HELPSY VOICES: wellness, ethical fashion, sustainability, stories and awesome life advice from real people

Is Blockchain Technology a Cure for Fashion's Transparency Problem?

By Rachel Kibbe

Is Blockchain Technology a Cure for Fashion's Transparency Problem?

Blockchain technology is the basis for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which the term is most popularly known for. What many don't realize is that blockchain itself is a technology whose implications are so deep that most industries are just sort-of-kind-of cracking the surface of how the technology might be applied. One powerful example is Provenance’s blockchain project with fashion designer Martine Jarlgaard. Revealed at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May of 2017, the project uses blockchain technology to make timestamp records of the entire supply chain of a garment.  The where and when of production is precisely recorded, from the first mile of raw material. For example, the technology can document the farm from which the wool will be sourced all the way to where and when the ultimate garment will be boxed up and sent out to the retail store.  The entire supply chain information can be accessed by the consumer through looking up a code on the garment’s hangtag. The fashion industry’s complex supply chain, and the nearly impossible path to achieving complete transparency, has been both my frustration and fascination for the last 10 years since I graduated from Parsons with a degree in Fashion Design.

 

From seed to hanger, a garment and all the parts of the garment, from the fibers to the buttons etc., can be sourced from all ends of the planet and pass through many hands. Abuses, slights, and environmental and labor catastrophes are hidden in the complexities of the supply chain’s web. Because of this confusion, fashion has spun out into the second most polluting industry next to oil and energy, a fact few people even know.

 

While there have been many and varying ‘legal’ acts passed across the global economy, trying to get companies to reveal and clean up rampant environmental and labor abuses in their supply chains, there is still so much room for accidental and intentional error and loopholes. Blockchain technology holds, to me, the closest thing of a promise to truly documenting the supply chain of a garment.

" BAHHHH HUMBUG TO BLOCKCHAIN" —companies that want to remain shady.

The main weakness I see in this project was not in the project itself, which is fairly straightforward and does what it says it will do, but rather in the business adoption incentive. So many companies, especially the richest and most powerful fashion companies, depend on the corporate social responsibility loopholes intrinsic to not having one worldwide fashion ethics and sustainability standard: from the Bangladesh Health and Safety Accord, to GAP Inc’s own ‘internal regualtions’, to the Higg Index, to Kering’s devoted team of sustainability scientists, there is no uniform set of rules and regulators aligned to regulate the industry.

 

With such vast sets of different regulations, greenwashing is rampant and constant manipulation of numbers and information, even companies essentially giving themselves awards and holding 'sustainability conferences' to make themselves look better, is becoming the norm. Even the aforementioned Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the highest regarded summits on sustainability on earth, is very questionably sponsored by the veritable queen of fast fashion, H&M.  What this means for blockchain supply chain tracking is that the biggest companies might ultimately be against adopting a technology that would hold them totally accountable. In turn, this might stymie making such a technology widely used and therefore more affordable for those smaller companies who would actually want the technology and use their complete transparency as a selling point.

 

I think real innovation in blockchain technology in the fashion industry will lie in paying garment workers and for purchasing raw materials in developing nations in crypto currencies. The capital of workers, factories and farms in developing nations would be increasingly protected, intermediaries who cut a little off of every transaction would be eliminated, exchange rate issues vanquished, and more money would be available to the people and businesses doing the heavy lifting of making a garment. There will also come a day, I think, where factory machines use blockchain technology to run themselves, but there is a surprising amount of handwork still necessary to making a garment, and I doubt that it will be completely automated in the near future.

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Terrible Ads: Banana Republic Wants You To Marry Your Dad?

By Rachel Kibbe

Terrible Ads: Banana Republic Wants You To Marry Your Dad?
As if Banana Republic's fast fashion, disposable clothing model weren't bad enough...now they just put out a Twitter ad featuring a couple who look like they should actually be a daughter and father. 
Seriously, what is wrong with the people who OK'd this ad? Promoting environmental destruction is one thing but this ad creates an evil new twist. It is basically unforgivable in a moment when we are finally exposing older men for taking advantage of young women, systemically use their age and power to subjugate them. It's also very tacky in a timing in light of the fact that models are exposing the fashion industry for abusing them. You should know better, Banana Republic. Pull this ad. Pull it now. 

