Of-the-moment trends, flash sales, $5 t-shirts. The fashion industry makes it far too easy to buy without a second thought and to ignore the implications that fashion’s mass production has on our earth and the thousands of garment workers making our clothing. There’s no question that it’s time for a transformation.
Remake, just as the name suggests, is poised to bring that much-needed transformation to the industry. The Remake community is committed to building a conscious consumer movement that will bring real sustainable change. They are bringing readers stories of makers from across the globe, spreading campaigns and sparking meaningful conversations. One aspect I am particularly excited about is their recently launched capsule collection. This consciously curated online shop allows consumers to buy better from brands that have been scrutinized under rigorous criteria in terms of sustainability, ethical production and style.
To find out more about Remake’s work spreading the ethical fashion movement and to gain some insider insight into the industry, I interviewed Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat. With numerous years in the fashion world and supply chains, Ayeshsa has an immense wealth of knowledge on fashion and supply chains. She’s been generous to share some of her wisdom with the Conscious Life & Style readers:
Can you share a little bit of your background with us? How did these experiences lead to the development of Remake?
I have spent a decade working on the inside of the fashion industry to improve the lives of the women who make our clothes. At BSR, a global consultancy with offices spanning NYC, Paris and Guangzhou, I worked with brands from H&M, Nike, Walmart to Marks and Spencer to build sustainable supply chains that respected people and our planet. It was a good grounding on what the private sector can do when business incentives are aligned. But it was not enough!
I went on to work at Better Work, a partnership between the International Labor Organization and World Bank that worked across governments, retailers and unions to provide safe and decent working conditions inside garment factories. I was there on April 24th 2012 when Rana Plaza fell down. As the death toll mounted, I was moved to want change sooner and faster.
Having worked on the inside of the industry for a long time, I made the business case for retailers to invest in the lives of garment makers. When Rana Plaza fell down, it was clear to me that it would take a groundswell of consumer demand to truly move the needle. What we needed was a people’s movement to say no more deaths, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in my quest for cheap clothes. This was my inspiration for Remake.
I realized in my years working alongside labor advocacy groups that we have been telling the story all wrong. That to engage people in a conscious fashion movement we needed to give you options beyond boycotts.
I have had the pleasure in my career to sit down, talk to, break bread with thousands of the women who make our clothes. The resilience, hard work of this forgotten #girlboss at the other end of the supply chain was always a source of inspiration for me.
So I thought, if only millennial consumers could meet her in a more textured way the way I have and see themselves in her life’s narrative. Perhaps then, we could move away from feeling apathy for the people toiling in sweatshops faraway and instead, advocate for the women who make our clothes in factories around the world. Our meet the maker series and film shorts do just that. We want to remake the connection between consumers and makers, millennial women on either end of the supply chain, as a way to mainstream conscious fashion.
What is the mission and vision of Remake?
Remake is igniting a conscious consumer movement. Our immersive journeys into maker communities and stories rebuild human connections between the women who buy and create our fashion. We are mobilizing consumers to be curious and buy better. Together we can #remakeourworld
At Remake we contribute in three ways:
- Our immersive journeys with millennial fashion designers into maker communities is a way for us to seed the next generation of designers to create with intention. This is our long term bet to slow down fashion.
- Our stories, films, social media campaigns and pop-up events inspire consumers to meet the makers of their clothing and be inspired to ask more about her at point of sale. Rather than naming and shaming, we seek to inspire shoppers, especially millennial women to care about slow fashion and to recognize that we can wear our feminist values with our shopping choices.
- Our capsule collection and brand spotlights seek to make the discovery of style x ethical easy. Once consumers care, we want to shatter the myth that slow fashion is ugly or not affordable.
How did you determine the brand and product criteria that must be met to make it on the Remake site?
I’ve helped brands write their codes of conduct, worked on monitoring reports for factories that focus on adhering to the local law and over time realized that monitoring factories, especially while retailers squeeze suppliers on price and delivery is not enough. Most of the countries where our clothes are made today have weak legal enforcement and limited ways for workers to have a voice at the table.
Our criteria is instead an aspirational call to action on what good looks like. We worked across industry experts – foundations, brands, labor and sustainability advocates – to ask the fundamental question is she, the end maker, better off? We look at whether the featured brand has control over their supply chain and a commitment to transparency. From raw material to end of life we look for leadership in protecting the wellbeing of the people behind the fashion and environmental stewardship.
