Bittersweet Protest: Industry of All Nations

A wise and dear friend once said, ‘You’re always more careful to choose who you trust’.

And indeed, particularly in the realm of sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, responsible innovation, or whatever you’d like to call it, this statement is more pertinent than ever.

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In May of 2018 I joined a small team of young people with the intention of understanding how a clothing company positioning itself in the sustainable apparel and home-goods sector operates, whilst making some money in exchange for my labor.

I trusted the company enough to devote my time, and go for the ride; but as with any marketing strategy with arguably enigmatic slogans such as, ‘It’s not what we do but how we do it’ or ‘We bring productions back to the original makers’ (what does this really mean and what constitutes an original maker?), there is potential for such statements to blind the public in a state of well-meaning confusion, especially when a significant majority of today’s shoppers in the sustainable fashion realm are among the type decked out in their certified Fair-Trade boho-chic garments and prayer beads they bought from some old woman in Bali; shoppers so eager to buy anything that uses helping brown people in both rural and urban communities in the Global South as their main evangelistic marketing strategy.

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An ‘original maker’ in Tamil Nadu posing with a finished product.

As a young man with long hair, I was a ‘bro’ and ‘dude’ at the company. I had the privilege of being treated as a ‘bro’ at the company. I was invited to speak at sustainable fashion conferences, flown to LA, and given responsibilities to help edit content on the new company website. In my short time at IOAN, I was given more opportunities than my equally if not more able and brilliant co-workers who happened to be female, and had been working at the company for more than double the amount of time I had been there. Leadership at Industry of All Nations (IOAN) was, and remains to be, sexist.

I am not one to bad-mouth other people, but there is a clear line between hostile bad-mouthing and constructive criticisms grounded in evidence.

IOAN leadership is very much ego-driven. The company brands itself as design based entity helping to solve many of the world’s environmental and socio-political issues, without addressing its own problems. Throughout my time at IOAN, my colleagues and I would openly express our frustrations: Polyester (plastic) thread used in IOAN clothing, not knowing how much suppliers in India are paid to make a t-shirt, and being told not to deposit our humble pay checks when we received them on more than 5 occasions, for there not being enough money in the company account and that our checks will bounce if deposited when received. At the same time, we knew the company was quietly building IOAN branded homes in Argentina and Joshua Tree, and that our  San Francisco store alone was making at least $30,000 dollars in revenue on average per month.

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Example of an IOAN Private Housing Project in Argentina

 

Yes, of course companies go through troubled periods where certain things need to be tweaked and adjusted, but such troubles should not break California’s legal requirements of paying your staff on time, let alone giving them a day off.

IOAN operates off manipulating young, energetic, naive individuals, who believe that by working for IOAN, they are part of a family helping create a more sustainable future, even if they aren’t paid on time, aren’t paid 100 overtime hours , and even if they have to take thousands of dollars out of their own pocket to pay sweater suppliers, because company finances are not managed properly.

Upon realising that my own values of transparency, integrity, and wholehearted communication, most importantly within the space of sustainability, were not values that IOAN shared, I gracefully exited the company in November of 2018, whilst with a Sharpie pen at hand on the San Francisco shop’s cardboard store walls (that were going to soon be replaced anyways), made a few immediate adjustments of my own, because even though the boss said we would make changes to such slogans, he was taking too long: ‘Industry of All Nations brings productions back to original makers THE PEOPLE!’. (I also added a much needed apostrophe and word ‘only’ plus a comma to ‘Its not what we do but how we do it’, becoming, ‘It’s not only what we do, but how we do it’. The final product is ‘what’ actually sells and keeps a business running, and quite frankly, how IOAN is doing things isn’t actually true to its projected brand image.

As an aside, I was constantly encouraged by the IOAN boss that being a ‘rebel’ was a good thing, and was told by the boss himself that that he had ‘complete trust’ in me for how the store should look. Of course, being a terrible communicator, IOAN boss tells my female colleague and dear friend that I should be fired for writing on our cardboard walls that we replaced that same day anyways.

