Starting an ethical online shop

April 8, 2015

good cloth main imageI may have mentioned it before that I recently joined the Ethical Writers Coalition (EWC). It’s a dedicated group of writers, journalists, bloggers and the like who share a common interest in writing about the ethical and sustainable fashion industry. Once a month or so, I’m going to feature a guest post from an EWC member. This blog syndication is something the EWC does to help spread the quality content that its members produce. It’s a great idea, not only because it shares each other’s content, but also because you might get tired of hearing from me, you know!? So here we are, my first syndicated post courtesy of Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer. You can read the original post here.

Stephanie Hepburn is a journalist and the founder of Good Cloth, an ethical online store that focuses on items that are produced in a way that is kind to workers and to the planet. While writing her most recent book, Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight, she was motivated to combine fashion and human rights into one venture, Good Cloth. This venture is an endeavor to fill a gap in the marketplace by evaluating the entire journey of a product and ensuring transparency from start to finish. Stephanie’s goal is to generate interest in labour exploitation and forced labour and to help create positive change.

As Good Cloth is beginning to grow, I caught up with Stephanie to ask her a few questions about her inspiration and thoughts on the sustainability movement.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START GOOD CLOTH?

I started Good Cloth because I want to make change in the garment industry and spread awareness on the topic of labour exploitation in a positive way. As a journalist, I have written about labour exploitation and human trafficking for years and it seemed that only a niche audience was listening. Meaning, I was preaching to the choir. That doesn’t really trigger change or at least not in mainstream society, and that limits the degree of change that can take place. At the same time, I was separately writing about fashion, an industry where exploitation is rampant. This further encouraged me to change my personal way of shopping.

I have always been a fan of second-hand stores because they prevent clothing from ending up in a landfill, but I wanted to discover brands that create innovative pieces made with respect for the planet, workers and consumers. I didn’t exactly love what I found. It seemed like many of the eco and fair trade designers at the time were also targeting a niche audience, just as I had (even though my goal, and likely theirs, had been the opposite). This inspired me to create a space where people can purchase pieces that are made with consideration to people and the world we live in and design.

My hope is that the shop casts a wide net when it comes to aesthetic appeal. This means that those who fit the niche will shop at Good Cloth but so will people who just really dig the designs and then (bonus!) they can walk away knowing they did something positive for workers and the planet (and themselves, because the items are made for longevity and without harmful chemicals).

WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED?

Everywhere (the shop is online)! Our headquarters is in New Orleans, Louisiana.

WHO’S THERE WITH YOU BEHIND-THE-SCENES AT GOOD CLOTH?

Initially, I was a one-woman show. That is slowly changing. I still run the majority of the day-to-day aspects of the business but now I have an amazing publicist working with me. She is great at keeping me on track so that I don’t go off on too many tangents. As a reporter, entrepreneur and mother of two small children, I have a limited amount of time so this is incredibly important. I also reel in my friends as much as possible and created a Facebook secret page where they can give me feedback on designs; they share what they love and what they don’t. I have my own strong aesthetic but it’s great to hear what other people think and why they are attracted to certain pieces.

WHAT DOES “SUSTAINABLE” MEAN TO YOU?

Sustainable is an on-trend term. The media frequently talk about sustainability in terms of the slow food and slow fashion movements. I love that sustainability as a concept is gaining momentum; what I find problematic is that sustainability seems to be viewed as synonymous with eco-friendly, which isn’t accurate. Sustainability certainly means conservation of the planet, but it also means preserving people and communities. It is this latter and broader view of sustainability that Good Cloth applies when determining which designers are a good fit.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR HANDPICKING THE ITEMS ON GOOD CLOTH? WHAT DOES THAT CHECKLIST LOOK LIKE?

We first research designs that we love and then we do as much digging as possible about the designer’s product transparency. Do they share a similar mission to Good Cloth? If it seems like the aesthetic and mission fit, then we reach out to them and start a conversation on how they make their goods and how they source their materials. Some designers don’t know and/or don’t care to answer these questions. Other designers care foremost about aesthetic and are inconsistent in their application of eco-materials. I respect their application of sustainable materials but the inconsistency and lack of transparency doesn’t work for Good Cloth. We find that designers who care equally about aesthetic and transparency are the best fit. They are generally able to answer all of our questions because they share the same ethos and put transparency and ethical sourcing on equal footing with design. Our questions dig into treatment of workers and the planet at each step of the process.

