Elizabeth Suzann has been a great model for me. I was initially attracted to her work via another blogger’s partnership. When I saw her timeless collection and her ethically sourced fabrics, I fell in love completely. Her commitment to sustainable practices while prioritizing their employees is something all companies should aspire to. Of course, the price point reflects the quality, and I have not yet pulled the trigger on making such a purchase. But since I am human, I have drooled over the images that I’ve found online and I occasionally browse the site for new products.
Recently, I visited her site and was shocked to see that half of all of the models were plus-sized women. I recognized it right away as a means to be inclusive and to change the “ideal” imagery that the fashion industry continually shoves down our throats. The impossibility of everyone being extremely tall, slender and leggy is not new news, especially for a five-foot Asian female such as myself.
So my initial thought was, “Hurrah!”
However, as I continued to scan the shop, I got more and more annoyed at the images of tall, plus-sized women. I could not imagine or see just how these pieces would fit me. I could not relate or get a good idea as to how the products fit. I thought to myself, “How absolutely frustrating this is. They hardly put up child-like figures online and I’ve already had to learn how to adjust for my short height when I look at tall elegant swans. Now I have to learn how to imagine the clothes on myself using an even farther frame of reference?”
And then it hit me.
How must thesewomen feel, when the fashion world makes them invisible? How could THEY ever imagine how clothes would fit on them after seeing stick figures? If I cannot imagine how clothes would fall on me, how can the opposite be true? These plus-sized women have had to deal with this issue their whole lives! Talk about annoying.
By the way, do you know that the average American size is 16 or 18?! But we’ve got size DOUBLE ZERO models on the cover of every magazine!
I haven’t lived with this same problem all my life, but let me tell you how it felt to live with it for five minutes.
The shopping experience becomes very depressing. Emotions associated with shopping include frustration, anger, and pain. It feels almost hopeless to get to an understanding about the articles of clothing I am looking at. There is a self-esteem cost associated with the inability to relate.
Living with these affirmations could be detrimental to the human psyche.
Elizabeth Suzann’s embracing of different sized women is refreshing. Other sustainable companies should take stock – Everlane I am looking at you. If you are going to change the fashion industry, why only make sustainable clothing for skinny people?! In order to make ethical fashion and slow fashion a thing, we need to include everyone.
Elizabeth Suzann has made it possible to shop responsibly for more women out there in this one act. She has sizes in short, regular, and tall, ranging from XXS to 3XL.
That’s something to be proud of.
This post was not sponsored by Elizabeth Suzann. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
The founder of Irro Irro, Marie Miao, is a kindred spirit of sorts, balancing a career in the medical field with an entrepreneurial creative endeavor. Her company was born out of the recognition that the fashion industry was lacking in their inclusiveness of people with medical disabilities. Her experience with cancer patients has given her a unique perspective and her dedication to making a difference in the lives of those affected is very inspirational. Her efforts in creating an eco-lifestyle brand inclusive of adaptive lives is apparent in Irro Irro’s minimalist yet functional designs. More wondrous is her determination to create social change and her brazen advice for others who wish to do the same through creative work.
Hi Marie! Before we begin talking about Irro Irro, can you let our readers know a little bit about yourself?
Hi! Thank you for having me.
Outside of Irro Irro, I wear a few hats as a mother, wife, and oncology social worker. I am Japanese, but much of my early childhood was spent in Hong Kong, so I identify with Chinese culture as well. I am a total extroverted introvert. I push the extrovert out during pop-markets and social gatherings, but love and crave complete solace to rejuvenate.
I, too, am an extroverted introvert! Sometimes this polarity helps to grow a person and stretches their ability to fill in different roles. For example, I heard that your career as a social worker in the medical field inspired the creation of Irro Irro. How did that inspiration come about?
The inspiration came when I started making my own clothing for work. I have never been a slacks person, and find tight clothing uncomfortable (except during hot yoga), so I made a similar version of the current Chloe dress in our soft double gauze. When I wore the dress to work, I started receiving comments from my patients stating, “I wish I had something like this to wear during treatment.” That was my “AHA” moment … the moment when both of my passions (fashion and helping others) aligned.
From there, I altered the pattern knowing the physical ailments and side effects that can come from treatment. I also interviewed physical and occupational therapists and individuals that encounter daily hurdles with dressing. Simple tasks like putting clothes on/off can be the biggest frustration for someone’s morning, and if I can ease some of that, I think it’s a start. There are very few modern adaptive clothing lines, and I’m hoping I can make a difference for a community that is often overlooked.
I think it’s wonderful that you’ve made medical inclusivity a pillar of your branding. It doesn’t cross the minds of most, and I feel that it is important to bring this awareness into the fashion industry. The ability to dress yourself, among other tasks, is a very powerful, albeit simple, affirmation for medically compromised patients.
