Much like Wall Street funnels aspiring fashion designers, who spend several years in finance building their skills and amassing funds before starting a business, there’s an emerging trend of lawyers and human rights advocates making the switch to fashion.
Here’s a look at three stories.
From social good to affordable menswear
At 14 years old, Jason Grullón. and his mother, who sold fabric in the Dominican Republic, went on a shopping trip while in America. He had his eyes on a pair of Lucky jeans, having long been enticed by the interesting styles, which were unlike anything he had seen at home. But the jeans were pricey, and when he asked his mother for the pants, she turned to him and said, “I can’t buy you jeans that only cost seven dollars to make.”
The moment stuck with him, even when he went to Germany to pursue a law degree, with the intention to use it to support social impact programs back home in Latin America. Near the end of his schooling, he went on a tour of emerging startups in Berlin, when something clicked: He wanted to create a company embedded in social good, and he wanted that company to specialize in affordable menswear.
With this concept in mind, he founded Virtu, a menswear company focused on sustainable production.
Finding justice in fashion
Rebecca Ballard, founder of Maven Women, went straight to law school after completing her undergraduate degree. “You don’t always know what you want to do with your life, but I was interested in law because of social justice,” she said. “Law is and can be an amazing tool for justice in this country. And it really helps with understanding people, the way they work and their logic.”
Ballard worked at a number of nonprofits in Washington, D.C. doing advocacy work before she moved to Asia to practice litigation. In Hong Kong, she cut her teeth in nonprofit management and law, before returning to the states to do pro bono work on modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Being a lawyer, she realized, required a particular type of wardrobe. This suit-laden uniform was not only unattainable for many women, but it was also lacking in sustainable options — which led her to think about creating her own.
She ran the idea by her then-boyfriend, now-husband, who was an analyst at McKinsey. Relying on his business mind and her legal background, she started Maven Women.
“There was this idea that if people are going to be interested in socially conscious apparel, it will be hippie-inspired,” Ballard said. “If that’s the world you live in, that’s fantastic. But we need more options. I was trying to create something for the women who work in more traditional fields like law.”
Ballard said she uses the skills she gained as a lawyer every day on the job. It has helped her with the basics — like being punctual and thorough — plus her background writing law reviews has driven her to write for sustainable journals about her experience working in the fashion industry.
Likewise, Grullón said his law sensibility allows him to be savvy in making business decisions that avoid any trouble in the long run, especially when working across international barriers.
“We as lawyers have a very different approach to problems,” he said. “We don’t over-stress, we’re solution-oriented — that’s key for a startup, because when you’re building a company, it’s going to be full of issues.”
An intimate look at the supply chain
Maxine Bedat, founder of Zady, spent the years before founding her fashion company doing human rights law in international war crimes tribunals. During these work trips she was able to visit markets and witness clothing being made, an experience that changed the way she thought about fashion production.
“I got to see how clothing and products were sold and marketed,” she said during a panel at SXSW. “It gave me the experience to see how things were actually made and the sources of those things, and I fell in love with that.”
Working in human rights law allowed Bedat the opportunity to see new parts of the world and learn perspectives from community members along the way. That helped serve as a foundation for Zady, which the company describes as “a lifestyle destination for conscious consumers.” It operates on a concept called The New Standard, which focuses on the eco-friendly sourcing of materials like cotton, linen, wool and alpaca.
Kathleen Wright, founder of Piece & Co., a sustainable fabric sourcing company, typically visits the communities where her company’s fabrics are made once a quarter, most recently taking a trip to South Africa. Piece & Co. had recently placed an order of fabric from a group of garment makers for 1,500 yards of fabric, which allowed the market to hire several more workers. “That’s the gold standard for us: to provide steady work so that women can plan for their futures and stop working hand-to-mouth,” she said.
