There are things every single one of us can do to help alleviate the damage done by the traditional fashion industry. Here are the big four:

1. ) Buy local

At the most basic level, when you buy from a local designer or from a local boutique more money stays in the community. According to SustainableConnections.org, “Several studies have shown that when you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community.”

Not only are you investing in your own city, but you’re also reducing your individual environmental footprint, creating jobs, and putting your tax dollars to good use.

Putting that into dollars and cents, Businessweek reported “for every $100 spent at a locally owned store, $45 remains in the local economy, compared with about $13 per $100 spent at a big box store.”

2.) Buy “indie”

Support independent designers who are conscious of the production process all the way through. Many of these designers are mindful of where they source their fabric and are involved in the manufacturing from front to back. Some are even doing the sewing themselves in small independent sew shops or incubators.

The stories behind companies like Piece x Piece, Seamly and Manufacture NY are a refreshing glimpse into transparent clothing production.

thrift-shop-photo mombot3.) Buy used

Huge progress can be made by consumers purchasing second-hand. It is imperative that we start making use of the resources already available to us instead of buying new clothing.twitter-bird

Any remaining stigma against thrift shopping has gone out the window with the popularity of consignment chains like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, and the many local thrift shops popping up all over the world.

Second-hand clothing has even entered the tech scene with websites and apps such as Bib + Tuck, Twice, Poshmark and Nifty Thrifty, boasting beautiful user interfaces that encourage the purchase and reuse of someone else’s unwanted clothing.

Not only are the price tags competitive with the fast fashion giants, but many of the garments appear to be practically new. It’s a win-win for your wallet and for the planet.

4.) Buy less

Buying less is ultimately the solution that can change the world. (And no, it will not lead to an economic Armageddon.)

Considering the fact that society’s throwaway consumption habits are at an all-time high, there are ways to use our dollars more economically and efficiently than buying six H&M dresses for $9.99.

Instead, you can use that same $59.94 (6 x $9.99) to buy an ethically-produced dress from a local designer and wear it for years to come.

I’m not advocating to stop spending. I’m advocating to use your purchasing power in ways that go beyond wearing something once and throwing it away.twitter-bird

And if that’s all a piece of cake, here are a few secondary factors to keep in mind:

seamly-coLook at labels

It can’t be said enough. Do you know where your clothes came from? Who made the t-shirt on your back? Are you comfortable with the possibility that your jeans were made by a modern-day slave on the other side of the world?

Look at the labels on your clothes and ask questions. You can start here.

Wash cold & hang dry

In the United States, the average household does 300-400 loads of laundry per year. A whopping 1,000 loads of laundry are started every second of the day — that’s 13,000 gallons of water per household. Three-quarters of the carbon footprint from a load of laundry comes from drying.

And let’s not forget the amount of chemicals and phosphates that are used in laundry detergent and then leaked back into our water supply, depleting aquatic ecosystems.

To reduce your individual carbon footprint: always wash cold, hang to dry and use phosphate-free laundry detergent.

Have alternative solutions to add to this mix? Tweet me your thoughts at @factory45co.

Photos courtesy of Fashion Revolution Day and Chic Vegan.


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This is a guest post by Lara Neece, founder of Forest and Fin. You can read the original version here.

What happens when you love wearing skirts, love riding bikes, and like to make everything yourself? A Bicycle Wrap Skirt, of course – a skirt that's dressy enough for the office or going out with with friends, but with a few simple adjustments, is ready to hop on a bike and be on the move in minutes. I spent years biking in skirts, and years trying to find the perfect skirt that I could wear just about anywhere without a second thought. My husband can tell you that there have been many, many days in which I've made him wait, while I changed clothes, just so we could bike to lunch or dinner or to the park because I didn't want to worry about my skirt on the bike. The perfect skirt just didn't exist.

forestandfinskirt2Forest and Fin began back in 2009, when I first started screen-printing, moved onto a sailboat, and decided to become an artist. Back then, I didn't have a clue what I was doing (you could still argue that's true now! ), but I had the passion and desire to learn. In the beginning, I screenprinted my drawings of plants and animals onto tshirts, and you can still purchase them in my shop today. But Forest and Fin is undergoing an evolution. It's adapting and growing; my mission and goals are becoming clearer. I'm an artist and a designer, not just a screenprinter. My screenprinted designs and apparel were the starting point and a way for me to support myself while I developed my art and business, but now I am branching into new products that better embrace my mission, a mission to help people spend more time outside.

