I’ve loved fashion for as long as I can remember. I started sewing when I was 9; my mom got me a Vogue subscription just a couple years later. I’ve been cutting things up and sewing them back together for pretty much my whole life.
My first career was a costume jewelry designer. It was at a time when costume jewelry was still being made domestically in the US, and Providence, RI was still considered the Costume Jewelry Capital of The World. I was fortunate to work in factories where I could learn how the items I designed would be manufactured. I could walk down the hallway, greet people by name, and see them bringing my designs to life. I was so lucky in my career to work in factories where jewelry was actually being manufactured. I got to see how my designs were being produced and I got to know the people who made them. Seeing how things are made is such a powerful experience. A lot of designers (of all kinds) are robbed of that experience now.
As I was transitioning to another career, costume jewelry manufacturing was moving more and more overseas. At first, the quality of the imports seemed so inferior that I thought consumers would never accept them but the quality improved and the price was so low that it has become rare to find costume jewelry manufactured in the United States.
Here in New England, there are many empty factories that used to house textile, jewelry, and clothing manufacturers. Some have been turned into condos, apartments and gyms. Many sit empty, some are falling down. I miss being in a factory, seeing people make things with their hands, watching products come to life from drawings. Americans worry about immigrants who will come and take their jobs away, but I’d say we already gave so many jobs away when we decided that fast fashion was more important than quality.
Last year I watched the movie “The True Cost”. I saw the effects of fast fashion on the world and I wanted to opt out of that system. I had been following projects like The Uniform Project, Alabama Chanin, Sonya Phillip’s “100 Acts of Sewing” and I had read Sass Brown’s books but it never really hit me until I watched “The True Cost”. After I saw it, I would go shopping and I’d be wondering if kids were being poisoned by the factories making the clothing on the racks.
I listen to American Fashion Podcast a lot and there was an episode that got me thinking about all the different categories that fall under “sustainability” in fashion. I looked for a directory for sustainable/ethical fashion online and didn’t find anything really useful so I thought I’d try building one. Then I started tweeting to companies I liked and asking them to join. There are over 200 companies now. They select the categories themselves on the form when they apply.
There are a lot of different ways that companies can be responsible and everyone focusses on different things. I think every little bit helps, and no fashion is really “sustainable” I suppose. I try not to judge. For example, there are companies who use “Vegan Leather” but that’s usually a petroleum product, right? Versus companies who make things with veggie tanned leather but are still using animal products. At this stage, I think it’s important that people are thinking about it all and making positive steps even if they are baby steps.