interview

Representation in Ethical Fashion: A Conversation with Tavie Meier

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

Ethical fashion has a racial representation problem. While we celebrate the women, predominantly women of color, who make our clothing once a year during Fashion Revolution - and maybe a couple more times around the Holidays - in almost all cases, we see white faces and white cultural expectations plastered across Instagram, in marketing campaigns, and in product photos. This dichotomy hurts people of color because it always establishes white people as saviors and people of color as mere beneficiaries of care.

The reality is far more complicated than that, which is why I reached out to several women in the ethical fashion space to ask difficult questions about representation. I'll be sharing a couple more interviews later on, but today I'd like to introduce you to Tavie Meier. Tavie and I have known each other for a couple of years, having worked together on collaborations when she owned an ethical fashion brand, MadeFAIR. I encourage you to read this interview with openness and understanding, then voice your thoughts in the comments.


StyleWise: You're a person of color working in an industry that is still fraught with a white savior complex. I think you've mentioned before that white people in this space are sometimes seemingly oblivious to the fact that your lived experience is not theirs. Can you elaborate on that dynamic and talk about the issues in the messaging and attitudes of the fair trade and ethical fashion movement?

Tavie Meier: I grew up in Littleton, Colorado and was often the token minority within my friend group. For example, I worked at a movie theater, and the staff dressed-up as James Bond characters for The World is Not Enough premiere. My manager assigned me Solitaire (Jane Seymour in yellow face). I've also been Princess Jasmine, Scary Spice, and as recently as last year, I was expected to be Missandei for a Game of Thrones party. (I wanted to be Margery Tyrell.) Costumes seem harmless, but it's illustrative of how we perceive "the other." I'm more white European than I am Chinese, Arab, or Black, yet I'm still considered “non-white” because of my skin color.

It's like a dripping faucet: the drips, themselves, aren't bad. They get more annoying as time goes on and soon you're fixing your faucet with a sledgehammer.

Fashion Revolution and #whomademyclothes is ethical fashion's dripping faucet.

It perpetuates the racial divide by showing predominately brown women as the benefactors of white women's money. It's a glamorized "White Man's Burden," believing - as a society - poor people require intervention and oversight. It strips them of their fundamental right to privacy.

Sure, sometimes US-based studios post photos of themselves for Fash Rev Week, but those instances are small businesses piggy-backing off Fash Rev's marketing reach. If I'm purchasing a piece from a small studio, I already know who the designer is.

SW: Can you speak more to your point on Fashion Revolution? Is there a way to participate without causing further harm?

TM: I worked on Dorsu's Fash Rev campaign this year, knowing the co-founders, Hanna and Kunthear, wanted to avoid the racial divide we see in the #imadeyourclothes photos that would inundate Instagram that week. The idea of the "How to be an everyday advocate" was a sort-of sequel to Hanna's past Fash Rev article on using the power you already have.  WhatFash Rev is missing is an actual call-to-action that will have measurable results beyond social media impressions, because the easiest way to get an Instagram like is to show your "generosity," and in ethical fashion's current climate, that is really just veiled racism.

SW: It is my theory that part of ethical fashion’s lack of inclusivity has to do not only with continuing white privilege, but with the fact that the fair trade movement as we think of it today was founded by white Evangelical Christians who, however inadvertently, adopted a colonialist mindset when working with artisans outside the US. This implicit/explicit framing attracts white people because we are less able to see the outlines of that problematic framework.

TM: Let me first acknowledge that I wouldn’t exist if not for Food for the Hungry, an Evangelical INGO that my dad worked for in 1980, when he met my mom in a Thai refugee camp for Khmer Rouge survivors.

Having said that, I have a well-documented dislike of charity for reasons that required a 2000-word guest post on the Note Passer.

I don’t think the act of charitable giving is bad – it’s charity structures that are cyclical and unproductive.

The reason I switched from charity to ethical fashion isn’t too different than a lot of ethical fashion founders who have rooted their mission in the New Testament. To be Christian means to be charitable, and, ultimately, they’re combining this fundamental aspect of who they are with capitalism – a cornerstone of the United States.

You know Christian-based brands because they use words like hope and peace in their names, and often quote Bible verses within a click of a landing page. Because charity imagery has historically been colonial (white spokesperson standing next to brown, malnourished person “in need”), some ethical brands may feel they need to use this to show their customers they, too, are “doing good” by making a purchase.

Using words like hope, peace, and [gag] redemption is even more problematic than colonial imagery. Many of these brands work with makers in majority Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist countries and create an association between these countries (and their majority religions) with the absence of hope and peace, in need of “redemption” by way of making purses “designed in Texas (or wherever).” I’ve seen some that make mention they work with Christian organizations, which then makes me wonder if they feel non-Christian or secular organizations are unworthy hope, peace, and redemption, which isn’t very Christian.

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

SW: Some brands say that they "have to use" conventionally attractive, white women for their marketing for things to sell. Do you think this is a legitimate claim? I know that in blogging, for instance, there is some truth to the idea that you'll be more successful if you fit certain stereotypes of attractiveness and behavior.

TM: There’s a marketing principle about how we buy things from people who look like us. It might give this claim some legitimacy, but that's about as much credit as I'm willing to give it.

Saying they "have to use conventionally attractive, white women" means one of two things:

  1. They’re only planning to sell to conventionally attractive, white women.

  2. They don’t mind selling to women of color, but they don’t want our faces and bodies representing their brands.

When ethical brands say they have to use conventionally attractive, white women, I assume they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re trying to emulate images of beauty they see in media, which indicates the types of media they choose to consume. If you’re only following white bloggers and reading news written by white journalists, then of course you’ll believe you need conventionally attractive, white women to sell products.

SW: I've been writing on ethical fashion for over 5 years now and in some ways I'm more discouraged than ever. It seems like the urge to sell-sell-sell has made people cut corners and lose some of the initial thoughtfulness I came here for. What do you think consumers should be paying attention to in order to cut through the marketing BS?

