FIT Students Visit 2014 NYC Green Festival
Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting and educating 15 High School students who registered to take a 4-day “Global Fashion Business” Saturday Workshop at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The workshop covered the topics of: international marketing, management, career options and sustainability. Fortunately, one of our class meetings fell on Saturday, April 26, 2014 while the NYC Green Festival (www.greenfestivals.org) was in town so we decided to leave the classroom and head to Peir 94 — the event site. After all, what better way for students to learn about sustainability than by attending this event and meeting with the businesses and organizations leading the effort.
Students enjoyed meeting with numerous exhibitors and sampling their products. A variety of industries were represented, from fashion (e.g. Green Eileen www.greeneileen.org) to body care (e.g. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap www.drbronner.com) to food products (e.g. Halo chips www.oceanshalo.com) and many more.
Eco-fashion was a hot topic for our group and students had particular interest in Green Eileen. As described on their website, “GREEN EILEEN is a recycled clothing program committed to reducing environmental impact and generating income to support programs that improve the lives of women and girls. By selling gently worn EILEEN FISHER clothing, we extend the life of timeless garments and are able to support the non-profit programs in which we so strongly believe. Sustainability is about having a long-term orientation to the way we use the Earth’s natural resources. In recent years, corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability have received mainstream attention, and the global consciousness has taken up the charge to reduce our human impact. However, the garment industry is still one of the largest sources of waste and pollution. Did you know? • The average American throws away 68 pounds of clothes per year. • Over 4% of global landfills are filled with clothing and textiles. • Almost 100% of used clothing is recyclable.” http://www.greeneileen.org/our-story
After meeting with the Green Eileen representatives, students expressed the following reactions to the program: “I’m totally cool with reusing garments as long as it’s not undergarments”; “I like that they are giving the product multiple lifecycles — by having the same item used by more than one person!”
In addition to meeting exhibitors, students were also able to listen to the speaker panel sessions. For example, they attended the “Greening your Closet with Style” panel led by Kate Black, Founder of Magnifeco (www.magnifeco.com). Her panel featured a wonderful, smart and diverse group that highlighted some inspiring work happening across the globe. Topics covered vintage clothing, eco-fashion, Fair Trade and promoting the skills of indigenous artisans. Panelists included Carolina Cantor (www.ShopEthica.com), Monisha Raja (www.LoveIsMighty.com), Ariana Boussard Reifel (www.modemarteau.com), and Swati Argade (www.bhoomki.com).
Ariana Boussard Reifel, Founder of Mode Marteau (www.modemarteau.com), advised the audience that they have the power to make change and have “an amazing number of options to choose from.” “You have an option to take political action; you can choose to contribute to things you don’t believe in or you can choose to fight against them; shopping is like a political action”. “Eco fashion can be used as a weapon for social justice; it’s a revolution against the toxic chemical world that we are living in.” For example, Ariana’s “weapon of choice” is vintage clothing and that’s how she maintains her eco-fashion wardrobe. She believes that anybody can purchase vintage or used clothing because it’s easy and typically less expensive than new clothing. Ariana enjoys its uniqueness and high quality. Her business supports this effort and more: “As a value-lead business we proudly implement sustainable practices in all aspects of the business, from credit-union banking to recycled packaging, to the innately world-friendly act of sharing and reusing wonderful things. We believe that when you take creative license with your wardrobe you are expressing a little bit of your true self, and that is a good thing.” http://www.modemarteau.com/about
