Sustainable Fashion in Theory and Practice

LOCAL BUTTONS AND RYERSON FASHION STUDENTS TRAVEL TO PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI TO STUDY SUSTAINABLE & ETHICAL FASHION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Unemployment remains at an all time high in Haiti following the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Many skilled garment-makers and designers remain jobless due to the lack of exposure to international markets. The sparse garment jobs that are currently available in Haiti are often subject to poor pay and horrific working conditions. Local Buttons creates up-cycled professional wear and accessories that embody style and quality. Each piece provides sustainable, fair pay jobs in Haiti and breathes new life into old materials.

Local Buttons and the Ryerson School of Fashion collaborate to lead a select group of fashion students to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to learn first hand about ethical production and sustainability in the fashion industry. Students will be visiting Port-au-Prince from June 2nd-6th, 2014 visiting multiple factories, local designers and artisans and a bottle recycling plant that makes textiles in the US from recycled Haitian bottles.

Lu Ann Lafranz, program director of fashion design at Ryerson states  ‘As a strong supporter of experiential learning for our students at Ryerson School of Fashion, I saw an opportunity to ignite further interest in sustainable fashion through our hosts – Local Buttons. What better way to allow students to push the boundaries of their education than to reach outside the walls of our classrooms and create an international experience?’

The trip will provide an inside view of manufacturing to students whose education traditionally remains in the academic and design aspect. Opening the doors to ‘expose’ manufacturing will allow students to see first-hand the various levels of the supply chain and the human and environmental impact of our consumption patterns in North America.

Alec Hildebrand, Ryerson fashion student states: ‘By seeing first hand what the factories are like and what the ethical occupational standards are in a developing country, I will hopefully be able to design garments that not only fit my aesthetic and functionality, but also are able to be manufactured at a relative cost with upheld fair trade and proper safety standards.’

‘We are thrilled to bring students into our production process’ states Anne Pringle, co-founder of Local Buttons. ‘It has been our goal since day one to provide transparency throughout our line and encourage collaboration within the design community’.

For more information contact Anne Pringle: anne@localbuttons.ca

Fashion Travels

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Next week represents a milestone for Local Buttons. When we originally envisioned Local Buttons we had the grandiose idea to bring a group of students to Haiti to explore fashion and sustainability. We dreamed up ideas for internships and a way to connect emerging designers to producers in Haiti. We marched into Ryerson with a proposal in hand, only to realize we didn’t understand the first thing about curating a trip, nor did we have a strong enough grasp on the manufacturing industry.

We are so thrilled to say that we have come full circle and next week we take off for Haiti with an amazing group of students from the Ryerson Fashion department. We look forward to showing the students sustainable and ethical fashion in practice. We have a packed itinerary involving visiting factories, artisans networks, a bottle recycling plant & a training centre. Beyond all this the 4 students are working on both creative and academic projects focusing on fashion and sustainability.

We had each students write us a little note on why they are interested in coming to Haiti. Below you will find their personal accounts.

Shelley:

Like most 17-year-olds thrust into independence, I entered university with little direction. I developed a four-year bond with psychology, but I knew it wasn’t my passion. After some intense introspection, I realized that my interests in psychology could be reconciled with my true calling: fashion. Environmental and positive psychology taught me that connecting with nature increases happiness, health, and overall wellbeing. We are meant to be natural beings. But how could I relate this to fashion? The ideals of a “hippie” lifestyle are almost considered taboo to a culture rooted in consumerism.

My original idea was to create clothing that increased the wearer’s connection to nature solely through the properties of the garment. Through careful research, however, I realized that the benefits of nature-friendly clothing are far more reaching. In addition to connecting people with nature, sustainable fashion can include fair trade wages for workers, water reduction, and less waste during production. The key to unlocking all of these benefits is getting the consumer on board.  For long-lasting effects, consumers need to adopt sustainable fashion for internal reasons. Otherwise, sustainably becomes a trend that can’t even sustain itself. This grassroots movement starts with a small amount of eco-minded individuals and eventually spreads until the consumer-base as a whole internalizes sustainable fashion and garment producers are forced to react to consumer demands.

