Goodness gracious, it’s toasty in LA this weekend; I’ve coped by staying indoors in the AC and doing basically next to nothing (another weekend in the Q, what’s new). I’ve built more Sims houses (can’t stop, won’t stop) and haven’t read much of the book I’m on (it’s good, but slow). Siiiiiigh. Anyone else in a slump? Or just bored? Or have you all gone back into the world, quarantine be damned? …Is anyone there?
This week, Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate (was that THIS week? Seems like ages ago to be honest). I was a bit surprised since these two seemed to really go at each other during the debates, but loved this article that broke down why Biden picked Harris over others. Overall though, love this move for women AND cannot wait to hear ‘Madama Vice President.’
You all know I live in an apartment in LA, so I don’t come by backyard fires and s’mores very easily these days; this deep dish s’mores bowl is SO tasty and easy and made me feel content and cozy in my fifth floor apartment.
In a (non)surprising turn, many colleges are changing their minds about reopening/allowing flocks of students to return. I’ve been keeping an eye on this for awhile, but if you’re a college freshman, STOP what you’re doing, do not start at an expensive school, stay at home and go to the local community college to get your 101 classes completed this year. You will save SO much money.
Chrissy Teigen is pregnant with baby No. 3 and I’m honestly so happy for her (is that weird?), especially after she tweeted how she conceived this child naturally, AND has been taking pregnancy tests every month since she was 21 hoping for a positive that would come naturally.
If you haven’t noticed, a lot of fashion companies are filing for bankruptcy and closing stores. It’s so sad to see my LinkedIn feed these days, it’s mostly colleagues or friends of colleagues who are posting about having been let go from their jobs, as their companies are doing rounds of layoffs to stay afloat. I’m worried it will only get worse as the pandemic continues and fall and winter loom in the distance.
If you love cooking shows, love Selena Gomez, or just watched everything on all the services and have nothing new to watch, check out HBO’s new show, ‘Selena + Chef.‘ It’s cute and delightful, and I really want to make the ramen and the matcha cookies that Chef Candice taught Selena how to make.
Welcome to part 4 in my series on Sustainable Fashion, looking into the environmental and social aspects of manufacturing and production. So you took my advice from my last post on social and ethical sustainability, and spent some time researching your favorite clothing company. Maybe you found a lot of information, or maybe you didn’t find much. But how do you know what certifications are good, or worthwhile? Here I’m listing out the most common and easily attainable certifications, so the brands you shop at should at least have one or a few of these. Trust me, if they utilize any of these, it will be proudly displayed on their websites.
WRAP-–Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production is an independent, objective, non-profit team of global social compliance experts dedicated to promoting safe, lawful, humane, and ethical manufacturing around the world through certification and education. Read more about the 12 principles here.
FairTrade—engages textile manufacturers (mills) and workers in the supply chain to bring about better wages and working conditions, and engages brands to commit to fair terms of trade.
SA8000—is the leading social certification standard for factories and organizations across the globe. It also respects, complements and supports national labor laws around the world, and currently helps secure ethical working conditions for two million workers.
Textile/Material Certifications (these are more environmental but still good to have)
OEKO-TEX-–All types of textiles that have been tested for harmful substances, from yarns to the finished product, may bear the STANDARD 100 product label.
FSC-Certified— Forest Stewardship Council is the “gold standard” designation for wood harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable.
Better Cotton Initiative or BCI—is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. BCI exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future.
Nest—building a new handworker economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s wellbeing beyond factories, and preserve important cultural traditions around the world. Look for companies who have a special online shop featuring local artisans and craftspeople, like Madewell and West Elm.
Certified B Corp—Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
There are dozens more where those came from, so I encourage you once again to do some research into factory and garment certifications so you can shop better. I would also encourage you to continue down this ‘sustainable fashion’ path. I know I will continue to post about sustainable brands and eventually, shifting into a ‘Nothing New’ wardrobe. I’ve already started buying a few things second hand and reselling my own clothes on Poshmark.
Finally, here are some resources I’ve personally found or been recommended by a friend to deepen my understanding of sustainable fashion and the ways I can change my lifestyle.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about sustainable fashion in regards to the environment and how we as consumers need to take charge in understanding our duty in being mindful of our fashion purchases. The other portion of sustainability deals with ethical and social responsibility. Everyone can probably recall the massive backlash Nike faced when it came out that the brand was using sweatshops in Indonesia and Vietnam to produce their goods, followed by a fire and many deaths at one of their Bangladesh factories, where there were unsafe working conditions and unethical labor practices. Here we see fashion’s other ugly secret: unfair and unsafe labor conditions within garment manufacturing that have been outsourced to developing countries in Asia for cheaper labor and faster to market capabilities.