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8 Awesome Ethical Sock Brands

By Rachel Kibbe

8 Awesome Ethical Sock Brands

 

zkano socks

Zkano

Based in Fort Payne, Alabama Zkano socks is a second generation company trying to keep the sock making trade alive in what used to be the sock making capital of the world. Made with low impact dyes and organic cotton, these socks support not only the environment but a once thriving US based industry that's struggling to survive. 

Boody Ankle Socks

Boody 

Bamboo socks that are easy on the planet and easy on people's noses! Did you know bamboo can kill odor, keeping your socks fresh for much longer than cotton. Boody is one of our favorite brands because it uses a zero pesticide, zero irrigation, closed loop, zero waste process. All the solution used to soften the bamboo is re-used. Pretty rad. 

Pact Organic Socks

Pact

All of Pact's apparel is fair trade certified & non toxic. They partner with organizations to ensure the wellbeing of their workers and have a general attitude of decency as a company. Their socks are pretty cute too. 

Darn Tough Socks

Darn Tough

Made in a mill in Northfield, Vermont and guaranteed for life, these spectacular performance socks are top of the line and support US manufacturing. 

Braintree Organic Cotton Bamboo Socks

Braintree 

This Aussie sock from trusted sustainable sock brand Braintree is made of organic cotton, bamboo and spandex. Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, temperature and moisture controlling and sustainably sourced, your tootsies will feel dry and ethically comfortable all day long. 

Soulmate Socks

Solmate Socks

Made in the USA using eco-friendly methods and carbon offsets for shipping, Soulmate Socks have been committed to fighting the good sock fight since 2000.

Rawganique Socks

Rawganique

Rawganique socks are P.U.R.E. They are for the no B.S., 100% environmentally friendly guy or gal who wants to support a business that has next to zero bad environmental impact. No elastic, no dyes or fabric bleaching. They make socks as they were made 200 years ago.  Made in-house from 100% organic cotton for true end-to-end eco-friendly and sweatshop free realness. Unisex for men and women.

 

 

Cariloha Socks

Cariloha

Cariloha specializes in all garments bamboo. Using a closed loop, eco-friendly bamboo processing system their bamboo socks are comfy, naturally moisture-wicking as well as naturally odor resistant. 

 

 

 

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Ethical Fashion In The News

By Rachel Kibbe

Ethical Fashion In The News

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The elusive (and often expensive) high waisted vintage, above ankle denim guide

By Rachel Kibbe

The elusive (and often expensive) high waisted vintage, above ankle denim guide

Denim is a messy textile. Up to 2000 gallons of water are used to make one pair of new jeans. That's nearly 21 bathtubs worth of water for a single pair of jeans! So why buy new? But it's hard to find the perfect style when you're sifting through mountains of thrift store items. Here are a few tips on how to find stylish vintage denim, without forking over your rent money. 

1) Go to a thrift store, far away from a major city (sorry, big city thrift stores have already been ransacked for the best vintage denim jeans by resellers who will sell them to you at 20x the cost).

2) Go to the MENS👱🏽section (women’s sections are full of newer, cheap, fast fashion generally, with weird stretch treatments in them that are get worn out and baggy from being put in the dryer).

3) Find high waisted Levis and Wranglers. These are two companies that specialize in jeans that stand the test of time. Avoid off labels and anything with stretch in it, as their material fibers will contain elastic which is bad for the environment and degrades over time, reducing the quality and fit of the denim. 

4) Buy them.

5) 🔪Chop off the bottoms to ankle length.

6) 💸Get a great look for $4.99 while city “vintage” stores will charge you upwards of $175 for high waisted Wranglers and Levi’s these days

7) 💦Save hundreds of gallons of water and carbon bc you bought denim, a repulsively water and chemical intensive textile, over again.