While this movement is driven by individuals and the extent to which they adopt sustainable fashion, it starts with a product. Haiti will provide me with the opportunity to experience sustainable production firsthand, absorb its benefits and relay them to consumers. Consumers need to buy into sustainable products and production. To convince them, I will collect video footage from the Local Buttons factory that clearly documents the production process and arrange this information as an attention grabbing, call to action video to foster a positive perspective towards sustainable fashion – the first of many steps towards an internalized preference for sustainable fashion, and eventually, a sustainable lifestyle.

 Alec:

What I expect to gain from this trip to Haiti, is a solution to a problem I’ve been having since starting my education in fashion design. I understand the creative and technical creation of designs, as well as the business side, but the manufacturing segment is some unknown world. By seeing first hand what the factories are like and what the ethical occupational standards are in a developing country, I will hopefully be able to design garments that not only fit my aesthetic and functionality, but also are able to be manufactured at a relative cost with upheld fair trade and proper safety. Being within an actual factory will ground my ideals and forward my perspective from just being based on theory.

Danielle:

I’m unbelievably excited to travel to Haiti and to get the chance to be on the ground! It’s one thing to purchase a product that supports development from friends or even just a company, but its completely another to actually walk through the process with those facilitating it! I know this is going to be a very eye-opening experience for me & I’m really happy to be travelling with Local Buttons for this journey. I’m also happy to be travelling with 3 other students in my program who I can share the experience with when we are back. I think the ethical & sustainability issues we face in the fashion industry today can be tackled by us together – it’s really great to have a team of such like-minded and passionate people!

 Stephanie:

As a student going into fourth year at Ryerson University for Fashion Design, this will be my second time travelling to Haiti. In February of 2014 I completed a mission trip to help in orphanages and schools. This is when I fell in love with Haiti. I experienced a great deal of love and kindness on my travels which will forever touch my heart. Since then my goal has been to help Haitian people. Local Buttons has opened a door to helping Haiti establish fair trade jobs with a sustainable and ethical business model. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing group and contribute in anyway I can!

Flying to the heart of the Haitian garment industry!

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Our trip is scheduled for Haiti! August 7th through the end of the month will be spent in Port-au-Prince making our new garments at INDEPCO and soaking up the opportunities that await us on our fourth trip!

The garment industry in Haiti has not made the kind of progress that anyone interested in fair labour standards and sustainable business development would hope to see. Local Buttons continues to be solution based, engaging with the challenges of the garment industry in Haiti and its relationship to world fashion. It will be informative to return to Port-au-Prince where we gain insight into the inner circles of the industry as it relates to labour and production inHaiti.

Reading the Better Work Haiti review, reported by the International Labour Organization (ILO), with the support of Canadian and American economic and human resource departments, was quite frustrating.

The fourth annual report was released on April 16th, 2012, and analyzed the progress and/or regression of how 20 factories in Haiti comply with National and International labour and industry standards.

It was unfortunate that no factory complied with all basic international and national standards. Each factory has not complied with several very general standards that should be in place for legal production. This is frustrating because the revitalization of the garment industry was chosen as the main strategy to develop the Haitian economy after the 2010 earthquake.

The standards, as outlined in the report, need to be further developed, implemented, and monitored. This remains to be the greatest challenge of the ILO. The World Trade Organization (WTO) by comparison implements and monitors trade agreements with ease. “People” compared to “goods” have not been protected, it is a situation that has devastated the livelihoods of the working class around the world.

Rather than going into the details of the report, which can be read here

There are a few excerpts I chose from the report to illustrate the awful conditions that Haitian garment workers tolerate. I’ve indicated the page number of each excerpt in case you’d like to read more.