Not all in China
Many consumers have this notion that anything ‘Made in China’ was made by a child who was getting roughly $0.01 for a 12 hour day’s work. I have actually seen people scoff at a ‘Made in China’ label as if the garment was toxic poison. The thing is, yes, this scenario of unfair child labor can happen even in today’s modern world, but it’s far less likely that it would happen in China, versus say, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. China has come a long way and is more industrialized than say, 15 years ago. Like the US’s own industrial timeline, there are now labor unions, growing government regulations and workers are starting to demand more from the factory owners, in terms of pay and benefits. Countries like Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, on the other hand, are still in the early stages of their industrial revolution; therefore, their workers are uneducated and don’t necessarily know any better, or they do know better but are desperate for the job and its pay so they can’t do anything. To workers in those countries, having a job that pays any amount of money (sometimes pennies in US dollars) is often worth it in order to provide for families. Here is where it is more likely for us to see factory owners taking advantage of their workers.
It’s been awhile since Nike was exposed, but brands are still being called out today for utilizing unfair labor practices. But just because something says ‘Made in USA’ doesn’t mean anything. 20 minutes away from me, in Downtown LA, are our nation’s own sweatshops that employ mostly immigrants and have been found to pay under minimum wage. Recently, the brand Fashion Nova was revealed to have been utilizing these garment factories to produce their own, ‘Made in America’ clothing line. Syama Meagher of Forbes describes the issue of DTLA garment factories in her article, ‘The Not-So-Hidden Ethical Cost Of Fast Fashion: Sneaky Sweatshops In Our Own Backyard’; here she says,
“In fact, the Department of Labor (DOL) investigated garment factories in Los Angeles and found that 85 percent of them have wage violations. The fact that many of these workers are undocumented may make it easier, subconsciously, to let it slide when its happening on own soil.”
It seems that once again, brands are driven to make unethical decisions, in part because of consumer demand for fast and cheap fashion, but also because most brands have high mark-ups or margins that help them turn profit.
Margin and Profit and Sales, Oh My!
What is a margin? Let’s look at a baseball cap. You might have purchased it for $24, it cost the brand around $4-6 to make and get that cap into your hands. Materials (fabric and threads) were around $2.00, trims and packaging will be around $1.00. Factory profit might be around $0.80 to $1.00 and boat shipment will be around $0.20. Labor will also be around $0.80 to $1.00, give or take. At a $6.00 cost, the brand is making 75% margin on you purchasing that cap at $24.00. Now, brands do this because we live in a sale-heavy capitalist culture where most companies 1. need to make money and 2. hold 25% or 50% off sales which cut down on margin or how much they’re making. Because of this, they gauge what the highest reasonable cost a consumer will pay for an item and ticket it there, knowing the average customer will ultimately end up paying less. It’s kind of horrible and why I cannot purchase anything at full price, but hey, it’s a business that has to make money in our capitalistic culture, right?
I mentioned the brand, Everlane, last week, but on almost every product page they have, they tell consumers exactly how much it cost them to make that item. Per below, they’re still making a 67% margin on this pair of shorts, which is actually pretty high, but labor is about 40% of the item’s cost, which is really great comparatively. I do have to assume though that part of that $6.28 is going to factory profit and not true labor, but this is a better effort than most brands to be transparent about their cost of goods (COGS).
Almost any retail business will have at least 50% margin; that’s not necessarily an accusation, like I said, it’s a business that needs to generate profit. Stores that do not frequently hold sales, I would bet a lot of money they have lower margins, whereas brand with big sales every weekend? I guarantee you their margins are in the high 70’s, possibly even 80’s.
Find The Culprit
Social and ethical sustainability is something more top of mind for brands as compared to environmental sustainability; if you investigate, many brands have web pages dedicated to how their company is committed to utilizing manufacturers that employ fair labor practices (here is one example, and another). Brands boast factory certifications and metrics as proof that they care, making it easy for consumers to know how a garment is being made. Some companies, like West Elm, are even putting the information directly on the product page itself (see Fair Trade and Sustainably sourced icons at top of page). On this front, it’s harder for consumers to claim ‘out of sight out of mind’ since information on social sustainability is more readily available and more widely known.
