What I Learned at The Sustainable Fashion Forum

Me laughing about companies that think fast fashion is the future.  Photo by    Candace Molatore    for    The Sustainable Fashion Forum   .

Me laughing about companies that think fast fashion is the future. Photo by Candace Molatore for The Sustainable Fashion Forum.

Kestrel Jenkins, host and producer of Conscious Chatter, moderated the panel, “The Sustainability Model” at last weekend’s Portland-based The Sustainable Fashion Forum. She asked how the panelists think of sustainable vs. ethical practices differently. I then realized how badass the group of women—not only on the stage were at the forum—but everyone in the audience.

I was surrounded by women (and a few badass men!) who see the value of fashion in making us feel good and confident, and as way to express ourselves. Who don’t just care about finding the environmental solutions in fashion (sustainable), but creating better working conditions and living wages for those in the supply chain (ethical).

They are resilient—not giving up on fashion as an industry—instead, disrupting it.

See below for my top learnings from the forum. Learning #1—There are a lot of badass women who are going to make some big changes to the fashion status quo this year.

Collaboration and collective ideology will lead to more impactful solutions and changes in the industry.

To continue to innovate and solve issues in the supply chain, we need to share and learn from each other.

When the Mara Hoffman team started transforming their processes to be more sustainable, they took it piece by piece. They started changing the conversations they were having with suppliers; looked into water usage issues when creating their prints; and turned to other brands, like Stella McCartney, to learn how they could do better.

For other brands looking to also make the change, the Mara Hoffman said in their keynote they are very open to sharing resources.

"If there is any competition, you are not in it,” Celine DeCarlo, Executive Advisor and Brand Strategist of Mara Hoffman said. “This is collective work. Share these resources so we can also see like-minded people advance."

I also loved this quote from Whitney Bauck, associate editor at Fasionatist.com and event moderator, she shared after the keynote, "When it comes to the planet it doesn't matter if it is my win or your win—it is all of our wins."

Slow Fashion lacks diversity and inclusion and it’s hurting its growth.

Sixty eight percent of women in the US are size 14 and over. However, the slow fashion community has not catered their offerings to most women’s' bodies in this country.

"Why do we have to clamor for it? Why do we have to get outraged to go shopping?,” said Mary Alice Duff, founder of AliceAlexander, who started her own sustainable and ethical made-to-order line because the market lacked a lot of options for her.

The “Embracing Size Inclusivity & Diversity” panel, moderated by Nikki Ogunnaike of Elle.com, also discussed the lack of racial diversity and different gender identities in the sustainable fashion industry, and the need for more design for disability.

Then came one of my favorite quotes of the day, " If you are a paying, loyal customer and you see [the brand's] feed is all skinny white women—say something,” said Mary Alice.

Besides only featuring one type of women, especially from a privileged race, brands need to understand what being inclusive with sizing means. It doesn't mean offering 1 or 2 items of many items in a few more sizes. It doesn't mean promising more inclusive sizing in an ad campaign and then not offering it until a year later. It means being transparent on measurements of clothes to making shopping easier for all bodies. It means offering sizes above size 14.

"If they don't acknowledge my body exists I have to move on," said Marielle Terhart, ethical fashion blogger.

These badass women will move on and so will this larger community of us who are tired of seeing brands with a lack of diverse bodies and voices.

You don’t have to do everything, perfectly.

It's scary to admit mistakes. Or admit we are learning. Especially if you are a seasoned brand. (See Mara Hoffman above. If this global brand can do it—so can you.)

"A misconception of a sustainable brand is that you have to do everything,” Tara St James of Study NY, sustainable designer and advisor said. “The stigma is you have to do it all. It is holding us back as an industry."

Tara also led a workshop on incorporating sustainable production into your apparel business (see photo of me very much enjoying it above) and discussed TED's 10 sustainable design strategies for textile and fashion designers.

These strategies can help us navigate the complexity of sustainability issues and help us focus on a particular issue we can focus on solving. A few are “design to minimize waste”, “design for ethical production”, and “design to reduce energy and water use”.

"Choose one thing and do it very well, especially in the beginning,” said Hanna Baror-Padilla, founder and designer of Sotela said.

We have an overconsumption and overproduction issue (but there is hope).

The average consumer bought 60% more clothing in 2014 than 2000 but kept each garment half as long according to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition . According to Erin Wallace , Brand Director of thredUp, the company saw an 80% spike in Clean Out Kits when Marie Kondo’s show first aired on Netflix. It's great to live with less, but it’s also better to not buy it in the first place.

