Conscious consumerism with Jemma Finch

How the fashion entrepreneur’s mental health journey led to sustainability

Setting her intentions for the day is central in Jemma Finch’s morning ritual. To build a healthy routine, the founder and CEO of Stories Behind Things forgoes messages, emails, and social media and commutes on foot, a trait unsurprising for someone so openly committed to conscious living. Chatting with me on one of those very last summer days, she is quick to burst the bubble: “Then I’ll sit in the office all day and work; switching between Zoom meetings, emails, and building out strategies,” she laughs.

Jemma is an eminent voice in London’s sustainable fashion scene. She launched Stories Behind Things as a passion project in 2018 as an answer to the fashion industry she found incredibly hard to navigate. Today, the one-stop storytelling platform and seasonal shop explores sustainability, climate, and consumption in positive and solution-led ways. This involves hosting brands that put the planet as a key stakeholder, statistics on climate change along with actionable steps, and physical pop-up events. “We want people to feel empowered. Traditionally, it sounds like it’s all doom and gloom and that we can’t do anything as individuals – that’s just not the case at all,” Jemma says.

“Our main goal is to help people become more curious about what they consume and feel inspired to live in line with their values,” she adds. Involved in every stage of the business, Jemma, who also acts as an ambassador for BBC Earth and Allbirds, connects her community with founders who are genuinely committed to shaping a sustainable future. What does it take for a brand to enter the Stories Behind Things portfolio, I ask? “It has to ensure that it does everything above board in terms of human rights, responsible material use, and innovation.”

Originally from Surrey, southwest of London, Jemma now feels stimulated by East London’s soul, vibe, and start-up scene. Her post-lockdown life is very local, unwinding in Victoria Park, meandering along Regent’s Canal, and enjoying plant-based creations at Rosa’s Thai Cafe and Beatnic. Mental health sparked her route into sustainability. When graduating from Leeds University’s fashion business programme, she felt overwhelmed by her industry’s fast pace, culture, and imperative call for purchase power before purpose.

Jemma refers to a disconnect mindset: “Do we shop for that dopamine hit? Or is it more beneficial for your mental health to go into your wardrobe, grab that pair of perfectly fitting but boring jeans and embroider it for a couple of hours?” She tells me about her love of thrifting and how it cultivated her style; about the silk dress she found in Notting Hill and has made so many memories with, and the Stella McCartney ski suit, “a magic find I couldn’t have afforded to buy first hand.”

Stories Behind Things puts the narratives of these everyday things, from coffee cups to clothes and jewellery, first. “Founding the project was selfishly for me to feel better. I wanted to read meaningful stories and was fortunate to meet others also wanting to slow down impulse shopping habits, people who value things that had been made with purpose, love, and respect,” she pauses. “A product doesn’t just magically appear. It has to be conceived and made; it passes through hundreds of pairs of hands before reaching a store.”

For Jemma, positive fashion means it is actively good for the planet and its inhabitants – a world that fosters regenerative farming, for instance. She finds comfort – and hope – in her community, which “is key in creating wider awareness. Your voice is difficult to ignore if many say the same thing.” Throughout this journey, she has learned that to go further is to be curious: “Use your voice and never be afraid to ask questions. I think that’s the most powerful thing we can do as consumers.”

Jemma Finch is the founder and CEO of Stories Behind Things, a storytelling platform and retail destination for sustainable fashion and lifestyle.

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