But your dedication does not stop there. I heard that you also have a philanthropic pursuit that gives back to cancer patients?
You are too kind, thank you. Currently, 1% of Irro Irro proceeds goes to Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery (CLIMB). CLIMB provides training to clinical professionals (like myself) to incorporate CLIMB into their hospital or Cancer Center, which allows the organization to provide a support group for children ages 6-12 whose parent has been diagnosed with cancer. I run the program where I work, and I have personally seen the impact it can make on a family who is feeling lost or overwhelmed by a Cancer diagnosis.
Often the children and family members are overlooked because the main focus is, of course, the patient. But usually, the patient’s first thought is, “How do I tell my children?” or “How do I support my family?” This program provides a bridge for some of those worries, and I’m hoping as the brand grows, the percentage of proceeds will grow as well.
I am curious… what your feelings are about how the creative aspect of Irro Irrro feeds your medical profession, and vice versa? Do you feel as if the two are unrelated or work hand-in-hand?
Initially, I thought it was unrelated. As I grew more confident in the brand, I started to question “Why the divide?” Irro Irro wouldn’t be what it is without my professional background but naturally, the inner dialogue in my head kept minimizing my knowledge because I didn’t come from fashion. It’s interesting though, to be part-time corporate and part-time entrepreneurial and seeing the pros and cons to both. I’m not sure what the future will look like, but I’ve realized that this is part of my story, my unique journey, and I have to embrace each part.
Surely, working two professions requires more time and effort than working one. How do you find a balance between the two?
I’m not sure there’s a perfect balance, but I do prioritize self-care and I am an avid planner (with a color coordinated physical planner). To be honest, I am NEVER balanced in all areas of my life. Some days, I feel like an awesome mom, and some days, I’m left with guilt because I’m focusing on the business. My daughter is at an age where she loves to help, so I do try to involve her as much as possible, which helps with the guilt. And really, the mom guilt will always exist, I’m just learning to cope with it.
The biggest help for me to stay emotionally, mentally, and physically sane is hot yoga. My life has changed drastically since practicing hot yoga. It has challenged me in all aspects of my life, and I feel like I’m flushing out the toxins out of my body every time I take a class. It’s also one hour to myself to unplug, be in silence, and meditate. I make sure to add hot yoga in my calendar at least 3-4x week. It’s also helpful that I have a supportive husband who cheers me on even when I’m stuck in the office when he’d rather I be on the couch watching TV next to him. The sacrifices are real!
And vacations! Those are necessary even if it’s a stay-cation. It’s hard to shut my entrepreneurial brain off sometimes, but vacations help me feel passionate, inspired, and rejuvenated.
“Irro” is a Japanese term, isn’t it? Would you care to share what Irro Irro means?
Irro Irro together means variety. I have always been fascinated by colors and I could stare at abstract paintings for hours just enjoying the depth and uniqueness of one color. It’s funny you ask, because while I’ve been trying to add more colors, many of my customers request black (which I totally get)! I’m working on a project that involves more color, so I’m hoping I can share that next year.
I am definitely one of those guilty of requesting black (or gray or beige…)! Your brand, however, still embodies a very minimalist design. How do your roots play a factor? Have you always been attracted to neutral palettes and stream-lined shapes?
Traveling to Japan and other countries always brings me some sort of inspiration, but I have always loved my neutrals and the sense of calm, peace, and centered-ness that they bring. I’m embarrassed to share how many white shirts I own!
I do love a good bold color and pattern though; it evokes a different type of feeling. I think the same goes for shapes. My go-to’s are usually clean shapes but once in a while I love big statement pieces, especially for outerwear. One day, I hope to incorporate that into Irro Irro, as well.
I love how you mentioned centered-ness. I believe that simplicity helps to create space for a meaningful lifestyle. What are your thoughts on how minimalism (both in fashion and in the everyday) can foster an intentional life?
I do believe a minimalist lifestyle brings forth intention, challenging you to only purchase what you need, and purchasing items that will bring long-term value into your life. Since fostering a minimalist wardrobe and lifestyle, I don’t press the “purchase” button so quickly, and scouring secondhand gems have been a fun challenge. It’s also challenged me to be creative, styling what I already have differently, and shopping around the home when re-decorating. I’ve always related a clutter-free home to a clutter-free mind. Simplifying all parts of my life, not over-extending myself (although I’m still working on that one!), and keeping routines as simple as possible has improved my overall mental health.
In this space, I try to highlight not only small businesses, but more specifically, people trying to create environmentally conscious products in socially responsible ways. Would you mind sharing with our readers ways in which you are trying to ethically produce your products, source materials that are eco-friendly, and reduce the amount of waste from your production line?