“…workers reporting that they are not able to leave the factory without permission for nearly an hour after normal working hours, as the punch in machine is turned off. In this case, if workers leave the factory without punching out, they do not get paid for the day.” (p.17).

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Image: A Woman sleeps at factory DKDR Haiti, scoring very poorly on its compliance points. P.34

“Management confirmed that when a woman is pregnant, she is paid only for maternity leave even if she becomes sick while pregnant. As a result, women are not getting the same sick leave benefits as men, which constitutes gender discrimination” (p.16)

“Promises of promotions, as well as threats to maintain their employment, were made in exchange for dates or sexual favours. It was stated that if workers refuse to go on dates with their supervisors, they are fired.” (p.16).

“The share of workers currently earning 250 Gourdes after 8 hours of regular work time is 22%…All workers earn a minimum of 150 Gourdes per day.” (p.18) [ 250 Gourdes= $6.00 CAD. , 150 Gourdes= $3.70 CAD]…ummm? From what we learned, and anyone could assume, this is a fight for two inadequate levels of income!

“…workers who do not work overtime do not receive the same wage as other workers in the same module who have achieved the production target.” (p.19)

“Ten factories did not yet install or provide washing facilities in the event of exposure to chemicals” (p.20)

It is a very good thing that this reporting is being done, but not if it doesn’t become the interest of the public. Is it a matter of “tagging” garments with the pictures of physically and emotionally injured garment workers in the same way cigarette packages illustrate cancerous lungs?

That was a whimsical suggestion on my behalf, but more seriously, Local Buttons will continue to function as a movement that a) demonstrates the potential to redefine garment industry standards, and b) develops consumer demand for ethical fashion.

Image So can making them work long hours…

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Those moments where your fears become the reality are not easy. The pay scale at INDEPCO was a reality long before we arrived however we had been led to believe that it had an ethical structure in so far as it served the needs of the tailors. This is not the case. We are now delving into a complex challenge. We draw strength from a number of communities here and abroad that are engaging in the realm of ethical fashion.

It was a much needed wakeup call and one that we think we sub-consciously sensed before it was presented to us a in a very real way. We were misinformed on the pay scale of those who work at the INDEPCO factory. What we had believed was $40 US a day turns out to be $40 Haitian dollars or 200 Gourdes i.e. $5.00 US a day. A very drastic difference and one that is unacceptable in our eyes. That is the entry level pay. Those who have more experience can earn up to $8 US a day. Those in managerial positions are paid a salary, which is competitive in the Haitian market.

The good news is INDEPCO remains to be a favoured working environment for the tailors. One senior tailor has worked there 11 years and plans to remain. There is a sense of contentment leaving only the pay scale as the outstanding problem. We’ve observed the liberal expression of the employees as they talk, listen to music, eat and drink refreshments and work with fans, etc. There are a number of good things we could discuss. Forever the optimists yes!

Back to the hard bad truth.  INDPECO is a minor increase in pay over other factories which pay 100-150 Gourdes a day, it is still however, not a wage that allows for sewers and tailors to gain purchasing power or to create a middle class. We have spoken immensely with those working in the factory as well as others living and working inHaiti. We have been informed that it is above minimum wage, but it is still not enough. From what we have gathered one needs to be paid $9 US a day. It is crazy to imagine that a sum so low as $9 is a wage worth discussing. We struggle with what to do. We want to pay at LEAST $9 a day. So, do we demand that those who work on our project get paid our bare minimum? We think yes, but will that create power dynamics within the factory- i.e. those working with us and those who are not on our contract?

The garment industry is not servingHaiti’s economy as it should. CurrentlyHaitiis the choice location for the manufacturing of garments because it is the cheapest, cheaper thanChinafor example. We’ve been told that buyers are doing their best to work out ofHaitidespite the difficulties of getting orders done on time. It is a new location for the race to the bottom, the same race that has been run in so many countries. What would it cost companies to actually pay decent, livable wages? Would perhaps their issues of orders being completed on time not be resolved if the employees had incentive, through respect and pay? A company like Levi’s is arguing against a pay wage in their factories to up pay from $3 to $5 a day. Why is it that these are the discussions being had at a large scale, and not discussions centering around creating an industry that fosters the growth of a country and helps a company grow?

