University of Fashion Blog

Posts Tagged: "sustainable fashion"

All Hail the Queen of Raw

Nothing makes us happier at the University of Fashion than featuring power players who are making positive change in the fashion industry. And little did this designer realize I would have my design and production mind blown by the incredible woman you are about to meet.

Enter Stephanie Benedetto, self-proclaimed Queen of Raw.

This former corporate attorney on Wall Street and descendent of an Austrian immigrant turned Lower East Side master furrier is realizing her mission of turning pollution into profit. And maybe more importantly, she’s contributing to a world in which her son can grow up and thrive by breathing in clean air, enjoying access to clean water and wearing non-toxic clothing.

Benedetto suggests turning our traditional design process on its head in an effort to make design sustainable by powering design with dead stock fabrics.

Benedetto explains: Pen to paper or stylus to screen, designing a garment can be one of the most special and intimate experiences an artist can have. It’s no mystery why designers want to start their process with this creative expression. But it’s taking its toll on our world. Where is the business or environmental sense in designing a garment with a fabric in mind without having secured the specific material, figuring out the quantity available, knowing where it’s located, and the ethics in its production? The funnel is broken. Starting with design leaves the rest of the battle uphill.

Have you ever had one of those designer a-ha moments, where everything you’ve been taught somehow goes out the window, and suddenly you see your craft in a new light? Keep reading…

The Queen of Raw continues: The back and forth of swatching and communicating shipping, confirming color, managing orders, the possibility of the material becoming unavailable in the midst of communication – it happens all too often. What if (just trust me for two seconds), what if we started with a material? What if there was a way to see that something was already manufactured and ready to go?”

Once again, a-ah. I’ve faced this production quandary and it wasn’t pretty. On the flip side of things, as an emerging designer with only small orders to fill, I found myself wanting to use fabrics that I could only get by meeting the manufacturer’s minimums. This unfortunate situation left me with all kinds of extra fabric for some garments in my collection and running out of the right fabric (as Benedetto describes above) for others. Had I of started my design process with specific, available fabrics in mind, oh my, how things would have turned out differently.

As if reading my mind, Benedetto continues: You have all the information on where it’s [fabric] coming from, how much is available, how it was made, and it’s cheaper at the same quality you’re used to because it’s “dead stock.” What if designers began with what’s available instead of creating all the problems (for themselves) that slow production down by using/creating new? 

Benedetto will tell you exactly how a fledgling (or seasoned) designer’s business could benefit from this fabric-first design model, and this designer will concur.

Bottom lines would improve.

Price points on finished goods could be more accessible with production costs severely lowered.

Billions of gallons of water would be saved in using already existing excess (700 gallons per yard repurposed).

And fashion could move to the forefront of the sustainable mission instead of being the second biggest contributor to climate change.

Take in those last few words…fashion is the second biggest contributor to climate change. As responsible designers and global citizens, it’s important for all of us to consider all the design and production resources (and options) we have at our fingertips, thanks to thought leaders like Benedetto. If sourcing existing fabric options first makes sense to you, waste no time visiting Queen of Raw. As a bonus benefit, Queen of Raw will calculate the environmental impact of your order free of charge and you can pass the good news (and the savings) on to your customers.

Finally, we couldn’t write a post on responsible design and sustainable uses of fabric without giving a shout out to our friends at FabScrap. This incredible resource transports unused fabric from designers’ factories and warehouses to its sorting location. Then FabScrap either recycles scraps or prepares them for sale at a lower cost for designers and crafters. FabScrap even offers fabric sorting volunteer opportunities where you can earn fabric in trade. If you are in NYC, take advantage of one of two FabScrap locations!

If you have sustainable resources of your own to add, please don’t hesitate to comment and share what you know with our community below!

To sell or to rent? A sustainable business model for independent designers?

