Good Cloth specializes in ethical fashion—clothing, accessories, and home goods—that are designed with consideration for workers, the planet, and consumers. The shop curates products that are made with ethically-sourced materials and have a transparent supply chain. Style, workers’ rights, and the environment are the heart of Good Cloth. The company includes product journeys for each item, so that consumers can read how products are made, from beginning to end. How clothing is made shouldn’t be a mystery. Read about how creator Stephanie started her ethical fashion journey.
Tell us about yourself in brief, how you got involved in ethical and sustainable fashion?
The steps that lead me to dive headfirst into founding an ethical fashion business had been long in the making. All the signs pointed to an intersection that I just hadn’t yet discovered. By the time I launched Good Cloth, I had been writing about fashion and human rights, separately, for years. Before my ‘aha’ moment, they seemed entirely disparate loves. On one hand, I wrote about fashion and makeup. On the other I wrote about human rights. It wasn’t until I wrote Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight (it was published—courtesy of Columbia University Press—in 2013) that the intersection between the two became clear.
When I began to research human trafficking, I learned about factories’ operations and forced labor worldwide. As I found out more about human trafficking and exploitation in the fashion industry, it shaped and changed the way I shopped. An avid lover of fashion, I was shocked to learn how garment workers are treated and how many are forced to pay recruitment fees that put them in debt bondage. Lack of transparency and convoluted supply chains—where nominal onus is placed on companies—creates opportunity for unscrupulous people to step in and take advantage. Even the best-intentioned companies have a hard time with transparency when they have convoluted supply chains. That’s part of the reason why Good Cloth curates designers that work with small supply chains. The other reason is that we want to give a helping hand to companies that are doing tremendous work but don’t have ample funds and, thereby, need more support.
Even when debt bondage isn’t an issue, garment workers don’t earn a living wage in the nations where most of our clothing in the U.S. is made. Garment workers don’t earn enough to satisfy their basic needs, including, clothing. As consumers we expect a dress to cost $9.99, yet the person who made the dress doesn’t earn enough to buy clothes for themselves and their family.
All of this information weighed heavy on me during my research. I began to change my personal shopping patterns and conversed with friends and family about convoluted supply chains and lack of transparency across the fashion industry. As Project Runway’s Tim Gunn told me when I interviewed him for Huffington Post, “Designers and brands have a responsibility to provide transparency information to consumers,” Gunn said. “Otherwise, it’s just a lying deceptive shell game.” I wanted to support brands that ethically-sourced and gave transparency from seed to shelf. It wasn’t until I began speaking to readers that I realized all the research I had done for myself could be an excellent tool for those who want an easy way to shop responsibly, where the research and vetting has already been done for them.
I began doing presentations on my book and human trafficking in May 2013; it was less than a month after the Rana Plaza collapse and readers approached me on how they could shop ethically. Meaning, they wanted to make sure that what they purchased wasn’t tied to exploitative or dangerous conditions. What once seemed remote was no longer. They got it and so too did the media, at least momentarily. As consumers our memory is short and our patience shorter. We want instant gratification when it comes to purchasing, but the sustainable fashion movement is asking people to slow down and think about how to spend their money consciously. That requires ease. Meaning, people need to have easily accessible ways to shop responsibly.
These conversations—with friends, family and readers—showed me how powerful it is when people realize they can make a difference. Exploitation, human trafficking, poverty and marginalization are all words that invoke feelings of hopelessness. They also seem remote to people—problems happening elsewhere to people far away. That isn’t accurate, but in order to clarify this misunderstanding people have to be engaged and open to dialogue. Fashion is an ideal conduit. It’s light and fun, but when a person purchases a garment they like and it has an attached social good, it makes the person feel good—he/she walks away feeling that he/she is an active part of positive change. I founded Good Cloth, in part, because there is a stark difference in animation when a person talks about human trafficking generally versus what he/she can do as an individual to be part of the solution. I launched the store online, instead of at a brick and mortar location, because I want it to be accessible no matter where the customer is located.
Running the store satisfies me on multiple levels. Good Cloth is the perfect intersection between two of my loves—fashion and human rights—and it feels good to do good by creating an easy-to-access space for consumers to shop responsibly.
With ethical and sustainable fashion, what is its importance in theory?
When I hear the world sustainability, it is hard for me to compartmentalize into fashion alone. It is a way of living. When I think about sustainable, I think about life and how even in daily life, particularly in the US, there are so many ‘unsustainables’. I may have made up a new word. (Laugh) We live our lives in warp speed. Rush in the morning, rush during work to meet deadlines, rush off to whatever happens after the workday is done—in my world that is picking up the kids, homework time, bedtime, sleep and then doing it all again, in a hurry. I don’t think the constant rushing lifestyle is healthy or sustainable. There are so many moving parts that I haven’t figured out how to change it, but I make moderations where I can, slowing down where I can. That includes etching out time for relaxation with my kids and alone.
What’s also not sustainable is the marginalization of women worldwide. This is part of the reason founding Good Cloth was important to me. Human trafficking and exploitation is a serious problem in the fashion industry and the vast majority of garment workers worldwide are women and girls. That means the vast majority of people detrimented in the fashion industry are women and girls. That’s why Good Cloth solely includes designers that make products that ethically source materials and consider workers—by going above and beyond the bar set by labor laws—and the planet along the entire supply chain.
It’s also essential to me that Good Cloth is a space for women entrepreneurs. There is a significant gender gap in leadership positions in the US, due to explicit and implicit bias, and I want to do my part to support women leaders in business. I want to help improve and sustain women in leadership positions. So, as you can see, sustainability isn’t theory for me, it’s a mission.