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.
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
MAGIC is the largest apparel industry trade show in the world, held biannually in Las Vegas, that bastion of rampant consumerism. (The pink stretch Hummer above sums it up.) With thousands of mass-market brands on display, the show represents the full spectrum of the mass apparel industry. There were also a number of great panels on a full range of topics. Having spent over a decade in this industry, I am always surprised by the number of people who want to be fashion designers. If they only knew…
The “Eco Chic | Towards Sustainable Swedish Fashion” exhibit runs through August 21st, and is a lovely showcase of sustainable fashion coming out of Sweden. I had never entered the Swedish Embassy (aka Nordic House) before, so this was a pleasant surprise. The exhibit is on the second floor, but on the ground floor they have a Swedish restaurant and gift shop that put IKEA to shame!
The exhibit was beautifully presented and introduced me to quite a few designers I haven’t heard of before. The only downside of this is that unless they made a strong effort to get American retailers interested in the show, we might never see these clothes in American stores.
This exhibit is free of charge and housed in the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, one of the country’s leading fashion schools. What most impressed me about the collection is that it did not begin with eco-fashion, but with a brief history of fashion from the 1800′s. The exhibit included a key which identifies the six major areas of impact, and each piece had symbols identifying the biggest issues around its manufacture.
Susanna Schick has worked in product development for some of the top fashion designers in New York and Los Angeles, always choosing creative challenges over money and security. Ms. Schick always remained true to her north star goal- to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number, while also finding creative and intellectual fulfillment in her work. Thus, she shared her expertise with her students at Parsons School of Design while also completing projects from multiple avant-garde designers desperately preparing for Fashion Week.
When apparel product development ceased to be adequately challenging, she pursued an MBA focused on sustainability. The intersection between preserving Earth’s finite resources and promoting more meaningful consumption is where her passion lies. Ms. Schick spent the summer of 2009 with Virgance in San Francisco, helping them develop and scale Carrotmob, an exciting new form of consumer activism.
When she’s not dreaming up innovative ways to solve the world’s problems, or striving to make Los Angeles the world capital of eco-fashion, Ms. Schick can be found using her talent for strategy in darting through traffic on her motorcycle or bicycle. Try to keep up on Twitter: @pinkyracr
Last Saturday afternoon, Sunset Gower Studios played host to a different kind of show, created by the Green Youth Movement and produced by Gallery LA. The Green Youth Movement was started by Archer student Ally Maize, whose mission includes:
“As founder of GYM, I hope to one day garner the support of politicians and educators to create a practical and research based environmental course of study that would ultimately become integrated in every elementary school education curriculum across the nation.”
At the Global Green Pre-Oscar party last week, Suzy Amis Cameron’s eco Oscar gown was unveiled. It was lovely, but there was no mention of what made this gown more sustainable than most, other than it was colored “Na’vi blue”.
This sort of vagueness is how people can easily be accused of greenwashing. Even the interview with the designer did not include this pertinent information, only her discussing the challenge of creating an eco gown. Yes, it’s a little harder, but when price is not an issue it’s no harder than designing any other couture-quality gown.
Recently I met with Tierra Forte of TransFair USA, to discuss the new apparel certification pilot program they’re developing to extend fair trade benefits and protections beyond just the farm, but also for factory workers. I am very excited about this, as one of the main reasons I chose to pursue an MBA in Sustainability was to find a way to help improve labor conditions for apparel industry workers. Having worked in the US apparel industry for over a decade, I’ve witnessed the shift from domestic to foreign to predominantly Chinese manufacturing, and all of the benefits and difficulties that encompassed.
67% of American Consumers Don’t Know Fair Trade
The United States represents 30% of the fair trade market, even though only 33% of American consumers know what “fair trade” means. Have you explained it to your friends and family yet? I didn’t even know how environmentally rigorous the certification is until I dug into TransFair’s website. TransFair teaches and empowers producers to become stewards of their environment, so that Fair Trade Certified products are also environmentally responsible. For example, with apparel, they only approve factories which already meet the legal environmental standards. This is a big deal in countries where many textile mills dump toxic waste into the water supply as part of the dyeing and finishing processes. 58% of TransFair’s commodity products are also certified organic, and this is increasing.
Clothing- Slightly More Complicated Than Coffee
Most people do not realize the amount of time and effort it takes to develop and manufacture a garment, and therefore undervalue clothing. Apparel uses a very complex supply chain which involves a broad range of suppliers.
Having read a lot of recent coverage of the FTC’s August 2009 ruling about bamboo, I wonder what will become of brands whose staple fabric is “bamboo”? The problem is, most of these designers and the textile sales reps they buy from, were sold rayon fabric labeled as bamboo.
Rayon is a semi-synthetic fiber based on wood pulp. Sure, some of that wood pulp could be bamboo, but try getting a Chinese textile mill to tell you what they’re actually putting into the mix, as opposed to what they know you want them to tell you is in there.
While Viscose Rayon (known simply as Rayon in the US) is a wonderfully breathable fiber with great texture, strength, and drape-ability, it does require a lot of nasty chemicals to turn that wood pulp, bamboo or otherwise, into soft textile products. In Delia Montgomery’s recent article on the subject, one of the comments mentions the impact of cotton, complaining that cotton has a more negative net impact than bamboo.