More Impact, Less Harm!

Between Fashion Revolution Week April 23-29th and Earth Day on April 22, it’s an important time for us all to reflect on our positive and negative impacts on the environment. 

Prior to starting ODM/ODC, I had little knowledge of the effects of fast fashion on our environment and on the people who make our clothes. $5 seemed like a bargain for a t-shirt and I found myself flocking to fast fashion retailers, desperate to buy the newest trends for as cheap as possible. Even being in the industry myself, having witnessed first-hand the difference between well-made clothes with beautiful fabrics and time consuming handwork and cheap fast fashion that felt as if it were about to fall apart, I found it hard to wrap my head around the fact that there is a crucial difference between a $5 throwaway and something that would cost me a lot but my last a life time. This is the problem many people face without even knowing it because of the marketing we are bombarded with each day. Consumers now expect to pay as little as possible for more clothing without realizing who is really paying for the pay-cut. 

It wasn’t until living four and a half years in NYC as a full-time model that I began to realize the negative impacts of fast fashion. A fellow model and friend of mine, Cameron Russel had a meeting for models in NYC to talk about how to best use our platforms to advocate for matters that are important to us, for her it was women’s rights and the environment, especially fashion’s impact on the environment. It was at this specific meeting that I realized the fashion industry is one of the ‘dirtiest’ out there. In terms of pollution, worker’s rights and fabric waste, the industry has much to improve upon. 

Something recent that ignited the fire for people to advocate for a better industry was the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, five years ago on April 24, 2013. After numerous warnings that the building had visible dangerous cracks, workers were demanded to go to work regardless, and a day after many had complained, the building collapsed killing 1,138 people and injuring 2,500. It was the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. Tons of brands were identified in the rubble, many western , although it took many years for all those involved to own up to their involvement in this atrocious disaster. The disaster was fueled by political corruption and corporate greed perpetuated by the idea that our clothes needed to be made faster, be made cheaper all at the cost of the workers in third world countries where factories were unsafe and workers conditions were forgotten. 

Now, five years what has changed? 

Brands and customers seem to be more conscious of what they buy, what materials they’re using to produce clothing and who are the makers behind it all. The Fashion Revolution non-profit was made to promote genuine change and inspire others to be curious about where all their clothes are made. The industry hasn’t totally transformed but brands big and small are definitely taking strides to be more transparent about all their production processes, which is a huge step in the right direction. [1]

The Fashion Revolution created the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes? to inspire customers to reach out to the companies they buy from and see if they respond about their supply chain. Companies big and small including H&M, ASOS, and Adidas are working with their customers to share their suppliers, proof that some positive change is being made. 

The Fashion Revolution organization also encourages easy steps for those in and outside of the fashion industry to take to ensure we’re all on the path to better production. These steps include an action kit with information on how to get involved globally at each and every fashion revolution week event. Things like printable posters to share on social media, campaigns to share with friends and followers on social media with important facts and quotes, encouraging consumers to share their fashion love story. The fashion love story should be used to write a love letter to a piece of clothing you already own encouraging consumers to shop less and find love in things they already own. Similarly, the organization created the hashtag #haulternative which inspires consumers to refresh their closets in a new way such as shopping secondhand, swapping with friends or doing DIY customization. The last steps to inspire change are to actively reach out to policymakers, writing letters to brands and then downloading their educational resources which includes worksheets, activities and information to show how you can be a student ambassador at your school. 

Whitney Bauck, editor at Fashionista magazine is passionate about the intersection of fashion, faith and ethics and often writes about these issues, especially when they pertain to fashion. Since the factory collapse, Bauck explains another positive step towards ensuring a healthy and safe work environment in the Bangladeshi garment industry with The Accord, a five-year legally-binding agreement between large corporations and trade unions. [2] With the Accord in place, factories are continually inspected to ensure safe working conditions and are financially backed to upgrade safety measures. If you refuse to work with The Accord you could lose out on working with international brands that are signed up. Now, factory safety is no longer a “Western Luxury”. Because of these improved safety conditions, the amount of deaths per year has significantly dropped from 71 workers pre Rana Plaza to 17 workers annually now. [3]

