Imagine heading to Target for their latest spring collaboration — pretty spring dresses from People Tree, handmade in fair trade workshops. Pick up a few tees in the guys section — it’s okay, they’re from Everlane, made in LA in sweatshop-free factories. For the kids? Socks to replace the ones constantly getting lost. Organic, fairly made kids’ socks from PACT Apparel.
What will it take to get sustainable fashion into the mainstream? Today is Fashion Revolution Day, and I’m imagining how a real revolution might look — one that changes how ordinary people shop each day.
I talked with several women about the ways ethical fashion could fit into their lives.
The vast majority of women with whom I spoke cited money as an issue when shopping for ethically made clothes. My friend Jen said she’s looking for “Target affordable, not Anthropologie affordable,” and I think that’s true for many of us.
Easy availability at places people already shop is another top issue, cited by women with busy schedules who struggle to find time to research new brands. Concerns about style, sizing, and lack of clear sourcing information are the other commonly mentioned obstacles.
In my informal chats with shoppers, I learned that consumers are willing to go the extra mile for ethical fashion, but not the extra marathon. They will spend a little more, drive a little farther, and take a little time — but not invest the considerable time and/or money it currently takes to create ethical wardrobes.
Until we can get ethically made fashion in the hands of the everyday consumer, it will not become the standard for the fashion industry. Can ethical brands meet consumers in the middle, finding ways to bring their wares to more outlets, more affordably?
Consumers aren’t the only group looking for change. Businesses wanting to emphasize quality production and fair wages face obstacles in cost and production capacity when trying to bring their products to a wider audience.
One organization in Nashville is developing new programs to address the inability of local designers to find skilled, small-batch production facilities close to home. Van Tucker, CEO of the Nashville Fashion Alliance (NFA), sees manufacturing in the United States as a win-win for businesses and the community. “Cost savings are relative in many cases – there are hidden costs in off-shore production,” says Tucker. “Labor conditions, shipping/production management costs, language barriers, etc. are all costly, yet are not always considered. But most importantly, we have the ability — and resources — to serve consumers in a more responsible way.”
The NFA has teamed up with Catholic Charities and a Tennessee manufacturer to launch a sewing training program for refugees who have resettled in Nashville. In helping the refugees, NFA also is filling a vital need for Nashville designers — local, skilled labor. The program already has trained and placed four sewers with a local manufacturer, and the NFA is looking to expand the project’s reach through a Kickstarter campaign.
According to Tucker, “Production resources, both qualified skilled workers as well as companies willing to manufacture in smaller production runs, are one of the greatest needs for fashion companies. We want the career of sewing apparel goods to be cool again…not just running fabric through a machine. The quality and impact of slow fashion production is just simply the right thing to do — and we’re innovative enough to figure out how to make it profitable.”
The ethical fashion industry has a steep hill to climb in seeking to become the fashion industry standard. The innovations of the past decade, both in design, consumer education, and infrastructure, give me hope that we are moving in the right direction.
Tell me, where does ethical fashion need to go to fit into your life or business?
Continue the Fashion Revolution! Check out these posts from the Ethical Bloggers Collective: