One of the best things about partnering with other brands is getting the opportunity to learn from experts in different industries who also share a strong commitment to sustainability. We met with Erin Houston, Co-founder + CEO from Wearwell to discuss tips for shopping ethically and sustainably.
What does ethical fashion mean?
Erin Houston: "Ethical fashion can mean many things depending on the context. At the end of the day, it means that the person who made the clothing was paid fairly and environmental impact was minimized in the process. For wearwell, when we consider ethics, we look to see that the garment worker or artisan is paid a fair or living wage for their work. On the environmental side, you can mitigate environmental impact through better materials choices, including organic materials that decompose faster, innovative fabric methods that use less water and emit less carbon, upcycled materials to prevent landfill waste, or even circular and zero-waste methods."
What is fast fashion? Is it really that bad?
Erin Houston: "Yes. Yes, it is! “Fast fashion” refers to clothing that’s made quickly to get on store floors fast and is intended to last for only a few wears. If you think only about the speed of production, fast fashion brands can move a product from design to the customer in just 2-3 weeks. There is a cost to that speed, and it affects the garment workers who make those clothes. They are underpaid, overworked, and often working in unsafe conditions to meet the turnaround times."
"Fast fashion brands make their money by selling a lot of items very cheaply. This means that their materials choices are unsustainable and the construction of items is not meant to last beyond a few wears. They’re also fueling both overproduction and overconsumption, which results in brands burning excess inventory and putting far more textile waste - which takes between 20-200 years to decompose - into landfills than ever before."
What business values would you recommend considering before purchasing from a new brand?
Erin Houston: "Dig into details beyond the marketing language about a brand’s values. You want to look for the specificity that they use to communicate their brand values. If they talk about sustainability, do they tell you what they mean by that? Do they plant a tree for each product they sell, or are they intentional about using sustainable fabrics? For wearwell, an offset, donation, or give-back is not enough. We want to know that a positive impact - for both people and planet - is made in the creation of the product itself."
"You also want to look for details that help you understand if people are a part of their definition of sustainability. Do they pay their makers - whether garment workers or artisans - a fair or living wage? Depending on the size of the brand, do they have any certifications to back that up?"
"This can be a tedious and overwhelming process, which is ultimately why my co-founder Emily and I started wearwell, but the details are extremely important if you’re trying to make an impact with your purchases."
Do you have any insight or recommendations for shopping second hand and/or donating clothing?
Erin Houston: "This facet of sustainability in the fashion industry is so important to us that we launched our own secondhand program, wearwellagain, to close the loop for our own business. Above all else, caring for your clothing properly is the first step here. The more you care for it, the longer it will last - in your wardrobe or someone else’s. Consider having alterations done to breathe new life into an old piece - taking the hem up can turn a maxi into a mini dress or removing sleeves turns a tee into a tank! - or organize a clothing swap with friends. And when you’re ready to re-sell or donate, just ask the secondhand shop or organization where the items go if they can’t sell them. You’ll learn pretty quickly whether it’s aligned with your values!"
What’s the best thing we can do as consumers to lower our environmental footprint when it comes to our clothing consumption?
Erin Houston: "Simply being mindful about our clothing consumption can make a world of difference. An easy way of putting this into practice is to think about the number of times you’ll wear an item. Ask yourself, “Will I wear this 30 or more times?” If you know that you’ll wear that piece of clothing time and again and it already works with other items in your wardrobe, it’s a win!"
What would you say your top three tips are for someone just starting out in their journey to consuming less, or consuming ethically-sourced clothing?
Erin Houston: "Don’t feel like you need to start from scratch. The most sustainable clothing is what’s in your closet today. There’s nothing earth-friendly about ditching the clothes you already own and wear."
"As you look to add to your wardrobe, strive for baby steps! Transitioning to a sustainable wardrobe is a marathon, not a sprint. Pick just one part of ethical fashion to focus on. Maybe your first step is fair wages, or maybe it’s committing to upcycled materials. Once you feel like you’ve got that figured out, up the bar and add another element to your own criteria for what you choose to buy."
"Think about the life of the piece of clothing. Can you style it for different seasons or occasions? Does it work with other parts of your wardrobe? And it’s absolutely okay to buy something solely because you like it or it brings you joy, rather than purely for its function - just make sure you get use out of it!"
Three essential closet pieces/staples to invest in: what are they?!
Erin Houston: "My personal three essentials: a classic black tee that I can wear on its own, layer under any sweater, or pair with a blazer all year round, versatile pants with a stretchy waist-band (because why be uncomfortable?), and statement earrings to spice it up!"
So, what is wearwell. How does it work?
Erin Houston: "Wearwell is an online membership to kick-start your sustainable wardrobe. Through wearwell, you discover and buy clothing and accessories from the most ethical brands, curated just for you each month by a personal stylist. As a member, you’ll take a style quiz that tells us about your personal style and the causes that are important to you. Your stylist sends you an online selection each month of eco-friendly, ethical pieces to add to your closet—and the info of the positive impact you’re making with your purchase."
Wearwell is our August clothing partner. This month, join wearwell with promo code DROPPS3FREE and you’ll get your first 3 months of membership, courtesy of wearwell!