“Wearing something that you know was produced in an ethical manner – whether it’s sustainable fabric, fair trade, or sweatshop and cruelty-free – adds to the enjoyment of clothing and, indeed, to life.” ~ Oceana Lott
MKG: Oceana, you are the Executive Director of Fashion Revolution; you are an eco-fashion blogger and a writer, an advocate, an organizer, and an educator. How did you get started in this life of purpose?
Oceana: Since I was 21 years old, when I joined Earth First! I have always been looking for ways to live in a right relationship with people and the planet. For the past 30 years, I have sought to be a stand for what is fair and just, for life to thrive. This sounds all-encompassing, and the truth is I am mostly unconscious to the will to live and live well. Nonetheless, it is a guiding principle and when given the overt choice, I try to choose life.
MKG: It is a big week to discuss ethical fashion: Tuesday, April 22nd was Earth Day and today, Thursday, April 24th, is Fashion Revolution Day. What is Fashion Revolution Day and what do we as citizens need to know?
Oceana: I know. Timing is everything! Fashion Revolution Day is the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. Millions of people around the world viewed the aftermath and you could almost hear a collective outcry: “What?! Another one! This has got to stop. Enough is enough!” That is what a little-known fair trade hat designer in London, Carry Somers, said in the days that followed. This movement is born out of global desire for good and life rather than for cheap and suffering. Citizens/consumers everywhere can challenge the status quo of the apparel industry. We all wear clothes and we can use those clothes to vote for a world that is just and fair. It takes just a little extra effort to read a label and say “no” to sweatshop products. You can take it a step further and spend a few minutes on Google, researching which brands are doing it right and which are not, and send a communication to the brands in your wardrobe demanding an answer to the question: “Who made this product?” It’s time. Brands need to know that we care as much about what we put on our body as we do about what we put in it.
MKG: On Monday, I featured a story about Margarete, who talked about just that: caring for what we put on our skin as much as what we put in our bodies, and to be careful of the toxins found in clothing. What do you think about sustainable fashion and using eco-friendly fabrics?
Oceana: It’s important. It matters. Last year Greenpeace had some Victoria’s Secret items tested and discovered that they contained hazardous chemicals. That means that some of the most porous places on a woman’s body were exposed to toxic substances when those items were worn. Imagine if you were the textile worker coming in direct contact with those same chemicals in significantly greater concentrations. Choosing clean, eco-friendly fabrics is not just for you; it also impacts people across the entire supply chain all over the world. Really, what we are talking about is some of the poorest places, where human and animal life is as cheap as that $5 t-shirt you got from Target. At some point, you have to ask yourself is it worth the life of a human being to get a $5 bargain?
MKG: You have spoken about the brand EILEEN FISHER and their responsible, ethical practices, and that they have done a lot of work to create sustainable clothing. Can you share other companies that follow the fair trade laws?
Oceana: There are dozens of small, ethical brands that I could recommend. I try to shop local to California to reduce my carbon footprint. I know that I’m fortunate to live in a place that is brimming with creative fashion design and a growing apparel manufacturing infrastructure. That said, I do most of my shopping online. I recommend the Eco Fashion World site to consumers just starting out on this road. They are a wonderful resource for basic information, as well as the only online US guide to ethical brands worldwide. In terms of major brands with their heart in the right place, I like Patagonia and Levi’s.
MKG: What is important for us, as consumers, to know about associating with proper brands?
Oceana: Search for a good, ethical guide like Good Guide.
MKG: How can we be more conscious consumers? These are heavy-duty issues, Oceana. Can one person really make a difference?
Oceana: Yes, absolutely! Most people think they are acting alone, that they are just one person; why bother to send a letter or choose to buy the ethical brand over the sweatshop brand? Don’t believe it! There is a growing will among consumers to be educated and choose something that is positive. Remember Rosa Parks! She was just tired. She didn’t know she was effectively launching the civil rights movement with one simple act of sitting where she chose to sit – not where she was told to sit. Everyone has that power to choose what is right.
MKG: How do we connect with you?
Oceana: Fashion Revolution Day will continue and you can follow it on the global site. As for me, after Fashion Revolution Day, I’m going back to writing about fashion that matters and is inspired at Oceana’s Canvas. You can find me there. Please come and join the conversation!