As another aside, a boss that bad-mouths his current employees to his other current employees is no leader whatsoever, but a child.

Shortly after I exited, our then head of operations, the only woman who actually really put in the work to keep the company professionally organised and operational despite being the only woman at the bro-dominant head quarters, also exited, without the boss even batting an eye. She was soon replaced by another ‘bro’.

What led me to write this post however, was the sheer injustice of my dear friend and female colleague being manipulated to work 5 months straight as an hourly employee at the IOAN San Francisco store, being paid $20 an hour, with not a single full day off except for New Year’s and Christmas day when the store was actually closed. She would show up to work with body pains, being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and just sucked it up, under the pressure of needing to earn money to pay rent on time. She would have to sneakily vomit in the garbage can underneath the shop counter whilst customer’s were in the fitting rooms- yet as soon as her head came up, you wouldn’t even know she was feeling ill from fatigue and fibromyalgia pains unless you actually knew her. She’s a soldier for sure.

Yet, even under California law, she was not offered paid sick leave after her 90 days of being a full time employee, nor a day of rest at least once a work week, nor was she paid overtime.

These are serious offences breaking California Labor Law. And for a company that holds itself up by telling the world it’s helping make the world a better place? I cannot allow such a dishonest representation of what ‘sustainable fashion’ means. Never advertise what you’re not actually doing.

I posted a message directed to Industry of All Nation’s Instagram account, which is managed by IOAN’s boss.

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I tried viewing the IOAN Instagram profile the same day after posting my sentiments onto my Instagram story, and it seems that I was blocked.

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That says a lot.

The people and leaders that open up to you, that openly accept and are aware of their own short-comings, the people that are brutally honest with themselves- these are the people you know you can trust. Please be careful, and speak up when it feels the most uncomfortable.

 

The Sustainability Spectacle: Subtle Greenwashing

Sustainability is not a trend. But for many who do not understand it, it is. For people who continue to make bags out of petrochemical based plastics and deem them sustainable luxury, who make ‘vegan fashion’ also made of plastic- which has a history just as if not more cruel than the animal agriculture industry, for people who often speak a bit too soon without thinking critically, sustainability can be and is a trend, a spectacle.

People who are spectacles themselves can get caught in this debacle. Spectacles are blinding. One example is the Stella McCartney brand-  whose eponymous designer was born a spectacle to much privilege. Let us look closely at a Stella marketing campaign for ‘sustainable viscose’.

The video is entitled, ‘A Story of Sustainable Viscose’, but there isn’t any mention of how the sustainably sourced wood actually gets converted into soft viscose fibres. If you google this, it is usually a chemically intensive process (that doesn’t sound very sustainable).

At a recent event held at the Fashion Incubator San Francisco during Fashion Revolution Week, I asked Anni Gulingsgrud, Director of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition on Textiles, about viscose at Stella (with whom she proudly worked with) and whether the chemical process to convert the wood pulp to fabric indeed was closed loop, but in her response she avoided my question. Even if the process were closed loop, let’s say there’s an accident at the factory- where will all the toxic chemicals go? Like an oil spill, like Fukushima, the chemicals will go back to our environment.

Don’t even get me started on ‘vegan’ fashion- plastic. How can Stella McCartney, and other ‘vegan’ fashion brands for the matter, tout sustainability, creating a spectacle, either purposefully or accidentally, easily amidst her own spectacle as the daughter of Paul, that blinds people who are a part of the spectacle to think that bags made of plastic are the new modern luxury? As Juan Diego Gerscovich, Co-founder of Industry of All Nations once said, people in the vegan-fashion industry making things out of plastic and calling it vegan are a bit confused.

Now let’s take a look at Gucci, part of the Kering group that also touts sustainability.

