Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Zero Waste Fashion and NYC Shopping

(Disclaimer: Reusing old clothing and upcycling are environmentally friendly and decrease waste and consumption, but here I am more interested in discussing impact of NEW clothing.)

"Ethical fashion" and "sustainable fashion" have become common notions, although often conversations about the future of fashion don't bother differentiating between, or defining the two. Definitions do tend to evolve and shift meanings with the times, but it is useful occasionally to talk about them. Currently it seems "ethical" definitions focus mostly on labor justice issues, such as fair pay for the workers and factory safety, while "sustainable" deals with environmental impacts of textile manufacturing, pesticide and fertilizer use, pollution, waste, and fuel comsumption. One can also argue that "sustainable" should really be subsumed in "ethical", since environmental protection is an issue of ethics.

In my last post I wrote about Greenpeace and its definition of green manufacturing so narrowly focused on avoiding toxic chemicals as to be completely meaningless; on the other end of the spectrum, others tend toward very broad views, setting the bar high enough to include both fair labor practices and minimal environmental impact. Not impossible but challenging, and of course costs will go up. Textiles sourced from sustainable operations and made in mills that pay fair wages, local production, fair labor practices for pattern-makers, cutters, sewers... It adds up. Throw in distribution, warehousing etc etc and the price differential between fast fashion and ethical/sustainable becomes a real hurdle for consumers.

So it is always refreshing to see novel approaches. Zero-waste fashion, for one, focuses on minimizing textile waste, and Tabii Just (by Trinidad-born designer Tabitha St Bernard) takes this concept even further, cutting her garments without leaving any scraps AND using deadstock fabrics, further minimizing impact (and keeping the cost at a low end of the soectrum). Everything is manufactured in NYC, ticking off boxes of fair wages and minimal fossil fuel consumption.

Of course I had to visit! Tabitha was kind and thoughtful, and generous enough to share some professional pictures of her studio. It's a beautiful space filled with gorgeous clothes, and I appreciated Tabitha showing me around!

Her pieces are mostly dresses, with a few tops and skirts and vests, most of them patterned in bright colors. 

If you know me at all, you can guess I opted for black and white. It's a print (I know, so adventurous of me) - a lovely snake print, worn here  with Alexander Wang mules from a few years back, and a family heirloom bone necklace.

I strongly suggest listening to Tabitha and a few other zero-waste designers on American Fashion Podcast - fascinating conversation. 

Personally, I feel that a stumbling block to much of ethical consumption is the unfortunate tendency to put onus on the consumers - having them learn about each clothing brand, research their supply chain, etc etc. This is not a reasonable expectation: I feel that the responsibility should lie with the manufacturers and lawmakers, so that we can go to a store, pick up a pair of shoes and be readonably certain that no children were exploited in their making. Until the day comes, we often resort to shortcuts: rather than performing exhaustive research on each product, we have our criteria. For me, domestically made product suggests 1) fair labor practices, especially if made in NYC; 2) low fuel consumption; 3) compliance with the US environmental regulations, which are not perfect but are at least somewhat enforced. European- made textiles do have a higher fuel component but are manufactured under stricter environmental controls, so it's an all right trade-off.

Anyway! It is nice to find small-scale designers who manufacture in the US; even better to find a bunch of them brought together in a cool retail space. I found such in Coterre, a great little pop-up in SoHo. 

They carry my favorite SCHAI, as well as a few other smallish indie domestically manufactured labels. Of course I had to stop by and try on a few things!

Meet my new blazer, made by Alchemy Detroit. Love the tailoring of their pieces, and their t-shirts are the softest I ever touched. (The pants are by ADAY, and yes, I am coming from the gym.)

There is also jewelry, shoes, cosmetics... And what I found really thrilling while browsing and chatting with Hilary, the woman behind the project, was that I did not have to constantly wonder where and how everything was made. I hope that soon enough it will be the norm: walking into the store and assuming that everything in it was made ethically. Or at least that no one died as a result of making of our clothes - and really, this is not too much to ask!

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