Thursday, April 22, 2010

Talking Fashion and Sustainability
with Greta Eagan

Original artwork by Ray Chang

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Greta Eagan, a trendsetting fashionista with a conscience and expert on sustainable fashion about the impact fashion has on the environment and how to be stylishly sustainable

When did you start Greta Guide and how did you get started as a blogger? What other projects are you involved in?

I started Greta Guide in December 2008. Basically, I knew that I wanted to write a book and a friend of mine suggested that I start a blog to build an audience and find my voice. A few months later,  I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a fashion bloggers conference for a site called Weardrobe. That is when I picked up more of a fashion focus and began carving out my niche.

I continue to go to fashion blogging conferences such as Chictopia and IFB, as well as sustainable fashion conferences like The Key.To in Berlin.

I suppose you could label me as a social media savvy sustainable fashion blogger and strategist- wow, that title keeps getting longer! I spent last summer as an active member of the web team at Tory Burch, guest tweeted for Ford Models for a couple of months and now am headed to Aspen Fashion Week to relay the great things they have going on there in a digital space.

I am also a trend columnist for the site Eco Salon, and find myself writing across different blogs and sites with the message of sustainable fashion, as well as speaking on the subject- which really excites me.

How did you first become interested in sustainable fashion?

It was really an evolved process. First, I started paying more attention to what I ate and what I was putting directly into my body. I began to eat locally and organically. That directly transferred over to what I was putting on my body and thus absorbing. Skin is the largest organism and it makes sense that all those lotions and potions you put on your skin are going to wind up in your blood stream being circulated around. So, I read the book “Toxic Beauty” by Dr. Epstien and tossed out all my old products for non-toxic paraben-free ones. Fashion and apparel came next. All of those strong beliefs and ideals I was subscribing to for my food and beauty intake carried over to my participation in fashion.

It seems as though the words ethical, eco, environmentally-friendly and sustainable are used interchangeably to describe different kinds of clothing- are they all the same? Can you give a short breakdown of what these labels mean?

Well, for me they are all the same because I look to see that a brand hits one of my core issues and something that I subscribe to. It maybe ethical sourcing, fair trade or it may be using natural fiber and sourcing it organically. So as long as a company hits one of those marks, it’s like “green light” and I feel okay about purchasing their product. There probably need to be standards that are developed across the board so that people can really know what they’re purchasing, but I also think that there needs to be room for people to explore what sustainable fashion means to them. It shouldn’t be something that is so unattainable and difficult to try and engage in.
So in my terms, if it's ethical it will traditionally have been made in a place with a fair wage and better working conditions, and then eco typically corresponds to the actual fibers and whether they’re natural, such as organic cotton or bamboo. They’re all interchangeable in a way, but for me sustainable fashion means that it’s more of a cradle-to-cradle effect; where it’s coming from, where it’s going to afterwards, and the length of the garment lifecycle.

How is fashion negatively impacting the environment right now?

The largest official influence of fashion on the environment is it’s the largest contributor of CO2 emissions. Three- quarters of the world’s CO2 emissions are due to the use phase of clothing which correlates to the washing and drying and the care of your clothing.

Because apparel is a business driven by trends and consumerism, is the phrase ‘sustainable fashion’ somewhat of an oxymoron? Can trends and sustainable fashion co-exist?

Yes and no, and this is just my personal opinion: there will be two routes. Before we started talking about sustainable fashion, back before it was something to talk about, I used to read about investing in what you love and having a list of classic things that I wanted to buy. I’m sure a number of women would have a Chanel or an Hermes bag on that list, and maybe a Balenciaga blazer. The craftsmanship that goes into the quality of those type of pieces also means a higher price tag, but we buy them knowing that we will have them for a long time and they may even be passed down. So that was never called sustainable fashion, it was just to invest in what you love, and that’s where I think slow fashion comes in, because you have to take the time to produce the quality and the craftsmanship so that something does have a really long life or many lives.
The second part is that I’m a human being, I like change, and just like I don’t like to eat the same thing everyday, I like to change what I wear and what color lipstick I put on and that sort of thing. So, I think that it’s not just about buying things that last and not buying as much, although that’s a huge part, but it’s also about finding a new system that can support what we want, but do it without hurting the environment. We just really we just need to re-think the way we’re doing things and it doesn’t mean that the fashion supply chain has to stop, it’s just that it has to change.

Do you ever feel any kind of inner conflict between your interests in both fashion and living a more sustainable lifestyle?

Well, certainly fashion is about creativity and it should be an expression of self. We choose what we wear and that changes as we change and as trends come in, and it’s fun to explore and to try them. The good news is that a lot of eco designers are good designers and there are more and more of them coming up all the time. So let’s say something is a trend that you want to wear, you might say that you’re not going to be part of it unless you can find an ethical and eco-friendly version of that product- that crossover is becoming less and less difficult. I take the time if I see something to find the green version and I have noticed that it’s becoming a lot easier.

What is one simple thing that everyone can start doing today to be more conscious when it comes to clothing?

Going back to that statistic about the use phase of clothing being the largest contributor of CO2 emissions, I would say it’s a lifestyle switch: if you can decide that as an American, and we’re really hyper-sensitive about being really hygienic, that we don’t need to wash our clothing or dry-clean it as often as we do, not repeating that energy intensive process as often would use less water and have a positive impact. I would say if that there was just one thing, that is the one thing you can start doing right now. It doesn’t mean that you are purchasing or not purchasing anything, it just means not washing what you have as much, and taking care of your clothing.
We’ve lost that idea of when garments were scarce. Back in the days before the Industrial Revolution, before sewing machines, making clothing was so intensive that they would pass that clothing down from generation to generation and just take care of it. I don’t want to stifle anyone or say that we shouldn’t celebrate fashion, because I think fashion is a fabulous means of expressing creativity and identity, and it’s also innovative. It’s just that we have to re-think the way we do things: clothing doesn’t have to be washed as much.

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