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Luxury bags these days are usually made of coated canvas, which is essentially plastic covered cotton. But the descriptions on these luxury items won’t tell you this. What does ‘low environmental impact’ really mean and why is Gucci saying this without providing any more explanation? Is this Greenwashing? Another point: Anyone who understands fabrics knows that cotton and linen are two different fabrics grown from two different plants- so what is cotton linen lining?

Subtle greenwashing once again.

Let’s take a look at Everlane.

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Everlane believes that:

The ethical choice is the right one

Doing the right thing not only feels better, we think it pays off in the long run. Whether we’re choosing a factory, being transparent to customers about our costs, or making sure our colleague is being treated fairly—there’s a right choice, and we want people to make it.

(see Everlane’s website for more of their beliefs).

This really sounds amazing. And Everlane really has put in a lot of effort and the Venture Capital money they received to clearly market themselves as ‘Ethical’ and ‘Radical’. Everlane never says that they’re ‘sustainable’, but to many, people assume that Everlane is sustainable. Through their marketing Everlane strategically or accidentally curates a semantic field of ‘sustainability’ that thousands of consumers buy into, thinking they’re helping the planet and themselves. However it is only a spectacle without substance. Everlane hasn’t chosen to use pesticide free, non-gmo cotton to prevent further cotton farmers from committing suicide in India by doing so, or from protecting the health of their global market. Choosing natural pigments, non-gmo, and pesticide free would be the right ethical choice, but are they taking it?

Looking closer at Everlane’s product offering, none of their cotton is pesticide free nor non-gmo. Everlane still uses synthetic dyes and polyester fabrics (microplastics!).

To sum it up, Everlane is ethical when it comes to labour practises, but not ethical when it comes to making the right choice for the materials they use for all their products. However, ‘Radical transparency’ is truly a marketing tactic that Everlane is built on, and one could argue that H&M, and the GAP are even more transparent than Everlane . 

A final commentary. ‘You can be sustainable and stylish all at the same time’, but by saying this yourself to completely dodge the question asked of you by Vogue and not describing what your clothes are made of, is a clear sign of subtle greenwashing. (Not to mention Miley using her buttocks as means of avoiding probing media attention). P.S. As a fashion insider I was told by a reputable source that Stella McCartney only broke even as a brand after she did a collaboration with Adidas selling sportswear made of micro-plastic emitting sportswear.

Please look before you place your money into someone else’s spectacle.

Love and peace,

-Al

‘We’re doomed’ So you might as well be happy and live perfectly by your values

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Esteemed social scientist and policy maker Mayer Hillman who has over 60 years of experience predicting the outcomes of macro social behaviors, says, with a beaming smile, ‘We’re doomed. The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.’

Today with CO2 concentrated in the atmosphere at over 400 parts-per-million we’re beyond ‘the point of no return’.

‘Hillman accuses all kinds of leaders – from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.”’

‘Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.’

‘Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”’

With the high probability that the end is near, it seems that one ought to live without fear nor without holding oneself back from one’s most earnest desires. Of course this doesn’t mean we should stop respecting people and planet— it behooves us to do so even more.

We need to STOP pretending, right now, that large companies that leveraged exploitation of cheap labour and lax environmental regulations for fast fashion 40 years ago (when warnings of environmental destruction were already imminent) will be able to become sustainable and continue ‘business as normal’ by the year 2030 (which is the goal at which all UN Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved by all stakeholders within the fashion industry- a timeline which already seems to be just too late).

As consumers, we have the power to change the fashion industry, the second most polluting industry in the world, by choosing what kind of clothes we buy. Stop buying new clothes from companies whose mission is to sell you stuff. Stop buying new clothes from companies that continue to use toxic synthetic chemicals in their supply chains. Stop buying clothes from companies that greenwash you into believing that wearing their ‘recycled clothes’ that used more energy and resources to recycle than make virgin fabric from organic cotton are ‘sustainable’, whilst they go burn all the clothes from last season’s collection the didn’t sell. Stoping buy clothes and bags made of plastic: Polyester, polyurethane, acrylic, nylon, spandex, lycra-they release bioaccumulating micro-plastics that are probably in your drinking water and salmon on your plate.  Stop buying clothes and bags made of fabric that comes from regenerable wood pulp but is processed using caustic chemicals that are released back into the environment. Think before you buy something, know what you’re buying and why.

