When you wake up in the morning, stand before your closet and begin the debate of what to wear, what do you think about? The weather? Your list of meetings for the day? How to style a look that will complement the Burgundy velvet shoes you just bought? Here's a question:
How many times have you consciously thought about where your clothes come from?
I recently took on a few new projects, one of which includes helping my sweet friend Tessa Clark with her emerging brand, Grind and Glaze, a womenswear brand that blends luxury with conscious consumerism. Over coffee dates and creative brainstorm sessions, my conversations with Tessa really sparked my interest in the topic of sustainable + ethical fashion.
To jump ships a bit, I connected with Madi Reimer through Instagram about a year and a half ago. I was reading Tapestry Magazine, noticed her work in the publication, and began to girl crush over her curation of clothes, her impeccable style and her display of supporting fashion labels that don't hang in the mainstream. I have always looked up to Madi as I find her so admirable. I love that she chooses to support brands that embody purpose as opposed to supporting brands that showcase a reasonable price tag. Through following Madi's posts and her IG stories, I began to see the disconnect between conscious consumerism and fast fashion. Because I've been so moved and inspired by Madi, I wanted to give you all a glimpse of her wisdom, so that you might also develop an understanding of how fast fashion is impacting the world around us.
VV: Madi, since I started following you on Instagram awhile back, I’ve always swooned over your fashion sense. What words would you use to describe your style? How do you go about curating a closet where every piece feels like you?
MR: I would say my style is me. Whatever I am feeling that day, I put on. Sure, I am really drawn to trends but in my own daily, personal style I will wear what I love! If I don’t love something, or it’s tied to a bad memory, or even if it doesn’t feel like me anymore, I won’t wear it. I have been on a journey of sifting through everything in my closet making sure that I will wear it all. Sometimes that means I don’t wear something for a year but that’s okay because I still love it and know at some point I will wear it. :)
VV: Your Instagram features some of your modeling work — stunning photos that appear to combine an effortless cool girl feel with a simple, subtle whimsical vibe. As a model, where do you perceive the disconnect is between mainstream fast-fashion retailers and the demand for sustainable fashion?
MR: Oh, I love that you feel my whimsy vibe! Ah! I love that. Whimsy is my word and everything to me. It feels like people are finally learning more about ethical/sustainable fashion and want that, but it’s hard to afford in society today. In reality, it’s a mindset that needs to be changed — that we don’t need as much as we think we need. The consumption and need for more, more, more makes fast fashion an affordable way to live. When you shift your mind to being okay with less, then you’re able to afford that $200 pair of ethically made pants, rather than buying 4-5 different pants from H&M that will only last a year. I feel like in the future as we speak out and take more steps in this direction, brands will better understand the trouble with their ethical/sustainable practices. However, there will always be people who really can only afford those H&M pants because they’re in a different place in life, and I understand that. So to that I say, still train your mindset to be better with less. The less we feed the unethical machine, the better we’re doing for the world.
VV: What aspect of sustainable first sparked your interest in the topic?
MR: To begin, sustainable fashion and ethical fashion are different things.
Ethical fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/w/what-is-ethical-fashion/).
Sustainable fashion is producing clothes, shoes and accessories in environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manners, but also about more sustainable patterns of consumption and use, which necessitate shifts in individual attitudes and behaviour (http://www.greenstrategy.se/sustainable-fashion/what-is-sustainable-fashion/).
I believe the two go hand in hand because there’s a symbiotic relationship between the earth and the people. Treat the people right, and thus the land is treated better and vis versa.
I became interested in ethical/sustainable fashion about a year ago. A friend of mine, who worked at Anthropologie, said they literally throw away the old clothes they don’t sell. That really sparked confusion in my heart, and I thought, "Hmmm, why would I support that then?” I started getting more interested in where my clothes were made, who was making them, the quality of the conditions for the garment workers, etc. There was an article released that children were sewing “Help me” into the seams of Zara clothing… so that really shook me as well. The topic of sustainable fashion followed suit once I started caring about the people. A friend of mine here in Minnesota so deeply inspired me to look at the world in a more sustainable way… Ben Rosenbush spoke at an event over the summer about Creation Care and stated, “We’re living in an ecological crisis in which human activity is creating new norms for creation. Our greed is undoing creation. Economies are destroying our environment. Our desire for greed is not only hurting creation itself, but hurting our brothers and sisters. The poorest among us are being affected by our lack of care of the earth. This is Environmental Racism.”
"It’s not just happening in other parts of the globe, but here in our city. The HERC (garbage incinerator in North Minneapolis) is being accused of Environmental Racism. All the Hennepin county garbage is incinerated there. It introduces air pollutants into the air of our brothers and sisters in North Minneapolis. This Predominantly African-American neighborhood is breathing air polluted from the trash predominantly from the white suburban neighborhoods. One result of this is increased asthma hospitalizations. According to research done by the Minnesota Public Research Interests group, The average asthma hospitalization rate in the US is 17 per 10,000. The residents of North Minneapolis are reported up to 200 in every 10,000. There would be 7,000 less deaths every year from our African American community, if they breathed the same air as their white counterparts.”