While Wright does not have a law degree (she graduated from business school at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign), she worked at a nonprofit that provides micro-finance loans to aspiring artisans prior to starting Piece & Co., an experience that helped her better understand how to make grassroots change. However, her impact at the nonprofit felt nominal, and she wanted to find a way to better improve the lives of impoverished communities.
“I felt like, if I was going to make a difference, I needed to lead with the fashion industry, working from the ground up in the developing world,” she said. “At the end of the day, there are so many people who want to do right, that want to source better. They needed a way to do that.”
Helping support a value-driven culture
One of the largest barriers for sustainable fashion companies is getting consumers to wrap their heads around a higher price point. Ballard said that if they have a better understanding of how supply chains operate, and knew the stories of the people making their clothes, they would be increasingly discerning with their selections and willing to spend more.
“We have a completely warped idea about what clothes should cost in this country,” Ballard said. “There’s no way you can buy a new pair of pants for 10 dollars without hurting someone. If you’re paying that for brand new materials, they’re almost certainly going to be synthetic from sweatshops.”
Pair this with the fact that, according to a Nielsen study, 75 percent of millennials would be willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings, and there is a solid case for demand.
“Young people are really driven by their values,” Bedat said. “I don’t want that to run counter to their purchasing decisions. We want to be comfortable and stylish and perceived the right way, so you don’t want to have to sacrifice one or the other.
Grullón uses this concept to inspire shoppers, operating on three main tenets of social impact: better salary, traceability, and a 50/50 business model, in which the company reinvests half of its profits into long-term development projects in the communities of its partners.
“The idea was always to have a connection to how a product’s made and how that’s impacting the person’s life,” he said.
Conservation charity WWF and the fashion industry aim to make desirable clothes that have zero impact on the environment
It is not a brand synonymous with style, but WWF, the world’s biggest conservation organisation, is teaming up with a London-based online fashion community to produce what it claims will be the world’s first 100% sustainable clothing range.
Big-name stores including Selfridges and Harrods are being lined up to sell the range in the UK, but WWF wants to make this a global project. It is determined to prove to the fashion industry that it is possible to design and produce clothes with zero impact on the environment.
“It’s hugely challenging,” says Alfredo Orobio, founder of the online community AwaytoMars that is working with WWF. “Everything from the buttons, zippers, labels, tags and packaging to the fabric and production process itself – all of it has to be sustainable.”
Orobio was approached at the end of last year. The project was attracted by the way his crowdsourcing platform allows anyone, from anywhere in the world, to have a hand in making clothes. Participants in the community upload their design ideas and the best ones will be chosen for the final collection, which is code-named “The New Normal Project”. It will be overseen by the Nordic Fashion Week Organisation, based in Finland. All profits from the venture will go to WWF.
The clothes will use a newly designed cotton fibre, from a Finnish startup called Infinited Fiber, that can be recycled an infinite number of times and which won’t, in theory, wear out. But this project goes way beyond the fabric, Orobio says. In a detailed 150-page document, WWF has stipulated “all the things we can’t do”.
“So it’s about finding the right suppliers, for example, and not using any pigments, only natural colour,” he says. “The whole of the production process has to be sustainable, even the lights and energy. The seamstresses must be paid a living wage, all the packaging will be recyclable, the trimmings, the labels, the tags.”
All of that is expensive, perhaps prohibitively so, which is one of the main reasons that sustainable fashion has yet to take off. But Orobio believes the bigger barrier is the lack of consumer buy-in and the fact that most shoppers are unaware of how polluting the industry is – fashion and textiles, says bestselling US designer Eileen Fisher, are second only to the oil industry as the biggest polluters on the planet.
It is not just the energy-intensive process of making the garments, the reality is that most of the clothes we wear end up in landfill. According to a recent Greenpeace report, the average European consumer now buys 60% more clothing items a year and keeps them for half as long as 15 years ago.
Synthetic fibres are one of the biggest problems. Manufacturing polyester, for example, which is already present in 60% of clothing, produces almost three times more carbon dioxide than organic cotton, and it can take decades to degrade – as well as polluting marine environments with plastic microfibres. And around 21 million tons of polyester was used in clothing last year, up 157% from 2000.
