If this photograph makes you want to run bikini-clad through Central Park with our exquisite Aish scarf trailing behind you, all we can say is: us too! At the very least, this stunning shot should make you want to pick up a copy of Thoughtfully Magazine, where all of the fashion spreads feature nontoxic makeup and ethically made clothing.
The scarf pictured here was made by artisans in Bengal using a 2,000-year-old weaving technique called jamdani. And to our delight, several more Ethica items–including styles by Ace & Jig, Etnia Barcelona, A Peace Treaty and Merchant Society–are showcased in this summer fashion story.
If any group reveres Julie Gilhart more than the luxury fashion industry, it’s the sustainable fashion industry.
During her 18-year tenure as VP and fashion director of Barneys New York, Gilhart used her vaunted position to promote a more principled approach to apparel production, and she lent important support to ethical labels including Loomstate, Alabama Chanin and Organic by John Patrick. In 2008, she even challenged the likes of Martin Margiela, Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren to create sustainable looks for an in-store fashion show–the first time, according to Gilhart, that many of the participants were tasked with incorporating environmental considerations into their design process.
Speaking with the sustainable design publication Ever Manifesto last year, Gilhart said it was the exorbitant cost of a Parisian couture show that woke her up to the excesses of the fashion world.
“Someone told me it cost over a million dollars to produce,” Gilhart said of the show. “At the time, there were an increasing amount of discussions happening on the negative impact that we were having on the planet. Poverty, especially in certain regions of Africa where food and water were scarce, was a hot topic in the news. I was looking at the clothes–none of which were available for sale, as everything was based on fantasy–and all of a sudden it did not make sense for me. It was a moment of change for how I would do and see things.”
Since parting ways with Barneys in 2010, Gilhart has worked as a fashion consultant, counseling brands and conglomerates on sustainability strategies, as well as helping Amazon hone its approach to luxury retail. This month, she and friend Simon Collins, former dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons, launched the first of what may become a monthly event series called Fashion Garage, during which the two dispensed free advice to anyone seeking it.
“I was surprised at the questions that came in terms of responsibility and sustainability. We had a lot of people asking about how you can incorporate that into what one is doing,” Gilhart told Redef in a lengthy interview following the event. “That surprised me, but also made me really excited because it’s a platform I do love to explore.”
Gilhart and Collins during the inaugural Fashion Garage. Photo via style.com
As always, Gilhart's views on sustainable fashion are nuanced and insightful. Here are four things, ranging from encouraging to eyebrow-raising, that she said to Redef on the subject.
1. Customers do–or will–care.
“If you’re in the fashion business, you do one of two things: you follow trends, or you pick up on energy and you create energy. I think that sustainability–or responsibility, or ethics, or whatever you call it–is an emerging trend that does have energy. You have to pay attention to it.”
2. This movement is in the hands of small brands.
“There are three things you can really look at [in creating a sustainable brand]: What is your supply chain? What are your materials? And how and where do you produce–who’s actually making it? When you’re big and already have a developed business, it’s really hard to go back and re-do. If you’re small, it’s easier to build.
“Sometimes it seems more costly, so you have to examine it. The first step is to be conscious and aware of where you are right now and start to chip away at it. If you think you’re going to build the Pyramids, it seems impossible. But if you start with one stone, eventually you’ll get the Pyramids built.”
3. Ethical fast fashion is not an oxymoron.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the bad things. Take fast fashion. Everybody bashes fast fashion. In my dreams, I would love to see a fast fashion brand that’s made well, that has a proper supply chain, that uses great materials. That pays homage to the human part of it, to the labour. I think it’s possible.
“We need to look at the way the world is now–pretty soon we’re going to have nine billion people on this planet. That’s a lot of people to clothe. We still need to push ways of rethinking the way we buy and use clothes. It’s going to take a lot of changing consumer behavior, and we all know that behavior is hard to change. We need to chip away at that, but we also need to accept the fact that fast fashion will probably exist–so let’s make it better. You can still be a profitable business and be a responsible business.”