Carolina Cantor, Co-Founder and Fashion Director of Shop Ethica (www.ShopEthica.com), stated that “Fashion is the 2nd most polluting Industry after oil.” For example, “One can determine the color trends by looking at dye run-off in Chinese rivers.” She is focusing on empowering local communities to create long term change. As outlined on her website, “Our goal is to connect consumers and companies that share a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Through this website, we hope to contextualize shopping within a larger global narrative, highlighting the very real impacts of our collective consumption choices. The designers featured on this site create beautiful products and responsible companies. They’ve invested time and resources in being as ‘planet and people friendly’ as possible. Some of the commitments they’ve made include: sourcing ecologically responsible materials, developing sustainable production processes, treating their workers well, and giving to charity.” They also believe in Trade Not Aid, “Whereas charity can provide immediate relief to people in need, the goal of commerce in the context of ethical fashion is more long-term: to create sustainable employment opportunities that can permanently lift people out of poverty. The brands listed under our Trade Not Aid category employ artisans and workers in developing countries in fair-practice settings, aiming to nurture a demand for their skills and empower their communities to prosper.” http://www.shopethica.com/ethical-practices/trade-not-aid
Students were also excited to meet Monisha Raja, Founder of Love Is Mighty (www.LoveIsMighty.com). During a discussion in class, they articulated the following: “Monisha created the company Love is Mighty to sustain India’s culture. She uses products that are typically thought of as garbage, such as candy wrappers to produce a line of vegan shoes and accessories. Monisha is trying to prevent the loss of Indian culture by creating sustainable work environments to allow her workers to support their families.” Additional reactions included: “Her shoes are beautiful….I love them!”; “I support her….I like what she is doing”; “She is trying to prevent the people from losing the craft”; “If people go on to work in other industries, they are likely to be exposed to cruelty and not treated fairly”; “Artisans work in their natural habitats, happy doing what they want to do and not being forced to do something just to survive.” As highlighted on Monisha’s website, “Construction dominates India’s big cities, more and more tribal artisans in rural villages are giving up their centuries-old craft to learn to hang drywall and mix cement. Talented hands are having to abandon what they know and love. Thousands of years of Indian traditions are about to vanish. Your shoes were born from a passion to preserve these indigenous crafts. To give artisans the respect they deserve and the means to provide for their families.” http://www.loveismighty.com/story.html
Swati Argade, Creative Director and CEO of Bhoomki, is a designer with a mission: “To make ethically fashioned, high-quality, low-quantity collections for my customers, not trend-driven clothes worn for a single season.” During the panel discussion, she described how cotton is one of the least sustainable fibers, due to the high levels of water and pesticides that are used in the manufacturing process. As stated on her website, her company is focused on “Ethically Fashioned Fabrics and Fair-trade Production. When you make a Bhoomki purchase, you help preserve the earth and support traditional artisans around the world. You shrink your carbon footprint, you help keep poison out of our rivers, you support endangered textile traditions, and ensure that factory workers receive a fair wage and thrive in humane working conditions. Bhoomki features brands that source organic, recycled and/or artisan fabrics. Our in-house line is cut and sewn clothes in child-free factories where workers receive a living wage under humane working conditions. Whenever possible, we manufacture in NYC, use low-impact dyes and offset shipping costs with carbon credits toward renewable energy initiatives. We do all of the above without sacrificing superb craftsmanship, quality and fit.” http://www.bhoomki.com/about-us
Answering a question from the audience about how to determine if a company is “green washing”, Kate stated “the best way for a consumer to know is by researching what the company stands for; what is the core of the business. It is also important for consumers to understand the origin of the product.”
Students overall reactions to attending the 2014 NYC Green Festival included the following: “I had a good time…I’m glad I went”; “I had fun, I learned a lot about food, body care, fashion…I really liked it!”; “I thought of myself as eco-friendly…now I want to take it to the next level”; “I want to research and learn about the working conditions and the production of clothing before I purchase”; “I will look for less fast fashion and more higher quality clothing”; “I will shop at used clothing stores”; “I will support smaller businesses because they tend to produce better quality than bigger mass production businesses”; and, “I am more aware.”
These students have not only made changes in their thinking and attitude about sustainability but also started to “walk to talk”. For example, one student was so inspired that for the first time ever he purchased a used piece of clothing. He visited the Buffalo Exchange (www.buffaloexchange.com) used clothing store during the lunch break of our last class meeting and found a beautiful blue Patagonia vest, which originally retails for over $100 dollars. He was able to purchase it for $22 and was happy to model it in the below photo.
Written by Professor Shireen Musa,
Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York