This Venables Bell & Partners Creative Started a Fair Trade Clothing Company

Why agency workers should have passion projects

Working full time in an agency can drain a person and sometimes passion projects get pushed aside, but for Allison Hayes, an associate creative director at Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, finding time to explore something new was the key to a good work-life balance.

In 2012, Hayes made her first trip to India with friends and current business partner, Jayshri Chakraborty, for Chakraborty's upcoming wedding. The two went to look for fabrics for Chakraborty's wedding dress and bridesmaids dresses. While there, Hayes found some incredible textiles and made a few of her own skirts that she said constantly received compliments when she returned to the U.S. That prompted the idea to begin the fair trade clothing line, The & Collection, but the timing wasn't right just yet. 

Hayes continued thinking about the fabrics she discovered on her trip, but what stuck with her most was the fact that many companies claim something is handmade, when in fact it's mass produced in a large factory in Bangladesh.

After moving from 72andSunny to Venables Bell & Partners, she had more time on her hands and decided to finally dive into the passion project she had been mulling over since her first trip to India in 2012. "Not that Venables isn't challenging and a great agency, but there's more of a work-life balance," she said.

"We went back to India in 2015. We made some contacts with the government, the department of handicraft, and they connected us with some university students and they connected us with some university students like social workers. That's how we started working with some of the artists there," Hayes added. Soon after that trip she launched The & Collection, which buys textiles from crafts people in developing communities. This process ensures that the clothing company is creating one-of-a-kind garments including skirts, tops, jumpers and shawls.

Another benefit to launching a clothing company has been doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes work on her own, including styling all the looks featured on the website, retouching the images and getting the website up and running. This put the entire creative process into perspective as Hayes said she can sometimes "take for granted the other people that do all this stuff for us."

A major challenge along the way has been the absence of a big budget, something she had been accustomed to working with at agencies. "I've worked on much larger brands that have budgets, sometimes in the millions of dollars. Here we didn't really have anything so I was doing a lot of it myself," Hayes said. Plus there's been an increase in workload for Hayes—with maintaining the site, building relationships with vendors over in India and keeping track of what styles and trends shoppers in the U.S. are interested in. But overall, the process has been a positive one.

Hayes added: "It's given me a sense of control and freedom in my own creative path. A lot of times we work on projects that maybe we don't want to work on, but just doing something for yourself sometimes keeps you inspired and not feeling like you're just a part of a machine."