As consumers, we need to be doing a bit of research on the companies we shop at. Just start with one, maybe the brand you automatically go to when you need to shop for a new outfit. Dig around their website and try to see what they are committed to doing for social sustainability. If you can’t find anything, I would even encourage you to reach out to customer service. If it turns out that brand isn’t doing anything or has a vague, ‘we’re committed to fair labor practices,’ well, I know I would think twice before shopping there again. Like environmental sustainability, brands who actually have plans will have numbers, certifications, and data to back up the claims.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I would really recommend watching The True Cost, free on Tubi. It’s easy to read about, but it’s a lot more heart wrenching to see footage of people working in factories in such low working conditions. Research the brands you shop at, get to know where you give your money and if you should continue to support those companies. With Google, it’s so easy to find news articles about various brands and how they are or aren’t being sustainable. I do want to warn you; however, even the factories with certifications or fair working conditions, are still, well, factories. They’re dirty, with materials lying about, some even having dirt floors. Good conditions for us in America aren’t always feasible in a third world country, so their best conditions are still equivalent to our poor conditions.
It’s also easy to blame brands for having corporate greed and not caring enough about workers thousands of miles away, but at the end of the day, these brands were driven to the fast fashion model because of consumerism and the customers need for newer, cheaper fashion NOW. Again, we as consumers really need to rethink our values and stop succumbing to materialistic ideals and shift more into a minimalistic way of thinking. I’m not saying you should shift into only owning 5 pieces of clothing, but I would encourage you to think when you’re out shopping about whether you need a new top, adding to the 25 tops already hanging in your closet. It’s a way of life that we all need to embrace if we want to see change in both social and environmental sustainability.
personal: 4+ years in apparel and home goods production internationally
Have you ever thought much about the process that goes into making your clothes? Or what happens to them once you’ve given them away? How about what both of those things are doing to the environment? The fashion industry is one of the biggest perpetrators of pollution and waste today. I personally work in sourcing and production so I have a front row seat in seeing how these things are hurting our world. For a long time, I was ignorant; however, as I’ve been learning, it’s getting harder and harder to look the other way. So where do you, as a consumer, start in understanding sustainable clothing?
If you are curious, you’re not alone. Many consumers have started caring more about these things; in recent years, searching for the words ‘sustainable fashion’ has tripled online, but many people still remain largely uneducated about how important sustainable fashion is, in a world that is being destroyed by the current fashion industry. There are reasons why countries like China and India are some of the highest polluted nations in the world. Water and electrical waste, along with fashion’s large carbon footprint are the biggest reasons why sustainable fashion is a must if we ever want to save the planet.
Let’s take the shirt you’re wearing right now; it started as millions of fibers that were spun into yarns and those yarns were woven or knit into a material. That material, and in some case the yarns before the material, were dyed in chemicals and water that is often left untreated, being disposed of in local rivers which can create a toxic environment for locals and wildfire in major manufacturing areas. Some dye houses, especially in the world of denim (which use one of the highest amounts of water and dyes), are trying to implement utilizing filtration systems to recycle water that is being used within the dyeing process, but many dye houses still have work to do in making a more sustainable process. New filtration systems are not cheap and take up space, both using resources that could be put towards more machinery that would increase working capacity, lower garment lead times, and increase orders and profit overall.
The other problem here is that once dyed, materials and garments often are put through multiple washes with softeners or treatments, which as you can guess, use gallons and gallons of water and chemicals, which again, often goes untreated. Some brands are now pushing recycled materials like poly spun yarns from recycled water bottles, which is a great step forward in the industry; however, once those recycled materials go through the normal dyeing and wash processes, how much are they really helping the environment?
The other thing is, think about the energy needed to be generated for all of the above to take place, coupled with the fact that most factories are powered largely by fossil fuels. Some materials can go through three or four washes, after being dyed, all of which needs to run on energy. Not even to mention that after the material is turned into a garment on sewing machines, the final garment can often get additional washes, before going into dryers and getting a final steam or ironing. All before you as the consumer wash and dry the garment dozens of times over.
The final piece of this puzzle is the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. So you have found a clothing company who uses recycled yarns, filters and recycles their dye water, and use natural dyes. But where are they manufacturing their garments? If being made in Asia, the brand has to ship their goods on a large shipping freight which can take upwards of 40 days to sail halfway around the world. That means right now, a very large ship is generating energy through petroleum and emitting harmful gases into the air, all while carrying the shirt you’re going to buy in a few weeks time.
