An unlikely friendship formed over social media during lockdown led to Hertfordshire women Maria Bond and Yulia Blower launching sustainable fashion brand Conscious Citizen, discovers Rebecca Pitcairn
It’s easy to see how Maria Bond and Yulia Blower bonded so quickly over social media during lockdown in 2020. As I begin to chat to the pair, we instantly find common ground – between Maria and I, it’s kids (we both have two) and for Yulia and I, it’s dogs (we both own Miniature-Dachshunds). However, the thing that drew these two entrepreneurial women together was a love of fashion, their similar outlook on life and the kind of world they want to live in and leave behind.
“I think, during the lockdown, everyone started to realise exactly how much we consume and question how much of that is actually necessary,” says Maria, who lives in Letchworth with her husband, Matt, and two daughters Myla, 6, and Ruby, 3. “So it sparked the conversation between Yulia and I, initially over social media, of why we have these things, what’s the purpose of them and can we make a difference to how others consume?”
Maria, 37, and Yulia, 35, found they also had lots of other things in common. For starters, neither was born in the UK – Maria is originally from Michigan and moved to England in the summer of 2014 after meeting Matt, who is British, while Yulia was born in St Petersburg, but settled in Hitchin with her mother and British step-father when she was seven.
“When I moved here from Russia, I think I was just always trying to fit in with everybody and I was always fascinated with what people wore and if that gave them an air of confidence. I think fashion has quite a big impact, not just on how you perceive other people, but also how you feel yourself. What you wear can really change your mood, it can make you feel more confident and I guess that was something I was always looking for ever since I came to England,” says Yulia, who between the ages of 15 and 21 was a fashion model before working on the editorial teams of magazines including Harper’s Bazaar and In Style, assisting editors on fashion shoots. It was this experience that led her to move into personal shopping and styling, first working in Harrods and then for Threads Styling.
However, she had always wanted a business of her own and during lockdown the opportunity arose. In a bid to suppress her boredom being stuck in her open-plan apartment, Yulia began making beaded bracelets and decided to sell them and donate the proceeds to the Laura Hyde Foundation, a charity which helps medical and emergency services personnel have access to the best mental health support network. After seeing the bracelets on Instagram and seeing Yulia was local, Maria got in touch to order personalised ones for her daughters and the pair instantly hit it off.
“We literally haven’t stopped talking since. We joke that at the beginning it felt a bit like we were online dating!” says Maria, who formerly worked in automotive advertising and medical sales, but after moving to the UK helped set up a sustainable sportswear brand and also runs Hitchin-based printed and embroidered clothing company, Kustom Clothing, with her husband.
With Yulia’s fashion background and Maria’s business acumen, each woman found in the other the skills they needed to start something new and the pair joined forces to launch sustainable fashion and lifestyle brand, Conscious Citizen.
With the tagline ‘progress not perfection’ the aim of the brand, which produces sustainable capsule items designed to last, is not to punish the modern-day consumer for what they are not doing to be sustainable, but encourage progress towards a shift in consumer mindset.
“I feel there’s a lot of negativity around the subject of sustainability and there’s a real sense of cancel culture,” explains Yulia. “It feels like, unless you’re doing everything that encompasses sustainable living, it’s not quite good enough. But that leaves no room for people who are making a small effort to try to make a difference or do something better. We wanted to help make sustainable fashion feel more accessible.”
Maria adds: “The common thread is the fact that we both really love learning and helping people and we found a way, a creative way I guess, through Conscious Citizen to do that.”
The business began on Instagram with just a small selection of T-shirts, before officially launching with a website and their first collection of loungewear sets in December 2020.
“We wanted to create a capsule wardrobe of good quality wardrobe staples that will all mix and match, have longevity in your wardrobe and that people will love to wear every day,” explains Yulia of the clothing line, which is made in the UK from 100% organic cotton. “But the idea was that we do it one item at a time. We didn’t have funding so the pre-order model works well for us. We launched with a T-shirt and pre-orders allowed us to fund the next item. It’s actually perfectly aligned with what we’re trying to achieve in terms of no waste production and also slowing down that process of fashion because, when you pre-order, there’s a time lapse before you get your item.”
Maria and Yulia have since launched eight production runs including a Mini Citizens line of matching loungewear for children. “We have a really big mum community,” says Maria, whose youngest daughter, Ruby, was just six months old when they launched Conscious Citizen. “I think they love that our lounge sets are comfortable and can be thrown on with little thought required, yet they still look put together. But more than that, it’s about reframing how we educate our kids. If they understand what quality clothing is, that’s going to carry them through their life.”
Their latest line, The Basics, is a selection of slim-fit T-shirts and leggings and they have also just introduced two new colours to their existing loungewear palette, which they shot the promo photography for at their favourite Hitchin hangout, Hermitage Rd.
“The new colours are coffee and sunshine so it was fitting to do the shoot in a local coffee bar and the team are so nice at Hermitage,” says Yulia.
“It’s also a life changing place for parents,” adds Maria. “They’re kid and dog friendly so Yulia and I spend a lot of time there!”
Conscious Citizen is stocked in The Yoga Shed, Hitchin, and at consciouscitizenworld.com