Over the past few years, in my search for blank items to print on, I ran into problems sourcing items that were both affordable and fit my aesthetic vision. In addition to being sustainable and earthy, I wanted my products to be functional, efficient (multi-use), and give back to the planet in some small way. I am focusing on a line of sustainably-made-in-the-USA everyday wear and household items, starting with a functional wrap skirt (the Bicycle Wrap Skirt) that includes bicycle friendly features and extra pockets. I am planning to dye the skirts blue or green and depending on the color will donate a small percentage of profits towards ocean (blue) or forest (green) conservation efforts.

forestandfinskirtWhile I'm still in the early phases of product development, I have a prototype that works (really!) and I plan to document the rest of the journey here. I hope that you'll join this discussion and weigh in on features of the design to help me streamline the perfect skirt. This is going to be a staple in my wardrobe (and maybe yours too!), so it needs to be durable, high quality, sustainable, classy, fun, and above all functional. I've put together a short survey with questions about design features, colors, pricing, etc. and would love for you (yes, you!) to weigh in on the design while I am still in the development stage. Your input will be essential in shaping the final outcome.

Take the Bicycle Wrap Skirt Design Survey here.

For more about Forest and Fin, check it out here.

(Photo credit: Forest and Fin)


Not too long ago, I received this comment on one of my posts: “I want to know more about what you know. I’m such a mindful consumer when it comes to food but have never thought about how my purchasing decisions with clothes, etc could be negatively impacting the change I so emotionally pursue.”

It inspired me to go back to the basics, realizing again how new the sustainable fashion movement is to most consumers. For those of you wondering why you should care about what’s in your closet, here are the big six:

1.) There are chemicals on your clothes. And they’re often carcinogenic. (Carcinogenic = cancer-causing). While the slow food movement is starting to catch on and consumers are becoming increasingly more conscious of what they eat, we don’t yet think of clothing in the same way.

Most of us haven’t caught on that the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde and flame-retardants on our clothes are also damaging to our health. Skin is our body’s largest organ and it instinctively absorbs whatever we put on it — clothing chemicals included.

(Next time you’re browsing through the racks at your favorite big box retailer, rub your finger tips together. You’ll notice a grimey film that has transferred off the clothing and onto you.)

2.) There are 27 to 30 million slaves in the world today. Yes, slaves.

Have you ever wondered how companies like Zara and Forever 21 can sell t-shirts for 5 dollars?

There are people in countries such as Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India who are forced to work against their will. Whether they’re picking cotton or tanning leather, they aren’t being paid to make your clothing. They are literally bound to a life of enslavement with very little hope of getting out.

Factory workers who are being paid are probably who you would think of as “sweatshop” workers and are most likely earning less than a living wage — that means they can’t afford to feed or shelter themselves, let alone their families. In 2012, a Swedish broadcaster reported that workers in Cambodia were being paid so little they had to borrow money for food.

3.) Big retailers are a big problem.

Our bargain shopping, big sale seeking, cheap consumer mentality is directly related to the people making our clothing. Because we expect to be able to buy a shirt for less than 20 bucks, retailers are forced to find ways to lower costs and compete in a highly-saturated market. This usually requires cutting corners in manufacturing overseas.

In November, H&M made a public statement saying it plans to deliver a “living wage” to more than 850,000 textile workers by 2018. While it sounds like a noble gesture, it raises the question of why the giant retailer wasn’t paying its workers fairly in the first place. In the past, H&M has been accused of promoting poverty pay, unsafe working environments and malnutrition.

