I really enjoy up-cycled products because they have a history and a story to tell. One of our designers, Elvis & Kresse, makes stunning handcrafted bags from retired U.K. fire hose, which are lined with up-cycled parachute silk. It’s so amazing to see red (and sometimes yellow or brown) fire hose get new life and turned into something magnificent that can be used daily. I wear the reporter bag and if it starts to downpour (which is does a lot where I live), I don’t have to worry about my phone or contents getting wet.
Good Cloth is an e-commerce fashion company that is bringing consumers ethically sourced pieces produced in small quantities made of the best quality. Founder Stephanie Hepburn is passionate about bringing transparency in the fashion industry to fruition. Good Cloth is beautifully curated bringing consumers well thought out pieces that are ethical from idea to consumption.
Good Cloth features a range of goods from dresses to baby accessories like the shark wrap by BeeZee EcoLand. Stephanie Hepburn of Good Cloth shares here knowledge of the fashion industry through her experience and her passion for making the industry more accessible and ethical.
1. What was the original idea behind Good Cloth, and how did others contribute to bringing it to life?
The way Good Cloth developed was so organic. It was 2013 and I was giving talks on my recently released book on human trafficking. Audience members approached me afterward and nearly always wanted to talk about the fashion industry and changes they could make in their daily lives to decrease labor exploitation. It triggered my ah-ha moment because these conversations happened at the same time I was trying to figure out my next steps. I hit a point where it just seemed that my academic writing was simply preaching to the choir, and really, what change can that make?
I realized, through conversations with audience members, that focusing on the intersection between fashion and labor exploitation could be an optimal way to move beyond academia and reach a mainstream audience, where I believe sits the key to change in the fashion industry.
Suddenly, it felt as though all that had been disjointed about my career to that point had actually been excellent training for this exact moment. As a journalist, I have covered fashion since 2006, so I am familiar with the demands on the industry and expectations of consumers. I have also been writing about human trafficking for nearly the same duration of time. It’s a fantastic discovery to realize that my passion for human rights can be joined with my love for fashion.
Paying out of pocket for a business can be hard, but it contributes to the creativity that results from challenge. I have received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family, and I even created a Facebook private page where close friends vote and give me feedback on designs. It’s really fun, which is the way I think the entrepreneurial experience should be.
2. The Not Found believes in creating and sharing transparency in the fashion industry, why does Good Cloth believe it’s important for fashion industry transparency?
On a wider scale, as one of our designers Julia Ahrens says, transparency “gives proof that companies are doing the good they say they are doing.” Of course, the more convoluted the supply chain, the more challenging transparency becomes. That is part of what is happening in today’s fashion industry. Apparel and accessory companies hire factories far away to create their pieces, but then those factories subcontract. The result is that the company may have no idea that the factory hired a subcontractor, or, more realistically, they choose not to know. Complicity is turning a blind eye. In this case, a company should have sufficient contact with their producers to know when something is amiss.
Individually, transparency allows consumers to decide what designers are aligned with their own set of values. This varies. For some of us shopping vegan is what’s important, while others want to support artisans nearby, or far away.
3. All of your designers are important, what is your most unique designer story?
People, young and old, constantly give me compliments on the bag. Just the other day a little guy (maybe two years old) came up and started smacking my bag. He loved it and wanted it for himself. (He has good taste.) As a mom, I love the fire hose pieces because they are so durable. I can run, jump, and be pulled and tugged, and not have to worry about my bag breaking under the rough hands of my offspring.
It isn’t just the up-cycled aspect that’s ethical about Elvis & Kresse. Their pieces are handcrafted by artisans in the U.K. and the company has reclaimed more than 160 tons of waste. That’s amazing and really motivates us to find more and more designers with a similar ethos. The designer also gives donations to the Fire Fighters Charity, British Forces Foundation, The Costa Foundation and two coffee grower initiatives — one to build a domestic water filtration system in Nicaragua and the other to construct kitchens and lavatories in Guatemala.
4. What changes do you believe need to be made in the industry?
Transparency and ethical sourcing are key. I talked a bit about it already, but I’m skeptical of companies that don’t disclose how and where their material are sourced. They may be created ethically, but the fact that they are shrouded in secrecy raises doubts on how their production impacts laborers, the environment and consumers.
The other change that’s necessary is altering the bargain shopping consumer mentality. In many ways the fashion industry has kicked itself in the butt by creating fast fashion. It’s truly absurd that we expect to buy a dress for $9.99. A dress at that cost should be a red flag in regard to:
1. The treatment of laborers — if the dress is $9.99, how much did the person who made it earn?
2. The environment. Mass production creates a great deal of effluent (pollution).
3. The quality of the product. Certainly a low cost product isn’t likely designed for longevity.
Fast fashion is designed to be disposable, so that consumers can move on to the latest and greatest. This produces a tremendous amount of waste.
5. In your opinion what should be more accessible to starting out designers?
Funding and support is critical. It’s hard to function independently as a designer. There need to be sufficient incentives and rewards for designers, independent or otherwise, that help them worry less about cost margins and more about the quality and sustainability of their products. For example, incentives similar to the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) could help generate an entire wave of sustainable ethical fashion, fair labor, less waste and a revitalization of domestic industry in the U.S.
6. What do you think is the number one thing that day-to-day consumers should realize about their purchases in fashion?
Consumers don’t always realize the power they hold. Their dollar is their vote. Collectively, if consumers want change and transparency in the fashion industry, they can make it happen. Purchase less and purchase products from retailers and designers that ethically source materials and provide product transparency.
7. What are some of your favorite pieces offered on Good Cloth?
I’m really in love with our newest designer, Wabi Sabi EcoFashionConcept. Their dresses are multi-purpose pieces. You can wear them to work and they easily transition to happy hour and the weekend. They can be dressed up or worn more casually. What’s fantastic is that some are reversible, so you are getting two dresses in one. I’m constantly traveling, so I like that the dresses are applicable to every woman, easy to pack and minimize on how much a person needs to pack.
I love them all, but right now the Vancouver and the Barcelona are tied for first.
8. How do you feel Good Cloth is impacting the industry, and how do you measure your success?
My objective is to increase consumer awareness on transparency, ethical sourcing, and labor exploitation, and create a one-stop-locale for shopping and the latest information on ethical fashion and sustainability. My stories on the Guardian and Huffington Post are reaching a wide audience, and I want the store to do the same. At this point, it’s about finding a way to let consumers know we are here — we are happy to answer questions, to be their personal shopper, if they need one, and provide a space for them to shop ethically.
For more information for sustainable minded designers, or if you you’d like to share incentives you can contact Good Cloth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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