This broke me.
Fast Fashion is a huge part of this problem. "Only 0.1 percent of all clothing collected by charities and take-back programs is recycled into new textile fiber." According to H&M’s development sustainability manager, Henrik Lampa. When we don’t want our clothes anymore we try to sell them, bring them to Goodwill, and then eventually throw them away (and Goodwill eventually throws away a lot of clothes too, just so you’re aware). 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the United States in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator (source: http://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/09/old-clothes-fashion-waste-crisis-494824.html).”
I don’t want to be a part of that. There’s this incredible brand Ace and Jig that works really hard to reuse their scraps, partner with artists for them to use, and they even donate them to non-profits for educational purposes. But how can I make a difference? Buy less, spend more, and spend it where it matters.
VV: The True Cost is a Netflix documentary that has sparked a new wave of awareness that brings the sacrifices of fast fashion to the fore front. What are the most prevalent issues about the process of producing and manufacturing clothing that so many people still don’t know?
MR: WOW, that documentary BLEW MY MIND. I have seen documentaries on fast fashion and the effect of it, but I had no idea how horrible the effect has been on our environment, and the state of people’s LIVES. The toxins leaked into the water in some countries literally mutate our friends in those communities. If something is not sustainably and ethically produced, someone is getting hurt, be it humans or the environment.
VV: As you’ve been educating yourself about this more and more, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned that has surprised you?
MR: How there is no end. I’ll explain — I love supporting local artisans and makers, but if people are supporting designers who partner with overseas producers in an ethical way, I LOVE THAT because we are helping other people across the pond make a living. However, some would suggest that flying those clothes overseas to America cause pollution from the fuel of flying. Well, then I guess I’ll never fly in an airplane then because it's polluting the earth, but then how else would you travel? By car? Well, bad move there again. Are we all supposed to live in a field and ride bikes everywhere? Lol. It can get overwhelming to take care of the planet, and each other, but being aware of the problem and making baby steps are all that matter. If everyone helps out a little bit and knows what the problems are, there’s no reason to fear, just keep going through life day by day and doing what you can!
VV: What do you think the future holds for sustainable fashion in the industry as a whole?
MR: I think these companies know what’s going on. I recently had a company reach out to me to do a collaboration for Instagram. I immediately replied asking about their ethics and sustainable values, and she sent back an email of all the documents and facts of sustainability of the brand. I thought that was awesome. Even though they were lacking ethics in some areas, they still are AWARE and want to make a difference where they can. So, I support that. Not everyone is going to be perfect right away, or ever, really.
VV: What are some of your go-to sustainable/ethical clothing brands?
MR: Oh man. Ace and Jig, Kotn, Dallas Daws, Hackwith Design, Winsome Goods, Nisolo, Tribe Alive, Signe, Lauren Winter. Look them up and see how they produce their clothing — it’s so cool, amazing, and inspiring. Grana and Reformation are also trendy brands that aren’t as expensive but still are quality/ethically made.
VV: While learning more about eco-friendly retailers, how have you found brands that fit with your style but are also sustainably manufactured?
MR: Essentially we all want to be wearing quality clothing and are aware that Forever21 makes crap quality clothes, right? Well, I was on the search for simply QUALITY clothing and that just became my style. I thrift a lot… like A LOT. And that has always been a part of my style. When I buy something from anywhere I want it to be quality and classic. I think to myself before buying anything, “What is the longevity of this product? What is the quality? Is this ethically made? Is this something I will wear in ten years?” Who knows if I actually will have something for ten years, but here’s to trying! Haha.
VV: For me personally, I’ve found that a lot of the eco-conscious brands that carry pieces that complement my personal style are at a much higher price point than some of the pieces I buy from places like Zara or Urban. I see the value in spending more, but don’t know where to start without breaking the bank. Any advice to other consumers who want to invest in sustainable brands but also want stick to a budget?
MR: Yes. This is a mindset switch. Start with stopping the impulsive shopping. Save up and wait until you know you really want something, even if it’s from Zara or H&M. You can start by only buying a few things a YEAR from those stores. Then, save up for the good brands. There’s no need to jump on every trend at Zara or Urban and have a substantial amount of clothing in your closet that you’ll just wear for a season, and eventually throw away or donate. That’s the problem in the first place. Our greed and longing for more, more, more. And when brands are trendy and affordable, they WANT you to spend more at their stores and have a mindset of always consuming. So take your thought process for buying ethically and apply it to wherever you shop now. If you want quality (as in quality made, and ethically/sustainably made) clothing, you’ll automatically start shifting your mindset because you’ll see so much more value in those items than the 6 things you almost bought from H&M. To put it simply, buy less, spend more, and spend it where it matters.