Sustainable fashion

How slow was 2017?

What does slow fashion really look like facing the everyday realities of time, money and life that gets in the way?

I have looked at my numbers for 2017: what I bought, what I made, how much I spent, how thoughtfully I purchased, the mistakes, the successes. In short, all the nitty-gritty details of an honest, imperfect attempt at making better clothes decisions.

(Pour yourself a cup of coffee because this is a long one.)

 

How many new items?

20 (including shoes, not counting underwear)

Of those 20 new additions, 2 were bought second hand.

 

11 were handmade!

 

How many of the new items were a success?

14 of the new additions were a success.
2 were okay, but not fantastic.
4 were wardrobe flops.

14 out of 20 makes a success rate of 70%. But what about the wardrobe flops?

 

The wardrobe flops

Looking back at the wardrobe failures, two were due to the trial and error of learning. The edging on the jersey tops I sewed curled after the first wash. That is okay. I want to make my own clothes and keep pushing my skill set, and mistakes are part of that process (however annoying it is to admit it).

One was due to bad decision making. The second hand pair of hiking trousers just don’t fit and I should have faced up to that before I bought them. I could take out the waistband, but I might as well sit it out for a while and see what my body looks like in a year or so.

One was an unforeseen flop. The zero waste jacket didn’t end up being worn. I think, because I sewed it while at the beginning of my pregnancy and I still feel a wave nausea each time I look at it. Weird, I know. I’ll bring it back out when I’m ready.

 

Were the items sustainably sourced?

pie chart sustaiably sourced.png

The good: 8 items


The okay: 7 items

  • Two leggings and two tops sewn in organic cotton jersey, though produced under unknown working conditions. Leggings adapted from the True Bias Hudson pant pattern. Tops self-drafted. (Images at the top of the post, first row.)
  • Dress from Gudrun Sjöden in organic cotton, but produced under unknown working conditions.
  • Purple boxy dress sewn in a standard cotton jersey from my stash, pattern from Stoff & Stil. Not ethically sourced fabric, but points for using up what I already had. (Image at the top of the post, bottom left.)
  • Winter boots from Ecco. A quality-focused European brand who own most of their supply chain, though I know nothing about the labour and materials that went into these boots.
  • Zero waste jacket sewn in a wool/poly blend. While a zero waste pattern reduces textile waste, the fabric was not ethically produced, known-origin nor 100% wool. (Image at the top of the post, first row, second to the right.)


The bad: 5 items

  • 2 store-bought jumpers in alpaca, but from unknown origins and produced under unknown working conditions. (Plus, I wouldn’t have bought these if they hadn’t been ridiculously cheap sale items.)
  • 1 fast-fashion item bought in a haste
  • 1 pair of trainers, not only produced under unknown working conditions but with a sole that probably won’t decompose for another 1,000 years.

 

How many repairs and refashions?

7 (counting all the darned tights and socks as one.)

  • Jeans - sashiko-style knee patch
  • Jumper to cardigan refashion
  • Second hand jacket - hand-stitched the facing
  • Wool camisole - darned
  • Socks and tights - darned (lost count of how many)
  • Maternity jeans – ripped and reinforced
  • Winter boots - repaired at a cobbler

 

What did it all cost?

I spent 11,100 NOK on clothes and shoes, bought, handmade and repaired last year. That is about €1,155, £1,020 or $1,408 US.


Handmade vs. ready-to-wear

pie chart cost.png

Ready-to-wear items (new and second hand) made up 60% of the total cost of clothes and shoes.

Looking at the number of items per category, the handmade garments were cheaper in average than the ready-to-wear garments. This surprised me, because for most of the handmade items I deliberately tried to source my materials more thoughtfully. While, on the other hand, several of the ready-to-wear items were very cheap.

With this in mind, I realise that making garments myself means quality, ethical fashion is within reach. I thought the cost of ethical fabric would make it unattainable, but really it is finding suitable fabric that is my main challenge. The most expensive handmade item last year was the blue Kalle shirt dress, which added up to 800 NOK (€83, £73, US $101) including pattern, ethically sourced fabric, shipping and taxes. I can live with that. I would rather reduce the number of items than skimp on the fabric.