The companies and brands we showcase first and foremost have a commitment to transparency. They believe that their businesses can be a positive force for improving the lives of people and our planet. It is this approach of using your very supply chain and business power to improve lives that we are interested in, rather than the prevalent “Do your best to do no harm model” and reactive strategies in the face of poor working conditions.
Secondly, we love to showcase brands that are working tirelessly on traceability. Often the worst conditions are in places where there is no sunshine – looking beyond where your product is cut and stitched, to your mills, your raw materials. All of that is important.
Finally, we are very focused on making fast fashion uncool. We firmly believe that the fast fashion business model of a Forever21 or H&M fundamentally conflicts with our values. Clothes that cost less than a cup of your favorite Starbucks coffee, cannot be made in a way that keeps her safe. We aspire to bring durability back and getting people to love fewer, better things. So brands that are timeless, last forever, are the ones we love to highlight.
We also work with stylists to ensure that we are providing beautiful slow fashion that leaves you looking and feeling good. We want to shatter the myth that conscious fashion is not stylish.
We launched with our capsule collection which is focused on getting the basics right. We plan to release a collection in the Fall and Spring to make it easy for our millennial fashionista to fill her wardrobe with slow fashion.
What changes have you seen during the time you’ve been involved with the fashion industry?
Fast fashion has led to a race to the bottom with even durable brands starting to squeeze manufacturers on price and delivery. This is a nightmare in terms of providing safe and decent working conditions for makers.
In addition to our clothes coming to us cheaper and faster, the supply chain has become a lot more fragmented. With many tiers and middlemen the accountability becomes diffuse and transparency more complicated.
I see some bright spots with some breakthrough slow fashion brands (like Reformation or Pact Apparel). In addition some of the research and development into sustainable raw materials is promising.
However, our consumption rates of fast fashion are staggering and that part of the industry remains highly profitable. We need to reverse this trend and go back to fewer, better things.
How would you explain the importance of sustainable and ethical fashion to someone new to the concept, or someone who’s maybe not convinced of its importance?
Here are some statistics that will help you break up with fast fashion:
Conscious Fashion is a feminist issue of our time
- 60 million people are making our clothes today. 80% is made by women who are only 18 – 24 years old. If you are a feminist, care about women’s empowerment, wouldn’t you like to wear your values?
We are buying too much and sending most of it to landfills
- We consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing per year- this is up 400% from two decades ago.
- Today the fashion industry produces 62 million tons of clothes. By 2030, this number will increase to 102 million—an equivalent of more than 500 billion T-shirts. Our earth can’t sustain the volume with which we consume cheap clothes.
- To lift garment makers’ wages to a living wage, consumers would only need to pay 5% more. (For $20 t-shirt, that’s $1 more.)
The Fashion Industry is profitable, but the (mostly women) makers are not better off
- The global fashion industry is valued at $3 trillion
- It takes a garment worker 18 months to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes on their lunch break. A majority of them earn less than $3 per day.
- Minimum wages in fashion’s factories are ½ of what’s considered a living wage.
- So this is a profitable industry that does not share its profits with the women who make our fashion come to life.
It’s a dirty business
- Most clothes sit in landfills for 200 years
- 8 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills in the US every year. This is a football field filled 14 ft deep with clothes.
- It takes 2720 liters of water to make a t-shirt- that’s how much we normally drink in 3 years.
- Main cotton producing countries like China and India are already facing water shortages, and with water consumption projected to go up by 50% by 2030, these cotton-growing nations and the fashion industry may face the dilemma of choosing between cotton production and securing clean drinking water.
- The fashion industry’s CO2 emissions are projected to increase by more than 60% to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by 2030.
- In short: our cheap clothes are a drain of water and have a big impact on our climate.
What do you see for the future of the conscious consumer movement? What do you believe are the next steps to take the movement to the next level?
Buying more is making us unhappy, exploiting women around the world and degrading our planet at a pace so rapid that we are looking at hard choices by 2030, such as growing cotton or food, giving people access to clean water or using water for fashion production. We have to go back to buying fewer better things. That $5 impulse buy tee won’t make us happy, is filled with chemicals that touch our skin and is entrapping a generation of women into poverty. All the while being resource intensive and ending up in landfills.
Why should consumers consult Remake for their ethical shopping needs?
Finding style that’s conscious is hard. We do all the hard work for you, making the discovery of beautiful, everlasting statement pieces easy. On the backend we look hard for supply chains that are transparent, brands that are not simply greenwashing and running clever marketing campaigns. Our screening criteria is not just based on the law and doing less harm to people and the planet. Instead we showcase brands that are doing more good. Leaving her the end maker and our planet better off.