Rags To Riches: Key Players Are Missing Out On Circular Fashion

In the glamorous Schmatta (rag) biz this week, the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association won a fight to keep a measly 40,000 low-paying jobs in America by continuing to dump our unwanted clothes onto African countries. The domestic apparel industries in these countries suffer terribly when used American clothing is so much cheaper than new locally-made clothing. So now we’re punishing Rwanda for not taking our trash. Trash we could turn into designer-level fashion fabric, if current textile recycling facilities weren’t so painfully outmoded. They don’t seem to realize circular fashion is what all the cool kids are wearing these days.

Story continues on CleanTechnica.com

Cradle to Cradle Institute’s Fashion Positive Workshop

Last week, while the world’s eyes were on Tesla’s big announcements, the Cradle to Cradle Institute’s Fashion Positive held a workshop on circular fashion. The workshop featured innovations with EVEN MORE potential to curb global warming! We heard from Lewis Perkins, President of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, then Annie Gullingsrud, Director of the Textile and Apparel Sector. She’s also written the book on the subject — Fashion Fibers: Designing for Sustainability.

The industry’s biggest players are heavily involved in the move toward circular fashion. H&M and C&A seem to be doing the most, as they’ve got the volume to make it worthwhile. Both are putting their money into foundations designed to help the entire industry access these materials. H&M Foundation is helping fund recycling blended fibers, while C&A Foundation is working toward improving the environmental and social impacts of cotton production.

Story continues on CleanTechnica.com….

Fair Trade Fashion Show Comes to LA!

Click me to go directly to ticketing!

This Saturday I’ll be at the Fair Trade Fashion Show in downtown LA. I am really looking forward to this event! It’s so exciting to see fair-trade fashion showcased, and for such a good cause. Slavery is a massive problem in this industry. I even worked with a freed slave once.

One of the patternmakers I worked with told me how she made it to America from Vietnam. She had saved up all the money required for the trip, but also had to give them her wedding ring. They sailed from Vietnam, headed to another country (I forgot which one) where she could catch a flight to Los Angeles. She told me they spent days in a small boat without enough water. She eventually made it to LA, where she had to work as an indentured servant in a sewing factory. Luckily for her, she made it out of that and was able to stay in Los Angeles.

She became fluent in English, learned a more valuable skill (patternmaking), and made a home for herself here. I wish more people could say the same.

Join us on Saturday to support Free The Slaves and learn more about fair trade fashion!

Transparency Is The New Black

I watched an amusing and disturbing play at my local repertory theater last weekend- “The Guard Will Escort You To Ruff-Ruff”. If you’re in Los Angeles, I highly recommend it and the plays it’s also shown with, before it closes this weekend. More info here. The play is set in the CSR office of a typical American Fortune 500 company. The play was about a bright-eyed temp who was stoked to work for one of her favorite brands. Until she spent a couple weeks reading third-party auditor’s reports on contractor’s factories, and failing to convince her boss to adjust protocol to ensure unprecedented transgressions would be treated with the same urgency as the traditionally unforgivable transgressions. Continue reading “Transparency Is The New Black”

River Blue Shows Us How Our Clothes Affect Rivers

I just saw River Blue, a documentary about how the fashion industry affects rivers in developing countries. It was hard to watch, but it inspired me to contact my favorite brands and ask them how their textiles are made.

When NAFTA was passed in 1994, US apparel companies flocked overseas to find cheaper manufacturing, first to Mexico, then across the pond. The problem is, manufacturing in those countries is cheaper because people are paid less and because factories aren’t forced to adhere to environmental standards. Simple things like wastewater treatment simply don’t exist in India, Bangladesh, and China. Because China has been the world’s factory, especially post-NAFTA, they are starting to clean up their act. But their workers are also able to demand higher wages, so brands that compete on price keep finding countries willing to let them use factories that exploit their people and the water they need.

This documentary went behind the scenes, with a very thorough look at how leather is tanned in these countries and how denim is processed. They also showed some stunning state-of-the art denim processing being done in Italy. Spoiler alert because it’s so awesome- Italdenim has a special trick for making denim with far less chemicals and water- shellfish! They use discarded shells from crabs and such to grind it into a powder called Chitosan. Before dyeing the denim, they soak the fibers in Chitosan. It works as a natural fixative and makes the dye hold better.

Knowing there are solutions and companies using them makes any documentary easier to watch. This one focused on how much the textile industry has destroyed rivers that people depend on for drinking water, for agricultural water, for fishing. Yet what gave me hope was knowing that other rivers have died and been reborn. The Hudson river, The Thames, even the Los Angeles river have all been far worse off in the past than they are now, thanks to environmental activism. We can do the same for the rivers of these other countries.

This week has been Fashion Revolution Week. It began as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse, and has expanded into a week of raising awareness about the importance of sustainability in fashion. Fashion Revolution has put out this great index to the top 100 brands on their transparency.

Contact YOUR favorite brands and ask them- Who made my clothes? What’s in my clothes? My favorite things are my Swrve jeans and my Dainese jacket. Swrve answers the first question in their FAQ here. The “brand name” fabric they use in their blk label line is Schoeller, which is the Gold Standard of eco activewear fabrics, but their stretch Cordura blend denim is not from Schoeller.