The good news—Erin shared secondhand is projected to grow to nearly 1.5x the size of fast fashion by 2028.

Certifications are confusing.

…but I then luckily learned about this epic list from Whitney’s guide on Fashionista.com

We have to do a lot of digging when it comes to knowing if the brands we love our sustainable and ethical. Whitney writes, “A one-size-fits-all ethical fashion certification will probably never exist, partly because not everyone agrees on what qualifies as ‘ethical.’..The good news is that there are a host of certifications out there that can help consumers get a sense for which brands meet certain standards, whether they relate to the toxicity of dyes, carbon emissions, fair pay for artisans or something else entirely. “

Maya Spaull of Faire Trade provided the opening keynote at the forum and let us know goods with the Fair Trade certification are made by people who work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities.

I’ll be looking out for this certification on my next trip to the mall. (Brand with items with the Fair Trade certification include Patagonia, Madewell, and ~50 more.)

We need to continue to change the story and tell our stories authentically.

Eden Dawn, Style Editor of Portland Monthly, asked the “Building Brand Loyalty” panel she moderated how can we make finding a $7 new shirt no longer an achievement.

Elizabeth Pape, founder of Elizabeth Suzann mentioned the guilt and shame women can feel in our society to want to invest and spend money on something that makes them feel good. "It is okay to invest in who we are. It is okay to invest in our identities. It is not something to be ashamed of or guilty about,” Elizabeth said. “That is growing. At least of among our customer base, we have heard a lot of dialogue centered around being willing to actually put some time and stock in how getting dressed can make you feel and shape who you are and where you are coming from."

Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson, founders of Ace & Jig talked about the beauty of sustainable items. "We need to retrain our brains on what is beautiful and what fashion is supposed to look like. We think sustainability is beautiful,” Jenna said. '"I wear this all the time [pointing to her Ace & Jig dress]. I had it for 8 years. I have repaired it; there is inherent storytelling, joy, journeys it has taken on. As brands, we need to help tell that story."

The brand founders also discussed how they build their communities.

"Be honest and vulnerable in sharing your story...foster and create space where people can talk to each other, customers jump on it...stay human and stay real." said Elizabeth.

I'm excited for the collaboration and connection to continue. The Sustainable Fashion Forum hits the road soon so follow along to see if your city is on their map. And see you all next year in Portland!

BONUS: The tools, mills, conferences, and fabric expos discussed at the forum.


Huston Textile Co. - “Huston Textile Co. began with a fascination for vintage, American made machinery that soon evolved into a passion for recreating heirloom fabrics. As the only selvage fabric maker left in the United States, we are proud to take part in the resurgence of vintage-quality fabrics and the revival of American textile production.”

Botanical Colors - “Botanical Colors supplies artisans and industry with the materials and know-how to dye textiles in a way that uses less water, is non-toxic and biodegradeable and draws its incomparable color palette from humble plants and natural sources. All colors are sustainably derived, many from agricultural and food waste products.”

Sorona®Fabric (by Dopont) - “With the natural quality of Sorona®, clothing becomes effortlessly soft and endlessly flexible. Whether you spin it, weave it or wear it, it’s designed to inspire. It moves you past your limitations and it feels as honest and as comfortable as you do in your own skin.”

Fabric Expos

TextWorld USA (New York) - “One of the largest sourcing events on the East Coast for apparel fabric buyers, product R&D specialists, designers, merchandisers and sourcing professionals.”

Future Fabrics Expo (London) - “The Sustainable Angle’s Future Fabrics Expo is the largest dedicated showcase of sustainable materials for the fashion and textile industry in Europe.”

Techtextil North America (Georgia) - “Techtextil North America assembles all vertical aspects of the technical textile industry: from research and development, through raw materials and production processes and finally ending in conversion, further treatment, and recycling.”


Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) - “The SAC’s Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI) is the apparel industry’s most trusted tool to accurately measure the environmental sustainability impacts of materials.”

Nike MAKING App - “MAKING is a tool to inspire designers and creators to make better choices in the materials they use. We know that every decision a designer makes in the product creation process has an impact on the environment.”

Pratt Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator Sustainable Fashion Roadmap Tool - “The Sustainable Fashion Roadmap (SFR) is an extensive online resource for exploring and integrating sustainable strategies into your own work.”