These Female Entrepreneurs Are Making the Fashion Industry More Sustainable
We’ve been producing and consuming clothing at an alarming rate while staring into the sixth mass extinction. Ours is the era of biological annihilation, and as one of the world’s most polluting industries, fashion has got everything to do with it. We are decimating our precious water supply, contaminating our soil and committing a protracted sort of genocide with feigned ignorance, employing vulnerable people in developing nations to do fashion’s dirtiest and most dangerous work. We’ve ignored the golden rule and made exploitation the status quo—all in the name of style and staying on-trend. Let’s not wait until the last truffula tree is gone before wearing the change.
While the sustainability movement addresses those issues, it also signifies a return to quality and thoughtful design, to treating our clothes like the good friends they are and to luxuries that feed the soul as opposed to the fast-fashion machine. Sustainability simply won’t stick if it’s not fashion first. These are the five female entrepreneurs making sure your wardrobe looks great and does great things.
View this post on Instagram
The production, consumption and performance of style is very political. Clothing is linked to massive environmental & social degradation, black identity and liberation and most certainly cultural autonomy globally. It’s only frivolous if you make it that way! Environmental justice & socio-political stewardship can start anywhere – even with your clothing. . . . Jumpsuit by @abacaxinyc . . . #motivationmonday #sustainablefashion #streetstyle #paris #ethical #melaninass #domsconsciouscloset #green #eco #blacklivesmatter #melanin #fashionactivism
“I’ve always been an earthy type of chick,” quips Dominique Drakeford, the founder of Melanin and Sustainable Style, a website that goes by the cheeky acronym MelaninASS. Drakeford grew up going on family camping trips, and she says her love of pristine nature only strengthened as she grew older.
After receiving her master’s degree in sustainable entrepreneurship and fashion from NYU in 2013, she did PR for sustainable fashion brands before launching MelaninASS in 2016. Her mission is to “bring Melanin to the forefront of sustainable fashion” by recognizing the contributions that people of colour are making in eco fashion. The site was born out of a “crazy Venn diagram of frustrations,” including her irritation that the faces of eco fashion by and large tend to be white women, plus what she sees as a failure of black-centred publications to acknowledge sustainability issues.
“I was tired of just seeing people of colour seen as labourers,” she says. Drakeford is dedicated to amplifying the voices of women of colour—like Maya Shaw, who sells artisanal ceramic weed pipes in her store SHAW., or Jasmine Offor-Verville, the founder of conflict-free jewellery line Moondust & Me. “No matter your financial situation or your geographic location, this is a global movement for everybody,” she says.
After years of working in clothing trade shows, Sarah Power sensed that people were “starting to reject mainstream fast fashion.” Almost on a whim, she assembled 80 Canadian brands for Inland’s pop-up debut in September 2014. Today, Inland pops up twice a year—in May and September—in Toronto.
All Inland vendors are first selected for their style and then considered at length for quality of work, web presence and brand story. Interestingly enough, Inland hasn’t grown since its debut; its number of vendors has actually been reduced. According to Power, this is because it’s important that vendors and consumers are able to get the most return on their investment.
Though Inland was born of Power’s desire to support Canadian fashion, her real passion now lies in sustainability, something she thinks could be this country’s fashion identity. “Our style as Canadians is defined by sensibility, but it’s founded in a dynamic and exciting mix of cultural diversity; we’re understated but very confident,” she says. “With advances in new-tech materials and production methods that operate within a circular economy, Canada has an opportunity to be a global leader in the sustainability space.”
No one was talking about Indigenous designers within the Toronto creative community. Sage Paul wanted to change that, so the urban Dene woman launched Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) earlier this year. As an artist and a designer herself—she showed her latest collection, Giving Life, at Montreal’s Festival Mode & Design and has plans to take it to Calgary’s Otahpiaaki Fashion Week in November—Paul is hoping that IFWTO will improve the visibility and advancement of Indigenous artists while providing “a space for the fashion, culture and arts industries to gain knowledge about how to work with Indigenous designers.”
In addition to IFWTO, Paul recently did the costume design for Falls Around Her, a film about an Anishinaabe musician that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year. She is also working on creating a “value-driven entrepreneurship course for Indigenous women and non-binary people working in fashion, crafts and textiles.”
The values that she hopes to share and propagate are ones that form an integral part of how she was raised. “Indigenous people value and have a lot of respect for one another and the earth and all living things,” says Paul. “There’s a sense of gratitude and a reciprocal relationship with everything, including the land, including animals.” It’s a value system she hopes will be adopted by an increasingly unsustainable industry before it’s too late.
Just like many great ideas, Rebecca Burgess’s eventual brainchild was right there in front of her. “During college in California, I studied agricultural systems and also learned to weave, yet I never learned about local farms that were producing natural fibres and yarns; the textile community was hidden in plain sight,” says Burgess, founder and executive director of Fibershed. “While travelling in Indonesia, I saw village-scale textile production and realized that my community could learn from this. Fibershed began as a way to reconnect our material culture and consumption patterns to the landscape and the livelihoods that support it.”
The company, founded in 2010, develops and connects farmers and ranchers to designers and artisans and, ultimately, to consumers. “It’s not just about reducing the miles travelled by a garment,” says Burgess. “It’s about valuing the work of your community, from the people who manage the working landscapes raising food and fibre to the livelihoods supported by fibre processing and textile creation.”
When Stacy Flynn flew to China in 2010, she intended to shake hands on a textile business deal but was alarmed by the haze of blue gas that hovered in the air as she hammered out details of the transaction. As a textile executive for roughly 25 years, Flynn realized she was partly to blame for the poor air quality and vowed to realign her business ethics so they meshed with her personal moral code.
Enter EVRNU, the radical sustainable start-up she founded in 2014 that uses proprietary technology to create new fibres out of recycled garment waste. Imagine a pile of old cotton T-shirts used to birth a brand-new pair of blue jeans. Considering brands like Burberry weathered boatloads of criticism earlier this year for incinerating $50 million of unsold clothing, Flynn’s solution reads like the magic bullet for solving the problem of surplus clothes. (Burberry announced in September that it has stopped burning.)
So far, Levi’s, Target and Stella McCartney have signed on, and EVRNU hopes that clothing made out of their fibres will be widely available by the end of 2019. “Expressing ourselves through our dress has always been culturally significant,” says Flynn. “Keeping our industry safe into the future is the primary objective.”