The repairs gave most value for money, though here the numbers are misleading. I only paid for one repair: the boots I took to the cobbler. For the rest I used materials I already had.

 

How do you measure slow fashion success?

I added more items and mended fewer than I would have wished. Another question just as relevant as the number of pieces added, is the number of pieces that went out. Where did they go: into storage, donated, thrown out, repurposed as fabric? I didn’t keep track of that. But there certainly were things that went out of my wardrobe last year.

 

Ideal vs. real

Ideally, all the new additions to my wardrobe last year should have been real wardrobe workhorses and they should all have come from sustainable sources. Ideally. Realistically, I am not there yet.

As a second-time mum, my body has gone through big changes over the year and I am still waiting for it to settle into its new shape. As an adult and woman I am still figuring out how I like to dress. As a professional I am still finding my place. And as a maker I am still learning. This all takes some exploration, some trial and error, some time to hone in on.

Slow fashion is not only about the amounts of clothing I have. It is as also about having the right clothes, for me and for my lifestyle. Do I feel comfortable in my clothes? Do I have clothes that work together? Do I have clothes I want to wear and will want to repair when they need it?

Adding and subtracting clothes in a thoughtful and more sustainable way is my goal. Getting there is a journey.

 

Was 2017 a slow fashion year for me?

Well, it kind of was and it wasn't. I am thinking: mend more, buy less and enjoy the process of making.

Maja Stabel: zero waste sewing

Maja Stabel, a talented Norwegian fashion designer and illustrator, designs beautiful garments from the simple, all rectangular shapes of her zero waste patterns. Previously designing for her own label Stabel, she now offers charmingly hand-drawn zero waste patterns (for free!) and holds workshops for home-sewers.

If you’re familiar with sewing, the odd assortment of scraps remaining after cutting out your pieces will be familiar too: long strips, curves and wedges of fabric which only the most passionate patchworker could re-use. About 15% of fabric in the fashion industry is cut away at the production stage and thrown out as waste.

Intrigued by the concept of zero waste in fashion, I reached out to Maja and have since also had the pleasure of joining in on one of her workshops (where I made this). Her passion for combining creativity and sustainability in clothes making is inspiring. And today I am delighted to share an interview with her here!

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I get the impression you were drawn to zero waste thinking as a sustainable approach to fashion design but also as a creative challenge of pattern construction. Could you say a little about what zero waste design is and your fascination for it?

Zero waste design within the fashion industry is about pattern construction – about designing waste out of the production of clothes.

I love that zero waste design challenges you to find new solutions and that you have to be creative with what you’ve got. When you distance yourself from the conventional way of constructing patterns, zero waste design can be a tool for innovation.

It’s hard to make the math to fit and the proportions right and at the same time make sensible use of the whole fabric piece and not waste anything, but this is what I think is fun and exciting; which makes zero waste a more creative design process for me – I’m forced to find new solutions.

 

You have previously designed beautiful zero waste garments under your own label Stabel. Now you’re offering zero waste patterns for people to sew themselves. What was your motivation for bringing zero waste fashion design to the home sewing market?

I really wanted to have a sustainable business model that was different from the conventional one where you produce new collections all the time that encourage consumerism and contribute to a growing waste problem. I wanted to cut the production phase – at least the one where I produce a bunch of clothes in India or China and would be forced to sell a huge quantity of clothes to make it go around. Probably I would have to sell a lot on sale as well because it’s impossible to estimate how much you are going to sell.

Then I thought that the way I make my zero waste patterns are very easy to learn and understand, so why not make people produce their own clothes? Last year I studied pedagogics and discovered how much I enjoyed teaching. I ran a zero waste assignment in a class and it was so much fun so that’s when I figured I could run my own zero waste workshops as well.

