#SWAAYthenarrative

How We Can All Be A Part Of The Sustainable Fashion Revolution

7 min read
Culture

We're all living through unprecedented times. This decade is calling for revolutionary change, and to start the process, all you need to do is make responsible shopping decisions with your next purchase.

As a fashion designer, instructor at The Fashion Institute of Technology, and an eco-conscious thought leader, I aim to shine a light on supercharging ideas into solutions and driving sustainable innovation into our new world.

My goal is to enlighten consumers and help people realize that even though you are "just" one person with your small action you have the ability and power to transform the fashion industry as we know it by opting into sustainable choices.

Because we all, every day, get up and put clothes on our backs. It's a simple fact of life. And yet, how often do you think about where those clothes came from? Do you know who made them? Do you know what they're made from? Was their production environmentally conscious?

Over the last decade, the truth behind the food and beauty industries has exposed the harsh reality of the toxicity behind these products. Now, it's time to reveal the truth behind the fast fashion industry. Fast fashion can be defined as cheap and "trendy" clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture. Have you heard of Fashion Nova, Pretty Little Thing, H&M, NastyGal, Missguided or BooHoo? These brands are under the category of fast-fashion.

Because we all, every day, get up and put clothes on our backs. It's a simple fact of life. And yet, how often do you think about where those clothes came from?

The fast fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 per year, more than air travel and shipping combined. Additionally, it produces 20% of global wastewater, which is contaminating our rivers, oceans, drinking water, and soil. With that comes unfair human health conditions and extremely low wages for workers. The entire fast fashion system is devaluing both the people behind the clothing and the well-being of our planet.

Last December, the New York Times released an article about Fashion-Nova that exposed the life and working conditions of Mercedes Cortes, a seamstress behind the famous Los Angeles-based fast fashion brand. It reports that, "Ms. Cortes worked every day of the week, but her pay varied depending on how quickly her fingers could move. Ms. Cortes was paid for each piece of a shirt she sewed together — about 4 cents to sew on each sleeve, 5 cents for : each of the side seams, 8 cents for the seam on the neckline. On average, she earned $270 in a week, the equivalent of $4.66 an hour, she said." At this point, she was working in a dusty, old factory amidst cockroaches and rats. After leaving this factory and receiving a small settlement for back wages, "She continued to work in factories sewing Fashion Nova clothes, noticing the $12 price tags on the tops she had stitched together for cents. 'The clothes are very expensive for what they pay us,' Ms. Cortes said. 'Consumers can say, "Well, of course that's what it's like in Bangladesh or Vietnam," but they are developing countries,' Mr. Weil [the leader of the United States Labor Department from 2014 -2017] said. 'People just don't want to believe it's true in their own backyard.'"

You can learn to be aware and support brands that have transparency within their supply chain. Every item of clothing you're wearing can be traced back to a manufacturing facility, a shipping facility, and a store… the list goes on and on all the way back to a tuft of cotton to make a single stitch in a pair of jeans. And that's not even considering the human capital behind it all; who's shipping, selling, and stitching your clothes? Are they all being fairly paid and ethically treated?

My goal is to enlighten consumers and help people realize that even though you are "just" one person with your small action you have the ability and power to transform the fashion industry as we know it by opting into sustainable choices.

Fast fashion has infected our mindsets, because as a generation we have learned to view clothing as a throw-away article, buying low-quality clothing each season with the intention of throwing it away and buying more next season. In the case of most fast-fashion brands, you can safely assume that somewhere along the line a worker is being mistreated, a natural resource is being abused, and some form of pollution is leaking its way into our ozone.

I'm not asking you to throw out your entire wardrobe and start wearing leaves and loincloths. Any person on an individual level has the ability to look back, ask these questions, and start taking small steps away from buying these toxic brands.

As a fashion designer, I am doing my part by implementing the principles of "slow fashion" into my design process. Slow fashion means designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. It is about consuming and creating fashion consciously and with integrity by connecting social and environmental awareness with personal responsibility. Slow fashion encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste. It's thoughtful, intentional, sustainable, and holistic. In all, the movement works towards creating an industry that benefits the planet and all people.

Are you willing to make the changes necessary to live a sustainable, healthy, and conscious lifestyle for the future of humanity and our planet? It's about the small ways that you can take yourself out of a problematic, abusive, and unsustainable system.

You can learn to be aware and support brands that have transparency within their supply chain. Every item of clothing you're wearing can be traced back to a manufacturing facility, a shipping facility, and a store…

Here are some different methods that can put you on the path to a more sustainable lifestyle:

  1. Mindset Check: Have you ever really evaluated your shopping habits? Not just when it comes to finding the best deal. Think about your consumption habits, will the piece you're buying last you months or a lifetime? Take a step back before you hit "Checkout," and really consider what you're doing.
  1. Research Before You Buy: Do you ever research your favorite brands to see where their clothes actually come from? It just takes a simple search to see if your favorite brands are being transparent and accountable for how their clothes are actually being made. If you learn anything you don't like, simply stop supporting them and put your money towards more sustainable business models.
  1. Get Creative: You may look into your closet one day, feeling uninspired, and get that itch to buy something new. But if you put a little more thought into it, you can re-wear and upcycle your wardrobe. Mix and match pieces to reinvent outfits. Turn a T-shirt into a crop top, and get adventurous with your accessories. You may have a whole new look still yet uncovered in that old closet of yours.
  1. Host a Clothing Swap: A clothing swap is a type of swapmeet wherein friends, family, and co-workers exchange their valued but no longer used clothing for clothing they will use. Clothing swaps are considered not only a good way to refill one's wardrobe, but also are considered an act of environmentalism. Or, If you rather not leave the comfort of your own home, Global Fashion Exchange offers a Digital Swapping System. Now you can SWAP with others around the world for FREE with the click of a button. The platform offers full traceability for each item, with visible information such as the factory and materials used in its creation. There you can share style tips, renew your wardrobe and extend the life of your clothing which is good for the planet!
  1. Shop Vintage: One sure way to make sure your fashion choices are sustainable is by investing in garments that can stand the test of time.

The world is made up of the changes that we can each make; even the UN is supporting this vision, urging, global, local, and people action. They are calling for "all sectors of society to mobilize for a decade of action." Eco-conscious Designers and Advocates are doing their part in this as members of the fashion industry, but you are an integral part of closing this loop. As consumers, you are a part of this change with us. We can't stop until this culture of consumption is changed so that we can accelerate towards a healthier future for our people and planet.

To make a change on a large scale, it comes down to the small steps towards sustainability in our everyday lives that will amass to a positive ripple effect for the entire world.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.