8) Feel smug

9) Repeat

High waisted vintage jeans

 

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Why ‘Ethical Fashion’ Needs A Name Change

By Rachel Kibbe

Why ‘Ethical Fashion’ Needs A Name Change

Generally what happens when I bring up what I do in life to a group of people who aren’t directly involved in sustainability or fashion, their response goes something like this: firstly I’m on the receiving end of an overall facial expression that screams, “OK Gwyneth. Don’t we all wish we could waste our lives steaming our vaginas and disavowing vaccination?”

Then words come:

“Ethical Fashion. Psh. Does that mean like ‘honest pants’? Scoff. Humph.”

“Ohh! Ethical fashion? Is that like wearing shirts made out of recycled paper?”

Sometimes the words are cuter:

“Oh yeah! Like hemp stuff!”

While those questions, aside from the vaccines and vagina steaming, evaluated technically aren’t, um wrong. They’re wrong.

The term ‘ethical fashion’ to the unacquainted seems so contradictory that it’s been slow to get mainstream attention or sympathy. And while the movement has grown leaps and bounds still most people generally have no ideal WTF I’m even talking about when I talk about ‘ethical fashion’.

So here’s why semantics, rhetoric, nomenclature, the art of naming things, is important. 'Ethical Fashion', 'Sustainable Fashion', 'Slow Fashion' these terms are next to useless because they involve the term ‘fashion’ ­— a term which carries so many meanings and feelings around it, non of which are very serious.

The problem is that the fashion problem is serious. It. Is. So serious.

Here are some facts. Fashion is the second most polluting industry next to energy and oil. Fast fashion has created a monumental trash crisis where Americans alone throw out an average of 80 pounds of clothes per year, directly to landfills. Most of these clothes contain synthetics, which never biodegrade and whose production releases billions of pounds of crude oil soot into the atmosphere per year.  A single textile mill can pollute 200 tons of water for each ton of fabric dyed, causing local bodies of water to change color according to the latest season’s favorite color. Tainted with toxic chemicals, in some areas entire water ecosystems are dead because the water no longer contains oxygen. Not to mention the labor abuses in supply chains. In 2012 over 1,100 people died at Rana Plaza in Bangaldesh when the clothing manufacturing facility collapsed on them because of structural issues.

So how do we call something what it is, and address it, when its name is at its core not taken seriously?

We all buy and wear clothes. Unlike food, however, we don’t inquire as much about the origins and content of what we wear because we’re not afraid of doing bodily damage, irreparable harm, or not living our healthiest physical lives. In short, clothes don’t seem as intimate as ingestion. We believe we can just change shirts if we don’t like one and look better, while bad nutrition affects our looks and livelihood, possibly forever.

Food is inherently about nourishment of our selves and loved ones so convincing someone to eat in a way that makes them feel and look better is not logical acrobatics. “Oh you don’t even want to know what they did to that chicken,” is enough to stop a fork mid air. Whereas pointing out how ‘evil’ a simple cotton t-shirt or luxury leather handbag is, is tougher.

Whether the attitude is, “I don’t think about fashion. I just wear cotton t-shirts and jeans all the time. How could I possibly hurt anyone by my non-fashion lifestyle?” or, “I earned this luxury, status symbol handbag and don’t want to hear about how it was made," people generally just don’t want to believe they are part of a big problem.

But the textiles wear do affect our health. The contents of the material we wear seeps into our largest organ, our skin. Not to mention microplastics from our clothes seeping into our water systems which end up in most of our drinking water. So whatever our fears about food should be equivalent to what we are wearing. For some reason we just don’t view it in this context as readily as humans, yet.

While it’s easy to bemoan climate change and what big bad companies are doing, or not doing, to contribute to it, we don’t seem to compute that fashion, and our addiction to consuming fashion is a leading part of the issue. What my colleagues and I struggle with is coming up with education and solutions, while the terms “Ethical Fashion” of “Sustainable Fashion” or my personal least favorite “Slow Fashion” can seems trite to the unaquainted. No one wants to make a person named Mulva famous and not many wants to hear the term “Ethical Fashion” and take it seriously.

