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!

Hectic Haitian Highways

It never ceases to amaze us how crazy the streets of Port-au-Prince can get. Yet within all the chaos exists a gentle sort of beauty. Traffic seems to know when to pulse forward and when to hold back, despite the severe lack of street lights, traffic signs, and street names. Colours are vibrant and there is a life on the street we don’t get to experience too often in Toronto. Our Haitian life finds us spending many hours in cars tethered behind a sheet of glass watching the scene go by. Yet somehow we don’t seem to mind the vast stretches of traffic laden streets. Moving forward, if only behind the wheel, brings with it the sense of change and excitement. What we arrive to on the other end has as much potential as we can imagine.

The vibrancy of the streets can be inspiring, yet the stark contradictions of livelihoods – those with and those without – can be overwhelming and disheartening. We have learned to see our drives as ways to inform how we see not only Haiti, but ourselves, and inform our daily interactions. The gently beauty of the chaos is a strong reminder that of the craziness of life and you just never know what to expect as you round the corner.

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Your Haitian Checklist

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We have landed once more in Port-au-Prince. As this is our 8th time visiting Haiti, we have developed a sort of routine. It mostly involves a few runs up the EPIC  drive way passing the UN apartments, a few lunges back at the bottom to make the fruit and coffee that follows extra tasty, and us in high spirits as we are driven to the factory to work on our garments!

We were going to take a moment to write about the importance of building relationships with those you work with in order to create an efficient and pleasant work space. However, we have decided to create a sort of Haitian checklist. A list of things you can check off while you’re spending SO MUCH TIME in Port-au-Prince traffic. It’s CLEARLY a game you can’t miss out on, so come visit us on this beautiful, magnificent and crazy island.

1) Seen the most beautifully decorated Tap Taps (public transport) rolling through the streets: The artwork painted on the sides are beautiful vignettes of daily life, they look the kind of party bus you want to take despite the fact that they are often overcrowded.

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2) The most colourful artwork lining the streets

3) Full pharmacies wrapped around a basket and resting atop someone’s head

4) An entire family on a motorcycle expertly making their way through crazy traffic

5) Spent 2 hours in traffic to get somewhere that should only take 10 minutes

6) Everything you could imagine (and even what you cannot imagine) piled in the back of pick up truck.

7) Goats and pigs roaming freely between people and traffic

8) Scoured the pepe markets for hidden gems

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9) Sampled delicious lambi (conch) with breadfruit and twice fried plantains (it’s worth taking a rest break from traffic!)

10) Gun-laden security guards standing guard in front of every grocery store (even the corner stores)

11) A marching street band winding their way through the streets on sunny afternoons

12) Tasted the sweetest coffee from a street vendor. It tastes more like coffee flavoured sugar

13) A procession of school children in their perfectly pressed uniforms making their way down the street to school

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14) Potholes so large you fear the car might tumble down and never get out

15) Entire home furnishings crafted from wood made on the side of the streets

16) Mountainous hills which ascend right to the picture perfect beaches

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The Fashion Preacher (part one)

Mr. Hans Garoute

Local Buttons produces solely in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the NGO INDEPCO taking care of our manufacturing needs. We chose, and continue to choose, to work with INDEPCO and it’s President, Hans Garoute, due to the quality of work, high labour standards and because Hans is a man of integrity with a wealth of knowledge. His warmth and charisma is splendidly contagious. We are fortunate enough to be able to spend early morning and early afternoon car rides with Hans as he takes us to and from the factory and they are some of our most treasured times while we visit Port-au-Prince.

Hans has been deeply embedded in the fashion industry for over 4 decades now, working in America, China, Brazil and of course, Haiti. With his breadth of knowledge and vast experience Hans could be the subject of an incredible novel! Earlier this week we sat down and took part in an interview with Hans where he shared his main insights on the fashion market and how Haiti can become a valuable economic player in the global market once more.

At one point, Haiti grew vast amounts of cotton and produced jeans for the likes of Levi Strauss. Next to agriculture, the apparel industry is the largest industry in Haiti. However, Haiti currently mainly produces utility garments for national use, with all large export operations of designer wear owned by foreign investment.

Let us take you on a three part journey of the life of Hans as it intertwines with the rise an fall of Haiti’s garment sector.

Hans was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, where he stayed until fleeing the country at the age of 16 after his father, a colonel in the Haitian army, was kidnapped and by the Duvalier regime. His father, wildly popular with the Haitian people, was never seen again. Hans moved to refuge in Miami where he went to school. In 1967, Hans took part in a thwarted effort to overthrow the Duvalier regime. Along with 120 other Cuban and Haitian exiles set to board the boat on route to Port-au-Prince, Hans was arrested in Miami. (read more about this story here).

Shortly here after, Hans began to work for May’s department store as a stock boy. Before long he was offered a scholarship (by May’s) to attend FIT where he became a merchandise buyer.

As a buyer Hans witnessed the movement of the industry from the Eastern US to the South. When he began buying, most manufacturing took place in the Eastern US in New York and Boston. As the East began to unionize, the industry moved to the Southern states; Mississippi and Georgia in the 1970s. Once these states too became unionized the garment industry moved once more, this time Puerto Rico and then eventually to Haiti.

Once in Haiti, the sub-assembly garment sector took off. During the 1980s (for roughly 15 years), over 150 factories assembled brassieres in Haiti. However, the move to Haiti was a financial one for companies as Haiti was not producing  the entire garment but rather assembling the product allowing companies to save on production costs. Buying was done in China where the organized ‘cuttage’ took place before being sent to Haiti.

Here we see that the Haitian industry is being built solely on assembly, and the industry lacks sufficient training in its manufacturing and lack of training and development in project management at the local level. These issues continue to thwart the industry today. We will pick up next time with Hans and his plan to revolutionize and organize the small, local tailors as he works as the Fashion Preacher spreading his word throughout the country.

Hans overseeing a LB design

Landed and Planted

We are back in Port-au-Prince for our fourth visit. There is something so wonderful about coming back to visit the same place.  We have learned so much each time and continue to meet amazing people.

Many LB plans are in the works this trip including a photo shoot here in P-A-P, new fall designs and re-branding/re-imaging the LB. We are so excited to be working on all of it and cannot wait to reveal them all come the fall!

In the meantime, we will share photos of Furcy, where we visited for the weekend. Just an hour outside of Port-au-Prince, up the mountain, Furcy is a breathtaking weekend getaway. The colours are unbelievable. While much of Haiti has been deforested for the purpose of coal making and agriculture, we were happy to see reforestation projects in place.

The pictures below don’t serve it justice-you will have to come here and experience it first hand!

Yard Trunk show and clothing SWAP

Join us this long weekend for our first ever Yard trunk show and clothing SWAP. You will find beautiful clothing, good tunes, sangria and chocolate.

We leave for Haiti on the 7th and would love to see you before we leave.

Bring your gently loved clothing and swap for some new finds, and browse the LB vests.

We would love to see you there this sunny long weekend!

We will be spending some time working at an orphanage run by a friend of ours while in Port-au-Prince. If you have any travel toiletries and no use for them, we ask that you bring them along to the event. We will bring the toiletries/school supplies etc to the orphanage. 

http://www.facebook.com/events/270401359732611/