Of course! All of our textiles are 100% cotton or organic cotton and we are newly launching an up-cycled home line with the left over scraps from our production! I am also conscious about how our items are packaged, minimizing the amount of labels, using recycled wrapping paper, and bio-degradable mailers. I produce in small batches, so once the items are sold out, the color or style may never come back, making it more unique. Some other eco-friendly options I have been looking into are other textiles such as hemp, linen, recycled cotton, up-cycled denim, and incorporating more pieces made out of deadstock. I think there’s always room for improvement in this area, and I’m constantly thinking of ways to be better.
How would you advise others wishing to leverage creativity for social change?
What I love about creativity is that there is no right or wrong, and the sky is the limit. You could specialize in the most logical or scientific field and still be creative. I think if you’re passionate about bringing change into the world, just go for it! You are your own best advocate, and no one will have the passion and tenacity like you would about a fight you believe in. If you’re angry or frustrated about something, use that anger to bring positive change.
I have been told numerous times that Irro Irro wouldn’t succeed, but that has pushed me to prove them wrong. It’s helpful to have clear goals about the change you’d like to see, then start planning from there. Bringing social change can be uncomfortable for some people, so while it may take a bit longer, keep up the perseverance. It has been a roller coaster since the beginning, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’ve already accomplished so much with Irro Irro, having launched a mommy and baby line, as well as a number of accessories. How will Irro Irro grow from here?
Thank you. There is so much I want to do with the brand, with some bigger projects that has been in the works behind the scenes. But for now, my goal is an eco-lifestyle brand inclusive of adaptive lives – adding in more modern adaptive styles for adults and children. I am self-funded, so the growth is taking longer than I’d like. But, I also believe good things take time, and I’m enjoying the journey for what it is.
Lastly, would you care to share some of your favorite socially and environmentally conscious brands?
There are so many that I love and admire, but a few that I personally love because of the people behind the brand are Hey Moon Designs, Two Days Off, and Selah Collection.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
My height is officially 5 foot 1 inch. I have been this tall since I was a freshman in high school. You could say I peaked at 14 years old. No growth spurts ever visited me again (I am not sure if they ever did to begin with). At around this age, I was learning about super models, reading magazines, watching Project Runway, and working for clothing companies as a style specialist who dressed mannequins that were 5 foot 8 inches tall. The concensus was universal and the messaging was definitive: Taller girls are prettier. Taller girls are more desirable. Clothes are made for taller girls.
As young as sixteen years old, I started experimenting with making myself appear, or actually be, taller. I fitted my tiny feet into even tinier high-heeled shoes and walked around everywhere in them. I wore them to high school, and ran in them occasionally in order to get to my next class on time. I remember returning home with bruised feet and pounding heels. I wore them to work as an eighteen year old, climbing ladders as I made the window displays of my retail store pretty, dressing and undressing those towering mannequins. Even with heels on, I barely reached their shoulders.
When I met my husband in college, I started wearing 4-5 inch wedges, with the desperate desire to get anywhere near to his 6 foot 3 inches frame. Obviously, I was never close. But it was a booster to my self-esteem.
To this day, I thank providence that my husband was the person I ended up meeting. A very simple man, he never noticed things of vanity and outward appearances. After eight years of being together, he still can’t tell the difference between when I wear make-up and when I don’t. He won’t realize that I’ve chopped my hair, unless I’ve already told him before-hand. To be fair, he has pointed out time and again that I don’t realize when he’s shaved off three weeks worth of beard, either. All of this to say that he has taught me the lack of importance of outward appearances.
I remember when we first started dating, I became overly obsessed with stocking up on very tall shoes. I asked for them for birthdays and Christmases. One particular Christmas, I even requested he buy me these ridiculous, tall and spikey Sam Edelman heels, which sell for $200 a pair. Ugh, the joys of being naïve, and the qualms of being reckless. But he just didn’t understand it. I think the only reason he noticed that I was wearing towering heels was because I was struggling to keep up, stumbling on cracks on the sidewalk, and scurrying in small, calculated steps. He kept asking me, “Why do you do this to yourself?”, pointing out the impracticalities as well as the dangers of walking on stilts. But I was convinced that walking stilts gave you power, that being taller made you more covetable. Reinforced by other women’s oohs and aahs at my pretty shoes, this is what I continued to believe. I think the best part in all of this was his apathy towards whatever I chose to wear. Equally so, his apathy to whatever HE chose to wear. Over time, I realized that neither he nor I used appearances to measure a person’s worth. So why were they so important to me?