TM: The problem is brands sell what they believe people need or want, and therefore justify their unsavory methods by convincing themselves they're solving a problem or turn a blind eye for the sake of "financial autonomy for the most oppressed people in the world." Therefore, they’re acting in such a way they believe is in the best interests of their businesses. In fact, I bet some people would agree with everything I’ve said here and remain blissfully unaware they’re doing anything wrong.

As a consumer, I do a “selfie test.” I’ll go to a brand’s Instagram account and look for a couple of things:

  1. Tokenism in their editorial photos, meaning the same person of color shows up throughout the entire account.

  2. Are the people in the their “corporate” behind-the-scenes photos disproportionately white compared to the people in their “workshop” behind-the-scenes photos?

  3. Have they been tagged in loads of customer photos but only re-gram the ones of conventionally attractive, white women?

If I notice just one of these happening, then I take my money elsewhere.

I’d also like to make mention that minorities have always felt discouraged by all fashion because of cultural appropriation, sizing, or representation. There’s an equilibrium in ethical fashion, where middleclass (mostly white) women enter it as idealists then feel discouraged. On the other end of the spectrum, women of color enter it already cynical, but with the urge to make it better. For the idealists, being retweeted once will feel like failure, whereas the cynics will view one retweet as one human being listening and identifying to what they have to say.

SW: More and more, I think this movement has to become intersectional. Do you have any suggestions for how to incorporate broader social justice issues into the way we talk about and market ethical fashion?

TM: The best way to do it is to just….do it. As part of an elaborate research project for MadeFAIR (which I haven’t finished yet), I studied audience engagement of five major, ethical fashion brands to see how breaking news affects their Facebook posts. So far (this is ongoing), I found that across the board, audience engagement decreased by an average of 30% after Reuters reported on the GOP’s family separation policy. There was one exception: Eileen Fisher. The reason why theirs increased is because of this post:

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

There’s a chance they promoted this post, but then I went to Instagram and discovered the same announcement received about 5x the number of likes and comments as the posts before and after.

Now, Eileen Fisher received mixed reactions – some people were stoked about this, others were angry their favorite brand used their platform to take a political stance. As a shrewd marketer, I see a brand taking a massive marketing risk that will end up translating to increased sales because, as a consumer, I see “my money” (their profits) donated to a cause I like.

SW: You've been working in this industry for years, both as a business owner and marketer. Have you seen any progress in inclusion? Do you think certain components of the niche actually deter that progress?

TM: I see progress in established brands who, over time, have realized the importance of inclusion.

For example, Mata Traders has not only the most options for extended sizing but also a racially diverse group of models on their website. Tonle also has one of the most lifestyle-inclusive Instagram accounts (I’m 100% here for tattoos and pink hair), and it’s impossible to ignore Everlane actively embracing androgyny and showcasing bloggers from all walks of life – their website taught me the word “gamine.” Even Reformation – the poster child for coolness and leggy models – has started including plus-size women in their social media imagery. Lastly, I’d be remiss not to mention Soko, the first brand (that I noticed, anyway) whose models have always been representative of their jewelry’s cultural roots.

These are all hugely successful, US-based brands who embrace diversity rather than seeing it as a detriment to sales.

However, many new brands seem oblivious to these examples, and that lacking awareness and research is ethical fashion’s biggest hindrance.

Maybe they're using their friends to save money (big mistake - professional models are professional for a reason), or perhaps they've never had to consider how awful it feels to buy your brown child a white Barbie. I doubt they’ve consciously ignored the void of representation, but pair their ignorance and that desire to "do good" with the US’ systematic racism, and what we see is the internalized correlation of brown people with poverty, and white people with wealth and beauty.

Thank you, Tavie!

representation in ethical fashion stylewise-blog.com tavie meier interview

interview: introducing GoodWell, a new kind of ethical certification

GoodWell certification interview

If you've ever purchased something that was labeled "fair trade," you're already familiar with the idea of certifications. From GOTS to Fair Trade to Rainforest Certified, certification programs exist to ensure a minimum standard is met before companies can use that particular term to define their products. Not all "ethical" products are created equal, after all. Familiarizing yourself with the standards of any given certification can help you navigate your way to products you believe in.

GoodWell founder, Pete Gombert, likes the idea of certifications, but he felt that no current certification program embodied all of the qualities he - and fellow conscious consumers - looked for in an ethical company. A slew of certification programs not only confuses customers, it creates a financial burden for companies who must certify each component of their company through separate enterprises, stacking B-Corp on top of Fair Trade on top of organic cotton (GOTS) certifications. He and the GoodWell team are about to launch the first comprehensive ethical certification program on the market and, after reading this interview, I hope you'll be as excited about it as I am. 

Thanks to GoodWell for sponsoring this post.

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How did GoodWell get started? What inspired it?


About 6 years ago while I was the CEO of my third startup company, Balihoo, I was struggling to find purpose in my professional career. I have been fairly successful by conventional definitions, however, I found the work we were doing to be uninspiring and I needed more. I started looking into how I could leverage my position as the CEO of a technology company into something more purposeful and stumbled into the corporate social responsibility arena. The first book I read on the subject was Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chiounard, the Founder of Patagonia and it opened my eyes to the possibility of business as a force for good. Ever since that moment I have had a passion to solve the problem of the role of business in society. GoodWell is the manifestation of 6 years of research, conversations, interviews and thought on how we can slightly alter the existing system and produce massive systemic results.


What is the end goal of the GoodWell Certification program?


