Getting to Know: Mandy Kordal of Kordal Studio

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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!

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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 becaus​e 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.
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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!).
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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?

​Yes!
Conscious Chatter, this episode is really awesome!​
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Fast ​Fashion
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
The True Cost (documentary)
River Blue (documentary)

Bogobrush: Raising social and environmental awareness, one toothbrush at a time.

This post is sponsored by Bogobrush, a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program towards low-income communities, wherein a toothbrush is considered a commodity for the privileged.

In case I can convince you of the importance of choosing the right toothbrush for you and your loved ones, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers a special offer (full details below).

There are many folks out there who believe that a dentist’s main purpose is to sell treatment. Numerous patients have voiced to me some past experience or other with dentists who tried to sell them whiter teeth and nicer smiles for the sake of esthetics. So while this may be true for some, it isn’t how I operate or how I practice my work. I would say I fall heavily towards the more conservative side of practicing dentistry. A majority of my time is spent trying to teach patients how to prevent the need for dental treatment, via proper oral hygiene techniques at home and frequent follow ups and dental visits. I like seeing my patients twice a year, if not only to hear how their children are doing at school or how their holidays went. I prefer to think that they enjoy doing the same with me. In general, I am pretty hesitant on agreeing to cosmetic treatment, especially so with treatments such as veneers. When patient’s come to me wanting such treatment, I kindly voice the truth, which is the fact that nothing will ever be as strong (or beautiful) as your natural dentition. Removing tooth structure will always weaken the tooth. Enamel is the hardest part of your body, stronger even than bone. A veneer will possibly pop-off, since it is only bonded to your tooth on the facial aspect, and preparing the teeth for a veneer could cause sensitivity. If the patient is young, in their twenties or thirties, they must consider the likelihood that they will have to replace these veneers 3-4 times throughout the rest of their life. Quite a costly price for a cosmetic fix. Off course, if the patient insists, then autonomy prevails, and I will succumb to what will make them happy, but only after failing to convince them otherwise. To each their own. Some would consider my method a bad business move (because it is), but I didn’t enter the profession for money, so I don’t really have a motive to promote such options.

A majority of my time is spent trying to achieve a patient’s goal via the most conservative path possible. My favorite word during diagnosis is to “observe”. More often than not, the patient will be happiest to. My focus at work revolves around prevention. I would rather teach prevention of caries and other dental problems so that my patients return every six months needing nothing but a cleaning. Easier for me, easier for them. It saves them money, and saves me time, which could be used teaching even more patients the power of prevention. And so the cycle continues.

When I first entered dentistry, I knew that my model would revolve around teaching. I tutored for ten years prior to dental school, and it has undoubtedly shaped my world view about learning. I paid a lot of money going to dental school to learn about dental health care, so that others wouldn’t have to pay a lot of money to care for their teeth. As I volunteered in multiple third world countries, and farming communities within our own state, I learned that empowering is more important than giving. That equipping with knowledge is more important than aiding. It is the idea that it is better to teach a child at an early age how to brush their teeth properly thus empowering them with a life-long skill to improve their health, rather than aid an adult in extracting all their decayed teeth and replacing them with a denture. This is what it means to have TRUE impact that will change communities, even after you are gone and no longer around. I refuse to be a part of cycle that creates further dependency, but rather, prefer to create groups of people who are self-sufficient and independent.

With all of this in mind, there is one thing I sell on the daily. Toothbrushes. And with this came multiple considerations that I felt did not align with my truest of values. Specifically, toothbrushes are created from plastic (most times), which are carelessly disposed of without a thought in the world.

Did you know that 450 million toothbrushes end up in US landfills every year?

Additionally, toothbrushes are usually packaged in clear plastic, but don’t ask me why. And then there is the issue of having multiple toothbrush companies, claiming that they can outdo all other toothbrushes. There are toothbrushes with hard bristles, medium bristles, soft bristles, even extra-soft bristles. There are toothbrushes with different handles, with grips claiming to improve ergonomics, with handles that are bent, handles that are straight. There are electric toothbrushes that move in circular motions, toothbrushes that vibrate left and right, toothbrushes that light up when you’ve brushed for the appropriate amount of time. Worse, there are advertisements, companies, and, let’s face it, some dentists, who sell these different types. I am here to say that while these toothbrushes could aid some groups of people, particularly those with arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease, or anyone else who has difficulty with holding and maneuvering a regular toothbrush, the efficiency of brushing teeth lies mostly in your technique, rather than the toothbrush itself. Sure, a change in toothbrush can get you closer towards increased plaque removal, but so could improving your brushing habits and methods. What if one increases plaque removal by practicing the proper technique? Then we could focus on buying a toothbrush based on other characteristics. Such as sustainability. Such as responsible and local manufacturing. Such as toothbrushes that give back to low-income communities.