It took me eight years, but I can finally say that I have outgrown that misconception that heels make you beautiful. Or that they’re attractive at all. Looking back, there was nothing attractive in the way I tip-toed to class, the way I looked down all the time at where I was going to step next, or the way I tripped, twisted ankles, or stumbled. I have given away all of my very tall shoes. I still have heels for those special occasions, but we are talking one to two inches, and few and far between. I have replaced my favorite brands with more subtler types. I embrace shoes that are more empowering in their ability to get me through a busy day. Off course, I have written extensively about how the majority of my shoe collection consists of Nisolos, because they have a curated collection that does just that.
For those interested in curating their own closets and replacing their shoes with ones of practicality and durability, this week marks Nisolo’s Annual Summer Sale, their largest sale of the year. Products for both men and women will be marked down 30-50%. Additionally, they are giving an additional 10% OFF sale styles to The Debtist Readers, when you use the code DEBTIST10 at check out. The sale and this offer is valid from 7/23/18 to 7/27/18. If you would like to receive more offers such as this, sign up for the newsletter below, where you will also get posts delivered straight to your inbox!
My hope is that when we talk to young girls in future generations, we refrain from complimenting them on how cute they look, or how pretty their dresses are. Instead of saying these things, we should be complimenting them on their character. I imagine a world where we say, instead, “How kind that was for you to share with your friend”, or “how brave you are for trying something new.” We compliment them too much on how they appear, rather than how they are. Instead of putting the emphasis on appearances, we should reward them for their actions.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
Yesterday, I was reminiscing on the broad spectrum of topics that I address on this blog, which fall under the categories of finance, minimalism, ethical consumerism, ecofriendly habit shifts, and slow living, with occasional pesky posts spilling outside of these confines. I addressed on Instragram the difficulty with sticking to all the things that make up a whole “me”, adding a friendly reminder to always do “you”. The one thing that I did not speak aloud but which was ever present in my conscious mind was the fact that every one-way conversation I have on this site (and other platforms) has privilege written all over it.
There, I’ve said it.
Privilege is a word that has taken on a new meaning in today’s social context. When I bring up privilege in a conversation, people tend to act in a very defensive way, as if I had called them a name or said a bad word in front of the kids. They usually comment how they are not at all privileged and that they fall under a meager “middle-class” title. Do not get me wrong. I am not “wealthy” by American standards. As you all know, our net worth is negative half a million dollars, we rent a space and rely on co-housing in order to save money, we use travel rewards to travel, and our grocery budget is $50 a week. Still, I am able to say that as a middle-class U.S. citizen, I am extremely privileged.
When it comes to finances, it is apparent that I am of a well enough financial status to be able to look at my money and direct where it is going. I am able to have the access to loans in the first place to get a good education and to secure a career. I am then able to make enough to pay down the debt and to plan for a future. People around the world cannot even plan for a meal to eat tonight, let alone a safe place to “live”. Having a way to choose to budget my way towards financial freedom at a young age is something I feel very lucky to be a part of.
When it comes to minimalism, I have enough stuff that surrounding myself with only things I love requires constant re-evaluation. The problem that we face when people refuse to honor our request for no gifts on special occasions is a problem many others would embrace. The fact that we are in a constant state of de-cluttering is only a painful and embarrassing reminder to myself that there are other people in the world who would beg for these things, but to whom I cannot get access to give these things to.
When it comes to ethical consumerism, I have access to markets that are mindful with their practices in production. I have the monetary ability to support ethical companies, and I have the material excess to not support unethical ones. I am able to be selective and can choose to go without when the price is too high, or when the ethics is absent. There is a quote that states that every dollar we use to consume goods is a vote towards the world we want to see. However, I recognize the unfairness of that quote. A mother in a third world country who does not have the money to pay for an expensive, ethically-made shirt is not automatically a mother who does not want to see a better world for her child.
When it comes to eco-friendly habit shifts, I am aware of the resources needed in order to create lifestyle changes for the better of the environment in the first place. It is already difficult enough to find the resources to be eco-friendly in a well-off community of Orange County, California. Imagine how much more difficult it must be for a Filipino to find sources of clean water outside of plastic bottles. As the island sinks underneath its own waste, don’t you think it has crossed their minds that this is unhealthy to the environment? And yet I ask, where do you expect them to get clean water?
When it comes to slow living, I have the space and time to reflect on ways in which I can have less in my life. I run away from having too much. I have a career that allows me time away from work in order to focus on myself. Me, me, me.
The complexities of privilege are so immense, and so conflicted, and so twisted, that it’s hard to describe exactly where each of us falls. What I know is this. If you are reading this blog, and you are trying to attempt financial freedom, or be an ethical shopper, or curb your environmental footprint, or embrace minimalism and slow living, please pause and recognize that you are of the privileged. Please use that privilege to make a difference in the world by being extremely intentional in the way you live, and the way you consume all things. Not just for the factory worker or child laboring in a far off land, but also, for the mother in your neighborhood who lives off of food stamps and does not have the extra dollars to “cast a vote for the world she wants to see.”