GoodWell’s mission is to create a world in which all businesses operate at a basic level of humanity. The GoodWell certification program will return a level of transparency to the market we haven’t seen for ages. In the past, consumers would hold companies accountable for bad behavior by not purchasing their products. Back in the day of Adam Smith, businesses were members of the community, they played a role and were expected to act with basic humanity. Today, we as consumers don’t have that level of visibility into the companies we buy from, they are simply too large and complex. Our only methods for determining if a company is worthy of our dollars are brand, price, quality and customer service. GoodWell’s simple, yet audacious mission is to change the world by giving consumers the information they need to support good, caring, conscious companies and avoid irresponsible, greedy, self-interested companies.

fair trade versus GoodWell certification

Is there a rating system? If a company reaches out and doesn't meet your minimum requirements, what happens?


GoodWell has developed a simple process to ensure companies act with basic humanity. It is a simple process with the possibility for unprecedented results:

  1. Companies join GoodWell and commit to the GoodWell Code of Conduct. 
  2. Companies measure 13 simple metrics each to demonstrate their adherence to the Code. 
  3. Every year as part of their financial audit, an independent third party verifies the company metrics.
  4. Companies display the GoodWell logo in order to provide consumers with the assurance they are buying from a good company.
If a company isn’t in compliance with all 13 metrics, they cannot become GoodWell certified. It’s a binary system that is intended to be simple, universal, and transparent, for all companies - of all sizes and in all industries. This is important because we are aiming to be the floor of corporate behavior. Our metrics should be simple for companies to achieve and as a result if a company can’t meet all metrics something in the business is wrong and should not be supported. We believe this type of transparency is critically needed in the free market today.

In the past, organizations like the Ethical Trading Initiative have been called our for having too broad a definition of what "ethical" means, resulting in labor abuses through the supply chains of some of their certified companies. How will your process differ from other broad certification programs?


GoodWell believes all companies should treat their customers, employees, communities, suppliers and the environment with decency and respect and operate in a sustainable manner. In order to achieve GoodWell certification a company must pass all 13 metrics, so one cannot become certified if it is stellar in one area but lacking in another. Further, the metrics and their collection method are required to be independently verified and audited by a third party on an annual basis.

In addition to the independent audit, GoodWell requires the company to certify their entire supply chain over a ten-year period. This is one of the most critical differences between GoodWell and other certification programs. This causes a cascading reaction all the way through the supply chain, to the very end, which is often in the parts of the world most susceptible to environmental and human rights abuses. This requirement makes it much more difficult for a company to clean up their own house and outsource their bad behavior.

For the purpose of certification, how do you define a living wage (in hourly wages)? If the federal minimum wage is raised to $15.00/hour, will this affect your certification standards in any way?


GoodWell requires companies to pay at least 90% of their full-time employees a living wage, defined as a wage high enough to keep a family of four above the poverty level. The poverty level will obviously vary by country of operation. In the US this would mean someone working full-time would need to be paid more than $12.12 per hour. If the legal minimum wage was raised above that level, then that requirement would be automatically met.

ethical certification introducing GoodWell

On your "How it Works" page, your section on suppliers says that companies must strive to GoodWell certify their supply chain. What does that mean in practical terms? If supply chains are not certified up front, what steps are taken to ensure that they are in the near future?


GoodWell has a strict requirement for certified companies to ensure their entire supply chain is GoodWell certified over the course of a 10-year period. A GoodWell company must exceed the following supply chain certification levels for each year after they sign the GoodWell Commitment:

Year 1 – 20%, Year 2 – 40%, Year 3 – 50%, Year 4 – 60%, Year 5 – 75%, Year 6 – 85%, Year 7 – 90% Year 8 – 95%, Year 9 – 98%, Year 10 – 100%

GoodWell serves as the clearinghouse for the certification standard and as such we control the calculation of the supply chain adherence. As part of the audit process the auditor will provide GoodWell with a list of all suppliers to a given company and GoodWell will then match those suppliers with our database and calculate the score to determine if the metric is met.

I'm intrigued by the idea of a universal standard - and I think it's a step in the right direction - but I worry that standards that are made too broad will result in a sort of greenwashing (or ethical-washing) of the industry and obscure the truly conscious choices. What steps are you taking to ensure this doesn't happen?


There are two keys to our program which ensure greenwashing is eliminated.

  1. Binary metrics. Because our metrics are a binary pass fail there are no grey areas or room for interpretation. Each metric must be passed in order to achieve certification.
  2. Independent Auditing. Given the lengths companies will go to promote good behavior and hide bad (look no further than Volkswagen) we believe independent certification is essential and as such it is a cornerstone of the process.

Additional Info: GoodWell is a for-profit Public Benefit Corporation with the specific goal of creating social benefit. There is a certification fee that varies based on the size of the company and companies with less than $500,000 in annual revenue are certified free of charge.

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Special thanks to Pete and Kallen for reaching out and answering all of my questions!

Interested in learning more about GoodWell? 

Check out their website


Become a founding member here.
Follow along on social media: Facebook // Twitter

interview: meet Helga Douglas of sustainable lingerie brand, Svala

svala sustainable loungewear and panties made in usa

Svala is an LA-based sustainable lingerie and loungewear company that makes delicate, feminine pieces out of surplus lace and sustainably-sourced bamboo viscose under ethical labor guidelines. I've been hunting for simple loungewear pieces to replace some of my older items and Svala fits the bill. I had the opportunity to ask founder and designer, Helga Douglas, about the inspiration behind her collection, as well as some nitty-gritty sourcing and sustainability questions. Thanks to Svala for sponsoring this post. 


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FIRSTLY, TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF!


My name is Helga and I am originally from Sydney but I have been living in LA for the past seven years. The name for Svala comes from Iceland where my mother is from. It is one of my favorite girls' names and means swallow (bird) which represents freedom and hope.


HOW DID SVALA GET STARTED?


I have always loved fashion. My first job out of high school was at the wholesale office for Versace in Sydney. I also love nature and the environment and as I learned more about the detrimental effects that the fashion industry can have, I started to research brands which were producing sustainably. I ended up writing about sustainable fashion for the Los Angeles Examiner a few years ago. Researching what other people were creating in the sustainable scene inspired me to create my own brand.


WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WORK DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU?


