Stories @CSI: Green is definitely the new black - the brains behind Fashion Takes Action
By Charlotte Bondy, CSI Reporter
It’s safe to say that most of us wear clothes. In fact, I might even go so far as to suggest that the donning of garments is, for everyone, a quotidian task. This might seem like a banal observation, but for Kelly Drennan, founding executive director of Fashion Takes Action, it provides the foundation of her initiative.
Like so many wonderful things in life, the conception of FTA was relatively unplanned. Its initial seed was the 2007 Green Gala, a fundraising event in support of Environmental Defence that featured ten leading Canadian designers showcasing three outfits made from sustainable fabrics. With the enormously positive feedback from the event and a growing need for an organization to support the sustainable fashion movement in Canada, FTA rapidly evolved into what it is today. That is, Canada’s premier non-profit organization that focuses on sustainability in the fashion industry and changing the way we create and consume fashion.
I had the opportunity to speak with the brains behind Fashion Takes Action: Kelly Drennan herself. Kelly told me a bit about the genesis of the organization, their mission and vision, and the reasons she has to look at the textile-industry-glass as half full.
In 2009, FTA launched officially as a members-based organization. They began to offer a number of services to their members: from business mentoring and capacity building to hosting online tutorials and networking events. So who are these members? Drennan says that although they tried to penetrate corporate brands and multi-nationals in the early years, those companies weren’t yet willing to make major movements towards being more sustainable. The bulk of their member base right now is comprised of smaller independent designers and boutiques that are deeply committed to promoting ethical and sustainable fashion.
The social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry are wide-ranging: labour practices and waste disposal, energy and water usage, and life-threatening toxic chemicals. However, Drennan cites consumer awareness as FTA’s biggest challenge to overcome. “From a waste perspective,” she says, “we are simply over consuming.” Drennan rattles off an appalling statistic to back this up: “the textile industry pollutes 5,640,000 Olympic sized swimming pools per year.”
“Unfortunately,” says Drennan, “fashion seems to fall off the end of the priority spectrum. In some people’s minds it seems like an almost luxury.” FTA is trying to promote the exact opposite message: in the same way that food and water are an integral part of our daily lives, so too is clothing. FTA isn’t at all about haute couture. “We have the word fashion in our name because Fashion Takes Action had a much better ring than Apparel Takes Action,” Kelly tells me, laughing.
Drennan worries that when people hear the term “eco-fashion” their minds wander immediately to scratchy hemp pants and t-shirts made from recycled burlap sacks. This is not at all what they’re about. As Drennan articulates, “that’s why we offer eco-fashion shows. We want to show people that eco-fashion looks awesome, is affordable, and why its important.”
Drennan believes that the entire face of mainstream fashion is going to change within the next 5 years. “More and more companies are signing up to improve the standards and conditions in their factories. Especially after the tragedy in Bangladesh.” She also describes the work of the Better Cotton Initiative; a European-funded organization that is serving to revolutionize the entire cotton industry: the farming and supply chain as well as the material itself.
Even now, things are different than when FTA started up in 2007. “You can walk into Walmart and find organic t-shirts and underwear. H&M released a conscious collection this year,” Drennan describes these gestures as unprecedented positive bounds in the fashion industry.
FTA has also recently created an uncommonly simple way to track daily choices that may seem minute when looked at independently, but are extremely significant when compiled together. Their app, Resize Your Fashion Footprint, is powered by One Million Acts of Green, and can be accessed through their Facebook page. A list of Green Acts related to fashion, ranging from washing your laundry in cold water to making your own clothes, is available for you to click and watch as the amount of greenhouse gases and electricity saved rises before your very eyes.
When I ask Kelly if she has a piece of advice to lend the average consumer, her words are simple, but urging: “we need to invest in our wardrobe. Slow down consumption and instead buy quality pieces that are made fairly and that aren’t going to fall apart. Stop and think. Read the label. Ask questions.”
Fashion Takes Action has a showroom in the Distillery District at 15 Case Goods Lane, Studio 202, and an online store at shopecofashion.ca.