In writing this, I am not a martyr or a saint. The martyrs and saints are swimming in poverty, faced with disease and famine, caught in a state of war, plagued with injustice and ill-fate, and still, are trying to raise their children to be good people.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
When it comes to curating closets, the process is simplified when there are particular brands that you trust. Ones that would have your back, or in this case, support your feet. For shoes, I undoubtedly have a single preference, and that would be Nisolo. Nisolo means “not alone”. Founded on the longing to foster the interdependencies of relationships between consumers and producers, Nisolo has since its foundation expanded to encompass not only social impact, but environmental sustainability and social good as well. One only needs to look at their impact report to understand why it is that we need to support companies such as these. The report opens with their unique vision:
“To push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction— where success is based on more than just offering the cheapest price—a direction that not only values exceptional design, but the original producer and the planet just as much as the end consumer.”
While the above images are simply highlights of what the report details, it summarizes what the sixty-plus page report says. Additionally, some things to note.
Certified B corporation
B Corp certification is similar to fair trade, but determines environmental and social impact beyond product attributes or production processes. Rather, the assessment takes a deep look into a company’s leadership, governance, suppliers, employees, communities, etc. in order to determine (and ultimately score) the social and environmental impact an organization has on all of its stakeholders.
To minimize their carbon footprint, the majority of Nisolo’s raw materials are intentionally sourced and processed in close proximity of their production facilities. Third party suppliers to the factories are frequently visited, and encouraged to use environmentally friendly practices. When possible, they purchase from tanneries that have received certification from The Leather Working Group, the most well regarded third party certification in leather processing.
All Nisolo jewelry is made from upcycled materials in Nairobi, Kenya, and their first venture into vegetable tanned leather, a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly tanning process, has come via their new partner factories. Unlike most tanning methods that use chrome and other chemicals (which can create a severe impact on the environment if not properly disposed), vegetable tanning uses natural oils from bark or plant tannins, which reduce the product’s environmental impact.
Defying Gender Norms
Nisolo has a female co-founder, as well as an executive team that consists of 40% female. Of the current staff, over 69% are female.
Nearly all of the Peruvian workers had ended their education early due to a financial situation. To help combat this, Nisolo works with two universities in Trujillo to offer their producers discounted rates and opportunities to attend school at nights and during the weekend.
They are proud to share that 100% of their producer’s children are attending school, and of the students in the university, 100% will be first generation graduates.
With that being said, I am proud to be an affiliate for a company that I so whole-heartedly believe in and support. To learn more about the ways in which Nisolo is pushing the fashion forward to a better future, read the entire impact report here.
The Shoes Themselves
Company ethics aside, what of the shoes? It is important to note that I have graduated (happily) from that stage in my life where I thought uncomfortable shoes were pretty. In fact, when curating my closet, comfort sits quite high on the list of boxes to check off. Additionally, shoes must be simple and versatile. I want them to match multiple outfits so that I could make use of them as much as possible. Shoes are meant to be worn. There was a time when I used to own over fifty pairs of shoes. Blame it on a pair of feet that never grew since the eight grade, but really, it was just a disgusting habit of over-consumption of very cheap products that were so trend-specific that they were essentially useless, most of the time. There was a neglecting of forty of those pairs, because they matched only one or two outfits in my closet, at most. However, simplicity does not mean plain. The shoes that I look for still have to be stylish and in line with my taste. Also, what I love about Nisolo shoes is that they are affordable, especially for the high-quality material and attention to detail that you get. A factory-produced Nike shoes is comparable in price to a pair of environmentally-conscious leather shoes that support an artisan who otherwise would have no access to a market. To me, the choice is very easy. Lastly, I want them to be timeless, and I want them to last. These two must go hand-in-hand, for timelessness explains the longevity of the style and the latter explains the longevity of the physical product. Without the other, the shoe would enter a landfill way too soon. I would like to confirm that Nisolo has definitely passed all of these requirements with flying colors, time and time again, which is why I keep coming back.
Below are some of the shoes I own from Nisolo’s Women Collection. They just recently released a curated Mother’s Day collection that features some products perfect for mothers at a 10% off rate. Also, subscribers will receive 20% off their first order, so do head over using the link above, scroll to the bottom of the page, and subscribe with your email to enjoy this awesome discount.
With summer just around the corner, this is going to be my go-to shoe for the upcoming season. It was last year and it will be again this year. There is something so traditional and timeless about a pair of Huaraches. Excited to announce that new colors have been recently released!