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Enter Bogobrush! A toothbrush that is in harmony with many of my values, and one I would be happy to sell. Bogobrush was created with two things in mind: a product that was good for the planet, and for the people who live on it. The masterminds behind bogobrush are a brother sister duo from a small town in North Dakota, whose father was a dentist. The name BOGObrush comes from the idea of Buy One, Give One, a pillar of what Bogobrush is about. With each toothbrush you buy, another is given to someone in need through their partners. Created was a simple way to protect the planet, buy ethically-made, and give back.

Sustainable:

There are two toothbrush options:

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Recycled Plastic: A toothbrush that can be recycled repeatedly, forever. We are taking plastics destined for the landfill and giving them a second chance at life. The toothbrushes are made from recycled plastic number 5, and can be placed in your recycle bin. To facilitate the process, please remove the non-recyclable bristles with small pliers.

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Biodegradable: A composite material made from biodegradable plants, which can be composted at the end of its life. The current design is made from flax, but a new design is in the works for a plant-based material made from hemp! Recycling options include curbside or backyard. If you have a curbside compost bin, simply discard there. If not, you can toss the handle into your backyard compost pile. As organic matter, it will degrade into carbon monoxide, water, and humus (a soil nutrient). As with anything, it may take a few months or a few years to decompose, since the time of degradation depends on the health of the compost pile and is affected by factors such as humidity, temperature, and biodiversity. The bristles are not compostable so please pull them out using small pliers. However, if bristles do end up in the compost stream, they will break down into little pieces with time. Not the best solution, but a step towards the right direction.

Ethically Made:

Despite the higher cost of producing in the United States, these brushes are manufactured here, a sacrifice worth making. It allows for easier communication with the developers, facilitates site visits, and creates more personal relationships with those who source Bogobrush materials. The focus is to have transparency regarding the supply chain, with the knowledge of the who, what, where, and when of each part of the product, down to the bristles!

Giving back:

More than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care.

This statistic can affect aspects in daily living that we take for granted, including education, work, and overall health. Imagine how much less access there is, to something as simple as a toothbrush, throughout the rest of the world. A toothbrush is a privilege, something I’ve learned throughout my journey volunteering in under-privileged communities. This is something we can change. The hope of creating a more balanced world was so important, that the name itself comes from the idea of buy one, give one.

Currently supporting:

  • Covenant Community Care: Detroit, MI. Serving the people of Metro Detroit through six health clinics across the city. They provide medical, dental, and behavioral health care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.
  • Apple Tree Dental: Twin Cities, MN. Dedicated to providing complete dental care to people throughout Minnesota through its clinics and innovative mobile dental unites. They give away 20,000 toothbrushes annually.
  • Family Healthcare: Fargo, ND. Providing personal, high quality medical and dental care to anyone in the Fargo region, regardless of ability to pay. They also offer significant tools to aide healthful lifestyles.

Minimalist Design:

Admittedly, part of what initially grabbed my attention was the minimalist design. Here they are selling a toothbrush without the frills. Without the batteries, without the lights. A simple design that can be just as effective is always appreciated, in my book.

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Option to purchase a stand, also in a minimalist form.

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Subscription:

Most of my patients are surprised when I tell them that, ideally, we want the toothbrush to be replaced every 3-4 months. A frayed toothbrush has decreased efficiency with plaque removal, and depending on the method of use, a toothbrush can easily fray within a few months. Some tell me that they’ve had their toothbrush for over a year! With Bogobrush, you could subscribe so that a toothbrush is delivered to you every 2, 3, or 4 months. So you’ll never forget. You can also mediate how many shipments you receive. As incentive, the price of each toothbrush decreases with a subscription, in case all the other incentives above were not enough.

As even further incentive, Bogobrush is offering The Debtist readers their first subscription for free. Cancellation is allowed at any time, if you are not satisfied with the product. A link is placed on the sidebar, in case you are interested in making a change. You must subscribe via my personal link below or in the sidebar in order to receive the promotion. I hope you join me in the movement. If I am to support a product, I want it to be a product that will bring both social and environmental awareness into people’s everyday lives. A toothbrush is a product many of us use every day. And we have a choice.

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Thank you for supporting the brands that harmonize with The Debtist’s internal values and external intentions. And thanks to Bogobrush for inspiring me to be a better dentist and a better teacher. Starting today, there will be a series on my blog regarding all things dental, to promote dental education, without the student loans.