On my recent shoot with Amour Vert, I got to talk all things sustainable, why we started ODM/ODC along with my involvement in the Model Mafia crew. Here are some of the talking points we discussed…I’m so thankful a company was willing to sit down and talk about these things with me. Slowly but surely, companies care about the model as a whole, more than just their looks. It’s beautiful to be able to share our passions and beliefs, especially on touchy subjects like the environment and sustainability. Join the conversation by leaving your comments below!
As a model, I get to work with so many different types of companies. That’s what I love about my job, I’m a chameleon and I get to change for every brand to represent their image the best I can. From dream wedding dress companies to haute couture and Ready to Wear, it’s beautiful to see behind the scenes and what often goes into making the clothes and the images to sell them. On the flip side, this is what opened my eyes to the sometimes wasteful nature of our industry. A lot of the times, I can feel firsthand the difference between a product that was made with love and one that was made to disintegrate to potentially fuel the overconsumption nature of our economy. I am however a firm believer in working with those who we wish to inspire. It’s not about working against the companies that “aren’t doing it right” but by inspiring them to change and be better! And sometimes, I’m lucky enough to work with companies that I TRULY believe in, like Amour Vert. It was an absolute dream to shoot with a company that is so in alignment with ODM/ODC and our values. Scroll down for my interview with Emory Cooley from Amour Vert and see for yourself why the Model Activist group is obsessed with this company!
1. Tell me a bit about how you got connected with Amour Vert. What’s it like working for them?
I studied Fashion and Textile Management in school and took a course on sustainability. After taking the course, I was shocked at the corruption within the industry. Upon graduation, I knew I wanted to work for a brand with a larger vision at hand, and I found Amour Vert. I moved from North Carolina almost 2 years ago to join Amour Vert in their quest to change fashion.
It’s been an amazing experience working at Amour Vert. My co-workers have become close friends and the office has amazing energy. Teams collaborate frequently and ideas are shared and formed throughout the office and between teams. We have a company-wide meeting every Monday and every Friday there is a family-style lunch. When you work for Amour Vert, you’re a part of a family.
2. What are some of the core values to Amour Vert and how does the company ensure they’re sticking to them?
Our core values are to be sustainable in everything we do. From the factory to the fibers, we are sustainable. We stick to this by having transparency and close relationships with our mills and factories.
3. I love the fact that the company partners with artists on limited-edition prints. I especially love the print you just did with Buckley for Women’s Day! Tell me a bit about this process and some of the collaborations the company has done in the past and what you have coming up in the future.
We work with value-aligned women to develop prints. The collaborative process is between our design team and the artist. The prints are developed based on the season, designs and story we have planned for the collection they are designing into.
We have had so many collaborations it’s difficult to speak to all of them, but most recently in March, we partnered with Kate Miller from Elworth Studio. She developed our Mojave Floral print which we love! We will definitely continue this program in the future, while also developing in-house prints.
4. Tell me a bit about the fabrics Amour Vert uses. They’re so incredibly soft it’s hard to believe they’re sustainable!
We partner to use fiber blends to create new exclusive fabrics that are fashionable, durable and of course, sustainable. We are excited for our exclusive Tencel and Modal blends for the spring season. Tencel comes from eucalyptus trees and Modal comes from beechwood trees and both are created in a closed loop process using sustainable yarns and are biodegradable. We have brand new fabrics from each of these fibers to look forward to this spring.
5. I love the fact that 97% of the clothing is made near the San Francisco office. What’s the importance on producing locally and what are some of the advantages of being so close to the factories?
Producing locally allows in-person conversations, which we believe are crucial and allow for creative minds to collaborate together. It also allows us the opportunity to touch, feel and see the softness and drape of the fabrics.
6. I also love that you showcase the women in your community who live and breathe the Amour Vert ethos. Tell me about some of these women and why you’ve chosen to highlight them in some of your campaigns
In January we launched the “It’s Not About Us” campaign, it’s a campaign that has no end date and will continuously highlight women who live the ethos of Amour Vert. We believe models are more than a pretty face, and we want to give them a platform to tell their story.
7. What are the criteria for choosing like-minded companies like Agolde denim, Vitamin A swim, Veja shoes, etc. to sell on the site?
We partner with companies that share the same sustainable and ethical standards. That means these companies are aligned in their values. We work hard so that our customer can shop online and be effortlessly sustainable.
8. In your opinion, what is the most unsustainable part of the fashion industry? What are you doing to combat this?
There are so many aspects of the fashion industry that are unsustainable, but something that we like to focus on shifting is fabric production. We work with only 100% Certified Organic Cotton (only 1% of the world’s cotton is grown organically), and natural fibers that are produced in a closed loop process, such as our signature Modal, and Tencel.
These fabrics are not only better for the environment and the farmers, but also for every person working with them along the supply chain, and eventually the customer who purchases and wears the piece. In terms of ethics, we ensure that the factories that we work with respect to their workers by providing safe and clean work environments, a living wage, reasonable hours and breaks. This shouldn’t be unique in the fashion industry, but sadly it is.
9. 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?
We would encourage consumers to ask for transparency. Ask if the factories are sustainable, understand the fiber content. Customers should educate themselves so they can ask companies the harder questions that often times no one is asking.
10. What are the next steps for Amour Vert? How do you see yourselves evolving in the next five to ten years?
To continue to grow, open stores and spread awareness about the importance of sustainable fashion, etc.
When a makeup artist friend of mine came to me with a project he was helping produce, I was immediately intrigued. Tribe of Lambs is a project founded by a Canadian who was passionate about creating jewelry and giving back to different communities in India, all whilst bringing awareness to the HIV+ epidemic especially for children. The specific project my friend was asking about was for their upcoming shoot and I was more than honored to be a part of it. So much of my job requires me to shoot for brands I don’t always have the same beliefs in. This was something I was proud to promote, support, and share with all of my community. Meet Bobbi, Co-founder of Tribe of Lambs….
