Sustainable fashion is the answer to an idustry of child labor, unfair wages, environmental deterioration, and an overall lack of human rights. It is the practice of renouncing things like fast fashion and single use plastic in favour of more sustainable, eco-conscious, and healthier choices. Emmanuel College student, Liz Duvall is currently immersed in the world of sustainable fashion, and is diving deep into research on how to give our world a little more longevity.
How did you get into what you’re doing?
When I studied abroad in London, I went to an exhibit at the BNA on sustainable fashion and it had been something I had known about. My concentration in my major is sustainability and global justice, sos I’ve been into sustainability in household products. I follow Emma Watson on Instagram, and when I saw that she was promoting it, so I went to it, and it changed my perspective on sustainable fashion. When I came back to Boston, I looked up internship opportunities in sustainable fashion and that’s how I started working for Ash & Rose. There’s two aspects of what makes sustainable fashion what it is: one is fair wage. That’s making sure that there’s no worker exploitation in the supply chain and that workers are being paid a fair wage. The second is eco-friendly material use, which is biodegradable materials like organic cotton, hensel, there are a lot of natural, organic fabrics that are better for the environment. Upcycling is when you take, for example, a vintage fabric and make it into something new, rather than recycling which is breaking down the chemical compounds of a material.
Are there any specific examples of companies that don’t regulate their manufacturing processes?
Right now, I’m doing my senior dissertation on sustainable fashion, and it’s interesting to see how these large corporations can charge so much for products that aren’t fair wage or eco-friendly. The United Kingdom’s Parliament just released a study, one of the first to do so, that revealed brands like Boo-Hoo, Primark, Penny’s, H&M (who recently had a factory in Bangladesh collapse), and many more large retail corporations have extremely poor working conditions and supply chains. The products themselves are often made of fabrics like Polyester and Rayon, which contain plastic and require a lengthy chemical process to create.
Denim requires a significant amount of water throughout its creation, and the dyes used to color it are often released into the waterways which has a negative impact on the environment and local communities around it. That’s why it’s important to read labels and research where pieces are coming from. Just because the label says it’s been manufactured in the US doesn’t necessarily mean that it has. It could be made from fabrics woven elsewhere, and while it isn’t a bad thing to source from overseas, but often outsourced products aren’t ethically regulated. Here at Ash & Rose, we source from a lot of smaller independent companies, most of which are overseas, but a lot of our stock is made in-store from upcycled bulk vintage fabrics. We sell from places in South America and India. There’s a really cool brand called Tonle, and when I spoke with the CEO, I learned that she’s based in Cambodia and all of her products are made from the remnants of very high-end, luxury brands that discard unused fabric in Cambodia. She collects them and makes them into something new. Tonle hires at-risk women and pay them fair wages, so every woman signs the clothes she creates individually, which is really cool. However, larger companies will often purposely make it very difficult to find where they’re sourcing material from by having extremely complex supply chains because they don’t want anyone to know where their products come from.
In your research, have you found that it’s difficult to locate where the supply chains of these companies begin?
Yes, it’s very complicated. I recently found out that when a label states where it is made, Vietnam for example, is only where the final product is assembled. Similarly to, say, an iPhone, different countries will assemble each piece of a phone and bring them together in one country to create the finished product. The fashion industry does the same thing. I think what needs to happen to combat this is just more research into shining a light on the supply chains of companies and where things are coming from.
Is there a company that is pioneering this change at the moment?
As I mentioned before, Tonle is a great company. In the UK there’s a brand called People Tree that creates clothing for the new generation. Sustainable fashion can often be predominantly marketed and designed for older women, but People Tree is fair-wage, eco-friendly clothing with a more youthful look. Small, local boutiques that make their own clothes tend to be the best option. College students often don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothing, and sustainable clothing can get to be very expensive. It doesn’t have to be, I like going to second-hand stores like Buffalo Exchange, Urban Renewal, and Goodwill give you the sustainability of not purchasing something new, but are much cheaper than specifically sustainable clothing. A key selling point of sustainable clothing is that it lasts for a long time, so despite it being a higher price point, it will last longer than fast fashion pieces.
What are five small things people can do to be more sustainable?
Start by looking at the labels on clothes currently in your wardrobe to find out what they’re made of and you’re aware of what you have.
Second would be thrifting, which is a very easy and cheap way to find sustainable clothing.
Look in your closet and try pairing what you already have with things that you wouldn’t normally wear together. Experimenting with pieces in a new way can open you up to new silhouettes and shapes and give you many more outfit choices without buying new pieces.
Try to make one alternative choice every time you shop. If you need a new pair of leggings, try looking into a sustainable option first. Looking at your options can help more than you’d think. (Check out Ash & Rose for great alternative pieces!)
Don’t try to do everything all at once. There’s a reason it’s called “sustainable” fashion, it’s because it’s supposed to be manageable. Incorporate small changes into your lifestyle a few at a time, and before you know it, you’ll be living much more sustainably. A store I like is Package Free, which has sustainable household supplies that are easy to incorporate into your everyday routine.
Sustainability is an investment. Sustainable products are often expensive; however, they end up saving money in the end, because you don’t have to keep re-purchasing single use or few use items that deteriorate quickly. If you’re going to invest your money in a product, why not make it sustainable?
In the long run, what would you like to see change?
I would love to see corporations taking responsibility for their actions. It’s all about supply and demand, and the consumer's voice has the power to change where our current government can’t or won’t. Making the conscious effort not to buy from companies that aren’t eco-conscious, they will respond with the desirable action. Spreading awareness of these issues is extremely important, even corporations like Primark and H&M are coming out with “sustainable” clothing lines in response. While they aren’t necessarily always honest about how “sustainable” these pieces are, it’s a start in the right direction. Supporting smaller sustainable companies like Ash & Rose is important in the fight for change. You, as the consumer, have the choice, so vote with your wallet!
You can check out Ash & Rose HERE for fashionably sustainable pieces.