Live by your values that you understand to their very roots of origin. Tell that girl/guy/they you like them. Give your parents a kiss. Hug your pet. Finally take that next step to becoming who you want to be, a step into happiness. You might as well do it now, as the world as we know it is probably going to change, very soon. Even if we’re not doomed, you’ll still be glad you did it.

 

Fashion Revolution Week Post 1: Is sustainability a trend?

As part of Fashion Revolution Week I’d like to write at least one post for every other day of the week that addresses the issue of sustainability in the fashion industry.

My first post entitled ‘Is sustainability a trend?’ begins below. Enjoy!

 

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One afternoon in France at the Hyéres fashion festival sustainability think tank, somebody amongst the audience asked, ‘Is sustainability a trend?’.

The answer was a clear ‘no’. Trends aren’t timeless; sustainability is. The two are mutually exclusive. Sustainability in fashion means producing fashion in such a way that doesn’t harm current nor future generations throughout the garment’s lifecycle.

In addition to being bashed for poor labour ethics, it’s becoming more prevalent to the general public that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world after animal agriculture, with images of landfills filled with sky-high piles of discarded (largely polyester a.k.a. plastic) clothing filling the media sphere. Key players in the industry largely responsible for this mess have been taking note, however, and ‘sustainability’ and ‘innovation’ are definitely trendy buzz words, often thrown around as a means of greenwashing.

As consumers with access to the world-wide-web of information, it behooves us to understand what we’re being sold before being swooped off our feet by the wave of a trend. Clothes made of recycled polyester? (Buzz alert). Was there a larger carbon footprint incurred to recycle the polyester instead of using natural fibres to make virgin fabric? What is sustainable clothing in a nutshell?

Sustainable clothing is often timeless in that it never goes out of the user’s style, and is responsibly made of ingredients that don’t harm the user’s body. The garment may rest in wardrobe for a few seasons, but always comes back to use. After wearing the said timeless piece 100 times you may need to repair it—but the fact that you still want to repair it after 100 wears makes it a timeless piece for you.

If you can’t quite put a finger on what your personal style is— if it feels & looks good, you know who made it, what it’s made of, know you or someone else will wear it more than 30 times, and that even if it ends up in a landfill it will easily decompose in less than a year without leaking any hazardous materials into ecosystems, or if its easily recyclable into something else useful and doesn’t shed micro plastics into our water and food systems: I congratulate you for finding some great clothing!

 

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La Société du Spectacle by Guy Debord

 

 

 

UNsustainable development goals

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Photo credit

 

I was a delegate at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit one year ago to discuss fashion and sustainability. Towards the end of the conference my friends and I grew frustrated at how the conference was being facilitated and the lack of novel solutions being discussed. One conference facilitator said my friend’s ideas were too radical. We ended up disobeying conference formalities and staged an unexpected protest on stage in front of thousands of fashion industry leaders. STOP! In the name of fashion.

Consistently throughout the 20th and 21st centuries we have seen a number of international conferences that aim to develop human rights and environmental stewardship. Blah blah blah. Talk about the U.N. Sustainable Development goals. Clean water for everyone? Access to nutritional food? Closed loop production systems that don’t leak toxic waste into our water systems? Did you really have to discuss that for hours on end and fly people from around the world and pick them up in BMW’s to figure that out? How was your multi-thousand dollar business class flight used to discuss how to help people who earn less than a dollar a day? Talk about UNsustainable goals. The resources to the solutions to all such issues exist, they’re just not distributed accordingly. All these conferences are often just ego-boosters, temporary moments of comfort and distractions to sedate people from actually doing something about today’s humanitarian environmental issues.