There is however much more improvement needed. While the amount of unions surged immediately after the Rana Plaza disaster, activity has since slowed down, many people claiming to have been beaten up by police officials if they were involved in unions. There is hardly any backing of these unions from government officials. [4] Companies are pushing for safer working conditions yet often don’t want to pay for it. It’s tough without these unions to impose proper working wages or overtime pay for instance. [5]

In addition to these resources, I personally only try and shop from brands that are transparent about who makes their clothes, where they are made and the materials they use. There are enough brands out there doing it ‘right’ for me that I find I have enough resources available to shop. As of late, I’ve found I haven’t really had to buy any new clothes at all but will try and shop secondhand or swap with friends if I need something specific! It’s a fun way to spice up your closet, save some money and ensure you’re not contributing to environmental harm. Check out this article where I talk about a clothing swap I did with some friends in NYC! 

With organizations like the Fashion Revolution, companies who are willing to change and friends and family who are inspired to do good, we can all work together to demand better conditions for all workers and for the environment we all often take for granted. Which leads to another important holiday that falls right before Fashion Revolution week, Earth Day!

Earth Day is a global annual celebration to demonstrate support for environmental protection. From the amount of plastic used, the amount of material waste, contaminated rivers and streams, greenhouse gas emissions, the food industry, makeup and hair, the list goes on about ways in which we can all collectively work to ensure better conditions for our environment. 

With plastic waste alone, and even more specifically single-use straw waste, over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used EVERYDAY in the United States, many of which end up discarded in our ocean. It’s something so simple we can all say no to, to alleviate the amount of plastic ending up in our oceans and killing our ecosystems. I took the pledge to #stopsucking on single-use plastic straws and instead use bamboo straws if need be. Paper straws are a great alternative however if you don’t have to, using none is even better! Similarly, I always bring reusable bags to the grocery store, am never without my reusable water bottle and reusable coffee mug! I’m always on the go, so it also helps to have a metal fork and spoon on hand (I have a few in every purse). It’s little steps like this that we can all implement in our lives that will help make a difference. We can also reach out to our local restaurants, coffee shops (hello Starbucks!) and policymakers to address the abundance of plastic use and see if there’s a feasible solution that’s better for the environment. 

This past Earth Day, I had originally planned to skip all the fun activities and watch a Raptors basketball game in D.C. which would include four + hour bus rides each way to and from NYC. What was environmentally friendly about that? Being stuck in a bus most of the day and contributing to the carbon footprint wasn’t ideal. We decided to skip the game and spend as much time as we could outdoors and ended up having one of the most fun weekends I’ve had in a while. 

We started off our day by not using the lights as much as possible. Sure we had to get ready in a little bit of darkness but the light shining in from our windows did the trick. Next we went to our local coffee shop and used a cup to stay and my reusable mug. We then decided to do a 5k run and pick up trash along the way. This is called ‘plogging’ picking up trash while jogging and is huge in the Scandinavia. [6] It’s a fun way to keep our grounds clean and I must add definitely added a strength component to the workout! After our run, we made sure to bring our reusable bags with us and headed to the grocery store for a shop having them bag up everything in our own bags. Afterwards, we walked home along the east river and enjoyed the rest of the sunny day. It was a fun day outside where we got to admire mother nature and tried to make a difference where we could. It’s things we try and implement into our daily lives anyways but was a nice reminder to not leave the lights on, not have the tap run unnecessarily, pick up trash whenever you can and be cognizant of your impacts on the environment. 

So, what changes are you going to make in your life? For our environment, for the people who make our clothes, for the companies we invest our money in and for the life we leave behind for future generations. Share some things you already do and what steps you’d like to implement into your lives, we’d love to hear your suggestions! 

*Opening image shot by Leeor Wild for ADAY's new minimal waste campaign 

People Tree; Doing it RIGHT!

People Tree is a leader in ethical and sustainable fashion. With credentials running from WTFO accreditation to the Fairtrade Foundation and using GOTS certified cotton, People Tree goes above and beyond to ensure their customer is getting something of quality that isn't at the cost of our environment or the people who make each garment. With the upcoming Fashion Revolution Week and Earth Day nearby, I decided to interview Katy Hughes, account director of People Tree to hear her intake on the future of sustainable fashion and how People Tree ensures they're production process is ethical and sustainable. 

