Broadly speaking, what was your assessment of the fashion industry when Fashion Takes Action (FTA) was launched in 2007? What were the key areas that you sought to work on at that time? The fashion industry is huge, and there's a lot of terrain to be covered.
In 2007, there were literally no medium to large brands focused on sustainability. It was only a handful of small/micro independent designers. My initial draw/focus was on the environmental impact of materials, and the use of sustainable alternatives, primarily (at that time) organic cotton, vegan silk, organic wool and hemp. I recognised that by changing the fabrics they were using, conventional fashion designers could reduce their overall impact on the planet. I also wanted them to see that these fabrics were at par with their conventional counterparts and that “green” fashion (sustainable wasn’t a term used then) was not just crunchy granola, patchwork and tie-dyed clothing. But that these fabrics can be made into runway worthy fashion! So, this was our focus with the Green Gala in 2007 and again in 2008 —getting 10 conventional designers in Canada to work with sustainable fabrics to create three looks for our runway event. From there, our focus expanded to include human rights and fairtrade, slow and local, and later vintage/thrift and reuse.
Fifteen years later, a lot has changed. There's a lot more data to back up arguments, there are a lot of organisations working on same or similar issues. What do you think has changed for the better? And by that same yardstick, what has worsened?
What has changed for the better is that there is a greater awareness of fashion’s role in climate change and in how it has treated garment workers. No longer do I hear “my customer doesn’t care about sustainability” which was what I often heard pre-2013, and instead most brands are trying to prioritise between the major issues as they relate to climate, labour, water and waste. Some are clearly leaders and are taking big risks, while others are much slower to engage. What has worsened is that some brands who are not genuinely invested in making change, are marketing to the consumer as if they are. This increased level of greenwashing only confuses consumers and creates a sense of mistrust, which ultimately affects the brands who are legitimately doing it right.