I usually get up pretty early and try to get to a yoga class before starting work. Then I begin dealing with what needs to be done for the day, including marketing and design.


WHAT STEPS DOES SVALA TAKE TO ENSURE THAT FACTORY EMPLOYEES ARE PAID A FAIR WAGE IN LIGHT OF RECENT CONCERNS ABOUT LA SWEATSHOPS?


During production we use established companies that have a good reputation and pay their workers fairly.


I LOVE THAT YOU USE SURPLUS LACE IN MANY OF YOUR PRODUCTS. HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA TO DO THAT?


When I first started designing lingerie and sleepwear, I tried using organic cotton lace but it didn't seem to keep its shape very well and was difficult to work with. I love lace and started searching for alternatives and ended up choosing to use factory surplus materials.

svala sustainable loungewear and panties made in usa

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ORGANIC COTTON AND VISCOSE TEXTILES SOURCING...


(...I know that bamboo viscose can be processed organically or chemically and that the latter poses potential environmental and health risks. Can you speak to that concern?)

Our supplier uses bamboo which is certified as organic by the Organic Crops Improvement Association (OCIA). The main chemical in processing the bamboo fiber into viscose is caustic soda or CS2, one of the most widely chemicals used in the world. This chemical is used in production of paper, soap making, food production and nearly all cotton fabrics including organic cotton (during the wet processing). It is approved for use on textiles under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).


HOW DO BAMBOO VISCOSE PROCESSING PLANTS ENSURE THAT NO CHEMICALS LEAK DURING THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS?


Our supplier states that the process is done in a hermetic container where 100% of the chemicals that are used are trapped and contained, not released into the factory, environment or atmosphere and 73% of CS2’s are recycled while 26% are recycled into Sulfuric Acid (H2S04). They do not claim that the whole process is “green” but they do strive to be as eco-friendly as possible.


WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGNS?


The colorful feel of Sydney and LA and the simplicity of Scandinavian design. I want everybody who wears Svala pieces to feel beautiful and cozy.


WHAT'S THE BEST SELLING ITEM OR SET IN YOUR CURRENT COLLECTION?


The Vivien lace lingerie set in beige floral and sky blue, which is my favorite set.

svala lace bralette set

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE IN TERMS OF EXPANDING THE LINE AND INCREASING SUSTAINABILITY?


I am always on the lookout for new fabrics and dyeing methods to expand the line and increase sustainability. I am currently looking for fabrics besides viscose from bamboo for the sleepwear range which are biodegradable and produced more sustainably.

WHAT'S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU LIKE TO GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE TRYING TO LIVE MORE SUSTAINABLY?


Every little bit counts!


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Svala Pieces range in price starting at $25.00. My favorites are the Vivien Lace Bra in Beige Floral ($65.00) and the Mari Sleep Shorts ($60.00).


Keep up with Svala on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest

Shop here:

svala logo

Tripty Project brings Bengali craftsmanship to the American market

Interview with Tripty Project

Tripty Project is a new slow fashion line produced in Dhaka, Bangladesh that specializes in jackets, backpacks, and kantha quilts. I had the chance to sit down for a phone conversation with founder, Luke Swanson, to learn more about the origin and mission behind the brand. I'm excited to share it with you now that their kickstarter has launched. Since I took notes during the phone call, I'll do my best to reconstruct our conversation.

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Why Bangladesh? Does it have anything to do with the Rana Plaza collapse?

No, actually. Luke had been involved in environmental justice work in the States for a few years before he decided to take 5 months off to visit a friend in Bangladesh. One night he met a woman in an expat bar in Dhaka. They got to talking and she suggested he apply for a position at an NGO that helped Bangladeshi citizens displaced by climate change. Though it didn't pay a great deal, he was excited about the work, so he took the job and stayed in Dhaka for the next couple years.  
Over time, he and a small team decided that they wanted to start a fashion label that highlighted both the skilled labor of the urban population in Dhaka and the artisanal textile traditions still practiced throughout Bangladesh. After Rana Plaza collapsed, the Tripty team worked with factories and organizations in Dhaka that employed survivors of the disaster, but the urban factories ultimately decided to pull out from high end, specialty crafts to pursue higher volume work for larger corporations. (Read more about the Rana Plaza tragedy here.)

Who makes your clothes?

Dhaka-based tailor, Dino, founded an NGO called Help for Poor People (or Friends of Poor People) with a mission to provide jobs and resources to people living in the slums of Dhaka. This is the main manufacturing facility for Tripty Project goods. Employees receive a living wage that is suitable to the local economy (he mentioned here as a side note that it's very important to pay people an appropriate wage, not just one that seems good, because inflated wages can lead to animosity from neighboring businesses and can wreak havoc on local economies). 
When hungry kids from outside the slums started arriving asking for food, Dino decided to find a way to feed them. This drew more and more kids to the area, so Dino and his team decided to start a school that now serves 300 students!
Tripty Project

Who makes your textiles?

There's an elaborate network of embroiderers, weavers, and textiles processers throughout Bangladesh and India.  
In western Bangladesh, survivors of sex trafficking embroider goods on their own time in their homes for extra income. In eastern Bangladesh, indigenous populations weave traditional textiles. Tripty works with them to create processes for better quality control and finishing.  
The team works with a textile mill in India to source their organic cotton and pineapple leaf fabric (used for their backpacks). The pineapple leaf textile was an original idea. Pineapple farmers in India had to pay to dispose of unwanted leaves; the Tripty team saw them piled high on a road side and decided to buy some off the farmer for a small fee and see if it could be processed down and used in their textiles. It worked! It's made of a blend of 20% organic cotton and 80% pineapple and is durable fabric for their backpack line. 

Why did you decide to brand Tripty Project as mid-range high end?