Now saying the words 'slavery', or 'mass poisoning', 'climate change', dead 'eco-systems' people’s ears perk up. But our entry point to the topic still contains the word ‘fashion’ so I still have no idea how to link the issue to fashion without losing people at the descriptive terms.

I’ll keep trying, for lack of better terms. When people ask what I do I say I’m an ethical fashion activist (refer to beginning of story for their responses). If they honestly want to know what that means, I’ll say I don’t want to bore you but if you have 3 minutes I’ll give you a quick summary. By the time I finish, non-sociopath people’s jaws are on the grounds, just having their first woke moments on how that t-shirt they’re wearing may have contributed to the loss of human and other animal lives, directly contributed to  climate change, etc.

 

Then people normally want to know what to do. There are no quick answers to that question but the fact that the conversation was had, even though ‘Ethical Fashion’ sounds like a Gwyneth-problem, I feel a little more hopeful.

 

 

 

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HELPSY Founder, Rachel, Gives Talk At Parsons on Addressing Sustainable Fashion As A Business

By Rachel Kibbe

HELPSY Founder, Rachel, Gives Talk At Parsons on Addressing Sustainable Fashion As A Business

Last week, Rachel was invited to give a talk at Parsons for UBM Fashion's Swim Lesson's series. She spoke about how to address sustainability as a fashion business, of any size, and even if the business is not doing everything perfectly. 

We will be posting a hard copy of the presentation so be on the lookout. 

 

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How One Woman Started Her Sustainable Fashion Business In Small Town Pennsylvania, Part I

By Rachel Kibbe

How One Woman Started Her Sustainable Fashion Business In Small Town Pennsylvania, Part I

by Mary Imgrund

When you think of a startup you often think of big investors and Silicon Valley, right? Well, on the far other side of the spectrum, there’s me, who started my sustainable pop-up shop with just enough money to buy business cards and a website.

My beginning's may be small but it I truly believe I’m making a difference in the lives of small businesses in the often forgotten area of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My popup shop is called the HBG Flea (H-B-G, short for Harrisburg) and it’s a curated pop-up market for handmade, vintage, and upcycled goods. Started with a friend from college, the two of us have been operating the business for two years and had 18 events scheduled for 2017. I now split my time between D.C. and PA, but since we never had an office and always had day jobs, I’m used to working from my phone and laptop.

I didn’t realize we were actually starting a company when Meghan (my partner) and I first started exchanging texts about a hypothetical market. We texted about how much we wished we could find high-quality local creators in person rather than just hoping to come across them on Etsy. I’m not sure exactly when we crossed the threshold between hypothetical musing and actual planning but I think we owe a lot of our success to a strong message and brand. We spent a lot of time thinking about our aesthetic and how to communicate with others. In a sense, we created a third person who represented our combined ideas, and embodied her as we first started our social media presence. Now, it feels so natural, that I wonder whether the brand became more like us, or if we came to embody the brand.

At our indoor location, a mall in the heart of downtown

Our message continues to be the most poignant part of our business. We stand for community, having a connection with the things you buy, helping people start creative careers, and showing shoppers that handmade doesn’t have to mean granola or grandma.

We want to tap into the collective creativity of the city to allow for a better lifestyle for everyone. Looking around my room it’s almost obscene the percentage of the things I own that came from vendors at my market. But every item makes me happy when I think about the stories and relationships behind them. I think it’s this feeling that resonates most with people and helped us grow quickly when we first started out.

One of our biggest events yet, we participated in an art festival on its 50th anniversary

Passion makes good business sense. If we didn’t feel so strongly about what we do, there’s a very good chance we would have given up and others wouldn’t have been attracted to it. Planning our first market, we decided we’d be happy with 15-20 applicants. We had over 50. This is not to say we didn’t have hardship (we did) or to say the reason other small businesses fail is a lack of passion, but I do think effective, inspirational communication and an empathetic narrative are incredibly important when building a brand. I’ll be back in a few weeks with part two featuring the most important lessons I learned.

 HBG Flea

   We feature charities as often as we can - a local animal shelter is one of our favorites

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