DO YOU EVER MEET THE BRANDS OR MAKERS BEFORE DECIDING TO CARRY AN ITEM?

Yes! Often designers are elsewhere — in other nations or across the country — but I do try to meet as many designers as possible. Fortunately, though it is not the same, the world of technology allows me to meet designers in other ways than in-person. We can’t yet teleport, but as soon as we can, I will be all about it!

HOW DOES GOOD CLOTH FIT INTO THE LARGER GLOBAL CONVERSATION ABOUT ETHICALLY PRODUCED GOODS?

Years of researching labour exploitation give me a unique background and vantage point that translates to the shop. Not in a bang-it-over-your-head kind of way, but in transparency. Each item not only includes a description but also a product journey, so people know where their clothing came from. The focus isn’t just on the final manufacturing process but also where the materials come from and how the materials are sourced. We search for designers that have amazing designs and ensure that their products are sourced and created with respect for the environment in safe facilities by workers who are treated well and paid fair wages to work legal hours and who select suppliers that are doing the same.

WHY IS THIS AN IMPORTANT CONVERSATION TO HAVE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES GOOD CLOTH IS TRYING TO ADDRESS?

Good Cloth is trying to push past trend into true positive momentum that will change the garment industry. It is on-trend to shop eco-friendly but what does that really mean? What makes a particular design eco-friendly? We don’t know without transparency. Labeling something green or eco-friendly is a powerful marketing tool but not always genuine. This is concerning because it gives shoppers a false sense of responsible purchasing and it fails to take us any further in fixing problems in the garment industry. What’s important to me is that people step away from labels and focus on the transparency of goods, that is the checks and balances that ensure companies are doing what they say they are.

good cloth main imageWHAT’S SOMETHING CONSUMERS CAN DO TO HELP MOVE THE CONVERSATION FORWARD?

When customers become more focused on transparency they will shop accordingly. It is much like how, as consumers, we generally examine where our food comes from. It wasn’t always that way. Our hope at Good Cloth is that people will be as conscientious about what they put on their bodies as what they put in them. The more that consumers understand where their apparel and accessories come from, the more discerning they will be. As consumers, we would not knowingly purchase a shirt that was made using toxic chemicals where the laborer who made it worked 14-hour days on the verge of passing out because her wages were insufficient to pay for food, rent and, ironically, clothing. Unfortunately, neither is a rarity in the fast-fashion garment industry. The lack of transparency in the industry means that we, the consumers, remain in the dark.

DO ETHICALLY PRODUCED GOODS HAVE TO BE MORE EXPENSIVE? WHY OR WHY NOT?

Ethically made clothing that pays proper wages for workers can’t compete with the costs of fast-fashion apparel. There are reasons these pieces are so inexpensive. Yes, fast fashion offers consumers affordable on-trend clothing, but it also comes with hidden costs like toxic chemicals, poor garment construction and exploitative worker conditions. There’s a mental disconnect we consumers have between how our clothing is made and the garments we try on and purchase. When we imagine workers exposed to chemicals while making our garments, we somehow think the garments are cleansed by the time they get to us. They aren’t. If they were made with lead, they will still have lead when we wear them.

The pieces in fast fashion are made rapidly and are not designed for quality or longevity. I mean, the plan is that you buy more items next season! So, that means (whether you want to or not) you will need to replace those items when they quickly fall apart. This makes them less economically appealing. Cheap yes, but less so when you factor in how often you will need to purchase new items. In a time of recycling and eco-friendly savviness, this is a disposable approach to fashion that wastes millions of tons of water and CO2, and where tons of textiles end up in landfills. In fact, textiles made up nearly six percent of the total municipal solid waste in 2012. That’s 14.3 million tons of waste!

What determines cost acceptability has a great deal to do with consumer expectations. Many fast-fashion shirts cost $9.95 and that is what we expect they should cost. To put it in perspective, we expect our shirt to cost just over twice that of our favourite decadent coffee beverage. The average American adult worker spent $1,112 on coffee in 2013, while the average consumer spent $1,604 for apparel and services in 2013.

As a responsible consumer, a shirt for $9.95 should be a red flag. In order to create prices that low, a company has to find incredibly low-cost labour. The result is that garment workers that produce the majority of big name fast-fashion apparel are paid a mere fraction of a living wage. The Center for American Progress reported in 2013 that garment workers in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh — the four primary apparel exporters to the U.S. — earned 36 percent, 29 percent, 22 percent and 14 percent of a living wage, respectively. In Bangladesh garment workers’ monthly wages are $68, making it the lowest in the world.

WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU THE MOST?

Ingenuity. I am inspired by creative people.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ITEM ON THE SITE RIGHT NOW?

We just added the Box Handbag by Elvis & Kresse. It is truly stunning. It is handmade by artisans in the U.K. out of reclaimed military grade parachute silk and de-commissioned British fire brigade hoses, which, after a distinguished career fighting fires and saving lives, were otherwise destined for the landfill. The hardware is ethically sourced in Europe through members of the Ethical Trading Initiative. Fifty percent of the profits from this item are donated to the Fire Fighters Charity. We love that these retired hoses that spent their years fighting fires and saving lives and are incredibly durable (after all, they are designed to survive the harshest of environments) are given a new start and transformed into this incredible piece.

WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR DOWNTIME?

Hmm. I so wish I could answer this question with colourful and wondrous experiences of what I do in my spare time. New Orleans is an interesting place. You aren’t locked into adulthood in the same way as elsewhere. You can be silly and wear tutus and dance, which is pretty much what I do whenever I can. That said, most evenings I fall asleep reading to my daughter. If I manage to stay awake (I don’t know what happens when you put a kid to sleep, but apparently it is exhausting) then I will read a book, watch a movie or go out with friends.

FIND GOOD CLOTH: WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM |PINTEREST

EF + Flock Easter Giveaway

April 4, 2015

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Ottawa is lucky to have several fabulous boutiques owned by equally fabulous women. Flock Boutique is no exception. Focused on providing a platform to promote Canadian design by Canadian women, Flock has become the go-to shop for many Ottawans over the years.

Today, I’m very happy to share with you an Easter giveaway that Flock’s owners, Bridget Remai and Christina Ballhorn and I have put together.

The giveaway is simple:

  • browse all six adorably stylish and bright pieces that I hand picked (the kitchen towel, earrings and t-shirt are all made in-house by Flock’s owners under their own brand, Workshop Studio);
  • leave a comment on this post, telling me which is your favourite;
  • share the love and “Like” Flock Boutique’s Facebook page as well as mine;
  • we’ll conduct a random draw one week from now on Friday, April 10 at 10 p.m. and the winner will win their chosen piece;
  • winner announced on Facebook, Twitter and contacted via email.

*Regulations: Please note that this giveaway is open to Canadians only.

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I’m wearing the whole kit and kaboodle here courtesy of Flock Boutique, minus the ring. Monique Chan barrette – $12.00; Workshop Studio earrings – $22.00; Rita Van Tassel necklace – $28.00; Workshop Studio t-shirt – $35.00; Workshop Studio tea towel – $24.00; Sabrina Lepine ring – $14.00.

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Workshop Studio tea towel, lovingly and slowly made in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada – $24.00.

 

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Side note: the towel was propped up by a reclaimed wood pencil holder that I bought last year from Nacoille, a local wood shop that makes the most beautiful reclaimed-wooden furniture and home decor.

 

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This Rita Van Tassel necklace caught my eye with its fun, bright salmon geometric pattern and copper pendant, $28.00.

 

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Beautiful Workshop Studio earrings that look like white boulders covered in gold flecks, $22.00.

 

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Hmm…they could also be confused for delicious candy.

 

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I’m into barrettes now. I hadn’t touched one since grade three but when they’re glittery silver like this Monique Chan one, how can I girl resist putting a little dazzle in her hair? $12.00

 

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I’d suggest getting a set of two and placing them side by side.

 

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This is a beautiful infinite knot ring by Sabrina Lepine – $14.00.

 

 

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The ladies at Workshop Studio are pretty crafty! Not only do they make funky tea towels and cute jewellery, they also print t-shirts. I thought you might like this turquoise tee with pickle jars across the chest. Makes me think of BBQs, you? $35.00

 

Winter to spring shopping

April 3, 2015

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As you may know, I’ve reduced my fall/winter wardrobe to as close to 37 items as I can. To find out how that process went for me, click herehere and here.

I actually managed to purge my wardrobe down to 34 pieces but I soon realized that I was lacking in key pieces. I was wearing the same three outfits to work and feeling limited in my options. A lot of other items weren’t being worn either, because I didn’t have those key pieces that act as the “glue” to put outfits together.

