Laura Jones

Posts Tagged ‘Fashion’

Being Sustainable is Old School

In Interviews on August 28, 2009 at 9:56 am
Rebecca Luke, co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation

Rebecca Luke, co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation

“We’re bringing it back,” says Rebecca Luke.

She’s an ideal spokeswoman to advocate sustainable lifestyle, mostly because at first glance, one wouldn’t intuitively think she leads one. I met Rebecca at a quirky Seattle establishment called Odd Fellows on a Thursday night and she entered the room in a whirl of silky sashes and carefully styled garments. Besides her role as the co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation, she’s a fashion blogger, stylist, and works in theater as a costume designer and that’s about what you would expect upon initial inspection. If you ever thought that living sustainably meant flipping the hippie switch and donning a pair of yoga pants, she’s the one to prove you wrong.

At the moment, Rebecca’s talking about how we’ve all gotten so far off track in terms of lifestyle. Over the course of a couple hours, she refers repeatedly to the “old days” with confidence that society had had it right at one point but have lost the essence of right and wrong or sustainable or not somewhere down the line. Getting citizens back on that righteous path is what she’s all about, and she’s been at it for eight years already as the co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation (SSF)- a volunteer run web resource for sustainable design. Reading between the lines, SSF goes to show that a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t have to be an alternative lifestyle, you can do, shop, wear, use everything you’re used to- but with a little more consciousness, some innovation, and good dose of high design.

Lately, we’ve been hit over the head about the importance of greening our lives, changing out those incandescent light bulbs, carpooling and buying reusable shopping bags. There’s something decidedly unexciting about this whole movement for sustainability, and I think Aysia Wright said it best, “Recycled polyester. I mean, how sexy is that?” But, spend a little time surfing on the SSF site and you’ll see that there’s no need to lower your standards to live sustainably- “Look fabulous, live well, do good” that’s their motto.
Today, SSF is a portal to international sustainable business with a mass of consumer resources. SASS, their e-magazine pioneered the concept of going paperless and growing virally and covers topics from The Economy and Environment in Mexico to snow leopard conservation in Ladakh, India. They host Cocktails for a Cause events within their communities that benefit local charities and provide an open forum for the public to learn about and get involved with projects. SSF also launched a unique platform called ssftags, a sort of sustainable stamp on consumer products that certifies its been made and sold with the triple bottom line in mind. Designed to be as recognizable as the recycling emblem, ssftags have been issued for everything from Levi’s jeans (whose suggestion spurred the endeavor) to BLANK.

SSF was borne out of what Gifford Pinchot calls intrapreneuring- working to change the systems from within an established organization. Back in 2001, Rebecca and her co-founder Sean were working at Nordstrom with Sean poised to do some good in the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility department. It came to light that employees were upset with the amount of waste they found associated with inventory, as each and every garment and item came individually packaged in plastic that was promptly removed and disposed of when shipments arrived at the store. In as large an operation as Nordstrom, you can imagine how quickly this plastic built up and also how cumbersome it was for the employees to handle. So, they took action. Collectively, the employees approached management with a savvy plan to solve the problem- they would collect the plastic and sell it back to the distributor at a discounted price, therefore preventing waste, creating a new product, reducing shipping costs and increasing the sustainable profile of the company as a whole. The duo saw how easy it was to incite a little change, created SSF, and the rest is history.

Rebecca recounts, “When we started, people didn’t even know what sustainability was. We wanted to create a resource to share best practices, and we didn’t know where this would go. We just wanted to be cool people in our community, making things happen.”

OSSA Awards

In the spirit of the movement, SSF stays positive and rewards progress, highlighting the good things people are doing and to leading by example- even if that means awarding Wal-Mart on their steps towards a more sustainable business in their 2007 Outstanding Sustainable Style Achievement Awards (OSSA), which Luke says they received a lot of flack for.  Their mentality is not uncommon from what I’m seeing in the movement, these guys aren’t bullies beating consumers with sticks to get them to make better choices, they’re offering carrots- organic ones, to slowly shift the lifestyle needle closer towards sustainability.

“It hit me when pop culture started to catch on, when Vanity Fair came out with its Green Issue and we started seeing celebrities drive their Prius to the Oscars.” She tells a story about watching True Blood, an HBO series where one character went on a barrage about being “An organic eating vegan with a  carbon footprint that’s miniscule so don’t fuck with me!” and knowing then that sustainability had arrived finally arrived on the scene. In her perspective, the media isn’t part of the consumerism-driving problem, it’s part of the solution- helping to shape the cultural framework we live in and bringing sustainability into our daily landscape.