4. It may be investors, not consumers, who ultimately bring about change.
“The other thing about sustainability that I think is very interesting is the investor scene. We’ve seen the tragedies that can come from not doing things in the right way–for example, Rana Plaza, where over a thousand people were killed. So, what does that say if I’m an investor? I want to invest in something that’s pretty much risk-free, [and] we’re seeing how risky not being sustainable can be.”
Gilhart also shared her take on whether fashion designers are overworked, why breaking into fashion is easier today than ever before and plenty more. Read the interview in its entirety on Redef.
The importance of ethical and sustainable fashion can’t be explained in a soundbyte. It’s an impossibly complex question that, nonetheless, I often find myself fielding in settings that demand a five-minute answer. (Raise your hand if you want to talk child labor or cancer-causing chemicals at a cocktail party.)
Since May 29th, I’ve finally had a digestible but honest response to this query: If you truly want to understand the tangible, staggering ways that the fashion industry negatively impacts the environment and people around the world, set aside 92 minutes and watch The True Cost.
Available on Netflix starting today, this documentary is a compelling crash course on the problems with the modern-day fashion industry–from the health risks that genetically modified cotton seeds pose to communities right here in America, to the unimaginable working conditions endured by the world’s 40 million (primarily female) garment workers, to what’s happening to the 70 lbs. of clothing each of us is tossing every year.
The True Cost reveals what happens to the clothes we donate or discard.
Spoiler: It’s not pretty. It’s a daunting, emotionally draining subject, and this film doesn’t sugarcoat it. To be honest, as much as I’d been looking forward to the release of this film and the arrival of my Kickstarter reward for backing the project, I waited several weeks from the time I received my DVD before I sat down and watched it. Even though I think about these issues every day, I was expecting this movie to make me upset–and it did. I expected to feel frustrated, and for all of the collective progress we’ve made on this front in recent years to seem small. Check, check.
What it did not make me feel, however, was hopeless. In fact, my most important takeaway from this documentary was a reminder of how very fixable this problem is.
Building on the frequent comparison between slow fashion and slow food, Paste Magazine likens The True Cost to Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me. Aside from being apt, the analogy offers reasons to be hopeful: Fortune recently reported that, as shoppers have shifted their support toward small, local and responsible producers, the top 25 U.S. food and beverage companies have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009. It’s an impact that has prompted Big Food to change the way it does business.
In 2015 alone, Kraft Foods removed synthetic colors and artificial preservatives from its mac and cheese; General Mills cut sugar content in Yoplait yogurt by 25 percent and made Cheerios GMO-free; Hershey promised to have “clean labels” (i.e., simple ingredients) for its signature Kisses by the end of the year; and both Tyson and McDonald’s stopped selling chicken treated with human antibiotics.
It’s real change driven by consumers who sought, and found, alternatives to the status quo. And it’s change that, perhaps in part, began with a movie.
Learn more about “The True Cost” at truecostmovie.com.
Those connected to the global green scene may have noticed some familiar names in Under the Canopy’s debut collection: many of the styles are named after women who are using a diverse set of talents–from writing to racecar driving–to champion sustainability around the world.
“All of these women are game-changers–people who are doing really great work around this movement,” says Under the Canopy founder Marci Zaroff, who herself has been promoting sustainable fashion for the past two decades. The sartorial tribute, she explains, is about “celebrating women who are rising to the occasion, who are saying ‘Let’s all be the change we wish to see in the world.’”
Below, Zaroff introduces us to five of these female leaders and their mega-inspiring work.
1. Leilani Münter, racecar driver
Photo by Phil Cavali
Leilani Münter is a force to be reckoned with. She is one of the leading female NASCAR drivers in history, and she only drives cars powered by renewable energy. I actually got to watch her in a race where she partnered with The Solutions Project, which Mark Ruffalo started. He hosted an event where she raced a solar-powered car–it was just unbelievable. She has a huge following. NASCAR is actually the number one spectator sport in America, so the impact she has, and her platform to create awareness around green, is really powerful.
2. Greta Eagan, blogger, stylist and author
Greta Eagan has been a powerful force of awareness with her amazing Fashion Me Green blog. An eco-stylist, model and writer of Wear No Evil: How to Change the World With Your Wardrobe, Greta truly walks the talk and is the embodiment of eco-chic beauty.
3. Erin Schrode, speaker and entrepreneur
Erin Schrode is a rising star like you’ve never met. When she was 13 years old, she started an organization called Teens Turning Green, which has now turned into tens of thousands of high school and college kids all over the country that are educating their peers around the green movement in food, in fashion and in lifestyle. They recently changed the name to just Turning Green because Erin and the first generation of this organization are now in their early 20s, but she’s still out there traveling the world as a young green leader.
4. Starre Vartan, author and blogger
Starre Vartan, founder and editor of Eco-Chick, was one of the early bloggers and writers around the eco-fashion space. She has been out there building content and educating people. Education has always been a really important propellant in driving this movement forward, so I applaud her work.
5. Zoe Helene, artist and environmental activist
Photo by Tracy Eller
Zoe Helene started an organization called Cosmic Sister, where she’s connected women from all different sectors. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so as we all come together and share our collective voices, we’re stronger together than apart. She’s also been a leading voice among women within the natural products industry, and she is doing some great work in the plant world too, in terms of recognizing the symbiotic relationship that humanity and the plant kingdom have.
The word “pioneer” often precedes Marci Zaroff’s name, but the term hardly begins to cover it. For the last two decades, Zaroff has been tirelessly advocating for sustainability in textiles and fashion–launching Under the Canopy, one of the world’s first sustainable lifestyle brands, in 1996; playing a key role in defining the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) in 2002; working with the likes of Whole Foods, Macy’s and Target to introduce organic-fiber products into stores nationwide; and helping Fair Trade USA develop its first textile certification. She has also executive produced a sustainable fashion documentary, Thread, and is a public speaker who's previously shared a stage with Al Gore. She is, in other words, a total #girlboss.
This year, Under the Canopy expanded from home goods into a full line of GOTS-certified organic clothing. Available online exclusively at Ethica, the collection of loungewear and wardrobe basics has already been spotted on the likes of actress Alysia Reiner and TV personalities Catt Sadler and Louise Roe. We spoke to Zaroff about her 20-year journey to make sustainable fashion a reality.
An organic cotton V-neck tee by Under the Canopy.
You created and trademarked the term eco-fashion in 1995. What’s surprised you about the way the industry has evolved over the past 20 years? What’s surprised me most is how long it took to take root. The outdoor apparel industry got it so much faster, and I think that’s because of that sector’s connection to the environment. But fashion has such great storytelling cachet that I thought eco-fashion would’ve gained momentum much sooner. A lot of early pioneers–talented people–just couldn’t withstand that timeline and ended up dropping out of the space.
While the eco-fashion movement was picking up steam in the outdoor space, the fast fashion movement was picking up steam in the fashion space, which was the antithesis. We almost had to get to an extreme for the fashion industry to wake up and embrace the change. I think that’s what happened, and Rana Plaza was a big catalyst for this.
Louise Roe wearing Under the Canopy’s Molly leggings. Photo: louiseroe.com
Do you believe that we’re approaching the tipping point for ethical and sustainable fashion? Is there anything about this moment in time that feels different from where this movement has been in the past? A thousand percent. The Internet and the digital world have changed the game. People are longing for storytelling and connection, and the timing has never been better in terms of leveraging social media as a wildfire tool to educate.
That’s always been the missing link: education. There are all these different spokes on the wheel of eco-fashion, whether you’re talking about organic products or fair trade, or ethically made items or minimizing impacts–whichever battle you want to pick. Now that we can be online and share stories that resonate, it’s all starting to grow exponentially.
And now you see sites like Ethica that are becoming portals where, once people have that education, they can actually translate it into action. There was really a lack of that.
Catt Sadler in an Under the Canopy tee. Photo courtesy of Under the Canopy
Which among your many accomplishments makes you most proud? The meta answer to that is the fact that when I created the term eco-fashion in the early ’90s and trademarked it in 1995, it didn’t exist. People thought I was absolutely crazy, and every time I said the term, people laughed at me and said, “Marci, no one is ever going to buy into that. Those are two completely dichotomous worlds. People who are into ecology and humanitarianism and consciousness are not the people who are into fashion. And the people who are into fashion, they look at the green, humanitarian, consciousness world as a bunch of weirdo hippie treehuggers. You’re stepping into a paradox, and it doesn’t make sense.”
But I’m a bridge builder, so I suppose that I get incredible joy now at seeing that that bridge has been built, and that today when you say eco-fashion, people don’t give you a blank-eyed stare. They say, “Of course.” Wow. And especially the younger generation, they get it instantly.
“I’ve learned that the way to stay in balance and harmony is to have one set of values and not two. To have your personal and professional lives in sync.”
Zaroff with former Vice President Al Gore. Photo courtesy of Marci Zaroff
You always look radiant, and you're always such a positive presence. What are your secrets for inner and outer beauty? Building on what I was just saying, it’s not about ‘this or that,’ it’s about ‘this and that.’ It’s about no compromises, so for me, looking good is important, but so is feeling good and doing good. I’ve learned that the way to stay in balance and harmony and radiate true health is to have one set of values and not two. To have values where your personal and your professional lives are in sync, and you live a healthy and conscious lifestyle and make choices that resonate on a deep level.
It’s like water for chocolate in that you want the energy of what you’re putting in and on your body to touch you on every level. And so I live with passion and purpose, and love is a big part of that. I find love to be the key ingredient in everything that I do.
Under the Canopy's organic cotton moto sweatpants.
As a woman who is living her passion and leading several companies, what’s the best piece of leadership advice you can offer? We create whatever reality we can envision, so you have to find your inner strength and trust your gut. One of the comments I find myself saying on a regular basis when I do public speaking is to always follow your heart, not your head, because it’s within you, the inner strength within you, where your soul lives, where your truth lives, that you really have all the answers you need. It goes back to being about no compromise and trusting your gut. Oh, and never ask why. Ask why not.
If short dresses and pleated skirts don't sound like the makings of a feminist fashion label, you're probably not familiar with Dolores Haze–or its creator, Samantha Giordano.
The sustainable fashion brand borrows its name from the titular character in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, and its coquettish aesthetic stems from a subversive reading of the book. "I'm inspired by the dichotomy between her sorrowful story in the novel and the flirtatious, hyper-feminine Lolita" portrayed in pop culture, Giordano says.
We caught up with the #girlpower advocate (who earned a sociology degree from Barnard College before attending Parsons) to explore the brainy bent behind her line. Which, by the way, is made at a woman-owned factory in NYC.
Giordano has unapologetically positioned Dolores Haze as a feminist brand.
When did you first read Lolita? Did you know at the time that it would have a lasting influence on you? I first read Lolita at 17, and upon finishing thought, “Dolores Haze is the most badass name for a fashion line.” My initial experience in the design world coincided with reading Lolita: interning at Nicole Miller. It was clear then that I wanted to work in fashion and that I had found the perfect name for a future line. Shortly thereafter, I bought the domain, knowing that one day down the road I’d have my own brand.
“When I first read Lolita, I thought, 'Dolores Haze is the most badass name for a fashion line.' Shortly thereafter, I bought the domain, knowing that one day I’d have my own brand.”
What is the story behind your SS15 collection, “A Stranger I Know”? Each season, I seek the sentiment of nostalgia for inspiration. The SS15 collection was inspired by the notion of a memory of someone eroding and fading over time, thereupon becoming “The Stranger I Know.” This idea was mirrored with the floral graph-check print. I took photographs of flowers and then manipulated them to look as though they’ve been xeroxed over and over again, leaving a grainy image less sharp than the original.
Related Story: The Making of Dolores Haze's Must-Have SS15 Print
How is the undercurrent of darkness that defines Dolores Haze manifested in this collection? It's manifested in an array of manners, be it creating menswear-inspired motorcycle jackets with feminine silk floral linings or unexpectedly using leather in pastel shades for sexy halter tops and tanks. The juxtaposition of color and fabrication is our go-to way to bring in the layer of darkness that informs our aesthetic.
