As the weekend comes to a close in Denver, Colorado, unfortunately I’m met with a chill as the clouds darken and snow creeps in. I’m sad to see the sunny days come to an end, but it leaves plenty of time for me to sew buttons and start replacing zippers or finish jewelry projects backstage in between costume changes. It’s Week #2 of Tortoise and Lady Grey’s 20-Day Sustainable Fashion Challenge, which means my commitment to mending and re-purposing finally has a time and place. Sewing squares together cut from leftover fabrics for donation blankets, however, hardly touches on what my activities with this challenge encompasses this week.
Searching through online shops of sustainable fashion companies, I wonder, “Can I afford the price tag?” I don’t want to cheapen the work and thought that went into making these products better for everyone—the artisan, the consumer, and the environment, but I struggle to make my small budget fulfill the price I strongly agree these companies deserve. You could argue, that the answer lies with increasing wages so people can purchase sustainable and higher quality products, but as I found out during a conversation at Christmas dinner while discussing my involvement this past summer with Run by Rural, this brings up many other questions such as, “How do you do that? Where does the money come from to make that happen?” I was also bombarded with questions like, “How do you know the CEO of this company will treat the artisans fairly? As the company makes more money, won’t she want a bigger piece of the pie? What will happen to those who currently produce fabrics if you replace their methods? What will they do for work?” Thinking more on these ideas, I had one answer about those who begin social enterprises and sustainable fashion companies: This is an industry still seeking to gain traction, if they wanted to make quick money, they wouldn’t have chosen this path. I’ve also noticed from interviews and my own experience with sustainable fashion CEOs that they take on multiple jobs, sometimes without insurance or benefits. I’ve done the same thing with a theatre career at times. Why? Because you love it and you believe in it. I also believe that if more people purchase from companies who support ethical production methods, bigger labels would change their working conditions and production methods among their workers. Some would argue you can’t do this unless you involve the government, and during my summer with Run by Rural, we did just that with many government meetings. One obstacle remains, however: you can’t make anyone change. Many countries try to live just like Americans, and unfortunately it’s not sustainable, our short-term solutions to gain the most profits don’t last. So, I can talk until I’m blue in the face, but what can I do if no one listens? My friend Alan says to live by Ghandi’s words: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Since fashion has a momentary existence, is there a way to make it last? Absolutely. After learning about sustainable textiles like hemp, silk, organic and recycled cotton, and recycled polyester (Yes, it exists and you can read about it from Offset Warehouse HERE), it seems there is a way to reuse and recycle materials that would only last one season and fail to become timeless pieces. These fibers can also be produced with minimal or no threat to the environment, which makes it even better. Most often, people don’t think of involving the fashion industry in environmental, ethical, or social issues, but the fashion industry should be included. Fashion involves not only art and personal style, but the treatment of those who make fashion products and how the dyes and materials used for products affect the environment. If people think we should involve the government when it comes to changing current production methods, then this is a political issue as well. Many times we’re told to pick pieces for our wardrobe that will last and remain classic elements that never go out of style, so why not make the fashion industry itself this way: classic, long-lasting, innovative, and influential.
Who is finding a way to make this social impact in fashion last? With each post featuring themed style inspirations, I find ways to open new doors and explore companies I hadn’t found earlier. Most seem to the be in the United Kingdom or Australia, but I’m happy to see some like Maiyet, Mata Traders, Faire Collection, and Eileen Fisher making strides in America. Finding companies to purchase from for a possible outfit post for backstage crew members proves to be challenging for me, however, as I strive to stay within a smaller budget. Navigating my way through the online world, I find an article from Globe-In World, bringing up an important question regarding sustainable fashion companies: Are these companies successfully making a positive social impact, or are they helping millennials feel better about our tendencies to buy in abundance? This brings me to my final conclusion in my second week of this challenge: sustainable fashion is not only about purchasing from eco-friendly and ethically responsible companies, it is also concerned with lower consumption. Rather than locating separate items for separate outfits, it’s more cost-effective and efficient to reuse various pieces to create multiple outfits. Just because a sustainable fashion company has items for many different outfits doesn’t mean I should go crazy with my credit card; I should see how classic pieces can be used time and again. Professional theatre companies use costume pieces over and over again from their costume stocks, so the same thing must be possible with my own wardrobe.