What began your journey on the pursuit of sustainable and ethical fashion?
Although I’ve always been good at sewing and interested in fashion, I really wanted to pursue international relations in college. However, I ended up in fashion school, and the more I learned about the industry, the more I realized that fashion and justice were not separate issues. The fashion industry is so heavily reliant on human labor and consumers all around the world, from cotton farming to the consumer wearing a bright white new tee shirt.
I was blessed to be able to start my fashion design career in New York City, but when the opportunity arose for me to live and work in a major garment-producing country, I jumped at the chance.
Learning more about supply chains and garment production while on the ground in Cambodia will forever change my purchases as a consumer and my philosophy as a designer.
What did you learn while living in Cambodia about the garment industry?
For my day job at Nomi Network, an international nonprofit, I worked directly with artisans and social business leaders in the capital of Cambodia.
I learned about the challenges of running a small business, the power of social enterprise, and the unique limitations and advantages of small-batch fashion production in Cambodia.
When I took on the role of Fashion Revolution Country Coordinator, I took it upon myself to learn as much as possible about the garment industry at-large in the country: everything from the history of garment worker wages to tax laws to production and social compliance challenges.
I came into Cambodia hoping to find a black and white answer to how to improve the garment industry, but what I found in Cambodia was much more complex and nuanced than I ever could have imagined from my seat in a cubicle as a designer in New York.
With the knowledge and experience, you have now, what are your plans now that you are back in the U.S?
It wasn’t easy to leave Cambodia--just as I was hitting my stride there. I knew it was the right decision for me to make during this wild time in our world.
It’s been very interesting to monitor how fashion brands have responded during this crisis. I've observed international brands refusing to pay for orders, ethical brands going under, and fast-fashion chains pushing product for people to play dress-up at home.
As I’ve begun unpacking my experience in Cambodia, and considering what’s next, I really want to take a step away from design and work in human rights in the fashion industry.
As many options as consumers do have to make better buying choices, I believe that some major systemic changes need to be made to reduce exploitation in supply chains.
These changes need to be coming from the top down; from governments and multi-brand agreements. There is more and more work being done at the intersection of fashion and human rights, and as COVID-19 has revealed so many foundational flaws in the industry, I hope to continue to work in this space.
How do you think this pandemic will affect the fashion industry going forward?
I’m excited to see how consumer behavior will affect everyday styling post-pandemic. I think many people’s relationship with clothing has obviously been changed by this extended time at home.
We’ll see the effects of that as countries start opening back up. We’ve already seen big-box retailers and designer labels file for bankruptcy, others move to e-commerce only, or adjust their fashion calendar and design philosophy to release season-less collections.
I think the pandemic and the ensuing immediate global environmental improvements we’ve observed, juxtaposed by our untouched closets, have all acted as a catalyst for positive changes in the industry that were previously on a much longer timeline.
I hope that going forward, we will see reduced fashion consumption, investment in less-trendy, longer wear garments, less overproduction, and better business practices, and buying agreements between brands and suppliers.
What are some tips do you have for consumers who want to be more ethical and sustainable with their purchasing?
Firstly, educate yourself on how the fashion industry might intersect with the global issues that you are passionate about. Whether you look through a social or environmental lens, the fashion industry has a profound impact on our world, and unfortunately, so much of it is negative.
Let your education on the issues affect your consumption choices. I would recommend the documentary, The True Cost is an easy starting point for fashion industry education.
Review the clothes in your closet, and really analyze what you love about your favorite pieces. Why do you love them? How do you feel in them? When you know the answers to these questions, then you can pursue filling your closet with more “love” and less waste.
Personally, I like to start each season by thrifting or shopping vintage and consignment, purchasing any ethical basics as needed, and then saving up for a special or trendy ethical piece that supports an amazing cause, such as Nary.
There are more ethical and sustainable brands than ever, as well as more resources for consumers to learn more about how their favorite mass-market brands are rated. Apps like Good on You and guides like the Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Guide are great resources to review before your next online shopping spree.
Lastly, impulse buying trendy fast-fashion pieces is like buying fast food. Analyze your own shopping habits and wear your values.