Founder Bobbi Paidel and Director of Marketing Philip Haley
1) Tell me a bit about how Tribe of Lambs came about? Where did everyone in the company come from and how did you all transition into the sustainable/ethical world?
Tribe of Lambs started over 4 years ago as a crowdfunding project to raise money for two orphanages in the Himalayas of India. I was volunteering there and felt a real pull to do something more meaningful in life. Phil came to India when the campaign was finished and helped me complete the donations. Initially we were selling a variety of different artisan made accessories and supporting a variety of youth based causes but we’ve since streamlined our mission and our products. Nearly 3 years back we became aware of the issues HIV+ children face and we felt very strongly that this was something we needed to put all our efforts into. The initial campaign was so well received we came home and registered as a nonprofit, along side our 3rd friend who used to be quite involved. As the team is now just Phil & I, we’ve had to boot strap it, working full time jobs and growing the organization on the side. My background is Fashion and Phil’s is marketing, so we have complimentary skills, which can both easily transition into this type of social venture.
2) I couldn’t believe reading about the treatment of HIV positive children in India… It’s atrocious and stunning to read they’re often segregated or left to fend for themselves. Tell us about some of the NGO’s you’ve been working with that are helping to make a difference. How did you choose who to partner with?
We currently have one partner organization – Rays Aasha Ki Ek Kiran which translates to One Ray of Hope. It is a small privately run organization, which works solely for the lives and rights of HIV+ children in and around Rajasthan. It is absolutely incredible to see how the life of a child can be completely transformed when provided a loving home, a sense of family, proper nutrition and health care and quality education. Beyond that, the children we work with are constantly reminded that their lives matter, that they can lead by example, that fear and stigma do not have to be the societal norm when it comes to a person living with the HIV virus. Rays currently house 38 boys, 16 girls & employs 8 HIV+ widows to work as caretakers in the home. We’ve met and worked with a handful of organizations over the years and in India the culture of personal connection runs much deeper than in western partnerships. We first must have a “good feeling” about an organization, their presidents or founders and administrative staff before we will even consider moving forward. This means regular meetings and conversations to see if these small NGO’s are aligned with the Tribe and then we move forward ensuring transparency and ethics are being maintained so that we can build a trustworthy partnership. The founders of Rays and their families have now become our families. We know our project funds are being properly allocated and we love spending time there to experience first hand what’s made possible through our generous contributors around the world.
3) I think it’s beautiful that the artisans you work with are oftentimes giving back to their very own communities. That must be special to see. How do you find artisans to work with and is their work volunteer based seeing as 100% of the funds are donated to your projects?
100% of our donations are donated to our projects. As we are a nonprofit company, we contribute our jewelry sale profits (after expenses) to our projects, which works out to be between 10-40% of each purchase. We pay our artisans 3x minimum wage in India, we connect with small family run producers to ensure that work ethics are met to our standard. We only move toward partnerships once a mutually agreeable and trustworthy relationship has begun. Empowering local artisans and bringing economic growth into the communities we work to support is how we operate a full circle business model. The artisans know that their work is contributing to children who are in need in their communities. There is a lot of corruption in India, and we work hard to ensure we’re part of the solution, not contributing to the problems.
4) What materials are you using for your jewelry Tand how do you choose each one?
We use Indian 925 Sterling Silver, 18 Carat Gold Plating, Semi-precious stones and brass detailing. We use silver because it is an affordable price point and a high quality, hypoallergenic metal. We source our gems from a gem wholesaler who’s family has been working in the industry for more than 40 years.
5) In your opinion, what is the most unsustainable part of the fashion industry? What is Tribe of Lambs doing to combat this?
Overconsumption & waste due to fast fashion, advertising & greed in our society. The mass impact on the environment and garment workers overseas are becoming more common knowledge however, we have a long way to go in making simple lifestyle choices which will help make long lasting change.
a) What about ethically?
Tribe of Lambs is working towards a consumer industry, which focuses on quality over quantity. We want our customers to both understand our strengths and our areas for growth in the production of our products and also know that their purchase is contributing to a global issue. We encourage our customers to look for quality when making a purchase so it is long lasting.
6) What’s the best way you ensure your workers are treated well?
We have close working relationships with all our producers who disclose the payments, agreements and schedules of the workers they employ. All our producers sign Tribe of Lambs supplier standards documents. As we contract our workers, we do not have total control over these issues however, it is in our 5 year plan to develop our own jewelry cooperative where we can shift this.
7) What are some initiatives you’re working on in Canada, UK and India to spread awareness?
Our whole business is our awareness initiative. Our mission is to raise funds and awareness for HIV+ children through the sale of our jewelry. Our jewelry acts as a platform to create meaningful conversations about HIV and other global issues and how we can come together to inspire change.
8) What’s something different (or special) about Tribe of Lambs from other companies you’ve worked at in the past?
Since founding Tribe of Lambs I’ve really been focused on showing consumers that ethical & sustainable can also mean quality & style. 5 years ago when I was working in the fashion industry, ethical had a “hippie/granola” vibe to it and people weren’t responsive. Now it’s totally possible to support smaller brands with bigger missions. Tribe is different that we are supporting such a small marginalized group of HIV+ children while maintaining a quality product, at a competitive price. It IS possible to use business for change if you strategize correctly. People will always want to shop, and they want a platform to give to…that is what we offer.
9) 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?
Research! Read about a companies values and standards before you give them your money. If the information isn’t available online, send them an email. I appreciate getting emails requesting more information about what we do and how we do it.