Finding a sweet deal at your local H&M or Urban Outfitters may feel like you’ve struck gold, but what are we really paying for with our savings? Vv Magazine’s Kate Dingwall explores what it means to be an ethical company in the fashion industry.
I’ll admit, there’s nothing quite like the rush of buying new clothes. It might be the feeling of wearing fresh-out-of-the-box Nikes or slipping into a new pair of jeans that still smell like fresh denim, or even better – when something is on sale and you can save your precious pennies. Whatever it is, there’s always another feeling that follows… A nagging voice that asks, ‘how is the price so low and where exactly along the chain of production are costs being cut?’.
A seminal (and chilling) moment in the fast fashion upheaval came three years ago when a Bangladesh factory collapsed, killing over a thousand workers. Fashion giants, Loblaws being one of them, approved the illegal building of a second floor on the factory to make way for more garment space.
This raised the question: is our cheap and cheerful clothing worth human lives?
That is, in essence, fast fashion. We live in a society that’s more interested in buying larger quantities for lower prices, sacrificing quality and then buying quality items at higher prices, but in smaller numbers. It’s creating a huge problem in the way we’re buying clothes. Aside from the immoral ways fast fashion is produced, Canadians dispose of an average of 31 pounds of textiles a year. Even scarier, only about 10% of thrift store wares actually make it to a new home, with the remainder headed straight to a landfill.
But the awesome thing is, we can make a difference.
We decide on who leads our country every four years, we sign petitions to keep Uber legal, and you can speak out about the society buys clothing by swiping your credit card and investing in ethically made clothing. Here are some brands who deserve the megaphone treatment for not forcing us to choose between our ideals and our style:
Toronto-based designer Laura Siegel stands at the crossroads between transparency and style. Her eponymous label is full of floating kaftans and hand-woven knits, in a rainbow of vegetable-dyed patterns. The designer recently starred in the documentary Traceable, which followed Seigel to India. There, she puts a face to the people who create her garments, and shows the open lines of communications between her and her employees. She ensures that all her employees, both in Toronto and India, work in ethical conditions and are provided with a wage that garners appropriate living conditions. Seigel’s method is simple – know where your clothing is made and be able to trace every step of the process.
Canadian leather brand Oliberte’s design ethos revolves around providing fair trade products that will actually last forever (seriously – they have a lifetime guarantee!). With artisan practices going extinct all over the world, Oliberte is dedicated to preserving handicraft practices in their base of Subsaharan Africa. Their line is loaded with luxurious leathers, from desert boots for the whole family to all-leather rucksacks, and they are the world’s first Fair Trade Certified Footwear Manufacturer. Oliberte’s fan club includes some big names, including the menswear God, Mark McNairy and rapper, Future.
The story of how this brand got started may be the most quirky and simple of all. The Giving Keys, an LA based-brand, began when the founder, Caitlin Crosby, ran off on her travels with a hotel room key and strung it on a chain. She began receiving compliment after compliment on her new bling, and that’s when the light bulb went off in her head. Today, The Giving Keys take used keys to create charming necklaces, inscribed with words like ‘Love,’ ‘Peace’ and “Hope’. The brand works towards helping those without homes by exclusively employing those looking to transition out of homelessness, and help create a path of self-sufficiency.
After being shaken up by the Rana Plaza disaster, Shivam Punjya and Ashley Austin created the NYC label, Behno. Designed in New York and produced in India, the purpose of the label is to keep the question of ‘who made my clothes?’ alive. They use a six prong method – aiming to meet garment worker health, social mobility, family planning, women’s rights, worker satisfaction, and eco-consciousness. Their line of uber-minimalistic pieces combine traditional Indian embellishments with fresh silhouettes. Fresh hides are translated into grometted tunics, and vegetable-dyed tunics are on par with the fresh fashion of high-street brands.
After years of suffering from the ravages of war, the land in Laos is loaded with dangerous landmines. Article22 is an accessory line committed to turning tragedy into beauty, and do so by creating precious aluminum rings and necklaces out of the remains. The project started on the ground in Laos, working not only to de-mine the country, but to create a profit and job opportunities by working with local artisans.
Slinky day dresses, lacey pinafores, and wedding-ready gowns make up Reformation, a Los Angeles-based womenswear line. The line is dedicated to ethical production from the ground up: all products are handmade in the United States from recycled fabrics and all of their physical locations are run on green energy. By cutting out the middle man, consumers save on traditional mark-ups on wholesale production. Even more impressive, Reformation recently introduced Ref Cycle, a clothing recycling program that aims to give life to old garments.
Created by New York-by-way-of-Toronto resident Aurora James, Brother Vellies works hand-in-hand with artisans in Kenya for every aspect of their footwear line. Ensuring that nothing is wasted, leftover meat from hides are donated to local African markets and sold, and leftover hides are used to make children’s shoes for donation. Brother Vellies promises to not only work with local artisans in a fair trade-friendly manner, but to preserve the craft of the country. With feathered gladiators, fur kitten heels and industrial loafers, Brother Vellies sets the new style standard for women’s eco-friendly shoes. The line has been seen on many a well-heeled foot, including Leandra Medine and Kanye West.
As much as the harsh reality of the fast fashion climate puts a damper on your Forever 21 sprees, there are ways to lighten your footprint. Before you swipe that credit card, take a minute to consider where your purchases came from. Look for pieces that are made in the USA or Canada. Keep an eye out for materials like organic or recycled cotton, bamboo or tinsel, and vegetable dyes. As much as those Forever 21 rompers are easy on the wallet, remember that you’re running off with a deal at the expense of someone else.
Are there any other eco-friendly brands the world should know about? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below or tweet us@ViewTheVibe.