This is undeniably my most worn shoe outside of work. The Sophia Slip On is so versatile, that I have half a mind to also purchase the Sophia Slip On in brandy as well, which happens to be on sale right now. It’s easy to put on, very comfortable, but also sleek and elevates any outfit.
These Ava Ballerina flats are easy to dress up or down, and are probably my most versatile shoe. I can see toe-cleavage-haters extremely disliking this shoe, but personally, I’ve got no problems.
These are my favorite boots. They are Nisolo’s chukkas from 2016, although for 2018, they have their Isa Chukka Boot in the light oak, an updated version that looks pretty similar.
The Oliver Oxfords are so comfortable that these are actually my every day work shoes. Which means I wear these five days a week and am able to run from room to room, maneuver a foot pedal, and still get compliments on my footwear. If you prefer a more modern style, check out the James Oxfords or the Emma D’orsay Oxfords.
I get people asking me about these flip flops all the time! Which just goes to show that the simplest of silhouettes can be extremely attractive. These Isla Slides are fantastic, and new versions are soon to be released! Stay tuned!
These are just some of the Nisolo shoes I own, and I absolutely enjoy every single one of them. Mike as well is very fond of Nisolo’s Men’s Collection, so much so that he donned Nisolo shoes for our New Year’s Eve Wedding.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
For Fashion Revolution 2018, millions of people are encouraged to ask companies the question, “Who made my clothes?”, with the goal of increasing transparency in the supply chain. The more people who ask #whomademyclothes, the more brands will listen. There are many ways to get involved, all of which are detailed on their website.
It’s easy to forget that human hands are behind the production of much of our clothing, still. Unfortunately, with the spike in frequency of fashion trends, the environments in which people are working have become less human. Unethical practices have seeped into unsafe work environments and constitute the new norm.
This past weekend, I was hanging out with a group of friends at the pool. My discarded shirt lay over a reclined chair as I tried to escape the heat in the cool waters. As we were getting ready to leave and gathering our stuff, a friend noticed that my shirt had a signature sewn into it as he picked it up. Inquiringly, he asked about the name. I told him of Krochet Kids, now known as Known Supply, and told him that the signature was of the person who made it. To which he asked, “A kid?” To immediately come to the conclusion that children make our clothes has become natural, in a very horrible way. I pointed out that, actually, that’s the opposite from what we want, and he was shocked at his own conclusion. I don’t want that to be such a normal response. So please, let’s change the future of the fashion industry, by asking, “Who?” (Also “Where”, “How”, and “Why”.)
Below are a few of the faces behind my basic tees made by Known Supply. As in, these people were the specific makers of the shirts that I wear every day! Each maker of Known Supply signs the products that they make, and consumers can go online and read their story, as well as send them Thank You notes for the work that they have done.
Apiyo Nancy – Uganda
Nancy joined KNOWN SUPPLY to make a positive and hopeful step for herself and her life. She rose above the challenges brought into her life by war and poverty, she brings a positive attitude with her into everything she does. Nancy dreams of being a powerful businesswoman in the market by capitalizing on her interest and experience in selling produce.
WHAT CHANGE DO YOU HOPE TO SEE “I hope to help my husband by sharing the responsibility of supporting our family.”
DREAMS FOR YOUR FAMILY “Mostly I just want to educate my children so they can get good jobs.”
LOVE DEFINED “To me LOVE is happiness.”
Rosmery Shupingahua – Peru
A bit of a homebody, Rosmery is easy to relate to. She loves watching TV and would pick spending cozy time at home with her family over going out any day. Rosmery is organized – she used to clean and cook for a living, and she still considers both to be hobbies. Rosmery hopes to learn new skills that will help her provide a better life for herself and her family. She wants to see her daughters get a good education and grow into content, successful women.
DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE “Study and start my own business. I’d also like to buy land in the forest one day because it is quieter there.”
LOVE DEFINED “I feel love in my heart for my daughters every day. I will do anything to give them the best life possible. I am here to care for them and protect them no matter what.”
Maritza Chavez – Peru
Meet Peru’s future Project Runway star. Maritza is hard at work achieving her dreams. She is using her time in the program to master her design and production skills so she can start her own clothing business after graduating. Her determination to change her future is fueling her progress.
MESSAGE TO THOSE WHO PURCHASED YOUR PRODUCT “These products are made with dedication and a lot of love.”
DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE “I plan on becoming a fashion designer. I also want to have a child and a wonderful family someday.”
Lesly Castilla – Peru
Before we met Lesly, she earned her income through doing door-to-door sales. Her smile is infectious, and she is quick to become friends with her fellow workers and staff members. Now that she is earning a more consistent income she is able to save money and she is getting closer to achieving her dream of going back to school. Her goal is to get the education she needs to secure a job as a secretary after the program.