So, I went consignment shopping with my mom to AMH Style a couple of months ago. I made up a list of items I would need to make the most of my wardrobe and that would carry me into the early days of spring. To my delight, every tag in the store that was highlighted was 50% off, so I bought ten pieces for $250.00. Not too shabby, eh?

This is why I love second-hand shopping. Not only is it budget-friendly, but, more importantly, it’s environmentally friendly. It’s a win-win, and I can’t praise it enough. However, I do know that it is equally important to support eco-fashion designers and local boutiques that sell quality goods. It’s just nice to know that there are other eco-shopping options for those of us on a tighter fashion budget. Making most of my purchases here means that I can save up for the odd new purchase from one of my fave online eco-stores and designers.

Shopping list

Brown leather belt
I have a black one but a brown one would go well with my brown and beige-toned pants. I could also wear it around my waist with a dress. Brown can be dressed up and dressed down a little easier than black can.

Black blazer
A black blazer is by far one of the most important and versatile staples for any wardrobe. It can dress up a basic t-shirt and summer dress, or add a masculine touch to a frilly sweater. You can do as Princess Di did and wear it over a sweatshirt with jeans or go full-on corporate and pair with a pencil skirt or dress pants. The possibilities are endless.

Patterned, long-sleeved top
I only had solid tops in my wardrobe and I wanted to add some pattern to mix things up. Patterned tops are usually more versatile too because they have more colours in them and therefore can be worn with more items.

Spring dresses
I have a few formal spring/summer dresses but only one daytime spring dress. I’m off to the Caribbean in a few weeks for a wedding so a couple more light dresses to wear at dinner would be useful.

Felt hat
I’ve always wanted to wear a cute felt hat in the spring but I never thought to get one. I decided to make a point of buying one to make more use of my head than just for thinking.

Spring wool coat
This wasn’t exactly on my list but I had wanted to buy a “Bavarian-style” wool coat ever since I went to Europe last year and saw a lot of Germans wearing them as daytime coats. They just looked so smart and sharp but casual. My mom found one for me and bought it for me as a gift. Thanks Mom! xo

Dress pants
I have a pair of tweed pants and navy blue pants but I wanted a beige pair to wear with pastels and for warmer days.

Grey pencil skirt
I have a black pleated skirt that I never ended up wearing this winter and an a-line, wool, plaid skirt. I wanted a work-appropriate skirt that was versatile and grey is as versatile as you can get. You can wear it with any colour, any pattern (almost) so this was a must.

The results

winter purchase collage

Basic outfits

(I’ll do a separate post for the spring dresses)

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Grey skirt, originally from Joe Fresh. Paired here with my Everlane button-up. I often wear this to work and add a blazer or cardigan for colour/pattern. I like the high waist because it accentuates the smallest part of me and the hem falls right in the middle of my knee, just where I want it to.

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Here, I’ve paired my Everlane button-up with one of my purchases, a striped Club Monaco shirt. It’s comfy, stretchy and fun. I’ve worn it with the grey skirt and most often with these black Second Yoga Jeans. The hat is something I’m eager to wear when the sun decides to come out.

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Le hat. Me like. This is originally from Forever 21.

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Sans the button-up, a casual outfit for a Friday or running errands. I wear this top at least once a week. They say to avoid horizontal stripes so that you don’t look too wide but thin stripes are a safe bet.

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The important black blazer! Very happy with this purchase. It’s lightweight, originally from Maison Scotch and very well tailored. Here, I’ve paired it with a burnt orangey/red top I bought at Mango last year in Europe. I know, fast fashion purchase but I needed a formal blouse for an event. Weak moment. Le sigh.

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A little arm-on-hip action.

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Maison Scotch blazer paired with a black, silk blouse that I bought second-hand a few years ago, and comfy wool work pants (originally from Banana Republic).

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Glad to have found a good, brown leather belt. I can wear it around a spring dress and pair it with matching leather sandals. It’s true, belts and shoes should match in an outfit but don’t worry if you can’t match them perfectly. It’s fashion after all, perfection is not the goal, style is.

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End of Winter

April 2, 2015

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More and more grass is beginning to show through the melting snow in my backyard. It looks a lot like the brown grass that appears in these hauntingly beautiful photographs from Ottawa-based photographer, Kaja Tirrul. If you’ve ever wondered what the tail end of winter in Eastern Ontario looks like, it looks and feels like these photos. You feel hopeful at the grass poking through and hopeful at the melting snow, but the sky is still often grey and the cold wind reminds you that although spring may have officially sprung, winter is still very present.
All of the accessories and outfits were handmade by local stylist, May Mustapha of DonnaMay Stylist.