H&M is not alone — Forever 21, Inditex (the parent company of Zara), GAP, JC Penney, and many more, are major players in human rights and labor issues around the world.

4.) Our old clothes (and disposable behavior) are ruining Africa’s economy.

Ready to drop off a big pile of donations at your local Goodwill? While the reselling of second-hand clothes is ethically sound, it’s the massive amounts of donations that cause a problem. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the like, receive more clothing donations than they could ever resell. So what happens to the excess?

According to an op-ed in The Business of Fashion, “The majority of donated clothing is sold to second-hand clothing merchants, who sort garments, then bundle them in bales for resale, usually outside the country in which the clothing was originally donated.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where one-third of all globally donated clothes are sold, the used clothing business is undermining Africa’s own textiles and manufacturing industry. Even more, “dumping” our unwanted clothing into countries on the other side of the world gives us an unrealistic sense of security that we can continue to consume and throw away at unsustainable rates.

5.) It takes decades for your clothing to decompose in a landfill.

The fast fashion industry has turned four regular seasons into 52 “microseasons” to push new trends and encourage rapid consumption. Retailers make it easy for shoppers to buy a cheap dress, wear it once, and never wear it again. We don’t think about where those clothes go after we’re done with them.

The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing per year. Nylon, rayon, polyester and other synthetic materials are essentially plastics that will most likely be around for far longer than you will. At the rate consumer waste is piling up, it doesn’t look good for the future of the planet.

6.) We’re not helpless.

Consumers have the purchasing power. We all have the ability to change the industry by choosing which companies deserve our dollars. It comes down to educating yourself and adjusting your lifestyle in a way that doesn’t require excessive consumption of disposable clothing.

Education can be as simple as following a few ethical fashion blogs on Facebook. You’ll learn something throughout the day just from reading the headlines. (A few of my favorites are: EcouterreEcoSalonMagnifeco & Ethical Fashion Forum.)

What more can you do? Read my follow-up post, 4 Things to Remember Every Time You Shop For Clothes on the Huffington Post.


fast fashion, truth, industry, hiding

The fast fashion industry gets a lot of flack these days. The excess, the overtly sexual advertising, the humanitarian issues, the waste, the lawsuits, the list goes on.

The industry giants have dedicated millions of dollars to massive PR campaigns, going so far as to launch “conscious collections” and donate proceeds to worthy causes. Yet despite these efforts, the truth remains — fashion is one of the dirtiest industries in the world. Here’s what they don’t want you to know:

1.) The fashion industry is designed to make you feel “out of trend” after one week.

Once upon a time, there were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Fast forward to 2014 and the fashion industry is churning out 52 “micro-seasons” per year. With new trends coming out every week, the goal of fast fashion is for consumers to buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible.

According to Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, fast-fashion merchandise is typically priced much lower than the competition, operating on a business model of low quality / high volume.

Cline points to the Spanish retailer Zara for pioneering the fast-fashion concept with new deliveries to its stores coming in twice per week. At the time of writing, she says H&M and Forever21 both get daily shipments of new styles, while Topshop introduces 400 styles a week on its website.

With designers creating new looks on a weekly basis, the fashion calendar for these companies is set up to deliberately make the customer feel off-trend after the first wear.

2.) “Discounts” aren’t really discounts.

The thriftiest fashionistas love the idea of going into an outlet store like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s and coming out with designer labels at a fraction of the price. Unfortunately, the “excess” or unsellable items we think we’re buying often have never seen a designer label before.

“Despite common belief, outlet clothing never enters a ‘regular’ store and is most likely produced in an entirely different factory than the ‘regular’ clothing,” writes Jay Hallstein in “The Myth of the Maxxinista.”

The reality is that outlets broker deals with designers so they can put designer labels on the cheaply made clothing manufactured in their own low-quality factories.