WHAT PARTICIPATING IN KNOWN SUPPLY MEANS TO YOU “I feel like these people are my family. I feel supported.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY “Going to the zoo with my family.”
LOVE DEFINED “Respect. Honesty.”
Now it’s your turn to find the faces behind the clothes you wear!
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It’s been five years since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh killed 1,138 people and injured thousands more, thus opening the eyes [of some] to the horrors that a fast-fashion industry has led to. It has been two years since my own eyes have been opened and I have made quite the effort to cater my consumer choices so as to avoid contributing anything that would harm people and the planet. It all started with a book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, whence my love for de-cluttering began. After which, I was made painfully aware of the trash I was creating and the people I was affecting, simply because I was buying into the world the fast-fashion industry (and largely, consumer culture as a whole) has created. The question, “Who made all these clothes?” triggered a Rube Goldberg machine consisting of subsequent questions, the answers of which toppled my world view like an aisle of dominoes. In the process of de-cluttering, I was left with Home Depot boxes, of the large variety, with nowhere to go. I was lost, and guilty, and very, very sad about my contribution to the crisis. Ultimately, I made a decision to never get to that point again.
I decided to write this post detailing how exactly we can curb the insane amount of trash that is stockpiling rather quickly at our landfills by prolonging the lifespan of our clothes past de-cluttering, in honor of the hard labor that went into their making. Specifically, what to do with de-cluttered goods, and how to make the de-cluttering process a bit easier for the future.
Choose Clothing Made from Natural Materials
De-cluttering can lead to a whole slew of newly created questions, namely, “Where will this all go?” While we recycle and donate our goods to reputable companies whose mission is to give our unwanteds a brand new home, it isn’t enough. It’s easy to unload a box at a local drop-off zone for used goods, and then forget about them all together but out of sight should not equate to out of mind. Unfortunately, there is no magic fairy dust that really makes these things disappear. Maybe a few will find homes, but some are left neglected, just as they have been when with you. Like the foods in your grocery store, there is a shelf life, and it is short. Once your items also become unwanted by the company you’ve offered them up to, they will end up at the landfill. And a majority of these things are not 100% recyclable. So, more effort is needed to make sure that the choices we make from here on out involve materials that are natural, which increases their ability to be recycled, or even better, composted back to where they once came from. This requires research, initially in order to learn which materials are actually sustainable, and afterwards, to discover the exact makeup of your clothing purchases.
Share with Friends and Family
When we were young, we were taught to share. As we got older, we were taught that having our own is more covetable than contributing to a communal pool. I think it is imperative to be okay with sharing and borrowing. Especially for one-time events, such as weddings and holiday parties, it does not hurt to trade and exchange and borrow, rather than buying a formal dress that you cannot realistically wear on a day-to-day basis without getting a few stares. I remember when my sister and I were in high school, we loved borrowing each other’s clothes. It would feel like we had something new and exciting to wear, without having to spend the money we didn’t have. Little did I know then that it also starves the demand in an industry determined to continually produce more.
De-clutter to friends and family, first.
On that note, when it comes to de-cluttering, sometimes the best thing to do is to call up loved ones and offer your items to them. I have had my mom and sister rifle through our “donations” box plenty of times, and they usually find something that they love. I know that those items will definitely be put to use, a feeling I prefer over the dread of the unknown that settles in every time I drop off a box at a Goodwill. Will this ever go to anyone else after me? When my mother and sister are not around, I ask my high school best friend, whose daughter is now my size, and quickly outgrowing me at that! If there is a lot of interest in your stuff, perhaps a barter and trade system with loved ones works well too. Consider a party?
Be Particular About the Particulars
The chances of your clothes being wanted by another are significantly increased when the category fits the foundation. In other words, a business suit is more likely to be purchased when dropped off with Dress for Success. One thing that I personally do is drop off my formal dresses (saved up from high school dances and wedding events) to Yesenia’s Dream Dress Drive, an organization in Santa Ana that gives high-school girls who aren’t able to buy prom dresses a selection of FREE prom dresses to choose from. In donating your goods tp very specific stores, you will be targeting a group of people who are already coming to these stores with that type of purchase in mind. To increase the chances even more, make sure that the clothes are in the nicest condition possible. As in, laundered, ironed, and wrinke-free.
There are many ways we can re-purpose unwanted clothes. For example, re-purposing old tees for kitchen rags does just the trick.
In time, Be Okay with Less
I have a feeling that a majority of people in the United States have more than enough. What constitutes as enough is different for every person. I’ve also learned that we can change what we consider to be enough for us. Passed basic needs such as a roof over our heads and food for the table, there is little happiness garnered from having more stuff. So how to convince yourself that you have enough? All it requires is a slight shift in perspective. Looking at the world from a place of gratitude, for example, for all the clothes you already own, makes a huge difference in the way we view what more we need. From gratefulness comes plentitude.
