AN INTERVIEW: A GENEROUS PEACE

A Generous Peace is a new multimedia site that recently launched in partnership with People Tree. I spoke with the founder, Phil Reilly, about sustainable fashion and the future of the industry. The original post can be read here.

1. Shannon, thanks so much for allowing us to engage with you. Can you tell us what first started you on the journey of ethical and sustainable clothing?

It was definitely a gradual process for me. It started in 2008 when I was traveling and living overseas after I graduated from college. I saw cultures and people who lived with far less than I did, and I saw the effects that waste from the West had on developing countries.

 When I started my first company, {r}evolution apparel, I learned even more about the negative effects that the traditional fashion industry has on the planet. I started to buy only second-hand or ethically-made clothing and the more I became mindful of my purchasing decisions, the more I wanted to share it with others.

2. Since you first began your journey, what has been the toughest lesson you’ve learned?

In high school and college I was a bargain-bin shopaholic. I was notorious for going to Forever21 on a Friday after school, buying an outfit for that night, wearing it once, and never wearing it again.

Once my mind started to open up to the effects of my individual purchasing power, I had to teach myself a new way of feeling good — a way that didn’t require a new outfit or the latest trends in my closet. I gradually shifted from a place of fast-fashion obsession to a place of minimalism and inner self worth.

3. Many people understand the necessity to buying ethical and sustainable clothing, but often cite price as discouraging them. How do you respond to that?

The most sustainable and ethical clothing purchase you can make is buying second-hand. It keeps textiles out of the landfills and from being shipped overseas to markets for reselling. Value Village, Goodwill, Savers, Salvation Army and your local thrift shop sell clothing cheaper than you’ll get anywhere else.

4. As a whole, how do you sense the fashion industry is changing its attitude to ethical and sustainable clothing?

It depends what you mean by ‘fashion industry.’ Most of the local, indie designers get it. They are a part of the slow fashion movement and ironically, they’re the ones who hurt the most by keeping things small-batch and local.

The fast fashion industry can be seen promoting “conscious collections” and organic lines, but ultimately, those efforts don’t make up for a business model that is dependent on churning out cheap, disposable goods at an unsustainable rate. I have little hope for the H&Ms and Forever21’s of the world until their shareholders reevaluate their bottom lines. You simply can’t produce 550 million items of clothing per year and call yourself sustainable.

5.  Was the collapse of Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh last April a wake-up call to the industry and consumers alike?

It was a wakeup call to some. There are many consumers who will read the words ‘Rana Plaza’ and have no idea what it means. And then there are corporations like Gap, Children’s Place, and United Colors of Benetton who either haven’t agreed to sign safety agreements or haven’t paid the families of the victims what they are owed.

On the other hand, the Rana Plaza tragedy did prompt some consumers to start asking questions and demand more transparency. It has definitely started a global conversation.

6. What have been some of the positive changes in the industry you have seen since then?

I’ve seen more discussion of transparency and ethics in the mainstream press. And I’ve seen a community of people rallying together to say they won’t stand for these massive human rights violations anymore.

 7. Tell us about Fashion Revolution Day and your involvement there.

Fashion Revolution Day is on April 24, 2014 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse and the 1,100 lives lost. It’s a global movement to start asking consumers: “Who made your clothes?” On April 24th, we’re asking people to wear their clothing inside out for the sake of transparency. I’m one of the board members on the communications team.

8. What can we do as consumers to raise awareness?

Start talking about it. I can’t wait for the day when the conversation about clothing shifts from how cheap the price was to how great the story of the garment is. I cringe whenever I hear someone say, “It was only FIVE dollars!” We don’t even think about the person who made it and how little they had to have been paid for the price to be cheaper than a large latte.

 I encourage consumers to start thinking about their dollars as a vote. Whenever you purchase something, you’re saying, “Yes, I believe in this product. I support how it was made. And I want you to make more of it.” And before you buy it, think about where it will go when you’re done with it.

9. Can you tell us about some brands that you would encourage us to consider purchasing and why?

Some of the more sustainable and ethical big brands are PatagoniaEileen Fisher and People Tree. But more than brand names, I want to emphasize the importance of supporting the local designers, makers and small businesses in your community. Talk to them; ask them questions about where they get their materials and who makes what they sell. Start those conversations and see if they’re someone worth giving your dollars to.

Since you’re based in Vancouver, I’ll give a shout out to Nicole Bridger who is an amazing Canadian designer doing great things for the world of fashion.

10. In closing, where would you like to see the fashion industry to be in ten years from now?

In an ideal world, the concept of fast fashion would be obsolete. Textile jobs would re-shore back to local economies, instead of being outsourced, and we’d return to small-batch, high quality, durable clothing manufacturing. Closet sizes would shrink and consumers wouldn’t need ‘stuff’ to make them happy.