And now I just had my first workshop! (that I'm very happy you wanted to attend). I was so excited about how it would be and how it would be received; if people would like it and benefit from it. I thought about it for such a long time so I’m happy I just did it when the opportunity arose because it really turned out to be such a fun and inspiring day! Everyone was really positive and I think eager to learn and to sew something on their own which made it an easygoing and nice event. I had so much fun teaching and seeing people turn my design into their own by adding small details and finding new solutions.

 

Sewing things myself, I’ve often found it challenging to find sustainably sourced fabrics and notions. Do you have any tips on where to go or what to look for?

No, this is something I find very frustrating – it’s very hard to find sustainable fabrics. I recently found tencel fabric at a danish website and was super excited, but then it gets very expensive because of taxes and customs which is really annoying. Stoff og stil [a Northern-European fabric chain store] has actually started to stock some organic fabrics.

Are you also thinking of selling your own DIY-kits with fabric and notions to go with your patterns?

Yes! I'm in the process of creating DIY kits with zero waste patterns and Norwegian wool made at Krivi veveri [one of the few remaining Norwegian weaving mills].

I want it to be a 100% Norwegian product – that will be locally made by my customers. I hope this can inspire people to make their own clothes again.

 

Do you generally sense a positive change underway in the fashion industry with fresh approaches to sustainable fashion?

Yes, I feel that there’s something positive happening in the fashion industry – more and more people open their eyes and find better and more sustainable ways to make clothes. I think, and hope, that the brands who don't focus on sustainability won't survive. I think it’s especially inspiring that big brands like Levis and Stella McCartney take a stand and make an effort to be (more) sustainable.

But we have a long way to go and I think we, as consumers, are the ones who hold the power to really change it. We need to demand better and more sustainable clothes and we can do this by choosing the sustainable companies – we have to be aware of where we put our consumer vote. Alternatively you can buy secondhand or, of course, make your own clothes ;-)

 

As consumers it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the problems in the fashion industry and not know where to start or whether we can even make a difference. What would you say to that? Do you have any advice on where to start?

I guess I've already answered that, but to make it clear: the consumer can make all the difference!! And it is our responsibility to use our power and be conscious of how we shop. Start by choosing sustainable when it’s possible and if not, at least buy clothes with good quality that last, and always ask yourself if you will wear it a minimum of 30 times.

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Thank you so much, Maja!

You can find more about Maja and her work on her website, instagram and facebook.

Ethical shoes guide 2: Where to shop

In the first part of the Ethical shoes guide I talked about all the hard questions around sustainable and ethical shoes and gave you no clear answers. Now, here is what you have been waiting for: a list of 14 more ethical and sustainable shoe brands.

Bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, but simply the brands I have come across in my own search for more ethical shoes. If you know of others deserving a mention, please share in the comments! Also, none of the brands listed are perfect. So, don't forget to think for yourself. Right, let's go!

 

14 shoe brands pushing for good

 

Ethletic

Sustainable materials, fair trade

Trainers, flats and sandals for men and women.
Headquarter in Germany, production in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

Starting out as a sports brand, with the first fairly produced football on the market in 2004, the company has since 2007 produced shoes using its existing supply chains. It sources natural rubber from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) plantations on Sri Lanka, certified organic cotton from India and was certified in 2010 with the fairtrade seal for organic cotton.

At the manufacturing facility in Pakistan Ethletic has implemented its own scheme, where it pays an additional 15% of the value of their orders to an employer-represented elected body or “welfare society”. The society uses these extra funds for social benefits of their own choice, like health insurance, doctor visits, clean drinking water and so on.

On Rank A Brand’s dutch site Ethletic was rated with a B.

 

Veja

Sustainable materials

Trainers for women, men and kids.
Headquarter in France, production in Brazil.

The shoes are manufactured in Brazil and made of organic cotton, recycled materials, natural rubber from the Amazon, and “low chrome” leather. The association of cotton farmers they work with are fairtrade certified.

There is a fair bit of information about their commitment to sustainability on its site, including prices on natural rubber and cotton, and social audit reports from their manufacturing facilities from 2008 and 2009. The company also openly acknowledges some of the challenges it faces with respect to its production.