Styles from the Dolores Haze SS15 collection.
Can you speak to the idea that women self-objectify through their fashion choices? How is Dolores Haze a response to that? Many women self-objectify through their fashion choices by becoming hyperaware of how to hide whatever their perceived physical flaws may be. The media socializes many young women to conflate their worth with their appearance. You flip open magazines and they're filled with pages touching on an array of insecurities: how to dress to conceal X, Y and Z physical faults.
Giordano outside her Brooklyn studio wearing Dolores Haze SS15.
I have fashionable friends with an array of body types–they wear what they want, and style it well. We need to teach girls that your confidence isn’t dependent on what the media teaches us a flawless body is. It’s your confidence, drive, passions and empathy that make you attractive. Shopping and getting dressed up should be a means to make women feel positive, because nothing’s sexier than confidence.
We love that you openly approach fashion design from both a sociological and artistic perspective. Why do you think so many designers are reluctant to express an ideology? This notion that having an intellectual identity might undermine good design feels reminiscent of stereotypes that polarize femininity, beauty and intelligence. Thank you! That’s so great to hear that my approach to design is appreciated. I’m not sure why many labels shy away from incorporating an ideology into their brand identity. My first assumption is a concern with commercial viability, and the dilemma that haunts many creatives as to whether or not to dilute your voice to make it more accessible. The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
The Dolores Haze SS15 lookbook.
What gave me the impetus to fully embrace and integrate philosophical and sociological inspiration was my experience studying abroad at Central Saint Martins in London. During our first class, the professor proclaimed that we could be inspired by anything from German philosopher Martin Heidegger, to the emotions evoked after a one-night stand. This innovative approach to cultivating creativity is what possessed me to design with an intellectual approach.
Within the fashion world, womanhood seems to be unintentionally cast into female stereotypes of girly, goth, office-wear, preppy, etc., but women’s identities are far more complex. This feeds into the notion of polarized femininity. What I gravitate toward is a mix, and I felt there needed to be a label that embraced the complexity of femininity.
Scenes from Giordano's studio.
For all the “literary D.Haze babes” out there, what are some other novels that you love or found influential? Some other novels that I love for all the literary D.Haze babes are: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust.
During my youth, my influences were confessional poets such as Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. As I got older, I began to be influenced and engrossed in the world of philosophy, reading Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault and Judith Butler. I was often told by people that my appreciation of philosophy would be useless in whatever career path I choose. I’m so grateful that I’m actually able to integrate this into my work.
Ever wondered how fashion designers come up with original prints? We picked one of our SS15 favorites, the floral graph-check print by Dolores Haze, and asked designer Samantha Giordano to give us the backstory behind her dreamy design.
This original Dolores Haze print was inspired by a sentiment of wistful nostalgia (the SS15 collection is entitled "The Stranger I Know"). After taking countless photos of flowers, we turned them into a repeating pattern, then painted over them in shades of pastel.
Samantha Giordano at work in her Brooklyn studio. Photo by Julia Pinter
While designing the collection, I was looping New Order’s album Power, Corruption and Lies. The album cover art is a painting of flowers, with the bold black text of the album name on the bottom. This informed the design of the print through the juxtaposition of the linear black graph-check with the delicate floral repeat pattern.
Most importantly, we used the environmentally conscious method of digital printing, which prevents toxic dyes from polluting the ocean.
The vision behind Fomi is to create uniquely beautiful leather handbags and shoes that are locally sourced and handcrafted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We have adopted a simple yet sustainable approach to business in which employees receive fair wages, safe working conditions and an opportunity to advance their skill sets.
An early version of Fomi's signature cutout oxfords.
The larger objective is to create lasting economic change in Ethiopia by moving beyond the concept of charity, and instead focusing on providing opportunities that create pride and dignity through work.
The transition from food stylist to jewelry designer is not an obvious one. That is, until you see Karla Diaz Cano’s work.
