Bridging the Lifestyle Gap
All things new start with a need. Me starting a clothing line was no exception. Like a new addiction, Bali and Saint James had me looking for more in the US. The fact that everything I bought seemed to fall apart soon after and being an industry insider certainly helped push me further and faster.
Like never before, I was reading content and country of origin labels on everything from food and clothes to shampoo and cleaning products. This as you can predict, left me frustrated, confused and opened the door to doing way more research about materials and ingredients than I ever imagined. But for the purpose of this post, I'll stick to fashion.
So there I was, I knew what I needed, what I wanted, what I could actually afford and how much over my budget I was willing to go. Yet I was having a very hard time finding clothing that fit my criteria. I wanted something made in the US, because local production decreases the carbon foot print. I wanted something made from natural fibers that had minimal negative impact on the environment even if it did end up in a landfill at some point. I wanted something well made, that wouldn't fall apart after one season. If all that meant spending more, it had to fit well and aesthetically represent me as a woman. This is wear I hit a road block.
As a fashion designer in New York city, I spend the majority of my day in an office, dealing with deadlines and colorful personalities that don't make much of anything easy. The environment is mentally, emotionally and physically demanding in it's own unique way. The perfect uniform would be sweat pants and a t-shirt, but if you actually show up like that, you will be pulled to the side for a friendly chat.
The truth is that, perhaps aside from the factory workers forced to work 16 hr days, everyone one in fashion, loves, or at the very least, likes fashion. I am no different. I love fashion! Sadly when I started my search for clothing that met my above criteria, all I seemed to find was t-shirts, hoodies, and some boxy dresses that I might wear on the weekend after I roll out of bed...or to the beach. But, it wasn't anything I could wear to work, or a wedding, or a fancy date. A night out on the town with friends, and clubbing? Forget about it! I love being a woman...on most days....and I wanted to dress like one without exploiting anyone, or decimating the local economy and who knows how many Eco-systems.
I can't remember exactly where I was, but it was a store in Manhattan. I was leaning over a handful of organic cotton styles, all priced over $100 and all pretty much variations of a t-shirt. Not the greenest fiber on the planet, they were cozy and comfy looking, but again nothing I could wear to work. Now I love weekends, but they are much shorter than the workweek. I commented on the design, or lack there of, to my friend, who was busy rolling her eyes at the price tag. A woman, who either worked there or was a customer, responded with a particular tone that was, well, off putting. Her point was that it was about making a statement and standing up to the establishment, and that if the environment was really a priority, I would vote with my dollars. I had heard that point made before, and I have heard it quite a few times after. Here is where I have a problem, and I know I'm not alone.
Just how many t-shirts do I need? And hoodies? Never liked those! Sweat pants? I haven't owned a pair since I became financially independent. My disposable income, unlike that of the super wealthy, has always had a beginning and an end. So if I'm asked to vote with my dollars and spend more of them than in the past, why is it so wrong for me to want to, at the very least, like what I buy?
If we as brands, are truly serious about the environment and changing what is wrong with the fashion industry, we must bridge the lifestyle gap and include everyone! However you like to present yourself to the world, you have a right to be who you are. Sustainable fashion, and it's supporters, must be judgmental of content not design. If this is a train headed someplace better, as manufacturers and designer, it is our job to invite everyone on board.