Sure perhaps these conferences bridge information gaps and people learn new things, but why are there consistently informational gaps between generations? Don’t people of different generations communicate with each other anymore? Either way, there must be a more reasonable means of communication instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a conference.

The next time I’m invited to a sustainability conference to talk about the UNsustainable development goals I am most likely going to have to pass. I’d much rather focus on actually working on sustainability projects instead of just talking about them. I’ve had enough. Time to get to work.

 

 

 

 

boycott NESTLÉ

If you haven’t heard this news that’s already a couple of years old: Nestlé doesn’t believe that water should be a public right. Instead, it sucks up water from local water sheds and sells that water in plastic bottles.

No more kit-kats, twin-popsicles, yoghurt, chocolate… That dairy from abused hormone pumped dairy cows isn’t great for you anyways. Not to mention all that sugar. Stop the addiction. An addiction to dairy and meat is like an addiction to cigarettes.

 

Fashion Week Discoveries

Fashion weeks are exciting, beautiful, laborious and get you thinking. Attending and working backstage at Milan, London, and Paris fashion weeks were invaluable experiences, and I met some amazing people. Exposing myself to these events made me realise however that I don’t want to invest my time to become an unpaid intern just to land a pre-existing job in an industry in need of more deliberate reformation.

By the second week I was on my way to the Ferragamo show and passed by a homeless man prostrated on the floor, seemingly unconscious or asleep with his hand sticking out as if waiting to accept help or a handful of coins- a sadly typical urban scene, I know- but I really took it to heart, and my heart told me that it didn’t make sense to continue fighting for this pre-existing spot in a largely self-absorbed industry in need of massive change. I love fashion, but aside from being the second most polluting industry in the world, spending hundreds of thousands to millions of euros on a fifteen minute show with a rocket ship that moves up and down isn’t fashionable, and shouldn’t be the future. Can someone please change the channel?

I got over the spectacle of it all and got used to walking in to and/or saying hi to people like The Sartorialist (street photographer Scott Schuman), Anna Wintour, Suzy Menkes, Anna dello Russo, Caroline Issa, Christian Louboutin, and Rihanna. They’re just people doing their jobs and being celebrated for it. Go follow your heart and do your job, in fact following your heart is your job.

 

 

A Necessary ‘Modern’ Read

‘Brooks believes DuPont wants the program to fail. “They poisoned the world,” he says. “A successful medical monitoring program would give us much better data on the links between this chemical and various diseases, and DuPont would have so much liability that it couldn’t possibly compensate everyone.”’

‘“DuPont deceived as many people as they could deceive as for as long as they could,” Jim Tennant told me. “Now that their secrets are out and they’ve been forced to clean up the water, they’re starting again with a new set of chemicals. This isn’t a fight that will be won in my lifetime.”’

If you’re concerned about plastic, please read this courageous and beautifully written piece by Mariah Blake who is a Murrey Marder Nieman Fellow in Watchdog Journalism at Harvard University and is working on a book about plastics.

 

‘A City is Not a Computer’

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It doesn’t usually take me very long to feel a bit queasy around people who are convinced that technology and ‘high-tech’ will ‘save the world’. Your body including your legs and brain are the highest technology out there, and all you need, really. We can’t make Nature ‘better’, we can only learn to understand and respect Nature.

A city is not a computer, and we can’t fetishize algorithms without forgetting about many intangible sensations and feelings that affect action. (Read the full article referred to in the title here )

‘Our current paradigm, the city as computer, appeals because it frames the messiness of urban life as programmable and subject to rational order.’

We aren’t here in life to learn how to control every external situation. I really don’t think that’s the point.  We’re here to learn how to accept uncertainty, and realise that our own inner happiness doesn’t stem from external situations, but from something we can control- our own actions that come from within ourselves. Something that you fashion.

 

x

-Allen