“Cheap fast fashion is a huge obstacle to a more sustainable industry,” says Tom Cridland, who started his own green fashion brand three years ago with a £6,000 government startup loan. “Theoretically, a 100% sustainable fashion collection is not impossible but we need more brands to promote buying less but buying better.”
Cridland’s unique selling point is the 30-year guarantee he attaches to his T-shirts, jackets and trousers. The notion that we can buy an item of clothing and keep it for much longer is taking off, he says, with sales now over £1m a year.
Karinna Nobbs, a lecturer at London College of Fashion, thinks WWF’s involvement could make some difference, but ultimately sustainable fashion needs big-name front-runners to make it more of an industry norm.
“If that doesn’t happen, I think we’re truly in danger of ruining the planet,” she says.
Some big-name designers are already putting sustainability at the forefront of their brands. At a recent speech on sustainability at London College of Fashion Stella McCartney declared that her industry was “getting away with murder” yet even her latest collection is only 53% sustainable.
One of the key barriers to consumer take-up is that the expense involved in turning every part of the life cycle of a garment green means the cost of sustainable clothing is out of the reach of most. Current prices at AwayToMars, for example, range from £50 for a T-shirt to £390 for a wool jacket. Cridland’s signature 30-year jacket costs £190 while a T-shirt is £35.
Of course Cridland and the sustainable fashion movement argue that you end up spending more in the long term with a fast-fashion route, but others say that is part of the attraction – the ability to buy clothes and discard them when fashions or fancies change.
Fashion lecturer Nobbs believes the industry is close to a tipping point. “Prices will normalise – they will have to as more brands get involved in sustainable clothing,” she says.
Orobio agrees that price is an issue but says he is undaunted. “My main goal is to be affordable – I don’t want to exclude the people who design for us,” he says. He believes that people will want WWF collection pieces because they will be “buying a piece with a huge story. It’s very different form buying something from Zara that was just copied”.
His online community will start having their say on the new WWF project from next month, and the aim will be to come up with six to 10 different looks. The prototype of the collection will be shown at the Helsinki Fashion Week in July.
Global fashion retailer C&A’s charitable arm, C&A Foundation has launched a global initiative aimed at helping brands, retailers and manufacturers find more innovative and sustainable ways of producing fashion.
‘Fashion for Good’ is a joint-industry initiative involving Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDH, and Sustainable Trade Initiative. The initiative offers practical action in the form of support, funding and roadmaps, and by fostering a sector-wide collaboration rather than competition and aims to enable innovation and widespread adoption of “good fashion practice”.
With an innovation hub in Amsterdam, a start-up accelerator in Silicon Valley, California, and a global network of ‘change makers’, Fashion for Good re-imagines how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused so that people, companies and the planet can all thrive. By mobilizing around a collective innovation and investment agenda, we will spark and scale technologies and business models that have the potential to change the sector profoundly. And by openly sharing what we learn, we will guide the fashion industry toward a future in which brands, suppliers, communities and our planet can all thrive. Fashion for Good will launch its first hub in Amsterdam on March 30.
It may be mentioned here that the new initiative is part of C&A Foundation’s wider efforts to drive the transition to circular fashion by nurturing and scaling solutions that can change the way clothes are made, used, and reused.
Inditex, world’s leading fashion group which operates over 7,000 stores in 88 markets and owns brands like Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Stradivarius, Oysho, Zara Home and Uterqüe, has invested more than Euro 7 million on sustainability front over the last five years.
The Group has invested in expansion, scaling and modernization of logistics platforms and design centres to boost efficiency and energy saving measures. The start-up of highly-advanced “multi-shuttle” areas at the Bershka platform in Tordera, Barcelona, and at the Arteixo distribution centre (A Coruña) make dispatch time management more efficient and precise and double the speed.