We believe these discussions need to be had. Like the Haitian proverb, ‘With patience you will see the bellybutton of an ant’, we believe that with patience we will begin to make incremental change. We could walk away, but we have decided we need to stay, to have discussions with both Hans, the tailors and those working with INDEPCO. We want to create an avenue that demonstrates that change happens in increments. Small nudges move big pillars. Inequality in the fashion industry remains a large pillar. But as the eternal optimists that we are, we believe that change will come.

The quest for ethical business clothes

At a crossroads between Integrity and Convenience…

When some asks why buy something used when I can buy something new, I find there are three approaches to answer this question.

1. Economics: It’s simply cheaper to buy something second-hand or vintage (for the most part:)

2. Environment and Ethics: It’s better for the environment as it promotes reusing, the clothing avoids the landfill and if a piece clothing was made under sweat like labour factors than it should be worn until it can be worn no more. By buying something second-hand you are giving a garment a prolonged usage and are not contributing directly to poor labour standards.

3. Creativity: When you wrap yourself in a vintage sweater or try on a pair of second-hand boots, you are literally putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes. It’s easy to imaging the business jacket you purchase in a second-hand store in Kensington Market could have been a gift from mother to daughter on her first important interview.

Boots from 69 Vintage Queen W.

The gorgeous pair of vintage cowboy style brown boots may have been worn out on crazy nights where the young woman decided she was meant travel the world and thus experience new cultures that would forever change her life.

It is inspiring to imagine where the clothes have been, and where they can go with you in them. To create your own history within the history of someone else.

This is how I engage in my quest to grow an ‘ethical’ business wardrobe. Looking through my drawers and shelves I came to the stark realization that I have very little in the way to wear to business meetings or professional settings. I do not want to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe from H&M, which would be a cheap way to fulfill my clothing wants. However, I cannot afford to buy a brand new business wardrobe from independent, local designers as it is way out of my budget range right now. So, this leaves me with second-hand/vintage shopping and scouring for deals among Toronto’s designers.

One such place to find deals is at the Independent Designer’s Outlet (it’s the Winner’s of local designers). Here you will find in season clothing from local designers at a discounted price. It is kind of like the Winner’s of Toronto’s designers. The store is located on Dundas 1418 Dundas West, is staffed by very friendly individuals hosting an array of stylish, local designs at discounted prices.

The clothing is beautiful, constantly changing and you can rest assured it is made under ethical standards and often carries lines from Toronto’s most eco-friendly designers such as Snoflake, Revolve, Lux & Luster to name just a few.

If you are looking for a vintage suit jacket I definitely encourage you to visit Ego in Kensington Market. The store hosts a wide variety of clothing from leather dresses  (we all have a secret desire to own one despite its lack of practicality) to boots, jackets, and pretty much anything in between. The prices are so reasonable, and there is constant flow of *new* vintage clothing to scour. I found two lovely jackets while browsing, and would have purchased more, had my  inner conscience not convinced me that even though they are second-hand over consumption still remains to be over consumption regardless.

Toronto is host to  many many vintage stores all throughout the city. A few of our favourites are:

Black Market: 319 Queen West; 69 Vintage: 1100 Queen West; 69 House of Vintage: 1239 Queen West; Vintage Depot: 1269 Bloor West; Badlands Vintage: 104 Ossington Ave; Penny Arcade Vintage: 1177 Dundas West; Vintage Collective: 1205 Bloor West; Exile: 22 Kensington Ave; Courage My Love: 14 Kensington Ave; Sole Survivor: 16 Kensington Ave; Bungalow West: 273 Augusta Ave

Happy shopping!