Through Luke's interaction with NGOs scattered throughout Bangladesh, he learned a lot about how aid affects its recipients. He noted that a lot of traditional rural handicrafts sent to the Western market were low end, quick projects, and that, often, the buyer saw their purchase as an act of charity rather than as an equal exchange. Artisans in this arrangement are made to feel like charity cases rather than the true artists they are.  
Tripty Project is committed to treating the artisans they work with as the artists they are. This means using higher end materials and creating better textiles. This means paying the artisans more than they're used to receiving from standard NGO projects. There's also the matter of differentiating Tripty Project as something new and different in the ethical fashion category. They're truly slow fashion, and that means things will take more time and more money, but that also makes for a better quality, longer lasting product.

How do you fend off a Western/White Savior Complex?

It's important to remember that Bengladeshis know what's best for themselves and for their country. Tripty Project was careful to partner with systems and organizations already in place. They work on a small scale with locals at the helm of each sewing facility and organization. Luke and his team bring translators with them when they visit 2-3 times per year so that they can communicate effectively.  
Luke and his team know that what they bring to the table is an ability to access a Western audience. Their role is not to fix Bangladesh; it's to broaden the marketplace for the artisan work being done in Bangladesh. It's impossible not to run up against weird power dynamics in an international economy; the key is to be self aware enough to re-calibrate as needed. 
Tripty made in Bangladesh

What do you think American consumers should know about the international garment industry?

Everyone feels helpless. 
Garment works feel helpless because they don't control their own destinies. US consumers feel helpless because they're skeptical that their choices will improve working conditions for garment workers. Brands feel helpless because making improvements that raise prices could turn off consumers. 
But the truth is that consumers have all the power. They're in charge. If they insist on better wages, better systems, and safer facilities, it can happen. (Side note: it's really terribly unfortunate that we, the consumers, and not the factory workers hold all the power; the goal, I think, is to give away that power to the rightful owners. That's when things get better.).

What is the significance of the name, Tripty?

Tripty is the Bengali/Hindi word for satisfaction and is a common girl's name in Bangladesh. It also happens to be the name of the manager of Tripty's stitching project. It felt like the perfect way to describe a brand that seeks to satisfy people's needs and consumers' wants while honoring a beloved employee.

What can we do to support Tripty Project?

Support their Kickstarter!
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The Tripty Project team is the real deal. They've got lots of good ideas and the know-how to put them into action. Thanks for your time, Luke!

*all images belong to Tripty Project. First photo: graphic added by me.

behind the scenes: Liz Alig Fair Trade

liz alig's studio

This post was written by Julia of Fair-For-All Guide. The original post is available on her blog, here. Thanks for letting me share it, Julia!

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In an old farmhouse at an orchard east of Indianapolis is a hidden fashion design studio you’d never know was there. It’s the headquarters of Liz Alig, and a couple of weeks ago founder Elizabeth Roney invited me to visit the studio.

I had never been behind the scenes of any kind of fashion business, let alone a fair trade fashion company, so I came with tons of questions and left with a head full of knowledge (along with a bunch of food I bought at the adjacent country store).

Here are the biggest things I learned:

1. A small team can have a big impact. 


The first thing I was impressed to learn was that Liz Alig is only a two-person operation. Elizabeth, as designer and operations manager, designs the collections and handles the logistics of communicating with the fair trade producers. Liz Alig is focused on wholesale distribution through boutiques around the country, so Elizabeth has a part-time sales and marketing associate help with that end of things.

It was encouraging to see a small team make such a big impact. Through the work of just two people, Liz Alig provides opportunity to fair trade producers in several developing countries and offers conscious consumers an ethical and fashion-forward clothing option.

2. Design is a small part of the process. 


Elizabeth told me that the design part of being a fashion designer actually only takes up a fraction of her time. Liz Alig releases two collections a year, fall and spring, and each collection takes about two weeks to design. It takes another two weeks to create the patterns the producers will use to make the orders.

After creating the patterns, Elizabeth will make a sample of each piece and send it to the producer group, or more often, she will send the group the pattern and have them make the sample themselves with a sketch to guide them. “That way they understand more how the piece is assembled,” Elizabeth says.

The rest of Elizabeth’s time is spent working with the producer groups to make and receive the orders, which I learned has its own set of unique challenges.

3. Cultural miscommunication is a common occurrence. 


Liz Alig works with producer groups in Cambodia, India, Honduras, Haiti and more, and each group has different capabilities and resources. I asked about the language barrier, and Elizabeth said she frequently uses Google Translate to communicate with the different groups...

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To read the rest, check out the original post at Fair-For-All Guide here

interview: Joy Martinello of Gaia Couture

sustainable fashion boutique

I'm so excited to introduce you to Joy Martinello, founder of Gaia Couture, a sustainable and ethical boutique for women. Joy has had a really interesting ethical journey and is chock full of information about the industry. 

The intersection of eco-friendly and fair trade isn't discussed enough - often they're two separate conversations - so it's rather timely that we're talking about it today with Earth Day and Fashion Revolution Day just a few days away. I hope you enjoy the interview and learn something new!


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First, tell me a bit about yourself.

I was born in outside Chicago, IL, moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida when I was 10 and grew up the rest of the way in the West Palm Beach area.
I have always been in love with clothing and costumes. I was a child actress and studied costume design in college at Tufts University in Boston which opened my mind to exploring both the creativity available to us in the world of fabrics and colors, as well sartorial philosophy and why people wear what they do. It was also in college that I became aware of the many degradations being visited upon our beautiful earth and upon workers via the garment industry. For many years it’s been a dream of mine to do something creative with my clothing skills that would help promote sustainable fashion...
I started Gaia Couture with the hope that we can keep growing and changing our inventory to reflect what women ages 25-60 are looking for in clothes that fit their lifestyle. We had our lovely [brick and mortar] shop for a year and a half and then it became clear that our online store was going to be the more sustainable version of our business so we closed the brick and mortar shop in January. My theory is if we can offer beautiful styles that become customer favorites and people turn more and more often to buying eco fashion, we can start to elevate the demand for organic clothing which will mean more sustainable bamboo forests and organic cotton fields, more factories where workers are treated fairly, and more opportunities to do business with integrity in a way that will create a more just and happy world for all.
As I’m working hard to get Gaia Couture off the ground (with some wonderful help from some amazing women), I also have a full time job in the adventure travel industry. I send people to Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands among other places. For that job I went to Kenya in November and it was unbelievable. We in the US don’t really have a context other than Disney for what it’s like to be the wild habitat of these animals. Standing 10 feet from lions or elephants or looking out across the vast plains at Mt. Kilimanjaro put me in powerful connection with the Earth and its extraordinary beauty—just a few more reasons to fight for cleaner clothing manufacturing.