Mandy Kordal is the founder of Kordal Studio, whose mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying their workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Their products are focused on knitwear made by experienced knitters based in both Lima, Peru & NYC. They create our garments using both handloom and Shima Seki whole garment knitting machines. Both processes create a fully fashioned product, meaning each piece is knit to the exact shape and there are no left over materials. All of their cut & sew wovens are produced in NYC and dyed at a local dye house in New Jersey.
How did you start in the fashion industry? What inflection point inspired you to start a sustainable company?
I studied fashion design at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP program. During the course of the program, you are in school for half of the year and working in the industry for the other half. So, every summer and winter, I was traveling to a new city and working for fashion companies like Gap, Trovata, Hannah Marshall, etc. This was so helpful because I learned early on that I really loved working for smaller companies. After graduating I worked for a two years as an assistant designer, one year with Betsey Johnson and another year at Doori.
I don’t know if there was a specific point or moment that marked when I was inspired to start a sustainable company. I guess I approached starting my company the way I would begin any relationship. I wanted to treat the people I worked with well and with respect, to consider the impact on the environment, and to create beautiful quality clothing. Along the way, I worked freelance design jobs for larger companies to supplement my income and became very aware of the impact the fashion industry was having on the environment. The amount of over-sampling and textile waste alone was horrifying! In the end, I guess it was a combination of wanting to create a company that embodied my values and learning about the real impact this industry has on the environment, having our company be as sustainable as possible was the only option.
How did you find the courage to start?
I think any amount of courage came from my friends and family, who have been my champions since the beginning and I honestly couldn’t have started without their support and encouragement. But also, I was 25 when I started the company. Previously I had been working as an assistant designer making 30k a year in NYC, so I didn’t have much to lose! I was extremely lucky to not have student loans, I knew how to live in the city on very little money already, I didn’t have a family to support, etc. Those factors helped a lot! Not to say that is the only way, but it made the decision to start a little less scary.
What is Kordal’s mission statement? What do you hope to accomplish with your company, in terms of changing the way the fashion industry works?
Our mission is to create garments in an ethical manner by paying our workers a fair wage, designing garments that are not trend-focused, and using natural and organic textiles. Our hope is that our existence as an alternative to fast-fashion, along with many of the other sustainable brands out there, provides customers with a choice. We have the power to change things through our purchases. We saw it with the food industry! Even Walmart now carries organic products because more and more customers purchased it. If all of these smaller brands can prove that investing in sustainable fashion is not only important but also profitable, then we can shift the thinking of the larger companies as well. At least that’s the hope!
What requirements do you have to ensure a sustainable and slow fashion model?
My personal requirements are that all of our employees, vendors, makers are all paid a fair wage. That all of our fabrications and yarns are natural fibers that will eventually bio-degrade back into the earth, and as much as possible we are working with Organic Certified materials. We are also committed to reducing the amount of plastic use in our shipping and receiving, we recently made a switch to mesh reusable bags for all of our garments vs. working with poly bags.
In a very demanding industry such as fashion, how do you resist the pressure of creating for 52 seasons? How do you keep you and your brand grounded?
Ha! Oh man, creating just two seasons is already insane at times! Are there really 52 seasons? I think we’ve been lucky to work with boutiques that share the same values as we do. We don’t work with large department stores for example, so we’re able set our own pace, more or less. I also think we’ve been able to stay grounded because we don’t have investors or external influences pushing us to produce more things faster It’s been self funded from the beginning, which means our growth has been slow and steady.
How do you source fabric ethically? What other ways do you ensure ethical practices for your company?
We are lucky to have a great community of sustainable designers here in NY, so when I’m trying to source a new denim fabrication, for example, I don’t have to start from square one. I can reach out to friends in this group to help begin my research. For designers starting out, I would recommend the BF+DA sourcing library. They’ve created a great sourcing library for all sustainable fabric and yarn vendors! Other ways to ensure ethical practices is to look for certifications from your vendors, such as Fair Trade or GOT.
In what ways can consumer’s contribute towards making a change away from fast fashion?
Supporting smaller brands, asking the larger companies difficult questions, like “Who made my clothes?”, buying second-hand or vintage, and staying away from synthetic fabrics (they will stay in landfills for hundreds of years, just like plastic!).
What governmental policies do you feel could go into effect that could improve the fashion industry?
Import-Based Tax – I think if there was an tax on imported goods that would help level the playing field for domestic manufacturing.
Are there any particular podcasts or books about fashion that you could recommend to readers?
Conscious Chatter, this episode is really awesome!
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion