An Interview with Emily DeLong of Margu

Founded in 2016, Margu is a womenswear line created and designed by Emily DeLong. Combining classic silhouettes with vintage-inspired details, her clothing strikes a balance between playful femininity and quiet sophistication. Fabrics, notions, and trims are sustainably sourced from all over the world, and every garment is designed, cut, and sewn in her tiny studio in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Emily Delong

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

My interest in ethical and sustainable fashion developed pretty slowly, over the course of several years. I’ve been interested in fashion and shopping for a long time, and I’ve always thought of clothes as a vehicle for self-expression. A few years ago, I realized I had amassed a lot of clothing, a lot of which I wasn’t wearing, and a lot of which was falling apart way too quickly.

Around this time, I picked up sewing again after a long hiatus, and I started sewing the clothing I wished I could find in stores: fun, well-fitting, not ridiculously trendy, and well-made. Sewing allowed me to connect with clothing in a way I hadn’t before, as I began to realize just how much of a hands-on labor and craft it is, both in regards to the clothes I was making and to all the clothes I had bought over the years.

At the same time, I began reading and learning more about all the environmental and human rights issues at the heart of the fashion industry, and I began buying less and less to the point where now I only buy things I truly need. By the time I decided to start my clothing line, I knew there was no other option than to make it as sustainable and ethical as possible.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

To provide alternative choices to conventional and fast fashion. The more ethical and sustainable brands there are out there, the easier it will be to find ethical and sustainable products, with the idea that hopefully someday the ethical and sustainable option is the only option.

Margu FW16 collection

What is Margu?

Margu is a womenswear line that was founded in 2016. We create clothing slowly and thoughtfully, combining classic silhouettes with vintage-inspired details. We hold perfect fit and self-expression dear to us. We pride ourselves in offering clothing sourced from sustainable fabrics and notions, with everything cut and sewn in the USA.

What inspired the title of the organization?

Margu is a nickname of mine. I felt kind of weird naming the label after my real name, but at the same time the label truly is my personal creative project, so naming it Margu was a happy compromise.

What are some of its feature products?

We make a variety of dresses, skirts, pants, and tops that are as wearable as they are beautiful. Fit, function, and the ability to style pieces in multiple ways are all important to me. I’m particularly fond of buttons, so you’ll find a lot of button-front dresses and tops in our collections!

What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?

We exclusively use natural fibers, such as cotton, linen, silk, and hemp, in our collections. We focus our sourcing on high-quality materials that minimize resource use and pollution and that decompose back into the earth as quickly as possible. Many of our fabrics are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified, such as our cotton double gauze lining fabric and our organic cotton twill.

I make a point of having several fabrics from each collection be handloom fabrics: spun and woven by hand in India, they utilize an age-old process that preserves traditional crafts, creates well-paying jobs in rural areas, and uses no electricity to produce.

Natural fabrics and all made in her studio.

Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Margu?

All our pieces are designed, cut, and sewn in our tiny studio in Arkansas, USA. The fabrics and notions we use are sourced from all around the world; most of our fabrics and fibers right now are ethically sourced from India.

Getting a better grasp on our supply chain and providing that information to our customers is one of my biggest priorities; in the near future we hope to be able to map the life cycle of all our products, from seed to garment.

Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?

Yes! Since we use exclusively natural fibers and almost-exclusively natural notions, our products are designed to return to the earth much more quickly than conventional garments. Our garments are also designed to last a lot longer than conventional garments, too, which results in less waste and fewer resources used in the long term.

What is your customer base – the demographics?

The Margu customer is a thoughtful, creative woman who uses clothing as a way to express her identity. She desires high-quality clothing and is interested in the story behind it. She sees the value in ethically produced garments and is always searching for ways to lessen her environmental footprint without compromising her style.

There are twelve styles in our upcoming FW16 collection, which means there are twelve paper patterns in our studio, each hand-drafted and graded and hanging on a little hook.

What topics most interest you?

My two biggest personal grievances with the fashion industry are the amount of overconsumption and needless spending on the consumer end and the race-to-the-bottom mentality in regards to price and quality on the retailer end. Buying less, buying better, and respecting the craft of those who make our clothing are all important to me.

There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?

Many of the biggest garment-factory tragedies have been real-eye openers to those unaware of the problems in the garment industry and have helped create real change. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire led to a lot of much-needed laws regulations that surely prevented future tragedies.

The Rana Plaza disaster has unfortunately not sparked as much change in factory oversight in Bangladesh or the murky subcontracting practices of some of the world’s biggest retailers as it should have, but the incident did open the eyes of a lot of people who had no idea that their clothes were (and still are) being made in such terrible environments.

There is still so much to be done to protect workers’ safety and rights around the world, however, and waiting for the next disaster to happen before we enact real change is unacceptable.

Child labor and slavery are problems, major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labor. A few million children in the case of child slavery. According to the Minimum Age Convention (1973), labor before the age of 14, 15, or 16, dependent upon the country, is child labor. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) represent the importance of children’s rights on the ‘international stage’ in Article 2(2), Article 3(1), and Article 3(2). In addition, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) in Article 24(1-3) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) in Article 10(3) delineate the importance of children’s rights too. These stipulations about equality remain violated in the fashion industry, especially the manufacturing sector or the garment industry. How can individuals get the word out about these extreme children’s rights violations?

Issues like child labor and slavery are so difficult to grasp in the Western world because we feel so disconnected with it. As consumers, it can be hard to comprehend that basically every product we see on the shelves of a store was made by a human.

I think the best way to shed light on the human rights crisis that is child labor is to continue to humanize our products and always remember (and remind others) that behind everything you own is a person and a story, however bad or good.

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations, women and children, in many countries of the world have better quality of life?

Be informed, ask questions, and lead by example.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

It’s great to be able to go to work every day and be a part of something bigger than myself. I alone cannot change the world, but I can help to create the changes in the fashion industry that I wish to see.

Thank you for your time, Emily.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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