“You have to recognize that pop culture affects culture. This rise in awareness is huge and has real potential to impact work and lifestyle. Today, sustainability is getting written into the script, they’re getting it, and they’re injecting it into pop culture so now it’s become acceptable. It’s exciting that sustainability is a household word now, I don’t want it to be a movement anymore, I just want it to be a part of life.”

But change hasn’t come overnight, and it won’t come dramatically in the days to come. In Luke’s words, “It’s about the small choices you make everyday that affect your lifestyle.” It’s why the SSF website is in shades of grey, because there’s no true right or absolute wrong way to live. It’s not about polarizing society, it’s about working together to educate and build awareness and to let knowledge consciously guide your daily decision making process- and SSF is one of the organizations that are making it easy for global citizens to transition into a sustainable life with style.

After all, says Luke, “Our parents didn’t use disposable plastic grocery bags back in the old days! Being sustainable is old school, and we’re just bringing it back.”


Getting in the Greenloop with Aysia Wright.

In Interviews on August 8, 2009 at 7:08 pm
Aysia Wright, Founder of Greenloop

Aysia Wright, Founder of Greenloop

“Dipping into the waste stream. That’s what excites me.”

These are the words spoken by a true eco-pioneer, Aysia Wright, founder of Greenloop– a Portland based retail and ecommerce resource for sustainable fashion. Why fashion? Well, because this Environmental Policy lawyer and longtime activist thinks fashion is an ideal vehicle to have a conversation with people and to create a platform for change, with natural market forces driving a shift towards sustainability.

Back in the day, Aysia was a Birkenstock-wearing, animal rights spouting  environmental progressive who pursued higher education and practiced law in an unrelated field until realizing at age 30 that she’d lost touch with her advocacy roots. So, in 2004, she opened up Greenloop to fill a hole in the market and create a retail solution for finding trend right, fashion forward sustainable clothing. Today, Greenloop has a booming ecommerce division and is opening up a new storefront in downtown Portland, occupying the “closet” space of a new eco-friendly resource concept store under the Seven Planet umbrella.

Over an hour of conversation, Aysia set about debunking trendy misconceptions about sustainable fashion, defining the ultimate importance of the triple bottom line, and painting a picture of the sustainable movement that solidifies it as the hippest and most essential issue since civil rights. Her story as follows…

LJ: Describe the retail environment when Greenloop began operating in 2004 and tell us how it’s changed since.

AW:In this fast fashion culture that we live in, there’s too many garments that just go straight to the landfill. Right now, there’s more of a generalized awareness of what it means for a garment to be certified organic cotton, as opposed to your milk or your bread or your vegetables. When we first opened doors, so many consumers were asking “How could that be organic? That doesn’t make any sense.” and that was really because there was a misconception about what is organic in the first place.

In general, there’s more understanding now of the options available and an awareness that there is a difference between sustainably and ethically produced fashion and and conventional fashion, there’s a growing acceptance that we need to be more conscious in terms of our decisions and voting with our dollar.

In terms of design, about two years ago there was a pretty solid upswing in the availability of quality textiles and solid design getting together to produce designs that could actually survive in the mainstream fashion scene. Whereas initially it was either very yoga-pilates centered or it was environmentalists designing apparel as opposed to designers designing environmentally responsible apparel. So now you’ve got both and they’re learning from each other so you’re seeing quality product coming from both arenas now.

Really, [this progress shows that sustainability is] not a dead movement, it’s not a trend. It’s something that’s becoming more deeply entrenched within the fashion community itself.

LJ: So, over the years, organics have really grown in the food industry and the fashion industry. What do you think will be the next big thing to evolve as the movement grows?

AW: We’ve seen a lot of innovative use by designers dipping into the waste stream, looking at  dead stock or getting creative with waste materials that otherwise might have gone straight into the landfill. And I think we’re going to see more of a sophistication of that model as opposed to seeing more one-off, crafty, I made this in my basement type pieces. I think that there will be a more professional application to that, that people are getting wiser about making recycled goods a larger part of the commodities market, to make that process more efficient.

There’s probably going to be a pretty strong emphasis on rebuilding the recycled commodity market because ultimately, it’s a time and resource saver both in terms of raw commodity, reducing strain on natural resources, reducing pressure on landfills, on reducing water and energy inputs, and there’s a great story to it. People love the fact that something has been reincarnated into another product and you can’t really tell.

LJ: The movement for sustainability is really growing and evolving new technologies and efficiencies. What kind of role have you seen yourself and Greenloop take in educating consumers and increasing awareness about sustainability?