In an ideal world, companies would look for materials that are of recycled yarns, dye houses that filter and recycle water, plus use natural, chemical-free dyes, and produce with manufacturers that are local so that shipping distance is cut down. All goods would be packaged up in recyclable packaging. So what’s the problem? To me, all that sounds very expensive.
Many material mills and garment manufacturers have left the US in favor of cheaper labor in Asia, driven by consumer demand for cheap, fast fashion. Even if a brand wants to produce domestically in the US or in close Central America, many factories still order fabric and trims from Asia, which again, impacts the carbon footprint. It’s almost next to impossible to find a rare unicorn brand that can meet all these requirements and if you do find one, I bet they’re out of your price range so you are discouraged from purchasing.
These sustainable clothes are expensive because recycled materials, like water bottles, have to go through multiple treatment processes before becoming yarns. Filtration systems and new machinery are expensive so dye houses and factories need to invest, and as a result, charge higher prices to pay off and make money from that investment. Local labor within America is expensive compared to less developed countries where labor might be a small fraction of our $7.25/hour minimum wage.
Beyond production, consumers are not properly recycling their clothing which is increasing the problem. Companies like ThredUp and Poshmark are helping mass consumers in recycling old garments and some brands have pledged to in store recycling programs. Some others, like Adidas, have pledged to 100% be using recycled materials by 2024. As consumers, we can take time to research brands who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, with the understanding that no brand is going to be able to completely mass produce anything without some side effects.
As consumers, we need to fall less under the spell of consumerism, taking responsibility and demanding more from the fashion industry. The one industry that might be the most malleable of all, due to the changing trends and seasons. Brands will care if their consumers care. I was once in a meeting where sustainable garments were being discussed within a major clothing brand, and it was said that, ‘the customer doesn’t seem to have sustainability as a priority, nor will they pay more for it, so why should we invest in a collection that is sustainable?’ Consumers need to steer the brands towards sustainability, in the same way we steered fashion companies towards providing for our demand of fast fashion. Again, it seems while with most issues with sustainability, we are the problem, but we can also be the solution.
personal: 4+ years in apparel and home goods production internationally
When I was a little girl, I would go shopping with my mom and I would wander through the racks of clothing, touching everything. No, really, everything. Every skirt, dress, top and pair of pants. Every blanket, towel, quilt and duvet had to be felt by my little hands. While I didn’t understand it at the time, I felt drawn to each garment, needing to know the texture and hand feel of the fabric. Tops that were a drape-y knit made me stop in my tracks. I loved the softness of the material, and I was mesmerized how it fell, draping down in an almost fluid-like way. Cashmere made me stop too, but my mom would grab my hand and always say, ‘you have champagne taste on a bologna budget. Come on.’
20 years later and I spend most days doing the same thing. For those of you that don’t know, I work in the retail fashion industry. It’s literally part of my job to locate fabrics that we need for our products. I get fabric swatches in the mail and I feel them, are they soft or too rough? Can a wash be added to make it softer or should we have it brushed? My team wants wool, but I know the cost of wool is going up, and we’ll never get a soft handfeel with only wool. Let’s find a wool blended with nylon or poly. If I need a low price, add in acrylic yarns, as those are among the cheapest of yarns.
There is an entire world of fabrics, yarns and fibers, that the average consumer never even thinks of. When you go shopping and buy a top, you’ll never never know how much thought went into it, down to the very fibers within. The fiber is the smallest component, spun into yarns. Yarns are then woven or knit together to make a fabric. Some fabrics can retain heat as seen in outerwear, while some are made to allow for breathe-ability or moisture wicking, most often found in active wear. But, to me, the most important thing about a fabric will always be how it feels.
As most of you know, I decided to go on a spending fast 2 weeks ago (read about it here). To be honest, I have bought a few things that were probably on the realm of unnecessary. For the most part, I really have been trying to check myself before I wreck myself. Hence, I’ve made this list of things I’m dying to buy for fall (the holiest time of my year) but sadly, I had to leave in these babies in the cart. Hopefully one of you will buy something and love it for me.
Two A&F pieces in one post? I know, but A&F is bringing it back around. You really should check them out! This pullover would be great for after the gym, a crisp fall hike, or a long day of Netflix and chill.
What are your must haves for fall? Let me know in the comments!