Sustainable fashion searches increased by 300% in 2017 after a study was released suggesting that an estimated 73% of clothing purchased during the 2013/14 fashion cycle wound up in landfills by 2015. This realization introduced us to terms like consumer habits and fast fashion.
After a deeper study on the wastefulness of the fashion industry, consumer habits were viewed more as consumer addictions. Enabled by the harmful and glamorized turnover of seasonal trends.
While the harsh, inhumane conditions of workers within fast fashion industries have been under scrutiny for decades, the true environmental impact of the fashion industry was realized globally in 2018. Therefore, encouraging new conversations about sustainability and the environment. With this in mind, efforts to green fashion habits are relatively new, yet spreading quickly as more detriments are exposed. Including the amount of water required to produce materials, the inhumane conditions of workers in clothing factories, and the carbon footprint of production and distribution.
For clarity, in a report from the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index, of the 250 fashion brands surveyed, 93% were not paying their employees a livable wage. In fact, brands such as Fashion Nova, Revolve, and Forever 21 scored less than 20% on the fashion index when considering factors like sustainability and ethics. Yet, a Vox report from 2018 suggests that fashion influencers who push fast brands average a salary of $30, 000 to $100, 000 USD annually.
Furthermore, in a 2019 New York Times article, it was revealed that most fashion brands discard their waste in harmful ways, polluting environments and clean water sources in the process. This harmful method is significant when considering the fact that 2/3 of Earth’s wildlife has gone extinct due to realities like global warming, pollution, environmental decay, and forced migration.
So, how do we change the conversation around fashion? Perhaps we begin by renegotiating what we allow to influence us.
I informally met Chanice in 2019 after discovering her sustainable fashion brand Alma Mauve on Instagram. Leading to a wonderful, algorithmic feed of sustainable content. Inspired by her work, I reached out with encouraging words of support, eager to eventually collaborate. Two years later, we are chatting about what it is like to work in the fashion industry as a sustainable designer. From first exposure to building a brand, we explore sustainability challenges and rewards.
Connecting with me from sunny Barcelona, Chanice introduces herself:
I am from the Netherlands but have been living in Barcelona, Spain for five years. I am the creator of Alma Mauve clothing brand, and also the designer. Apart from that, I am also a singer – so I am an all-around artistic person. Really, I am just being myself and enjoying everything, that is what I am doing at the moment.
Listen to this story:
How did you enter the sustainable fashion industry and start designing clothing?
Well, actually, I would say around 4 or 5 years ago (though, I have always been interested in fashion), I basically discovered how destructive the fast fashion industry is. I always knew something about it in the back of my mind. I knew that something in this industry was a little off, but I never really did my research until a few years ago.
Every time, when I continued shopping, fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M, were my favourite stores at that time. But I always felt super guilty. So, I told my mom, who is a very talented seamstress and pattern maker, “Hey, we should start a project, a brand, do something together.” So, we did. I told her at that time, “let’s start a sustainable fashion brand and see how it will be received by people!”
We were especially interested in how the people closest to us would receive it. Then we started doing that! But she is living in the Netherlands, and I am in Spain. Eventually, we started to figure out that it wasn’t really working with us living in different places. I decided to continue the project myself.
Does that mean you have taken over the seamstress and pattern work?
Basically, I went looking for professions here in Barcelona. My expertise is in designing and creating ideas. Now, I am working with 3 seamstresses and 2 pattern makers.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I am addicted to Pinterest! You start with one picture then you just scroll and scroll and scroll – it’s crazy! Basically, most of my inspiration comes from there, but also Instagram. I just know my personal style. I know my closet. Sometimes I look at what I have, and I think, “I would like this with this.” Or, “if that one thing was just different…” Then I start writing it down and drawing.
In the beginning, I just started with my mom. She was very fashionable – well, she still is, but even more so when she was around my age. I always look back and her style is amazing, the 70s and 80s – I am always inspired by that. She still has some of those pieces. Sometimes I wear them and think, “wow, I would love to have this or make this.” So, yeah, I just get inspired by different things, I think.
How do you make your brand Sustainable?
I work with organic material only, and if we need a material that is not organic, I will make sure it is recycled.
That means I do not really use polyester or those kinds of materials. Furthermore, I also work with a made-to-order model, meaning that we start the production once we get an order and that way we reduce waste, or we don’t generate waste. In the beginning, when I started, I just worked with very low volume in stock, but you don’t know what you are going to sell. You can only make an estimation. Sometimes, I would only sell a size “M” and then the other sizes are still available. I don’t really think that is sustainable. So, I have a policy to work with organic materials and I make sure that everyone I work with is paid fairly.
Now, we are also going to have an upcycled line at Alma Mauve, because the most sustainable clothing out there is either the clothing you already own in your closest. Or, second-hand items. I really wanted to work with that. I will definitely, continue making new designs and new clothing, but I also think it’s incredibly important that sustainable clothing brands work with the clothing that already exists and material that already exists in the world because if not it will just be in landfills.
What Is Fast Fashion?
Basically, fashion produced at a very rapid pace, it’s all about trends, the quality of the item is not the producers main concern. They just want to make sure that they are following the trends. That said, they are maybe designing an item now so that it will last a couple of months because of the need to make sure the customer will come back when the new trend is coming out. They want their customers to come back and buy more and more. This is the complete opposite of sustainable fashion, which is creating clothing that will last a long time. Something that you can wear repeatedly over time.
Fast fashion is just creating a lot of clothing, generating a lot of waste, and it’s terrible. Sustainable, basic pieces are timeless – which is what I work with.
What is gender non-conforming sustainable fashion?
I started Alma Mauve as a women’s only brand. The main focus being women’s empowerment, and I am still all about that. However, throughout the years I have learned that not all my customers identify themselves as women. Basically, I felt like,
who am I to decide what a woman or a man can or cannot wear?”
Again, I did my research and found a lot of brands that are genderless or gender-neutral. But what you see there are just brands that create a lot of clothing that is very oversized. Basically, you can just find those garments in every men’s section in every fashion brand. What about dresses and skirts? And ruffles and lace? Why is genderless an item that can be accepted as men’s clothing in society?
I really felt like this was not right, and as it was, I was not representing the group that was buying my product. I feel like everything about sustainable, ethical fashion, inclusion is a big part of that. If you are about being sustainable and ethical, you should be about inclusivity. Which included marginalized groups.
I felt like, yes, I really need to make this change. I am not going to make a section just for men or just for women. No, I am just going to make the designs and the clothing that I love to make, and it is all just for anyone who wants to wear it.
How do I live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Listen to Chanice’s full interview here to learn about sustainable fashion habits, choices, and what a real genderless brand looks like.