Via Bag, Borrow or Steal Instagram Account @bagborroworsteal

The buzz phrase “ethical fashion” has been tossed around for some time evoking concerns regarding fair labor practices and wages, processes that take the preservation of our environment and animals into consideration and supply chain transparency.

Often ethical fashion is confused with sustainable fashion, and yet there is no doubt the two are interrelated. Ethical practices lead to more sustainable processes which in turn mean healthier workers, an environment that can support generations of fashionistas to come and of course, clothing consumers can feel good about wearing.

But what if emerging and independent designers could take all that we’ve learned about both ethical (and sustainable) fashion and roll it into a business model that is growing in popularity and in my humble opinion, might be a way for young fashion businesses to stay afloat?

Hear me out…

The other night I was at a dinner party where several of the guests were talking about how much they loved their clothing subscription/rental services. The conversation went like this:

“I love your skirt.”

“Thanks! It’s from Le Tote.”

“Le Tote? I’ve never heard of that store. Where is it?”

“Oh, no! It’s not a store, it’s a subscription service, you know, like Rent the Runway. If I stay on top of wearing items they send and sending them back, I can get up to 4 new pieces a week. And if I really like something, I can keep it, pay for it and it’s mine. Otherwise, I wear it once or twice and send it back for the next person to try!”

Via Le Tote’s Instagram Account @letote

As the two talked, I started thinking of all of the sustainable advantages of renting a wardrobe. On behalf of the consumer, subscription services mean fewer unworn clothes packing closets and eventually ending up in landfills. And by giving clothes a “test run” and only keeping those items that the consumer is partial to (or as one guest mentioned, “get a lot of compliments from others”), more thoughtful purchasing choices can be made. Then, of course, there is the option to rent special occasion garments you may only need to wear once…

As a subscription service retailer, there are fewer risks of unsold inventory (and therefore waste in terms of dollars and garments), not to mention real time data revealing what consumers want which can guide future purchasing, order by order. Like the consumer, the retailer enjoys a more thoughtful way of approaching buying and selling in the fashion industry.

When it comes to ethical standards, it is still up to both rental services as well as the consumer to find out how the clothes they rent out (or in) are produced. After my subscription service curiosities were peaked, I did a bit of research only to find companies that curate plus sizes (Gwynnie Bee), bags (Bag, Borrow or Steal), just about any fashion item your fashion-loving heart desires from a wide variety of designers.

Via Gwynnie Bee’s Instagram Account @gwynniebee

But what I did not find is an independent designer who follows this model.

What if (on a smaller scale) independent designers could create a scenario where they could design and produce adhering to their own ethical standards and then rent their pieces in a way that is not only environmentally sustainable, but spares their business from the pitfalls that often cause independent designers to close their doors?

Feeling like I had to be missing something, I tried to create a real life scenario using the wide variety of samples I’ve created and are now tucked neatly away in my storage unit. I could photograph them, write product descriptions and create a website, but instead of selling these samples, I could rent them, earning income, while I designed additional styles. True, I would have to figure out shipping and how to protect myself against damaged garments. I’m sure I might get some pushback for not having a full size range in most styles, but wouldn’t it be amazing for these styles that I still love to see some light of day?

I wouldn’t have to worry about retailers placing an order for my most current (hypothetical) collection and subsequent production, and with the power of a social media following, I could advertise availability of garment rental to those who I already know are fans of my work.

I’m a firm believer that good design is timeless. Just the other day, I was admiring how Thom Browne posts pieces from collections past periodically on Instagram and I can rarely decipher which suit is from 2014 and which suit is from his most recent collection. Does this make me a bad fashionista? Probably. But I believe that we as a culture are trending away from the incredible amount of stress put on designers to produce season after season. Instead, wouldn’t it be incredible to generate revenue, which for a new designer could mean designing and producing the next collection, from styles past that we still love through a rental option?

Emerging designers, I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Are there additional benefits of this model you can think of? Perhaps pitfalls that I haven’t considered? I’d love to know…