In Rank A Brand’s test Veja was rated with a C, doing well on labour conditions and environmental protection, though facing the complaint that its sustainability reporting should be more up-to-date.

 

Avesu

Sustainable materials, vegan

40+ sustainable shoe brands for men, women and kids.
Based in Berlin.

Avesu brings together a wide range of ethical, sustainable and vegan shoe brands with everything from trainers and hiking boots, to lace-ups and heels.

Avesu ensures the brands they stock meet its standards of fair working conditions by inspecting the brands' non-EU supplier factories. The company states that the majority of the shoes are sourced within the EU where there are already strict laws to ensure fair working conditions. However, as mentioned in the first part of the Ethical shoes guide, a recent report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Change Your Shoes describes the shoe industry in low-wage European countries as notorious for poverty wages and bad working conditions.

Avensu offer some interesting input to the discussion of leather, stating that all skins go through a chemicals-intensive tanning process whether or not this is labeled “vegetable tanning”.

 

Oliberté

Sustainable jobs in Africa

Leather shoes for men, women and babies.
Headquarter in Canada, production in Ethiopia.

Oliberté started out in 2009 partnering with factories and suppliers in Sub-Saharan Africa, later establishing its own factory in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in 2012. All its shoes are made there, and the factory became the world’s first fair trade certified footwear manufacturing factory in 2013.

Materials are sourced from within Africa: leather from Ethiopia (mainly form a tannery which is said to have the world’s only chrome-recycling system), natural rubber from Libera, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia, and tags and insoles form Mauritius.

Oliberté is a certified B-Corporation.

 

Sole Rebels

Sustainable jobs in Africa, fair trade

Boots, flats and sandals for men and women.
Headquarter and production in Ethiopia.

A range colourful and fun shoes made of hand-spun and hand-woven cotton, reclaimed textiles, hemp and old tires. The company puts emphasis on job creation and fair working conditions, stating for instance that its workers are paid three times the average wages in the industry. They creatively re-use materials and support traditional handcraft techniques.

Sole Rebels is a World Fair Trade certified company.

 

The Root Collective

Supporting small-scale artisans in Guatemala

Boots and flats for women.
Headquarter in the US, production in Guatemala.

A small range of handmade shoes in leather and cotton, produced in partnership with small-scale artisans in the poor areas of Guatemala. The fabric is handwoven by women in Guatemalan highland villages using the traditional back-strap weaving technique. The shoes are stitched in family workshops in the slum of Guatemala City.

The Root Collective is a certified B-Corporation.

 

Allbirds

Sustainable materials

Wool trainers for men and women.
Headquarter in the US, production in New Zealand and Italy.

Allbirds produce trainers made of merino wool from New Zealand processed into a special fabric in Italian textile mills. The shoes are said to have a 60% reduction in carbon footprint compared to standard trainers of synthetic materials. The natural properties of the wool help minimise odour, regulate temperature and wick moisture.

The merino wool is ZQ certified and the company is in the process of gaining a B-Corp certification. However, there is no mention of where the shoes are manufactured, working conditions, detailed supplier lists or a code of conduct.

 

El Naturalista

Own most of its supply chain

Shoes, boots and flats for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in Spain, production in Spain, Italy and Morocco.

The shoes are mainly made of leather, which is claimed to be “chrome-free”. There are also some vegan alternatives made of poly microfibres.

El Naturalista own three manufacturing factories across Spain and Morocco, and all its shoes are produced in these. Leather and other shoe components are sourced from Italy.

There is a code of conduct and a supplier list available for download on the site. However, in the report "Trampling worker rights underfoot" by Change Your Shoes it is pointed out that the factory in Morocco and the tanneries in Italy are not included on the list. The report concludes that while the company report generically on supply chain responsibility on the website the whole supplier chain is not included.

In Rank A Brand’s test El Naturalista was rated with a D, faced with the complaint that the company should be more transparent about its sustainability policies.

 

TOMS

One for one model

Canvas flats for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in the US, production unknown.

