By Rachel Karioki
It’s here! Actually, it's been going on for awhile, but for those of us who are behind the curve, it's not too late – they still want you to join the ranks. “We are a diverse community that includes board members who have been tackling sustainability and ethical fashion for decades and everyday citizens who are asking questions about the fashion industry for the very first time. Both perspectives are critically important as we strive toward a major paradigm shift,” explains Lauren Fay, executive director of Fashion Revolution USA (FR USA).
Coming off of her first Fashion Revolution Week as executive director, Fay is encouraged by the momentum she sees. “Based on the feedback we’re getting there is a groundswell of interest about this issue across the US. There is strength in numbers and we’re growing!” Furthering the group’s mission to educate and engage people about the social and environmental impact of their clothing purchases, FR USA has participated in more than 75 events in 14 cities across the country. “A big part of what we do is support existing initiatives, amplify local voices and connect like-minded people who are working toward greater sustainability in fashion,” Fay tells me. “Sometimes this looks like one of our members serving as a speaker on a panel in their community or a group of students hosting an awareness raising event around the #whomademyclothes campaign.”
Even before stepping into her role as executive director of FR USA Fay was immersed in the sustainable fashion world, but this wasn’t always the case. The convergence of two major life events – starting a sustainable design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology and going through her entire closet when moving in with her now-husband – forced Fay to reassess her relationship with clothes. She decided to detox and stopped shopping for an entire year. Since then, she’s increased her appreciation of items that she already has and thinks twice before buying something new. “I have a pair of Frye boots that I bought with my babysitting money when I was 13. I love them today just as much as when I bought them over 20 years ago. They make me feel like an urban warrior or biker princess,” Fay jokingly tells me. “But they also help me feel grounded. They are perfectly imperfect.”
When presented with the data from those who study the impacts of consumerism it’s obvious that we collectively need to do something different. “The current dynamic simply isn’t sustainable. The pace of fast fashion, the linear nature of the industry, and the level of waste it’s producing is not good for communities, the environment or the individuals along the supply chain,” Fay tells me.
Each of us can support the ongoing fashion revolution. If you’re only ready for small steps, dig through your closet once more before buying something new, leverage your social media accounts to spread the word about FR USA efforts or think about how you maintain your clothes. Machine washing is known to be hard on most fabrics. Handwashing can help clothes last longer. And, for those of you who can do just a little more, check out Fashion Revolution’s website for ways you can effectively communicate with brands and policymakers about sustainable practices across the fashion industry.
While you’re doing your part, the folks at FR USA will certainly be doing theirs. The next few months are packed with opportunities to grow the movement through initiatives like the University Student Ambassador program and partnerships with a variety of organizations including Free the Slaves on the Fashion for Freedom campaign. “Collaborating with like-minded non-profits such as Free the Slaves means we get further faster,” says Fay. As stated in the group’s manifesto, FR USA believes fashion should provide dignified work and not exploit, endanger or enslave people.
History teaches us that leadership of successful revolutions is in sync with its base while putting forward a vision for radical change. When I ask where she sees FR USA in five years, Fay doesn’t hesitate, “I want sustainable fashion to be part of the national lexicon. Ethical fashion will be the norm instead of a niche within the industry.” However, Fay knows achieving this level of systemic change is a marathon, not a sprint. So with her vision in mind, she and her team work on bringing more folks into this ever growing movement one community at a time.
Rachel Karioki has worked on foreign policy and international development issues for over a decade. She's traveled to countless countries in Africa, Asia and South America to look at the intersection of poverty, governance and conflict. Working along side of community members, government officials and civil society, Rachel has helped to identify opportunities to curb cyclical conflict by leveraging local resiliency. After seeing the geographic and socio-economic reach of the fashion industry, she has decided to learn more by pursuing a certificate at the Parsons School of Design in New York City where she's currently studying.