Hi friends! This past weekend I attended DC’s first sustainable fashion conference hosted by the D.C. Sustainable Fashion Collective. The eight hour event was packed full of presentations and panels on all things sustainable and ethical fashion. I was pretty much in heaven. It was inspiring to be in a room with the District’s biggest supporters of sustainable fashion. While I was there, I felt like I was back in school nerding it up in environmental science class. Except this time I was taking notes from a particularly fashionable crowd. In the featured image above, the founders of the DCSFC are Kaveri Marathe, Janice Wallace, Joelle Firzli, and Gabrielle Clary. Note: photo credit to @dcsfcollective on Insta!
The day started off with Whitney Bauck (Assistant Editor at Fashionista) giving a synopsis of the current state of the fashion industry. Extremely well-spoken and charismatic, she spoke about everything from the #metoo movement to Paris fashion week. But what struck me the most were a few unsettling statistics from her speech:
So all that clothing that you donated to Good Will recently? Yeah, nearly all of that is going to the landfill…. The truth of it is that the market for secondhand clothing isn’t that big, and it’s saturated. Sometimes the donated clothing even gets exported overseas to underdeveloped countries, where it disrupts local economies and has a negative impact on local businesses and artisans.
The event’s keynote speaker was Lauren Fay – Executive Director of Fashion Revolution USA. The Fashion Revolution is (IMHO) the most powerful social movement in sustainable and ethical fashion. I was uber impressed that the ladies of DCSFC hooked it up to get Lauren to speak at the conference! As a global social movement, Fashion Revolution has many campaigns with their most widely-known being the “Who made my clothes?” movement. They encourage social activism, education, and are pushing for transparency in the garment supply chain. Lauren also spoke about the Fashion Revolution’s mission to educate and amplify their message to spread awareness. Here’s the jist of her message to us:
There were also FOUR panel sessions, where the experts discussed tough topics around the economics of fashion, the consumer trap, and the sustainable fashion ecosystem. The afternoon was full of panel discussions featuring a myriad of professionals including designers, stylists, executives, change makers, influencers, etc. You can find the full list of speakers here. I’ve summarized the back and forth on some of the hottest topics from the event:
How does fast fashion produce cheap clothing so quickly?
Fast fashion (i.e., weekly new arrivals) puts immense pressure on factory supply chains to produce more, at a faster rate, at a cheaper price. This lowers wages for factory workers, while increasing their working hours. The average consumer needs be become more aware as to what drives the low price of those daily new arrivals. For example, what’s happening in the supply chain (exploitation? slave labor?) to get the price of a shirt to be only $15?
How will automation change the fashion industry?
Automation….it’s everywhere! The fashion industry is no exception. Automated “sewbots” will eliminate the need for low cost labor workers in garment factories. In the current market, factories are located where labor is the cheapest. With automation, factories would no longer need to factor labor costs into their location decisions. Could this lead to garment manufacturing making a come back in the U.S.? Possibly!
What is overconsumption, and how has it changed over time?
Overconsumption is the action or fact of consuming something to excess. We’ve reached a point in the fashion industry where we are consuming a record number of garments per year, yet we’re spending less on them than ever before. In 1900, the average family spent 15% of household income on clothing. In 1960, the number went down slightly at 12%. In 2000, the average household spent only 4% of income on clothing. So we’re consuming more, but spending less. It doesn’t take an economist to see that something is off here. Part of the issue with overconsumption is over production, which floods the market continuously with cheap goods. Another interesting idea that was discussed is the idea that shopping has become pure entertainment, used to fill a psychological void due to separation from the Earth and connection with nature. So essentially people in other countries are being paid less to feed our meaninglessness.
OK, this is heavy stuff guys! But I promise it was not all doom and gloom…
What can we do to make a difference?!
~ The next time you want to buy something, wait 24 hours! At the end of that day, do you still need to buy it?
~ Pay attention to why you want or need to buy something. Is it truly a need? Are you only buying it because the brand has convinced you that you “need” that new color sweater?
~ Evaluate what a “good price” means to you. Is a good price simply the dollar amount on the tag? Or should a good price entail more than that? Is environmental protection important to you? Then a good price should include the cost of adhering to environmental laws. Is fair pay and safe working conditions important to you? Then a good price should include fair pay to workers and protections against sexual harassment. Perhaps there’s a lot more that goes into a “good price” than just the dollar amount listed on the tag.
~ Take responsibility for the garments that you buy. Curate a unique, well-cared for wardrobe. Think of a garment in terms of it’s entire circular lifespan – cradle to cradle. Before you buy, think about whether you can be responsible to wear that garment at least 30 times. Do you love it enough to mend it when it gets a hole, or if a button falls off?
All in all it was a fantastic conference, and there were so many inspiring, innovative ideas I couldn’t possibly capture them all. I hope this gave you a peek into D.C.’s first sustainable fashion conference!