When is the last time you looked at the tag on your clothes to see where it came from? Many of us, in the hustle and bustle of life, probably have no idea where most of our clothes come from. We, at Ethical Fashion Academy, believe that knowing what is on our bodies is equally important as knowing what we consume into our bodies, especially if toxic, cancer causing chemicals are involved.
Manufacture New York, a social entrepreneur company also shares this philosophy. Last month, we had the opportunity to attend MNY's Sustainable Textile Summit at the Loeb and Loeb building.
It was a chilly, brisk afternoon in New York City, but inspiration warmed the room where artists, designers, teachers and fashion lovers alike shared their ideas and passion over cups of coffee and tea.
Manufacture New York, started by Bob Bland and team, aims to support local designers while emphasizing the importance of eco-fashion from recycled garments. MNY is creating a sustainable fashion community right here in New York.
During the summit, vital information was unearthed. For someone like me, who is neither a designer nor a business woman, I experience information overload. Guest speakers took a dive into pioneering ways of creating sustainable communities, empowered others to join the movement, and stimulated resourceful ideas on how to truly sustain an eco-system of slow, ethical fashion.
Ethical Fashion Academy’s Francisca spoke on a panel with designers and while explaining the difficulty of running an eco-friendly business said, “It doesn’t take an expert, anyone can get involved and everyone can do their small part.”
Other guest speakers on the panel moderated by Holly Henderson of Simply Natural were, the Head of Sourcing and Production at SUNO, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart Founder of Vaute Couture.
Cheryl Campbell Head of Eileen Fisher foundation and Green Eileen clothing recycling initiative, and Ross Gibson of Patagonia also contributed as panelists.
You can only imagine all of the great tips and insights that were unleashed by seasoned fashionistas and industry experts with decades of experience and knowledge. After learning some of the most grotesque practices to mankind and deconstructing the beautiful realm of fashion in my mind, I have to admit, I was a little disenchanted by the glamour of all I once worshipped-let’s say- as far back as a young teenager buying my first teen Vogue magazine and well, hoarding as many graphic t-shirts as possible--just to keep up with my friends (I had an impressive collection).
Many of the statistics and facts were shocking as additional guest speakers spilled their stories and passion for eco-fashion.
Rhett Godfrey, representing organic cotton company Loomstate, would say that there is probably more cotton digested inside of your body than on the backs of those gorgeous models in the magazine, or perhaps that 85% of textiles ends in landfill. Having traveled to the end of the world to gain first-hand knowledge of organic cotton farming, my guess is this isn't just something he read out of a magazine.
Sass Brown, author of ‘Refashioned’ and acting Assistant Dean for the School of Art and Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, would tell you that thousands of people in Bangladesh were killed due to hazardous environmental facilities, and that communities in India are given permanent reminders of how toxins can eat away human skin. With her experience as an international activist, your guess would be right that these aren’t just characters in a book. This is real life.
Not all companies should be put into this category, however. There are many brands making efforts to transition into more environmentally and socially conscious clothing, but we all have challenges that we face: money and time.
Not sure where to start? You can begin by using some of the takeaways from the summit. Recycle your gently used clothes at your local donation center, research designers by using an app like 'Source Map' created by CEO, Leo Bonnani who built a system capable of tracking down your product even "down to the Chiquita banana farm" if you so wished. He says it keeps businesses "accountable and transparent."
After the summit, the group moved to Manufacture New York’s studio on 36th street where everyone had the chance to get a hands-on experience with local designers and products. I learned how to spin fabric from Zaida of Balmaseda (so much easier than I imagined) . I also met designer Tabitha St Bernard-Jacobs of Tabii Just who showed us about zero-waste design.
In all, the event was a success and as Francisca stated, everyone can make a small contribution. Designers were able to educate one another on best practices, employees of the fashion industry had a platform to discuss their challenges, and everyone was able to walk away with a piece of education that is much more valuable than any t-shirt or handbag, especially if they only last your average 2-3 year life cycle!
Next time you go shopping during this busy Christmas time and you're looking for presents or the perfect New Years outfit, look at the tag, research, and think about it. Is it really worth what you're paying for? Can you mix and match your favorite crop top, or re-wear that classy little black dress? How about swapping a piece with your friend?
Let's be honest, I can't afford a Stella McCartney shirt that has a life span of your grandmother's best kept winter coat. I am also guilty of this and yes, 'fast fashion' is an enormous beast. I have had to buy last minute dresses and only worn them once. Guilty.
We're all in this together, to share ideas and information and empower each other to make more sustainable and ethical decisions. If we all take steps forward a trifle do our part then we can collectively improve the lives of animals, people and our planet.
Ethical Fashion Academy