Another area was research and development work focused on store applications for sustainable technology, such as paper saving mobile payments and efficiency technology RFID. Last year, it completed the deployment of RFID technology across its entire Zara store base and has embarked on the process of rolling this technology out in its Massimo Dutti and Uterqüe stores. Other brands like Pull&Bear, with Stradivarius, Bershka and Oysho will follow in 2018. Besides, the number of eco-efficient stores worldwide reached 4,519 in 2016 delivering water savings of 40% and energy savings of 20%.
Furthermore, it also introduced mobile payments in 15 markets in total since it started to roll-out in Spain, the UK, US, Italy and France. Using the online apps of each of Inditex’s eight retail concepts or using a Group app called InWallet facilitate the environmentally responsible replacement of hard-copy receipts with e-receipts. Online orders placed in Spain with any of the Group’s brands have no longer generated hard copy receipts since March 2017 thanks to the e-receipt system named “Paperless”. Zara is also already using this system in the US and the UK.
The Green to Pack project at Zara alone save 22,000 trees and the emission of 1,680 tonnes of carbon every year. In addition to this, it also introduced clothing containers for used-garments in all Zara stores in Spain, Portugal, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland for recycling into new fabrics.
The research and development of more sustainable fabrics is also increasing. Last September Zara launched the second edit ion of its Join Life collection made of Refibra™ fibres. Developed by Austria’s Lenzing Group, Refibra™ fibre are made of pulp from cotton scraps and from sustainably-managed forests.
Through the next two months, GreenStitched sits down with the finalists of EcoChic Design Award 2015/16. EcoChic Design Award is a sustainable fashion design competition organised by Redress, inspiring emerging fashion designers and students to create mainstream clothing with minimal textile waste.
The interviews with these young designers will be posted every Wednesday on GreenStitched.
Today we meet Pan Wen, a recent graduate of Fashion Design from Central Saint Martins who has returned to Mainland China to pursue her career in fashion design.
What brought you into the world of fashion? That ‘aha’ moment which opened doors to sustainable fashion?
Pan Wen: I love nature and it pains me to see people endlessly emitting industrial waste for the pursuit of superficial vanity and harming animals and plants in the process. I have always felt that there must be ways to balance one’s needs with the burden we put on our earth. I want to keep exploring this balance through sustainable fashion design, a field which I am passionate about, and spark a deeper reflection through my work.
What was your inspiration for the EcoChic Design Award collection?
Pan Wen: The inspiration came from a 1940’s Scottish tapestry in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The tapestry depicts a scene of blue-blooded people who are hunting for fun. There is this enormous contrast between their elegant life and this cruel behaviour. I wanted to create a collection to express this contrast and condemn a society that would engage in hunting out of pride and vanity.
The collection’s colour is inspired by that tapestry’s soft vintage colour, and the pattern is derived from my sketch of that tapestry. I wanted to use a tender colour to contrast with the cruel reality of hunting. The simple but bold shape is inspired by the garments of the aristocratic hunters in that picture.
3 things you learnt from of the challenge?
– Being organised is crucial.
– There are more sustainable materials beside organic cotton. There is a lot more high-tech and exciting materials out there.
– Process and outcomes are both important in fashion design.
How do you think sustainable fashion can move from a niche to the mainstream?
Pan Wen: Education and events like the EcoChic Design Award helps a lot. Propaganda and advertisement also works. As long as costumers are aware of the importance of sustainability.
What is the biggest misconception about sustainable fashion?
Pan Wen: Sustainable fashion is not just some homemade craft making use of recycled waste – I think this may be the biggest misconception. Sustainable fashion is about the consideration of processes along the entire fashion supply chain, and in a highly sustainable way too.
What is your advice for the next breed of fashion designers?
Pan Wen: Get to know what you are doing, and work really hard to do your best.
What is next in store for you?
Pan Wen: I enjoy living every moment! I look forward to doing some design collaborations with artists in other areas.