*Use code 'ODMODC10' for 10% off new arrivals!

1) For someone new to the sustainable world, what are some key small steps they can look out for when shopping to ensure they’re investing in a good company?

If you want to shop more consciously, it comes down to paying attention to sustainable and ethical aspects, buying fashion which is better for the environment but also ensuring good and safe working conditions for the people behind it. Being mindful to either of this is already a great step in the right direction. To make sure you’re investing in a company which is actually following these ethics, have a look out for credentials. Certifications like Fair Trade and GOTS are awarded by independent organizations and their strict standards are reviewed regularly. While many fashion brands talk about ethical fashion, these credentials mean you can actually trust how the products are made and ensures you’re investing in a good company. This is a huge support for consumers trying to find orientation in the ethical fashion world. It might also be helpful to read some blogs from independent experts in this area for some advice and guidelines. Apart from that, always keep in mind that doing something is better than doing nothing and every little step contributes to a big change. 

2) People Tree is Certified in many ways from GOTS to SOIL and WFTO to ensure proper sustainable and ethical measures are taken when going into production, which is fabulous! What are the steps to certification and how easy would it be for a smaller company like ODM/ODC to get certified?

To be Fair Trade certified, you have to become a member of the WFTO and put their 10 principles into action and ensure living wages along your whole supply chain. Then you do the audit to become certified and you need to attend regular checkups and peer visits to show that you continue following the 10 Fair Trade principles.

For the GOTS certification you also start by building up a GOTS certified supply chain and finding an Organic cotton supplier who can provide you with a transaction certificate for all the cotton you use. Then you apply to GOTS and have an annual audit to prove that you have all of the documentation. It will also be checked if you are ethical and sustainable in other processes along the supply chain from the office to packaging.

So to become certified with these credentials, it is important to show some action first and put their standards into practice so you can pass the audit. It definitely requires a lot of work, but we think that it is possible to achieve for small companies as well, as everyone has to start somewhere. 

Even if you take on the road slowly, it still is a step in the right direction and you will get there one day. Till then, make sure to be transparent about what you’re doing and illustrate your supply chain to your customers so they can be sure to trust and rely on your ethics. 

3) A lot of people think ‘Made in USA’ is the best way to ensure sustainable and ethical practices. However, a lot of your products are produced overseas. Although it took me a while, I’ve finally come to understand the importance of preserving cultures, giving underdeveloped countries the proper tools for ethical production and a sustainable working wage to ensure available work for these markets but some people don’t understand the whole picture. Made in USA however doesn’t always mean it’s better…How do you convey the difference to your customers?

With the specific aim of Fairtrade to support farmers and suppliers in the developing world, as a WFTO accredited company for us it is a key aspect of our mission to help people build a sustainable livelihood and reach economic independence. We do realize that farmers and workers in the US or UK might face similar challenges to our producers, however we have focused on supporting the growth and development of disadvantaged communities. 

From our point of view, either approach, the local production or the Fairtrade support, is good and valuable. But it is important to know, that in terms of good working conditions, the producer country itself doesn’t give any information or guarantee. Instead, credentials like the Fair Trade mark give insight into standards that you can rely on. 

4) Something many conscious consumers in the sustainable world have trouble with is the idea that simply producing more clothing (whether it’s sustainable or not) is bad for the environment. How do you justify making more clothes? 

Here at People Tree we are very happy that the topic of sustainable fashion finally gets more awareness and consumers are adapting conscious shopping habits. However, we think that is still a long way to go till the change actually becomes part of our daily lives, so making and selling more clothes is crucial to sustainable brands as it allows us to grow and spread the word further. 

In addition to that, sustainable production techniques like organic farming will be used more broadly with increasing production numbers, which actually benefits the environment. Organic farming builds a strong and healthy soil and preserves water, so the more organic crops are grown, the bigger the positive influence on the environment is. 

As a small and ethical company, when we consider a complex issue, we have to weigh up pros and cons from different perspectives and review the impacts of every decision we take. 

In this case, we think that at the point where our society is at now, it is still more important to meet customer’s demands and offer a wide selection to allow them to slowly amend their habits. We also figure that producing higher numbers so that we’re able to offer our garments to a broad audience is crucial to promote sustainable production and trading techniques.