My friends at Dainese got back to me immediately when I asked them where Dainese gets their leather. After watching the film, I was horrified to think it might have come from Bangladesh. More about why, here. Dainese’s leather comes from Brazil and is tanned in Italy. I found this 2003 article about how Italian tanneries treat effluent, then this 2015 article (pdf) explains the Italian tanning industry is still growing. My jacket was sewn in the Ukraine, where pay might not be as good as in Italy, but at least the leather was tanned in Italy, a country that doesn’t allow tanneries to dump untreated effluent into their rivers.

Swrve replied to me first thing Monday morning with this:

Hi Susanna-

We use a Factory that is on the cutting edge of sustainability.

They are the first garment factory in Pakistan to be LEED certified, use innovative waterless washing when possible, recycle and treat water, etc. etc.


They are also really good on social responsibility, so they are a great company to work with.


But the highlight of the entire film for me was discovering the genius that invented stretch denim! They interviewed Peter Golding, and now I want to build him a shrine. Or at least thank him. I’ve lived in stretch denim since I was 14, and really have to force myself to wear anything else. Now if someone would just invent a biodegradable elastin, we’d finally have fully biodegradable jeans. Then fast fashion would be worth buying, don’t you think? There is biodegradable elastin for use in wound treatment, perhaps it could be adapted for a longer life. The challenge is deciding what you’re selling- disposable clothing, or clothing meant to be passed down to future generations.

Sustainable Fashion LA Speaks on TEDxLA Panel

Photo courtesy of Apparel News
Photo courtesy of Apparel News, My jacket is made from recycled snow camo by Burning Torch

Last week I had the honor of joining filmmaker Andrew Morgan, Eileen Fisher’s Shona Quinn and Reformation’s Kathleen Talbot on a panel moderated by eco-fashion diva Taryn Hipwell.

Beyond The Label, a pre-event for next year’s TEDxLA, was a lovely evening, with a great turnout. After the panel we broke into round table discussions on various sustainable fashion topics, which was really interesting.

Here’s the full story on California Apparel News. See Morgan’s film The True Cost, as it does an excellent job of showing the full process, from farm to store. To me the film was old news, but to people who have never considered how their clothes are made, it’s a real eye opener. What’s sad is that it’s still NEW news, with another factory collapse last week, this one in Pakistan. The only thing I didn’t like about the film was how they’d flash to runway shows.

Most clothing in the designer price point is made in countries with excellent labor standards. Or used to be, at least. However, there is a growing trend to use Chinese factories while maintaining designer-level prices. This is fine if those factories and brands are members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. But if not, that markup is probably not going to the workers. Judging by the great turnout and the growing numbers of sustainable apparel brands, the industry is willing to change. Now it’s just a matter of convincing our customers to buy responsibly as easily as we’ve always been able to convince them to buy irresponsibly.


Sustainable Brands 2014 | Burning Man for People Like Us

Target Teatime SB14

As in 2013, I am covering Sustainable Brands for CleanTechnica. SB is my favorite sustainability conference. Sure, being branding and marketing focused, it’s more shiny/happy/pretty/glamorous than your typical sustainability conference. But it’s also the one with the most meat.

Not the kind you eat, of course, but meaty facts about what some of the largest companies in the world are doing to improve their impact on the world. You can read about last year’s coverage here and this year’s coverage here. Or just check out some of the other interesting events I’ve covered recently here.

If you can’t make it in person, it’s free to watch the livestream on their website here. But it is a lovely conference, not only for the content, but the view from my office tonight on the Sunset Deck:

SB14 view

Economic Influences of the Domestic Clothing Industry on U.S. and African Cotton Markets

Update Earth Day 2017!!!! Ten years have passed since we wrote this paper, and now…

What’s changed since we wrote this article in 2007 is that the US cotton industry is shrinking dramatically, as reported here. Partly due to the end of the subsidies we studied in this paper, but also due to shrinking demand. Why don’t people want more cotton? There are certainly more people now, so they should need more clothes, right? And clothes somehow still magically get cheaper every year, as factories seem to have an endless supply of people desperate enough to help them meet their customer’s impossible prices.

More importantly- how biodegradable is cotton? The dyes used to color it? The thread and trimmings attached to it? Cotton is used in ~50% of apparel sold worldwide. As clothes get cheaper and more disposable they become ripe for being landfill-ready. The challenge is in finding elastin and other materials that are also biodegradable, so as not to create “monstrous hybrids”…

While enrolled at Kenan-Flagler Business School, I presented this paper with my co-author Ramon Vasconcellos at the Northeast Business And Economics Conference in 2007.

The purpose of this essay is twofold: 1) examine the effect of US cotton subsidies on all stakeholders; 2) analyze, qualitatively and quantitatively, the influence of the U.S. clothing industry on the demand for both domestic and imported raw cotton.

The paper is viewable here: Current Economics of Cotton

Afingo’s Behind The Seams Panel

In November 2010, Afingo invited me to moderate a panel on sustainable fashion. Here’s the condensed version of the video. If you have the time, check out the full video here.

From the schedule:

Eco-friendly fashion specialists will discuss whether “going green” is just another trend or a necessary, fundamental shift in how the industry works, as well as how to make the change at a level that is more than skin-deep.
• Susanna Schick, Founder of Sustainable Fashion LA (Moderator)
• Raissa Gerona, Designer, Brigid Catiis
• Dale Denkensohn, Founder & President, econscious
• Jason Kibbey, CEO & Founder, PACT
• M.J. Prest, Editor-in-Chief & Founder, EthicalStyle.com
• Anna Griffin, Editor-in-Chief & Founder, Coco Eco Magazine