Was there a particular moment or experience that made you consider how your consumer habits affected people and planet? 

I had been sheltered as a child, raised by parents who didn’t believe in global warming and didn’t see any problems with the use of harsh chemicals in our world. It was when I went to college and lived in a cooperative house in my sophomore year that I was finally confronted the with consequences of our many damaging choices as a culture. I finally realized how polluted our planet had become and how many people were suffering unnecessarily all over the world. From that time on I vowed to do what I could to make positive change. Everyone needs food, shelter and clothing (and art!) and I vowed to contribute to these needs in ways that support healing and well being for the planet and everyone.

gaia couture eco-friendly

What about sourcing? Do you manufacture your own line or buy from small brands? How do you ensure that products were produced ethically and sustainably? 

Gaia Couture is a retailer that carries other people’s lines. We have made the pledge that our clothes are at least 90% organic, leaving space for things like Lycra or Spandex as people like their clothes to stretch (they wouldn't fit well or wear well if they didn't). We choose designers who are involved in every aspect of their production and who guarantee having followed strict Fair Trade guidelines. These people know where their cotton comes from, where their bamboo comes from and they inspect their production facilities regularly for any abuses. 
We do carry some fabrics that don’t fit into the “certified organic” category yet that are sustainably made using closed loop systems that do not release any toxins into the environment (or negligible amounts). Modal® made from beech trees, Tencel® made from birch trees, and bamboo are such fabrics. Chemicals are required to break down these tough fibers into fabric; however, the manufacturers we work with have data showing that their systems are closed loops and not polluting. 
I’ve recently added prAna’s hemp/organic cotton yoga wear to our site. Hemp is grown in China without pesticides yet it comes from many sources and probably some polluting happens at different farms, as it is unregulated. Beaver Theodosakis and his people at PrAna have assured me that they know where this hemp came from and it has not been grown with any pesticides. 
At some level, it becomes a matter of trust. I personally know all the designers I buy clothes from and I know them to be ethical people who want positive change as much as I do. Yes, we have to make a living so we all have to sell clothes, but at the end of the day it’s right livelihood that matters to these people, that matters to me. I’m committed to living a true life that’s grounded in loving kindness, this means being kind to the Earth, kind to all the people who make the clothes, kind to all people who buy the clothes, and being kind to myself too. Kindness is the only thing that really matters.

Do you find it difficult to source items that are both eco-friendly and labor-friendly? In what ways do you see the eco and fair trade movements working together? How could they communicate more effectively? 

Actually, if a garment is made from organic fabrics, it’s fairly common to find out that this designer also adheres to Fair Trade practices with their manufacturing. Most designers willing to limit their fabric choices and design more expensive clothes using organic fabrics, rather than making a quick buck with fast fashion and synthetics, are also going to go the extra mile and make sure their garments are ethically produced. 
The opposite is more common, where we run across lovely garments that are made using Fair Trade standards yet that are made from synthetics and commercially produced cotton etc. These people have good intentions probably yet are not willing to sacrifice the use of cheaper fabrics to protect the environment. Hopefully they will come around. 
The economics are still not with us unfortunately, which is why if you believe in protecting the environment it’s very important to tell your friends and family about the use of pesticides and about the gigantic piles of synthetic clothing taking centuries to biodegrade in landfills. More people buying organic will bring the prices down. It’s happened with organic food. Now it simply must happen with fabrics.

sustainable fashion boutique

What's your favorite item from the current collection? 

Right now my favorite piece is the Convertible Dress. It’s a great example of a super versatile clothing piece that can be worn two different ways (both sides can be worn as the front.) The designer, Blue Canoe, knows people are paying more for an organic dress. Not only does an organic dress have to look sexy and stylish, as it does, it also has to offer better value than a synthetic dress you’d wear a few times and throw away. The Convertible Dress is well made, super soft and flatters many body types.

What are your goals for Gaia Couture in the coming years? 

My dream is to have Gaia Couture become an online department store for gorgeous women’s clothes for every event in a woman’s life. I want Gaia to become a lifestyle brand that offers fashions, accessories, lingerie, jewelry, shoes, active wear, yoga clothes—everything a woman needs to look fabulous and have luscious life, all in one place. I want Gaia to sell enough clothes that we can make a powerful impact in how clothes are manufactured all over the world. I want to support and encourage young designers by showcasing their clothes to a loyal Gaia following. I’m a designer, too, and I’d like to have a Gaia line someday too. 
In short, I want to give traditional retailers a run for their money and gather enough support for organic clothing that finally making clothes any other way, and indeed living life in any other way, is shown for what it really is: irresponsible and completely unnecessary. 
People want to do good. People want to make choices that help others and protect our beautiful Earth. In this complex world they just don’t know how to follow through with those choices. With the emerging success and visibility of Gaia Couture, I’m hoping women everywhere will have an online place where choosing to do good suddenly gets a lot easier (and more fashionable.)


And finally, since Earth Day is this Wednesday, what's your favorite park or natural landmark? 