5) Sustainability seems to be trending in the fashion world. Hopefully it’s not a trend that goes out of style. What are some positive shifts you’ve seen in the past five years in the fashion industry in relation to sustainability and ethical production?

A positive shift can definitely be witnessed in the growth of the interest. More and more people are curious about the topic and start talking about it. Social media is full of hashtags, conversations and blogs focusing on sustainable fashion. Our follower and customer numbers are growing continuously and it doesn’t seem like it will stop soon. 

Once people have learned about this topic, it is impossible to forget. That differs the rise of sustainable fashion from a trend. It is not based on taste, but the whole movement relies in facts that have been researched thoroughly for years. More than that, the negative impacts of our current lifestyle and economic processes show clearly which results in more people realizing the importance of a sustainable lifestyle. Especially the younger generation who will face the consequences even more therefore grows up with a complete different view to this topic. Their higher sensitivity towards sustainability could have been noticed in the past year and makes us believe that the growth will continue. 

More than that, there have been massive upheavals in the industry: Several brands are committing to sustainable and fair practices, the Australian Vogue just appointed the first sustainability editor at large, traditional fabric fairs show lots of innovative sustainable materials and universities offer specific programs focused on educating experts for this branch. All these changes point out, that sustainability in fashion is not just a trend, but a change that came to stay.

6) What are the next steps for People Tree? How do you see yourselves evolving in the next five to ten years? 

At People Tree, we have been innovating ourselves and the industry continuously whether by introducing new design and crafting techniques, innovative fabrics or implementing Fairtrade standards into the fashion industry. 

As a pioneer in the sustainable and fair fashion world, we know exactly how important it is to question the status quo and go with the time, because there is always room for improvement. 

For the next few years we aspire to maintain the role as a pioneer in the industry by continuously implementing more sustainable production materials and techniques. As one of our key missions from the very beginning is also to support underprivileged people from around the world we also want to keep taking on more partners. 

It is our vision to make sustainable and fair fashion the norm. To achieve this, we are expanding our clothes range every season with introducing more styles and launching new products like our underwear range. We want to make a broad range of garments available to as many people as possible including men and kids, which we are already working on. 

At People Tree we never stop evolving and as the fashion industry especially in this niche is evolving very fast, we might ourselves be surprised what we’ll all have achieved in ten years. 

7) In your opinion, what is the most unsustainable part of the fashion industry? What are you doing to combat this?

The most unsustainable part of the fashion industry in our opinion is the use of unsustainable, artificial materials, the use of hazardous chemicals and energy-intensive production techniques which are exploiting our resources and damaging our environment. 

But this is also the part where you can achieve the biggest change. People will always be shopping clothes which is good to some extent as this strengthens our worldwide economy. So instead of trying to break people’s habits and fight consumption, why not changing the habits instead and make use of the situation for good. 

Consuming fashion is not the problem. What you consume is what makes the difference.

This is why here at People Tree we only use environmentally friendly processes along the whole supply chain. From sourcing organic fibers via using natural dyes through to promoting the use of carbon neutral handcrafting skills and choosing sea shipments, sustainability lies at the heart of everything we do.  

Perks are that this also results in comfier, long lasting and unique garments. 

a) What about ethically?

The most unethical part is the exploitation of workers along the whole fashion supply chain. Humans are working hard to create beautiful garments for us and aren’t even paid a living wage, let alone valued for their skills. More than that they’re facing safety risks whilst having to work under dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. 

To combat this, People Tree has obliged to work under the WFTO’s standards from the very beginning. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) is an internationally recognized organization that aims to improve the livelihood of disadvantaged producers and introduce fair working standards for greater justice in world trade. 

Like all their members, we have to ensure to meet their 10 standards of Fair Trade. More than that, People Tree was actively involved in writing these guidelines which equally address economic and social topics.

At People Tree, we’re really proud to be the world’s first clothing company that received the their product mark in 2013, which means that we’re dedicated to these principles throughout the whole supply chain from the design, to the fabric and the production processes in every garment.

Fair Trade is at the heart of our mission to combat the most unethical parts of the fashion industry. 

*Use code 'ODMODC10' for 10% off new arrivals!