The company's focus is on the "one for one" model and its promise to give away a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair bought. So far, about 60 million pairs of shoes have been given away through various charities and local organisations in over 70 countries.

As mentioned, in the first part of the Ethical shoes guide, the TOMS model has received criticism regarding its shoe donations. This led to the investigation of the impacts of TOMS shoe donations in this recent paper published in the World Bank Economic Review.

Regarding corporate responsibility TOMS states that it is working towards more sustainable materials for its shoes, like organic cotton, hemp and recycled polyester. In general terms the company states it is committed to fair labour practices and require its suppliers to comply with their code of conduct. However, I found no information on suppliers or the code of conduct vaguely referred to on the site, except for casual reference to production in China, Ethiopia and Argentina.

 

Ecco

Own most of its supply chain

Mainly leather shoes for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in Denmark, production in Indonesia, China, Thailand, the Netherlands and by other subcontractors.

Ecco emphasises quality in production and take pride in craftsmanship. It states that it is the only major shoe company to own its own production and retail facilities, which suggests that it has better control both with the quality of the production and the working conditions at these sites. Ecco’s code of conduct is publicly available on the website.

Ecco did not partake in the company assessment report by Change Your Shoes. The report confirms that Ecco owns most of its supply chain, but also remarks that it uses subcontractors. The report concludes that it is fair to assume that Ecco takes responsibility to ensure fair working conditions, though it is unclear whether they have a comprehensive human rights due diligence procedure in place.

In Rank A Brand's test Ecco was rated with a D, for although the company fares well with regard to its tanneries and energy efficiency, other criteria regarding labour conditions and the environment are left unanswered.

 

Birkenstock

Job-creation in Germany

Sandals and flats for men, women and kids.
Headquarter and main production in Germany.

Birkenstock is a family-run business in its 6th generation, claiming roots back to 1774. The company has a strong emphasis on quality and comfort in its shoes.

The classic Birkenstock sandals are made of natural cork leftovers from the wine industry, sourced mainly from southern Portugal, and with soles of natural latex (or “rubber milk”). Most models have leather components, though they also have some vegan models made of poly microfibres.

The company’s code of conduct is available on the website.

In Rank A Brand’s test Birkenstock was rated with a C, doing well on labour conditions, but lacking information on environmental policies and climate change.

 

Kavat

EU Eco-label

Leather shoes for men, women and kids.
Headquarter in Sweden, production in Bosnia, Sweden and by other subcontractors.

A Swedish company with roots back to 1945, though not established as a brand until the 1970s. There is a small production facility in Sweden, maintained in cooperation with a local industry museum. The company owns a factory in Bosnia, which was established 2009 as a response to the influence of many Bosnian refugees that came to Sweden in the 1990s. This factory complies with ISO standards 9001 and 14001, and the EU Eco-label. The company also uses subcontractors, but don’t present a detailed supplier list.

On its website, Kavat states that more than 50 models are certified with the EU Eco-label.

 

Atheist

Handmade

Mainly leather shoes for men and women.
Headquarter in Germany, production in Portugal.

A small company based in Berlin, working with a shoe workshop in Porto in Portugal who manufacture the shoes. Atheist started as an art project, but grew into business in 2012 after an image of the first shoes went viral and led them to start a kickstarter campaign and launch their business.

The shoes are mainly made out of leather, which is said to be “natural and unprocessed”, only vegetable dyed and gently tumbled (but see also what Avesu write about vegetable tanned leather, above). There are also one or two vegan alternatives made out of microfibre from recycled plastic. The soles are made of natural rubber.

There is no specific mention of working conditions or the origins of the materials they use.

On a side note, Atheist offer a very unusual, and rather macabre, custom shoes option where you can get shoes made from your dead pet’s skin.

 

The White Ribbon

Handmade, reclaimed materials

Leather boots, sandals and flats for women.
Based in Berlin, Germany.

A small artisan company designing and making shoes by hand in their Berlin workshop. The shoes are made of leather from over-production in the Italian fashion industry, and also reclaimed vintage fabrics.