS next day delivery, ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ and dreams of being a fashion journalist. Not long after came the rise of blogging, influencer culture and very quickly I, like many other twenty-something, millennial women, became completely seduced by the algorithm.

Bad shopping habits were made worse by my first job at a London PR agency. Looking back, I guess this really was my ‘Devil Wears Prada’ moment, except my boss had all the venom of Miranda Priestly but not much in the way of a Meryl Streep charm. So, I shopped. Every purchase made was an attempt to pacify the feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction— crap job, crap commute, complete and utter lack of direction. Yet the thrill was always illusive, nothing bought could quell that rising tide of dissatisfaction.

After almost a year in, they fired me.

“It’s a blessing in disguise”, my mum reassured me as I sobbed into the phone receiver, slouched and defeated on a curb somewhere in Fulham. The next three days were spent crying. But in the five months that followed, I travelled China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, taking with me little more than a couple of quick-dry outfits, making sure to leave enough room for any treasures I would find along the way. South-East Asia awakened my love for handicraft items and my desire for a smaller wardrobe of truly loved, hard won, curated pieces. It really was a blessing in disguise.

Returning to the UK, I left London for good, moved to Bristol and got a job at an ethical herbal tea company. It was there, working directly with Fairtrade, organic farmers, that I thought again of those Zara garment workers. I started to ask myself questions like, who was making my clothes? And what kind of hidden messages were they leaving behind in the seams?

As a third generation Windrush baby, with an African American Grandfather, my relationship to colonisation has always been a fraught and personal one. As a society, when we think of ‘slavery’ our minds are cast back to a time of flouncy dresses, plantations and big white houses. However, it is by no coincidence that the current fashion supply chains are almost identical to the trade routes of 150 years ago. Back then, it was sugar, coffee and chocolate. Today, slavery looks like a £10 T-shirt made by a woman of colour, from a ‘developing’ country who didn’t get paid.

Could it be that we have simply repacked structures of the past? If so, how could I continue to participate in such a system? A system made worse by ‘Get the Look’ culture, in which over a third of millennials buy, wear and return clothing that eventually lives out its last days on a landfill in Ghana.   

So, in 2017 I began my journey into becoming more connected to my clothes — looking for the story in the seams, buying less, oftentimes not shopping at all. But, as I cast my eyes out into the landscape of sustainable fashion, debit card in hand, I was disappointed to see just how woefully monochromatic it all was. Neutral hued-clothing, worn by an equally neutral-hued models, marketed at a very neutral-hued and wealthy customer base.

It was around the same time that I stumbled across a collective of female artisans based out in a village in northern India, by the Thar desert. The NGO, Saheli Women, had only just started out, but they were working with a couple of other brands and disrupting the fashion industry in a way that inspired me. Discovering them was all the motivation I needed to start something of my own, to address everything I thought was going wrong with the current state of the industry. And so, Chaos and Colour was born.

I connected with Madhu, Saheli Women founder over email. Emails quickly became a Skype call which became a solo trip out into a world of sleeper trains and chai, all the way to the desert village of Bihkamkor. In this rural, traditional farming village a woman’s space is the home and her main and only job is to care for her household. Madhu recognised an opportunity to empower these women and create sustainable livelihoods, earning a fair living wage. Operating from what was once the founder’s ancestral home, these empowered women helped me bring my vision to life.

My dreams for Chaos and Colour are simply to create clothing that looks and feels like a celebration, produced by unharried human hands, weaving messages of love in every thread. Each piece in the collection is made using natural and raw materials (cotton, linen and raw silk) with the ambition to produce garments with longevity, celebrating traditional human creativity and indigenous crafts, without leaving a lasting scar on the environment.

At some point during all this, in what at first seemed a completely separate and unrelated internet jaunt, curious about my ancestry, I googled the name I inherited from my grandfather: “‘Cozier’: occupational name from Old French cousere ‘tailor’. This name is now well established in Barbados.”

What Google leaves out is that this name probably came at a great cost, carrying with it all the intonation and verve of a not so distant colonial past. Yet, in a twist of fate, I take this name with me — ‘Cozier’, ‘Cousere’, ‘Tailor’ — as I stride forward into new fashion systems of the future, wearing a dress handmade in an Indian village, with love.