WORDS: Kate Weiner
IMAGES: Will Sardinsky
In our Sustainable Fashion series, Loam set out to explore businesses that are approaching sustainability in fashion with an emphasis on innovation, creativity, and quality. We recognize that sustainable fashion poses a perplexing paradox. How you consume matters far more than what you consume. On a very basic level, buying no dress is better for the environment than a handmade hemp dress.
But we do buy. Consumption is interwoven into our culture. We consume out of habit or from a genuine appreciation for handicraft or to surprise someone we love with a special something or to displace the dredgings of a bad day. Fashion can be a valuable instrument of self-expression, a way for us to connect to ourselves and one another. I've always loved sitting in a park on a sun-speckled day and watching crowds walk past. People create gorgeous get-ups.
Loam believes in a middle ground between asceticism and materialism. Our intention is to engage with different ways of melding sustainable fashion with fair labor practices. We are excited by companies that are challenging how things are made by embracing local production and low-carbon impact practices. Being a conscious consumer means not only consuming less, but also differently. We want to look at what factors are worth considering when we do choose to consume.
Part 1 in our series? Aella, a Los-Angeles based brand. We were first drawn to Aella by its powerful mission of female empowerment and its hard-working Creative Director, Eunice Cho. Eunice's idea for Aella stemmed from her experiences interviewing for business school. Many of the suits that she was required to wear were too itchy and too expensive. Aella seeks to offer a comfortable uniform that women, Eunice says, "can go back to again and again." In the thick of fast fashion, Aella provides long-lasting workwear that can serve a purpose outside of the office. That meant using nylon, a synthetic fabric maligned for its chemical-heavy production process. Because Enuice wanted to find a more eco-friendly approach, however, she quite literally went around the world (to Italy and to Japan) to source responsibly made fabrics that would hold up over time and didn't require extensive chemical input.
Notes Eunice: "We only source fabrics from environmentally responsible mills. Our main mill is an institution in Italy that is an award winning factory that has invested deeply into its sustainable manufacturing processes. I think synthetic fibers get a lot of bad rap just because they are synthetic, but the problem really lies in the way that a fabric is manufactured and dyed; just because something is made with cotton doesn’t mean it’s environmentally friendly. We also only source fabrics that are machine-washable, because not only is dry-cleaning expensive but it is also bad for the environment! Lastly, we manufacture in Los Angeles. We feel strongly about supporting the local labor force and the manufacturing community in Downtown. We have two factories that we work with and we love them so much."
Eunice's comment points to the effects of greenwashing on how we relate to fashion. It isn't always true that a hemp fiber will be better for the earth than a synthetic fiber: context matters. And what's more, an organic label is no guarantee of just labor practices. The fashion industry is the third-largest industrial source of pollution in the world and many of the factories that produce our clothing are marred by horrific labor practices.
How can we encourage more fashion companies to take environmental sustainability and social responsibility into account? "I think sustainability really requires both fashion companies and consumers to work together to create new expectations," says Eunice. "There is a growing interest in sustainability, which is fantastic, but consumers still love those low prices. The hard truth is that investing into more environmentally responsible procedures and manufacturing with a transparent supply chain are very capital intensive, so companies have to raise prices. But consumers hate it when prices go up beyond what they are used to paying for."
"Beyond that, I think the biggest challenge for any business is to change your culture to one that is focused on creating less waste. You can start with baby steps (like reusing boxes, reusing print paper, and rethinking utilities usage). Actually, these kinds of easy changes can immediately save business money, which they can then invest into better manufacturing practices. But for all of this to happen successfully, a business must have buy-in from not only the management but all the people involved, including customers!"
As consumers, we need to understand that there is power in numbers. Adopting a sustainable approach to consumption may mean rewiring our expectations about what we think we need, and how much, and when. And those changes are worth embracing if we can drive change in the fashion world.