AW: I really see Greenloop‘s role growing in the advocacy piece for designers, we really are working to develop a platform so that people wanting to get into the sustainable design arena can come to us to source their textiles, to find out which manufacturing facility in the United States they should work with, to find out which distributor they should work with, to facilitate their wholesales. There are a ton of creative people out there that have the skills and the passion and the talent to create a successful line, but it’s a huge endeavor to put all of those pieces into place, so that’s where I see us going in the future.

LJ: The idea of being sustainable is permeating a huge range of industries and markets right now, do you see this growth as a social movement, and industrial shift, or both?

AW: I see it as a social movement but I also do see companies understanding the concept of corporate social responsibility when it comes to their bottom line and really trying to embrace this notion of a triple bottom line (People, Planet, and Profit) because there are some real limitations to operating business as usual. This linear system that sprang up at the beginning of the industrial revolution is this constant input of energy, both human and fossil fuel based, and natural resources along a system that ends up in the dump. It’s not a closed loop, it doesn’t recapture any lost energy and it creates harm along the way to people and planet.

The companies that are going to be ahead of the curve are looking at how they can increase their profitability by becoming more energy efficient, using less resources, embracing recycled products. They will naturally realize that economic success and ecological responsibility are not counter intuitive, they are actually very much interrelated.

LJ:Tell me a little more about the community aspect of sustainability as a social movement.

AW: I’ve talked to a lot of people in the conventional fashion industry that got out because it was just an ugly scene for them. It was very cutthroat with no sharing of resources or information, whereas my experience has been that this community is mission oriented. And, when something is mission oriented for the greater good, while also providing you with a living along the way, that there is just more incentive to make sure that everyone is successful. For example, Greenloop can’t be the only eco-retailer- no eco-designer would survive if that was the case. So it’s in my best interest to hopefully support all the other eco-retailers that I would typically consider my competition. It’s in designers’ best interest to share their resources so they can ultimately reach an economy of scale and make their whole production processes more efficient, so that each one of them survives to retain and gain a piece of the market. So from that perspective, I think that there is definitely a distinction that makes this social movement, this collaboration, unique and inspiring because it feels good to talk to people and work with people who are working towards the same ends as you, and it’s not just a selfish ends.

LJ: Today there is an emphasis in collaboration and community within the movement. How do you see the youth shaping the growth and development of sustainability in the future?

AW: Well, the Greenloop platform, Project Green Search is our way of communicating the message that it is possible and it’s beneficial to align your career choices with your environmental, social, humanitarian ethics, whatever cause inspires you. I think it’s possible to create this next generation of young people in the workforce who hopefully can refuse to go to work for companies they don’t believe in because they are going to bring their skills to grow companies that are doing the right thing. I think that there’s been a shift in the way that we are educating young people right now so that they are learning from a very early age that they are global citizens, and that we’re providing them with the knowledge and hopefully the desire and the drive to contribute to something that is greater than just themselves and their piece of the pie. And, I think we’re seeing a lot of that in terms of teen participation and fundraising and outreach efforts, like the organization Teens Turning Green, that are reaching out to teenagers on a variety of issues like Teens for Safe Cosmetics or Buying Sustainable Fashion for Prom, or Greening Dorm Rooms who are working with Greenloop on Project Green Search. I think the opportunity lies in that we are going to hopefully develop this entire generation of young people who don’t have to break habits like we do.

LJ: Speaking of bad habits, do you think the current patterns of consumerism are going to change, along with the notion that “more is better?”

AW: I do, but I think it’s going to take a while because it’s really going to require a societal shift in terms of what constitutes success. A lot of people attribute material wealth and acquisition to be success, and that definition of success to happiness and it’s a very Western first-world, developed-nation ideal, and it’s going to take a while to move away from that so that people start developing themselves and their happiness and their definition of success in other areas. Some of that is going to be enforced or imposed because we’ve already got more people on this planet than we can support, and we’re already using three quarters of the world’s natural resources, and that’s inherently unsustainable. If society is able to adopt this concept of quality over quantity and we don’t need to live in a 3,000 square foot house and we can live instead in a 1,000 square foot house, it will be a grassroots movement with parents hopefully instilling these ideals into their kids because ultimately, that’s where it starts.

LJ: What do you predict will be the movement’s biggest obstacle in reaching that kind of societal shift?”

AW: The use of the media. We’re seeing a pretty drastic change in media right now, especially in printed media. A lot of magazines are going under, and I think with them hopefully you’ll lose some of this driving force behind the consumption machine.  I think that the speed of news right now will help, with the accessibility of news and information on the internet, especially information from sources that aren’t well funded, that can articulate and present this different lifestyle concept is more readily available to people than just picking up your mainstream magazine off the rack. I went to the Sundance Film Festival and saw the Inconvenient Truth when it debuted, and I think that film was a tipping point, quite frankly, and a very poignant example of how powerful media can be when used in that capacity.