She created every piece from recycled and natural elements. Each headpiece is made from natural materials; vine, leaves, sticks and feathers. May made the large dress and skirt from re-used tule, silk and ribbon found in discarded garments. She also re-used a faux fur blanket, crafting it into a hand muff as well as a top.
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Photographer: Kaja Tirrul
Model: Andrea McLeod
Stylist: May Mustapha for DonnaMay Styling
Hair & MUA: Samantha McLeod for Sammi’s Secrets

Do you need to like your job to be truly happy?

March 27, 2015

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I’ve been tackling this question for what seems like ages. Some people work to live, others live to work. I’d like a bit of both, really. I know that even a dream job has its bad days, but 8.5 hours a day seems like an awful lot of time to spend doing something that no longer motivates you. Really though, it’s been on my mind for the past three-four years, this question of work to live or live to work.

When I finished university, my first true love pulled me to Ottawa because, you know, long-distance sucks. I got a permanent job within two months (what seemed like ages) and have been here ever since. I look back on my swift, confident decision making then. I don’t think I had any idea of how much that decision to move to Ottawa versus Toronto or Montreal would affect the rest of my career in my twenties. Had I known that the first few steps you take into the working world can really define a big part of your career path for years to come, I may have considered the move more carefully. Bahh, you can’t go back right? And I certainly don’t regret making a decision for love, but now I find myself in a great, secure, comfortable job in a supportive work environment and I am really torn about whether  I am happy working to live or if I want to work what I live, big difference.

What do I mean by that? I mean spending every day doing something that you love, something that has always interested you. Lots of people do this, and lots of people don’t. My dad left his desk job at the age of 39 to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an air force pilot. Others choose to stay in a comfortable job that may not inspire them all that much but that pays the bills, offers security, benefits and allows them the time on weekends and on holidays to unplug and enjoy their lives outside of work. There are, of course, other people who don’t have as many options, those less fortunate than us. I am not addressing their reality, that wouldn’t be fair of me to do so, but I can address the common feeling that quite a few people around me have, a desire to work what you live, to enjoy going to work, and to really own their careers.

Working for another company may not be what I want for my next career move. More and more now, as I discover the lives of entrepreneurs, I see myself leaning towards that mysterious and oftentimes scary path. I’d like to work from home, work for myself, eventually hire a small team and every day wake up ready to tackle a new, creative project. I want to align my love for supporting eco-fashion with writing and communications. I have all of these skills, all of this experience, why not put it to good use?

Then there’s the whole aspect of being a young woman and wanting a family vs. owning a business and having it on your mind 24/7. I sure hope I can clear my mind as often as I need to throughout the day to be present for my loved ones. This is my main concern, mental space for everything. If, once in it, I realize that I can’t be as present as I wanted to me, I will leave it. Honestly, nothing is more important to me than time with family and friends.

My boyfriend and I are both at career crossroads and we also want to buy a home together in the next year. Changing careers and buying a home around the same time isn’t ideal, but I have to remind myself to cross that bridge when I get to it. My astrologer, a dear family friend, told me recently that I have to let go of that fear of not making enough money to live off of. She said that that fear is unnecessary for me and that if I can learn to set it aside and focus on my vision, it will blossom into a profitable and rewarding career. Can I just fast-forward to there please!?

When I think back to how confident I felt about the move to Ottawa, I wish I could infuse my veins with that same calm venom. I want to have the sense of freedom that I had then too. Can I really make the best decision for me when I have a family to consider now? Am I too old (at only 28) to have to sacrifice my ideal career path for the family life that I want more than anything? My future has more pieces in it to consider, more people and dreams to take care of. I know that others at my age, with even more “baggage” have made their dreams come true, and so must I.

My first step, I think, is to change my perspective. A future home, future children, these are not burdens, these are goals to strive for, these are motivators to succeed. That fear I feel inside, that is another sign that my vision is worth bringing to life. The worry of being overwhelmed with work? If I’m doing what I love, it won’t be a burden. The torment that’s going on in my mind, that’s the thrill and energy of life that propels us all to make the most of our days here on this tiny blue dot. Got it Mal? Got it!?

I wish I could pour a whole bucket of calm, monk-like wisdom and serenity into my head. I’ll have to do with these few positive thoughts and take it day by day. So, tell me, what are your career fears?

 

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