An article featured on Jezebel confirms: “The jig is up: Big brands like J. Crew, Gap and Saks’ Off 5th aren't selling you discounted or out of season merchandise at their outlet locations. You’re just buying lower quality cardigans and patterned pants.”

3.) There is lead and hazardous chemicals on your clothing.

According to the Center for Environmental Health, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, Forever21 and other popular fast-fashion chains are still selling lead-contaminated purses, belts, and shoes above the legal amount, years after signing a settlement agreeing to limit the use of heavy metals in their products.

An article in The New York Times says the Center for Environmental Health is focusing on reducing the lead content in products marketed to young women because lead accumulation in bones can be released during pregnancy, potentially harming both mother and fetus.

Lead exposure has also been linked to higher rates of infertility in women and increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. Many scientists agree there is no “safe” level of lead exposure for anyone.

The lead contamination is all in addition to the pesticides, insecticides, formaldehyde, flame-retardants and other known carcinogens that reside on the clothes we wear.

4.) Clothing is designed to fall apart.

Fast fashion giants, such as H&M, Zara and Forever21, are concerned with the bottom line and the bottom line alone. Their business models are dependent on the consumers’ desire for new clothing to wear — which is instinctive if the clothing falls apart in one wash.

“A store like H&M produces hundreds of millions of garments per year,” author Elizabeth Cline says on NPR. “They put a small markup on the clothes and earn their profit out of selling an ocean of clothing.”

So why should we care? Because the average American throws away over 68 pounds of textiles per year. We’re not talking about clothing being donated to charity shops or sold to consignment stores, that 68 pounds of clothing is going directly into landfills. Because most of our clothing today is made with synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, it will take decades for these garments to decompose.

“You see some products and it's just garbage. It's just crap,” says Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons The New School for Design, on NPR. “And you sort of fold it up and you think, yeah, you're going to wear it Saturday night to your party — and then it's literally going to fall apart.”

5.) Beading and sequins are an indication of child labor.

Industry estimates suggest that 20 to 60 percent of garment production is sewn at home by informal workers, according author Lucy Siegle in her book, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

While there are machines that can apply sequins and beading that look like handiwork, they are very expensive and must be purchased by the garment factory. According to Siegle, it’s highly unlikely that an overseas factory would invest in the equipment, particularly if the clothing being made is for a value-driven fast-fashion label.

Carrying out her own investigation, Siegle learned that millions of desperate home-workers are hidden in some of the poorest regions of the world, “hunched over, stitching and embroidering the contents of the global wardrobe … in slums where a whole family can live in a single room.”

Often with the help of their children, the home workers sew as fast as they can and for as long as daylight allows to embellish and bedazzle the clothes that end up in our closets. Siegle goes on to say, “They live hand to mouth, presided over by middlemen, tyrannical go-betweens who hand over some of the lowest wages in the garment industry.”

So how can you become a more conscious consumer? It starts by educating yourself, buying local, buying less, buying used, and buying from independent designers. You can start by joining a growing movement of fashion changemakers here.

Originally published as a guest post on the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator blog.

[Photo credit: www.theretailnews.fr]

 


Lara Neece is the artist and founder behind Forest and Fin, a line of apparel that is hand-drawn and screen-printed by Lara herself. She uses eco-friendly, water-based inks, sustainable packaging and natural materials, using the environment as a consistent source of inspiration.

Through Factory45, we're working to grow her Etsy sales, launch her own e-commerce site, and debut a biking-friendly wrap skirt that is currently in sample development.

Because the quality of her work can't efficiently be explained in words, I want to introduce her to the Factory45 community through her photos. Enjoy.

forest-and-fin forest-and-fin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lara and her husband were recently married on the island of Tortola. They live in Savannah, GA where they're refurbishing a sailboat. Lara carved one of her designs into the deck of the boat.

forest-and-fin forest-and-fin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lara screenprints her hand-drawn designs onto t-shirts in her studio. She is also an active part of the maker movement in Savannah's cooperatives and artisan scene.

forest-and-fin forest-and-fin

 

forest-and-fin forest-and-fin

 

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Lara is an artist and creative to the core, and she experiments with mixed media when she isn't working on her apparel company. Keep an eye out for her sustainably-made wrap skirt coming soon… In the meantime, you can show Lara some love on Facebook and Instagram.


