In 2015, I was approached by TEDxLA to create a series of sustainable fashion activations to educate Angelenos about their fashion purchases. Imagine is the theme. So we (the Beyond the Label Team) decided we wanted to “Imagine a world where consumers knew the true environmental, social and health costs of their fashion purchases, and felt empowered to write a different story…” essentially creating more conscious consumers. BtL's ultimate goal is to #MakeShiftHappen for a healthier more transparent fashion industry. Fashion Revolution Day, on April 24th, asks people to consider “Who Made My Clothes?” and to think about how “Fast Fashion is not free, someone else is paying for it.” If only human life was valued by all consumers and designers as part of the creation of clothing; how would things be different? What most people aren’t privy to is that Rana Plaza was avoidable. Garment workers in the company saw cracks in the building and yet management still demanded them to go about doing business as usual. The lack of ethical standards in Bangladesh and many other countries has gone unseen around the world...until recently! Thanks to a documentary film called The True Cost. Andrew Morgan has played a major role in the shift of consciousness in regards to the fashion industry. (Available on Netflix).
I do my very best to look for the positive changes in manufacturing, production, and fabric & dyeing standards. I get great joy from sharing Pharrell’s commitment to GStar Raw, with its use of Bionic Yarn, which incorporates plastic from the ocean into the fiber. Kelly Slater’s company Outerknown uses plastic bottle fabric to make boardshorts essentially to be worn in the ocean. And Reformation is by far the quickest growing brand sought by fashionistas, not just EcoDivas. Reformation uses vintage, deadstock and sustainable fabrics to create sleek, sexy, polished looks that have an amazing Wow-factor!
Recently I was invited by MAGIC to do a “Beyond the Label” T-shirt Exchange activation at Sourcing at MAGIC. MAGIC is a major fashion trade show held in Vegas. At the Beyond the Label T-shirt Exchanges, the BtL Team educated attendees about all aspects of clothing (design, production, fabrics/dyes, clothing care and waste management). We partnered with Metawear to do a “bring T-shirt, get a T-shirt campaign”. Attendees are encouraged to bring a gently used T-shirt, which is placed in an I:CO clothing recycle bin, and in exchange they receive a healthy T-shirt with a fabulously designed nutrition label graphic that shares all the great things in the tee (Organic Cotton, Fair Labor & Wages 100%) and all the bad things that don’t exist (Bleach, GMOs, and Formaldehyde 0%).
While at Sourcing at MAGIC there were a select few ethically certified Chinese Production companies in Premiere China. I mention this because as countries get called out for what they have done to be in the wrong, they often work hard to do better to regain lost business. Which is what brings me back to Transparency. In the US and specifically Los Angeles, while basic ethical fashion labor standards may be higher than other countries...the predominantly known manufacturers may outsource to less ethical companies that may not follow any standards. These “sister companies” may only pay workers $4.00 an hour, which is far below minimum wage. Not to mention the conditions can be equally as horrendous as a third world country. Do your research; it is imperative. Unethical production happens everywhere.
The best David Letterman statement in the clip above was…”Let’s just shut down the Donald tie company in Beijing and we’ll put up a tie factory in Jamaica Queens.” To which Donald interjected…”I love it.” Not only did this never happen, recently I had the joy of going to a Donald Trump “Merchandise” Museum that exhibits random pieces of merchandise that has been manufactured all over the world with no transparency on any Trump website that I have found to date. My point is, if you choose not to be transparent or mindful or even be informed of how and where you license out your name or if you produce your own clothing line...please don’t boast about bringing back production to the US or lead people to believe that you are a “good” business person. Good business should be for the good of humans, the earth and future generations. People, Planet, Profit. Side note...climate change and environmental issues are not myths. Fashion is the #2 Dirtiest Industry in the World and so few people are aware of this fact. Huff Post article
So, why Trump vs. Ben & Jerry’s… I know that I could’ve shared Patagonia as the leading fashion company that shares literally almost every aspect of their company so that others can learn from what they are up to (including full transparency of global production)...however I chose Ben & Jerry’s because they figured out how to hypothetically steer the “Titanic” around the iceberg. Essentially, they shifted and consistently continue to shift a big behemoth of a company around scary territories and into safer waters. And I thought the title "Trump vs. Ben & Jerry’s” was far more intriguing. When beginning to learn about better business practices I was told to check out Ben & Jerry’s by one of my mentors. On the Ben & Jerry’s website they share the entire history of Ben & Jerry’s online. Every twist and turn, every choice to become more sustainable and ethical. I personally presume that the move to make vegan ice cream (YAY!) is also a way to reduce cow milk productions, because cow farts are a leading issue for global warming. Yep I said it! Biggest bonus, Ben & Jerry’s lets people take factory tours. How much more transparent can you get. Allowing consumers to come meet the cows and the workers. The actual humans that produce the products that people love.
As consumers become more curious, as mom’s do research before making purchases for their families, and as millennials seek out the truth I encourage new designers and business owners to begin businesses with transparency in mind. It may not be easy or simple. What it does is affect the lives of people we may never meet. It will give consumers a positive relationship to know they also have an effect on people they will never meet. If sustainable clothing doesn’t appeal to the masses or fit the budget or blend in with what’s on trend, then the shift to a healthier fashion industry overall will take much longer. And yes there is a sustainable $3 tank top...available at thrift stores and free at clothing swaps. Save your budget to invest in some sustainable transparent basics and share the stories that you learn from the designers & brands you choose to invest in.
Taryn is from Pittsburgh. She studied fashion design and art therapy at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and screenwriting through the UCLA Extension Writers Program. Taryn wrote, produced and directed sustainability films for Warner Bros. She founded EcoDivas TV and has interviewed celebrities including James Cameron, Jessica Alba and Olivia Wilde. She has hosted EcoDivas/Beyond the Label events at Sundance Film Festival, MAGIC Fashion Trade Show and The Skirball Cultural Center. She has worked for designer Anna Sui, writer/producer David Zucker, and styled for Suzy Amis’ Red Carpet Green Dress Collection with Reformation called No Red Carpet Needed. Taryn was a Los Angeles Business Journal - Women Making a Difference nominee for 2015. She is a Sustainable Business Council - Best Public Advocate for Sustainability Award finalist 2016. Taryn won the eduPOWERED Fashions Against Bullying Award and Green Hero Award...and has recently been named Host and Associate Producer of the Worldwide Sustainability Awards show for EduPowered Media.