Watch Frontline Fashion, a documentary following these talented Asian and European emerging fashion designers determined to change the future of fashion. As they descend into Hong Kong for the design battle of their lives, all eyes are on the first prize; to design an up-cycled collection for China’s leading luxury brand, Shanghai Tang. This documentary is available on iTunes here.
The next cycle of the EcoChic Design Awards is open for application from 3 January to 3 April 2017. Interested students can find more details here.
India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, are going to be the most coveted markets by 2030. As the current global economic trend moves towards the next decade, it is clear that the US will be replaced by China as the world’s biggest apparel market and India will not be far behind
India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, are going to be the most coveted markets by 2030. As the current global economic trend moves towards the next decade, it is clear that the US will be replaced by China as the world’s biggest apparel market and India will not be far behind.
Though China’s economy has slowed in recent years India China to emerge biggest markets for sustainable fashion creating a disparity in supply-demand but the overall market sentiment remain positive with high consumer confidence. According to a study by Fung Global Retail & Technology, consumer spending trend remains high for kids’ wear and casual wear categories. Meanwhile, recent reports by Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence showed India’s confidence is up three points from the previous quarter. “The Union Budget revealed the government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation which will pave the way for sustained and inclusive growth. In following months an improvement in various macroeconomic indicators was evident, and the government seems to be on its way to achieving its objectives of low inflation, low interest rates and high GDP growth—a scenario optimal for improved consumer spending” says Roosevelt D’Souza, MD, Nielsen India.
Changing retail landscape to create future opportunity
China’s positive economic outlook might result from its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, an economic and diplomatic program that calls for major investment in the region’s trade routes. In a recent McKinsey podcast, senior partner Kevin Sneader explained “There are two parts to this: the belt and the road,” he said. “The belt is the physical road, which takes one from here all the way through Europe to somewhere up north in Scandinavia. What they call the road is actually the maritime Silk Road, in other words, shipping lanes, essentially from here to Venice. Therefore it’s very ambitious, covering about 65 per cent of the world’s population, about one-third of the world’s GDP, and about a quarter of all the goods and services the world moves.”The $100 billion initiative would help fuel growth for China after its economy has seen a period of slowing down. In another positive trend, China’s apparel market is becoming more organised as the top 10 brands in activewear, jeanswear and casualwear, have been increasing their market share significantly. Thus, making the market more competitive and quality driven.
India on the other hand witnessed significant growth in organised retail driven by increasing consumer preference for specialty, department, and hypermarkets and increasing lifestyle spend. Over the last decade, almost all global brands have made a beeline for India market changing the retail landscape of the country.
Sustainable fashion emerges strong
An in depth analysis of both China and India reveals consumer’s changing perception and increasing awareness for sustainable fashion and natural fibres. According to Indian Consumer Survey Fully 73 % say they “could spend the rest of their life” in the fibre. Additionally, 7 in 10 Indian shoppers say they would be more likely to shop at a store offering clothes made from more sustainable materials, and nearly 8 in 10 (79 percent) say they put effort into finding sustainable apparel. As more manmade fibres have entered India’s market, businesses that promote natural fibres stand to be noticed. And 76 % of shoppers are more loyal to brands offering natural fibres like cotton. In China, 68 % of consumers are willing to pay more to keep clothing cotton-rich, according to the CCI and Cotton Incorporated Chinese Consumer Survey. Cotton Incorporated and CCI has initiated a promotion programme “Mian is…” (MI) in China for a decade, reminding consumers about the benefits of cotton and educating them on the fibre via digital and social media campaigns. “In 2015, with the theme of ‘Cotton, more than looking good,’ the campaign promoted cotton’s fashionability and other benefits,” says Cotton Incorporated’s Angela Chen, Manager, and Public Relations China. She emphasizes the depth of MI’s digital dive. “One of the MI musical and dance videos reached 16 million viewers. The program also has more than 60000 Weibo fans and more than 10000 fans on Wechat, just joined last June.”