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This a guest post by Angela Tsai, Factory45'er and co-founder of Mamachic.

There's a lot that changes when you have a baby.

I curse less — at least out loud. I eat better. I scrutinize labels. I forego makeup. I'm alternately more patient with kids, but less patient with other adults. I'm more assertive. I take deeper breaths. I wear yoga pants even when I'm not doing yoga. I ask for help more. I'm grateful for the little things. I've become environmentally-conscious.

Upon having a baby, I suppose I became a grown-up.

Angela-1 jpeg

I'm not gonna lie. I often miss the “old” me, or at least parts of me, when I used to have the energy and motivation to be social, dress up and want to look my best. I love being a mom, but I do I miss that confidence that I once had in my pre-baby body.

I once felt I could be amazing, each and every day.

So, mix all of these changes that motherhood brings, with traveling full-time with your kids? When you have to pack and unpack all of your family's worldly possessions every month from a minivan, you realize real quick what it is you want versus what it is you need. Two years ago, when my son Max and I joined my husband Mike on the North American tour of The Lion King, we learned what really constitutes “worldly possessions.” (Here is a photo of Mike in full stage-makeup as “Scar” when I went into labor during a show.)

IMG_2619

As a former TV host and broadcaster, I used to have a revolving rack of clothes to choose from; now, my day-to-day wardrobe has been winnowed down to anything that can be versatile and durable — oh, and nursing friendly. We discovered with Baby Max that we were in need a foolproof burp cloth that could protect our clothes from spit-up and drool. Max was a vomiter, and we were getting tired of changing our shirts what seemed like every hour. Most burp cloths are literally glorified dish towels, and they'd constantly slip off our shoulders or soak through.

Angela Tsai

Neither Mike nor I have any experience with garment design, so we sat down with some plain muslin and went to town. What sort of garment shape would not slip off easily and provide enough coverage, while perhaps also doubling as a sort of accessory so we didn't have to pull it out of a bag or hunt around for it? What if it was something we were already wearing, even if we weren't physically holding our baby?

So three years ago, we formed our company Too Cool For Drool, and the “Mamachic” was born — or as we initially called it, “The Barf Scarf.”  In a nutshell, it's a scarf with a neck slit. It allows you to wear the fabric without it slipping off, and covers your shoulders and upper arms, the big baby “splash zone.”

tech_drawings_mamachic

It's taken some time for our product to get made. Our design is constantly evolving, and with our nonstop traveling and parenting, our business has been a part-time effort at best. On top of it all, I just had another baby a year ago, and Eva's not a vomiter like Max. In fact, with her, what I've needed is more of a nursing cover, so we're playing around with scarf shapes so it can be used easily as such.

I'm hoping the Mamachic can accomplish three things:

1.) Streamline motherhood. Make the task of caring for my baby convenient and seamless with feeling and looking good.

2.) Lighten my travel load and only own items that can accomplish multiple tasks. The Mamachic could be an all-in-one burp cloth / nursing scarf / blanket.

3.) Be made with sustainable materials. If I can be good to the environment so that my kiddos won't have to someday wear hazmat suits out in public, isn't that the proverbial organic icing on the gluten-free cake?

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Through Factory45, we're headed down an educational and supportive road to get our product made. It's daunting and exciting to put real wheels in motion. We're working on an updated sample using deadstock bamboo and organic cotton, and putting numbers together to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the new year to fund our first production-run.

Beautiful. Versatile. Durable. Good to the earth. Confidence-inspiring. I'm talkin' about both the Mamachic and you mamas out there. We are amazing. We deserve to feel it, each and every day.

You can follow Angela and her family on the road here. To stay up-to-date about the launch of the Mamachic, sign up here.


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