As a professional shutterbug and prop stylist, Diaz Cano travels the world helping restaurant and lifestyle clients tell their stories through photography. Viewed through her lens, salads glitter, wooden tables evoke languorous meals, and berries and seeds adorn dishes and surfaces like an array of gemstones on display.
Diaz Cano also expresses her penchant for bold colors, along with her flair for mixing materials and textures, through Tiklari. Handcrafted by artisans in Istanbul, the line of “jewelry with a happy soul” ranges from simple bangles to bejeweled cuffs, from tiny studs to drop earrings composed of candy-colored cabochons.
“Early mornings are my 'me' time,” the designer writes in an homage to the creative moments that inspire her diverse roster of projects. “Those early mornings when everyone is still asleep, the streets are empty, and the kitchen smells of fresh coffee, berries and warm toast.”
But never mind the inspiration. Where does she find the energy to juggle all of her pursuits? Diaz Cano credits a healthy lifestyle, clean eating–and, yes, caffeine. “I love coffee shops, especially cute ones,” she says.
Thanks to creative gigs that keep her perpetually on the go, she sees a lot of them. Currently, Diaz Cano splits her time between NYC and her hometown of Mexico City, but there's plenty of travel sprinkled in between. Work frequently takes her to Turkey, and last fall, she ventured Down Under on an assignment to photograph Australian wool farms. The multi-hyphenate talent chronicles her journeys on a blog called A Simple Morning, from which we culled the following images and tips. From Mexico to Melbourne, these are some of the most picturesque spots in the world in which to enjoy a cup of Joe.
When in Mexico City...
Power up at Abarrotes Delirio. According to Diaz Cano, the spot is a hybrid between “a gourmet deli, corner store and street food stand, offering bread fresh out of the oven, wines, artisan teas, chocolates, pastries, as well as a cool torta stand.”
When in Melbourne...
“Australians are proud of their coffee, and they should be!” observes Diaz Cano, who learned about this coffee spot on her first day in Australia. “I met a girl and asked her for recommendations for the best coffee places in the Central Business District. She directed me [to] a cute little spot called A Little Bird Told Me – a sun-drenched place that is loved by locals.”
When in Portland...
Diaz Cano recommends a walk around “Alphabet City, a peaceful area of the city with breathtaking parks, and streets lined with trees and Victorian houses.” The neighborhood is where you'll find "one of the cutest coffee shops, Sterling Coffee Roasters.” What to order? “I had a pretty good dark chocolate mocha,” she says.
When in NYC...
From Happy Bones in Nolita to Crosby Coffee in Crown Heights, Diaz Cano has a long list of coffeehouse favorites in New York. Among them: “Maman, a French bakery/cafe in Soho. The old wood tables, the old cupboards make you feel like you’re in the South of France.”
WHAT: In fashion, supply chains (which can extend from a garment sewer all the way back to a cotton farmer) are fractured and faceless. Fashion Revolution Day is an annual event that invites us all to ask questions and advocate for a more responsible and transparent clothing industry.
WHEN: April 24, 2015
WHO: Tens of thousands of people participated in the first Fashion Revolution Day on April 24, 2014. The goal is to go even bigger this time around!
WHERE: People in more than 60 countries took part in the Fashion Revolution last year. At least 71 nations are expected to be represented during Fashion Revolution Day 2015.
WHY: 1,133 people were killed and more than 2,500 were injured on April 24, 2013 when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Sadly, this was neither the first nor the last social and environmental catastrophe created by the global fashion industry. Fashion Revolution says enough is enough.
Related Story: Remembering Rana Plaza
HOW: Take a selfie showing the tag or label on a piece of clothing. Tag the brand and ask #whomademyclothes? Advanced option: Wear your clothes inside out. When friends and well-meaning strangers point this out, explain why.
Together, we will use the power of fashion to inspire change and reconnect the broken links in the system. The more people who ask #whomademyclothes, the more brands will feel challenged to take responsibility for the people and environment in their supply chains.
Sold? Start by joining the #FashRev Thunderclap campaign, and visit fashionrevolution.org to find events in your city.