LJ: Can you tell us about some unique or unusual materials that are up and coming in the sustainable fashion industry?

AW: You know, I don’t think it’s about being unique at this point. I get that question a lot, like “What’s the new sustainable textile?”, and for instance, bamboo, is a great example of something that is new that is not necessarily better. I think it’s about taking a look at textiles like hemp, for example, which has gotten this horrible wrap for years and years and years but there are some amazing fabrications now using hemp that you would not believe in terms of its strength and hand and luster and quality. So I don’t think it necessarily has to be this new technology or complicated advancement, you know you have other designers going for this very sort of high-tech “what are you talking about fabrics?” made out of milk or made out of seaweed and you know, that’s buzz. I’m trying to stay away from the buzz factor, making sure that you hone in on those textiles that over the long haul are going to hold up. And they can still be beautiful and sexy and trendy, but they don’t have to have all the buzz attached to them. I think it’s being wary of anything that’s new and cutting edge, when it comes to textile production that is not yet tested, and that doesn’t have a transparent process because it’s not necessarily better.

LJ: So buzz or no buzz, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a plethora of sustainable fabrics on the runway this year in Portland’s Fashion Week. Tell us a little more about Project Green Search.

AW: This year at Portland Fashion Week, we are working to concentrate all the eco-designers for a Sunday night event, on October 11th. And Greenloop is hosting a green model search, called Project Green Search which is part of a greater movement to get people to think about aligning their careers with their environmental  and social ethics. And a model competition is a natural expression of that’s because a model is sort of a tangible representative of the company they are working for. It’s launching on Friday, August 7, 2009, and it’s open to women age 17 and older.  There’s a lot of talent out there that’s more than skin deep, so each model has to submit an essay, a video and volunteer for an environmental organization in their area and share their experiences, so she’s not just going to be a hanger.

The point is to really light that spark for people so that they think, “Wow, I have these skills and this passion and I don’t have to go and work for XYZ coal mining company, I can support another company.” I think there’s this huge opportunity we have in the midst of this recession to reshape our landscape, both in terms of the job talent pool and the companies that are going to come out of this and be successful.”

The Project Greensearch finale will coincide with Portland Fashion Week, dubbed the “Greenest Fashion Week in the World” where sustainable fashion brands will bring the week to a close in an eco-event on Sunday. Follow the competition, and stay in the loop with GreenLoop on their blog.

Kicking off the SAA Tour

In Sponsors on July 27, 2009 at 11:25 pm


On Wednesday, July 22, 2009, Sustainability Across America kicked off its national tour with a visit to Indigenous Designs in their beautiful solar powered office space in Santa Rosa, California.

The folks at Indigenous were gearing up for an upcoming fashion show. The office had racks of hand made, sustainable clothing lining the office walls, along with framed tapestries crafted by indigenous hands and personally made, motivational signs posted reminding the team that “Farming Organic Cotton Diverts 1.2 Tons of C02 Per Acre, Per Year!” This is no common apparel company keeping up with the green washing fad. Anyone at Indigenous will tell you, “Our path is chosen. We make clothing that honors both people and the planet.”

What struck me most as I sat down to talk with Scott Leonard, CEO of Indigenous, is his energy as he speaks about the fibers, the products, and the sustainable aspect of the business. It quickly becomes evident that his enthusiasm comes from the reality that Indigenous is not simply a business, but part of a movement that is reshaping the way the world works, one conscious choice at a time.

Scott has been immersed in the green movement for over 15 years and he gets to business setting us SAAT members on the right path, showing us the ins and outs of the industry. With each mention of a name or organization, he is struck by another affiliated or offshoot group and all are working with one another in a cohesive, collaborative method to revolutionize the way we live and interact with our environment. Over the course of a couple hours, he paints a clear picture of what he refers to fondly as “the movement,” and it’s exactly the insider’s perspective we are looking to uncover as we travel to the four corners of the United States. Our conversation bring me back to the roots of this journey, a mission to bring the movement for sustainability to life for us all, to connect with those working to make a difference, and to celebrate our collective success in increasing awareness and responsibility in our daily decisions.

At this critical point in history, our ability to prosper and thrive is dependent on our ability to evolve and adapt to a new, responsible way of life. The stories we will bring to you from the road are those of the pioneers of this new environmentally and socially conscious frontier. This is not a government agency redefining industry standards, this fundamental shift is powered by individuals, by fashion designers and clothing companies like Indigenous, bakeries, boutiques, organic vineyards, authors and others who are making the preservation of our habitat their bottom line. The realities of the businesses they are forging are inspiring and innovative. We hope they will prove to be both compelling and reassuring as we slowly tiptoe closer to a sustainable lifestyle.