The State of the Conscious Company Industry
In 2011, I was faced with a crucial decision in my career path: to stay in the comfort of my stable, corporate fashion job or be a part of a startup whose goals were in line with what I believed the fashion industry could look like. For the years prior, while working in New York, I was most drawn to the fashion companies that I saw having a positive impact on the world such as Eileen Fisher, Feed, Patagonia, Invisible Children/Mend and others.
I wanted to start a company that could not only answer the following types of questions, but also proudly answer them: Do the factory workers make a living wage? Can they send their children to school? What does their working environment look like? Does their supervisor treat them with dignity? Is the minimum age requirement respected? I desired to be a part of a fashion company that highlighted the producers rather than hid or covered them up AND that designed style driven products that you wanted to wear. The timing could not have been more perfect for me to be introduced to my now business partner, Patrick Woodyard, who had an idea that would become the framework for Nisolo.
We shared a vision for a company where the people, the environment, the product and profit all mattered. One that made inspiring products and that also cared about the people who made those products taking all stakeholders into account when making decisions, running operations and building strategy. As I look back at this crossroads, partnering with Patrick was one of the most important decisions of my career, and I hope Nisolo can continue to be one of the examples of what this growing movement of conscious entrepreneurs can achieve.
With the knowledge that a better type of company can and does exist, it’s important to stay even more in touch with the fast-moving industry changes we are seeing. In the last couple of decades, the fashion industry has experienced unprecedented growth, largely due to outsourcing where labor is cheap and often exploitative. Now a 1.8 trillion-dollar industry employing over 75 million people worldwide, it’s becoming harder and harder to really know the working conditions of where our clothes are made and the daily reality of the people behind our favorite labels. Through subcontractors and mega suppliers, the brands interaction with the factories is more and more removed and accountability is deferred or dismissed. I witnessed this first hand working for a multibillion dollar fashion company where there was a lack of transparency and a top priority of constantly pushing to cut costs with the factories.
The good news is that it is becoming more and more common in 2017 to find fashion companies that share the values that we focus on at Nisolo. Similar to how we’ve seen the food industry revolutionized by the demand for and emergence of organic and local farmers, we are now seeing more consciousness and demand by consumers for thoughtful practices in the fashion industry. H&M and other fast fashion brands are beginning to speak out about sustainability. And there is increased access to products that directly support underserved artisans. Consumers are beginning to make brands meet their demand for operating more ethically. The road towards sustainability is a long one, but we couldn’t be more excited to be one of the drivers.
I believe that it’s every generations responsibility to improve on the world we are given and leave the world a better place than we found it, and this is an effort that can leave no person behind. Here are some things YOU can be doing to get the fashion industry on the ethical track:
Hold your favorite brands accountable.
Take a look at what you own and ask your favorite brands, “Who made my clothes?” Chances are you’ll get a positive response or nothing at all (red flag). Whenever possible, shift to brands that are willing to share their sources and practices. Purchase from brands who share publically about their supply chain and environmental impact.
Purchase consciously and thoughtfully.
Be thoughtful about how much and what you consume. Are the fabrics natural or synthetic? Is it better to purchase two cheaper shirts or one that may be more expensive but is high quality and made with fair practices? Often times, going with fewer, more quality items will last longer in your closet and less likely to end up in a land fill.
Stay up to date.
Be in the know by following Fashion Revolution on Instagram and reading into the impact of the fashion industry through credible sources, such as the International Labour Organization.
This guest post was authored by Zoe Cleary
Zoe is a Co-founder of Nisolo and serves as the Chief Design & Operating Officer. She is originally from Santa Barbara, CA and has spent time immersing herself in culture abroad. The streamlined and classic designs of Nisolo are largely influenced by her time living in Italy and France. The integration of textures and fabrics are the influence of Latin American culture that she has grown to love.
Zoe graduated with honors from Willamette University and then completed her MBA in fashion management in New York City. After working for several billion-dollar fashion labels, she decided to change direction to pursue a career out of passion that incorporated social good.
A mutual friend introduced her to Patrick Woodyard while he was in the beginning stages of Nisolo. After flying to Peru to meet Patrick and witness the talent that existed in Trujillo, it was an easy decision for her to join forces in order to help launch the brand. She travels back and forth between Peru and the United States to see the process develop and flourish.