There’s nothing quite like an old growth forest, and when I think about my love for the Earth, I think about the countless hours I've spent sitting by Salmon River in the Mt. Hood National Forest here in Oregon marveling at the exquisite beauty and lushness. Nature is enormously healing for me. It breaks my heart to think these forests may all disappear. It’s happening in the rainforests in Brazil and Peru, why not here in this rainforest? People felt about those forests the way I feel about this one and now they’re irrevocably gone. It’s unbelievable. 
We’re all connected, and people felt fine about cutting down those forests because people like us in the US felt fine about buying the burgers that come from the cows now grazing that on that denuded land. Where will it end? When will we finally make better choices to protect our glorious planet? 
I think, if people have to shop, which they do as they have to buy clothes, hopefully shopping at Gaia Couture will help.
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Thanks for your time, Joy! Stay tuned for a review of some Gaia Couture items.

interview: Jess Burt of rePURPOSE

interview: jess burt of repurpose

Today I'm interviewing Jess Burt of rePURPOSE. Jess and I got in touch after my guest post on Rachel Held Evans' blog and I'm so glad she reached out, because her company and its mission are awesome. rePURPOSE makes fabric accessories out of upcycled and domestically produced fabric with a mission to help trafficking survivors. Read on for more information.

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Tell me a bit about yourself. 


I am a creative, sarcastic, extremely social and super active person. I don't sleep much between raising my two girls, and owning a photography business and rePURPOSE. Last year, my husband and I renovated an old 1800s farmhouse in northern NY, one of the snowiest places in the country. I love dancing, thrifting, reading, tattoos, playing Catan, hunting and of course, Jesus. 

Was there a particular moment or event that prompted you to consider where your clothes and accessories came from? 


I read the book, "Passport through Darkness" by Kimberly Smith, founder of Make Way Partners. Which, by the way, is the most gut-wrenching and eye opening book I've ever read. It changed my life completely. The book mentions a woman from Sudan who made little handmade crosses. A visiting American Pastor brought the crosses back to his church and started selling them to raise money for the woman. This became her business and created sustainability for her. I had NO clue about fair trade until I tried getting online to find this woman's business. Instead of finding her specific business, I found an entire network of fair trade companies and organizations. I also discovered the horrors of how our products are typically made in other countries. I watched documentary after documentary on slave labor, then I read every article I could find on it. I took a quiz that same week about my slavery footprint (take the quiz here), and discovered that the number one culprit in my house was children's clothing! I decided I would stop buying new at all costs if it wasn't made in the USA or another country with fair wages. Obviously I have to make an exception once in a while, but I try my hardest not to. 

repurpose accessories slouch beanie
Upcycled sweater Slouch Beanie by rePURPOSE, worn with a Nomads tunic and secondhand jacket

Why rePURPOSE in particular? What gave you the idea to reuse t-shirts? 


I tried hosting events to raise money for organizations I was passionate about, until a friend said to me "If you had something to give people, they would spend more money" which is sad, but true. I wanted to create a small business to make a little money for these organizations. I am crafty and I love accessories, so I got on pinterest and found some great DIY ideas. 

The problem I had was finding craft supplies or fabric that weren't made in China. I didn't feel right using materials made from people in terrible conditions, to basically turn around and donate it back. It would be completely contradictory. Trafficking and poverty go hand in hand, so by supporting unfair labor, I would be supporting the trafficking industry. I chose to use old t-shirts instead, which meant when I shopped at the local mission thrift stores, my money would go back into the community. After a couple of months my little "side" business took off. We have continued to come up with new and better ideas, and now I have this full-blown business which is taking over my life! 

How are items produced? 


We have a tiny workspace at my mother-in-law's spa in Watertown, NY. I have a great group of about 20 women, some volunteers, some paid, who help me when I need it! We have shelves and shelves of used t-shirts, fabrics, lace, buttons, yarn, etc! We shop at thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets to find all of our materials. Some women make the products at home, while others join me in our little workshop. 

Because we are now getting into wholesale, we had to create a way to produce larger quantities of some of our styles, so we use a fabric company out of North Carolina to make our newer prints. Everything else we create is still from used materials. All of the web design and processing is done by me, and thankfully, I was able to hire a marketing director last year! 

repurpose accessories

Where do you see rePURPOSE headed over the next few years? What professional and ethical goals do you have for the brand? 


I would like to see rePURPOSE grow into a large enough company where we can profit hundreds of thousands of dollars to just give away! My other goal is to eventually have women in need get paid to create the products, whether they are rescued from trafficking or living in poverty. We are in the VERY beginning stages of this right now by reaching out to some of our international contacts. I would love for every single part of this business to make a difference in someone's life, from the production to the profits being donated. 

Anything else? 


Since another important part of rePURPOSE is to raise awareness, I encourage you to check out the organizations that we support. They are The Exodus Road and Make Way Partners.

repurpose accessories

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Visit rePURPOSE on facebook and instagram!

interview: Johanne Helger Lund of Ecouture

ecouture interviewecouture

Today I'm interviewing Johanne Helger Lund, creator and designer of Denmark-based sustainable clothing label, Ecouture. It's the first post in a three part series on the brand, so stay tuned for a personal style post and a giveaway early next week! Ecouture is looking to make a name for itself internationally and they offer reasonable shipping options to the States. Read on for more information on the brand and its mission.


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Tell me a bit about yourself. 

I am born and raised in Copenhagen, the capital of the Denmark. My mother is a famous Danish actress and political activist (http://helger.dk/) and my father is a musician. I worked in the Danish theatres and television shows as costume designer for many years of my youth. I then decided to get my degree as a designer which I partly got in Copenhagen and Barcelona. When [I] decided to start my own brand I had no doubt that I wanted to do it with respect for the environment and the people who make the clothes. 

When did you first become interested in ethical fashion? Was there a particular moment or did it happen over time? 

I have always been concerned with the environment. When I started my brand most ethical clothes out on [the] market was very boring and grey, so I wanted to contribute to the ethical fashion area with clothes that were more spectacular and colorful. There are so many fashion brands in the world and they all look the same. I would not make clothes if it wasn't for the ethical element, because the world has enough “normal” brands. 


ecouture by lund


Your clothes have a great theatrical, feminine quality. What draws you to this aesthetic? 

