Alphabet Soup

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an organization whose label would signify responsibly-made clothing? Absolutely! Have your pick:

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Truth is, we are not lacking when it comes to watchdog organizations, certifications, and standards – this list isn’t even exhaustive (the Ethical Fashion Forum lists a few more certifications and memberships here). If you want to measure impact, whether that be environmental, social, or otherwise, there is an organization available. Is this sea of logos, labels, and symbols effective? To answer that question, ask yourself how many of these icons you instinctively recognize. Take that one step further: if you recognize them, do you know what they mean? Continue reading

COO: There’s More to the Story

When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, I remember imagining how sweet it would be to come back to the States toting a new Italian handbag: made in Italy, and purchased while living in Italy (you can’t get much more Italian than that). Anticipating this moment made reality’s betrayal even more poignant: I quickly learned that the bags being sold on the streets of Italy weren’t actually made in Italy. Instead, they were made in China and received their beautiful Made in Italy labels upon their arrival into the country.

My vision, which consisted of a little family-owned workshop where the craft of making leather bags had been honed and cultivated across the span of several generations, was crushed. The bags in front of me seemed fraudulent: resting on the laurels the Made in Italy label had worked so hard to earn. Attaching the label was supposed to make me think the bags fit into my vision of what Made in Italy stood for, without actually holding up their end of the deal.

After an experience like this, you can’t help but question the validity of COO (country of origin). Continue reading

The Fakers and the Changemakers

It seems as if every brand knows the right things to say when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). They all have their codes of conduct in order, along with a nicely polished list of values – amounting to an altogether lovely image of their business. Links to pages titled ‘CSR’ and ‘Sustainability’ are popping up on everyone’s websites, all the way from luxury brands to fast fashion powerhouses. Pressure from trade unions and NGOs has made such commitments unavoidable – at least for any company that cares about its reputation. If everyone is doing such an incredible job of upholding their values and strictly adhering to the guidelines they’ve laid out, why did the Rana Plaza building collapse? Why are there still children working in sewing factories? Why can’t garment workers feed their families, even when they work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week?

Somewhere along the line, we seem to be lacking in follow-through. But when all we have is a company’s word, how can we tell the difference? We can try to sift through audit reports and analyze the data, but most of us won’t take time to do that. Each of us has a limit when it comes to evaluating purchase decisions: in addition to researching the variables of style, price, and fit, it is unrealistic to ask that shoppers also invest time trying to navigate the murky waters of social responsibility in the supply chain. Past a certain point, we either give up our search for information and buy, or we give up on buying at all. Continue reading

Sustainable Fashion – In 3D!

The fashion industry is constantly churning out something new…obviously. But every once in awhile, something comes along that absolutely disrupts the industry. I’m talking invention of the sewing machine kind of disruption – like I said, it doesn’t happen every day. You’ve probably already guessed what this post is about: 3D printing. It’s been transforming processes in other industries, but it also has the potential to flip the fashion industry on its head. I started looking into this the other day and my thoughts took off running as I tried to capture a sense of all the possibilities and ramifications of 3D printed fashion.

Let’s start with what it is: additive manufacturing. 3D printers extrude layers of raw materials (think plastics and metals) to create 3D objects – all guided by digital designs (CADs). It has both industrial and manufacturing applications: from medical devices to construction tools and, you guessed it, fashion items. Many brands have already put 3D printing to the test – and I’m not talking about some obscure brand that you’ve never heard of… Continue reading

Deluxe: The Book That Started It All

Deluxe

My awareness of fashion’s dark side is relatively new. For a very long time I had no idea there was a slow fashion movement – I didn’t realize we were in a position to need one. I never looked at country of origin or fiber content, and I never thought about what happened after I disposed of my old clothes. Now, I can’t even walk into stores I once visited frequently, simply because I can’t find enough information about where their product comes from. Shopping has become quite the challenge (not that it wasn’t challenging before) and sometimes I wish I didn’t know so much about the industry’s ills. Just kidding. But I can trace this journey back to one book, which is helpful when I need something to blame for this pesky thing called awareness. Continue reading

Magnifeco

Sometimes the hardest part about being a conscious consumer is finding a brand or designer that shares your values. There are so many places we could put our dollars, but since no brand is willingly going to advertise “Hey, we use child labor” or “By the way, this shirt is full of toxic chemicals,” how do you know if you’re actually supporting the change makers?

Unfortunately there isn’t a clear cut answer here. In order to truly know what you’re getting, you’ll have to do some leg work. While there are companies out there who have adopted a model of transparency with their customer, there are others who work overtime to make sure they’re saying the right thing, even though their actions may not line up. Thankfully, there are resources available for consumers like you. Continue reading

Poverty Inc.

Where do our donations go? We dutifully pack up our gently used clothes, accessories, and shoes and take them to our local Goodwill, clothing drive, or thrift shop, but what happens next? We assume these items are sold at bargain prices or given to those less fortunate, but is that really the case? What if our donations aren’t doing the “good” we intended?

What if they’re actually causing problems instead of solving them?

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The documentary Poverty Inc. addresses these questions for a variety of industries beyond fashion, but each situation boils down to the same message: in order to eradicate poverty across the globe, we must adopt a new relationship with impoverished countries – one based on partnership instead of paternalism. Continue reading

Sustainababble: Defining the Newest Buzz Word

Before getting too far into the life of this blog, it’s important to clarify what I mean when I talk about sustainable fashion. In recent years we’ve been bombarded with words like ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ – so much so that they’ve almost completely lost their meaning. ‘Sustainable’ seems to be charting a similar path. According to this infographic, the word itself is unsustainable:

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Clothes To Die For

Think of the last time you went shopping: when you were drawn to an item, what was the first thing you did? You probably reached out to feel the fabric, pulled the garment off the clothing rack to get a good look at it, and, if it passed that first evaluation, took it to the fitting room to try it on. During this process, did you ever take a look at where it was made? Did you, by chance, wonder who stitched the seams, sewed on the buttons, or attached the zipper? Did you ask yourself how old that seamstress was, or what he or she did for fun? I can tell you I did not do any of those things, but like any savvy shopper I certainly looked at the price tag.

In the documentary Clothes To Die For, directed by Zara Hayes and commissioned by the BBC, one is invited into the lives of a few young women who had worked in garment factories in the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. Interviewers asked these women what they thought about the people who bought the clothes they produced, and one response in particular stopped me in my tracks:

“The girls who wear these will remember us one day.” Continue reading