First of all my background as [a] costume designer. Secondly I think that there is a sad tendency in the fashion world to make clothes that are more and more androgynous. I make clothes for women, and I think it is possible to be feminine AND a powerful woman at the same time

How do you source fabrics for your clothes? How are they manufactured? 

Most of my clothes are GOTS certified. We use natural textile fibres like cotton, flax, hemp, silk and wool fibres, which can be grown eco-friendly and according to the rules of organic farming. These are textiles marked endorsed by organizations such as the Dutch Control Union (formerly BE), Swedish KRAV, and Swiss IMO. Our clothes are sewn in Poland in workshops that do not use child labour, and where workers have decent conditions and a good working environment in keeping with the local laws. Design, finishing, and selling takes place in Denmark. 

ecouture interview

What is your favorite item from the current collection? 

All of them :) 

Where do you see Ecouture headed in the next few years? 

We are very popular in Scandinavia, but I would like to expand to the rest of Europe and USA. My big dream is to be able to start my own production projects in India, and create a great and healthy environment for the people who grow cotton for example, and for mother earth.
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I appreciate Ecouture's original aesthetic, commitment to ethical production, and desire to improve and grow for the greater good over time. Thanks for the interview, Johanne! 

interview: shop ethica

shop ethica logo
I had the opportunity to interview one of the co-founders of fashion forward ethical fashion site, shopethica.com, this week. Known for discovering and promoting independent designers, Ethica has a unique aesthetic in the world of ethical retailers. Enjoy the interview and keep reading for a special discount!


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If you would, please briefly introduce yourself: name, favorite city, and a fun fact about yourself. 

Name: Melissa Cantor
Favorite City: Istanbul
Fun Fact: My husband and I have the same birthday – inevitably a conversation starter when we check in for a flight or have to show ID for some reason. 

shop ethica founder, melissa cantor

When did you become interested in ethical fashion? Was there a particular event or conversation that made you rethink your purchasing habits? 

I’ve been interested in sustainability for at least the past decade. That translated into progressively becoming a more proactive and responsible consumer, which in turn led me to pursue an interest in ethical and sustainable fashion about six or seven years ago. It was a gradual journey and a confluence of circumstances much more than a single event. 

How did Ethica begin? 

My sister and I followed a number of ethical and sustainable fashion brands that we felt transcended the "granola" look that was still the dominant stereotype a few years ago. There was no one place where we could shop all of these brands that we loved, so we created one. The idea of creating our boutique online was most appealing because it allowed us to use the shopping process to raise awareness about these issues within the fashion industry, and also to serve a national and international customer base. 

What are your ethical and aesthetic criteria for the shop? 

We have underlying criteria for labor conditions and sustainability for everything we sell, and then specific ethical categories under which we group our merchandise (sustainable, trade not aid, handcrafted, made in the usa, and vegan). Aesthetically, we look for pieces that are stylish, wearable, high-quality, comfortable and that won’t date–we look for “special” much more than anything trend-oriented. 

ethica

Shop Ethica items above here.

How would you describe the Ethica woman? 

What’s important to communicate is that she's a “real” woman with a conscientious bent–someone who is invested in issues larger than herself and tries to do her part, but who also has a life to live, and all of the demands that come with that. 

We've found that when people first learn about ethical fashion, it’s very appealing, but it can also be overwhelming. What sometimes happens is that they start thinking of it as an all-or-nothing lifestyle–like you’re either an ethical shopper or you’re not. Of course, the reality for all of us is much more nuanced than that, and I think it’s important to take it one step at a time and approach each choice individually. It’s actually one of the things that I admire most about our customers. They have busy lives that don’t revolve around ethical fashion the way mine does, and yet they have still made the time to "buy better" and harness their spending power in a positive way. 

You source from a lot of small scale designers, which is great. How do you discover them? 

Everywhere – referrals from other designers, trade shows, social media. We get approached a lot through our site or by showrooms, and we always have our eyes peeled when we travel. “Discovering” a new label is one of the most fun parts of what we do, and it’s also one of the biggest reasons that people visit Ethica. It can be challenging to work with designers that are only producing their first or second collection, but quite a few of our designers later get picked up by like-minded shops and the eco-fashion press, even the mainstream press when they do eco-fashion stories, and it’s very rewarding to see that happen and know we had a role in it. 

What are your long term goals for the shop? 

I hope we can continue to make people excited about ethical and sustainable fashion, and continue to serve this growing community in various ways. As this movement grows and takes shape, there’s also a need to come together and collectively define terms like ethical and sustainable fashion, as well as pursue some common, tangible goals, and I hope we'll be on the forefront of this. 

shop ethica items from ace and jig
Items from Ace & Jig


What are your thoughts on the current state of the fashion industry? Where do you see it headed over the next several years? 


From the industry side, there’s no question that the ethical and sustainable fashion space has exploded in the past 12-18 months, and there’s also been a big rise in awareness among consumers, especially here in the U.S. We've also been hearing increasingly from celebrities who want to promote sustainable designers, which I think has great potential to help spread the message. Even industry bodies like the CFDA are stepping up their sustainability initiatives. 

This sea change has been incredible to witness, but it still represents a tiny fraction of the industry as a whole. The big corporate retailers are really the crux of the problem (and thus, the key to the solution), and for now they’re mostly ignoring the issue or trying to greenwash over it. I happen to think that they will eventually have to change course because what the industry is doing now is simply not something that can be sustained on this planet, but the question is whether that change will take hold in 5, 10 or 20 years, and what the costs will be in the meantime. 

What are your favorite ethical brands? 

Laura Siegel, Atelier Delphine, Ace & Jig, Litke, Awaveawake, Bhava, Svilu, Pima Doll – there are so many! I could go on and on.
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Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Melissa!
shop ethica coupon code