Andrea Plell is the founder of Ecologique Fashion an ethical and sustainable fashion consultancy based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since 2007, Plell has put her background in business and marketing to work to change the fashion industry, from creating editorial content to coordinating fashion shows. Ecologique Fashion has worked with the 25th Street Collective in Oakland, made ethical shopping more accessible through the online marketplace EcoHabitude and showcased local fashion in two Fibershed runway shows. This year, Plell is turning her focus to organizing Bay Area events to build awareness and community around Fashion Revolution Week, April 18 – 24, 2016. She spoke with Fibershed to share more about how her professional path has evolved, the significance of Fashion Revolution, and what each of us can do to join the movement.
Above: (L) Plell behind the scenes, producing the fashion show at Fibershed’s Grow Your Jeans event in 2015, and (R) a look from the locally-grown and sewn runway; photos by Paige Green.
JD: Can you tell us a little bit about Fashion Revolution Day, how and why it originated?
AP: Fashion Revolution is a global movement that demands transparency in the fashion industry. Since its inception three years ago, this grassroots campaign has encouraged us to consider the social and environmental impact of our clothes – going viral on the internet and social networks as a way to engage directly with the brands and companies we get our clothing from and asking them “Who Made My Clothes?”. Much of the clothing accessible in stores today is manufactured in other countries. Because many clothing companies are looking for the lowest bidders they often do business with factories they have never visited, and those that are not up to safety code. With the demand from the fast fashion markets of the US and UK, some of these factories are forced to meet strict deadlines which in turn end up affecting the workers in a negative way. There have been countless factory accidents due to these negligences and the disconnect we have with where our clothing comes from. One in particular sparked the Fashion Revolution and made headlines: the Rana Plaza 8-story factory building collapse on April 24th, 2013 killed 1134 people and injured over 2400. I remember the day that I saw news of this disaster on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily and thought to myself- now people will start to realize there is a problem with the fashion systems we currently have in place.
Above: (L) Plell asks “who made my clothes?” and (R) presents a Fashion Revolution event announcement; photos c/o Ecologique Fashion.
JD: It’s disturbing that it takes that kind of tragedy to bring attention to these issues in the supply chain, but I think it really, for so many people, drove home the fact that there are real people making our clothes – it’s not all automated
AP: There’s definitely a huge disconnect going on, but with the organic food industry getting us thinking about what we put in our bodies as well as our sustainable impact, we are ready to consider what we are putting on our bodies. What’s interesting too, is that a lot of people don’t know that there is a human on the other side of the thread, so to speak, as we have gotten used to associating products with machines and have began to rely too much on the conveniences of consumerism. It’s exciting to see a resurgence of DIYs and workshops sprouting about in the community and online through sites like Pinterest learning and revisiting crafts that have been around for centuries. In a sense we have the ability to become our own makers again.
JD: You’ve been working on these issues and in this arena for a few years, could you briefly give a background on what you do & how your work has evolved?
AP: My eyes were opened to the truth about the fashion industry in 2007, so since then it’s really been my passion and goal to share this enlightenment with others. Initially it started out as a blog and I began to write about ethical fashion brands in hopes of exposing them to the public. After that, I produced the first sustainable fashion event in Southern California, which included ethical designers from as far as New York and as close as San Diego and Los Angeles. I wanted to get the stereo-type of “ eco-fashion” out of the people’s head. Ethical fashion is not an itchy re-used burlap sack dress, it’s truly a garment made with the utmost consciousness and attention to detail in all arenas of its development. There’s beauty in the fibers and techniques being used. Just like when you’re eating a home cooked meal made with love, or eating an organically grown apple, as opposed to a bag of processed chips, you take a bite you can feel a sense of happy energy from that (plus, it’s way more delicious). And so with clothing, when you are wearing something that was made slowly with conscious thought, you are benefiting from a finished garment that feels richer, has its own story, and embodies a more fulfilling presence in your daily routine.
At the time that I was doing all these projects I was also in college at San Diego State University, studying business and marketing, and although it’s a great school, unfortunately for me I hated the marketing curriculum. A couple of my professors were constantly drilling into the student’s heads: “you need to sell sell sell,” and it truly hurt my soul. I remember one time, I let one of my professors know that I was producing an ethical fashion event featuring apparel that had been made with eco-friendly and sustainable materials. He patted me on the back for coming up with such a great “gimmick”- I think I went home and threw up. There were several times when I caught myself coming home from class in tears because I kept feeling an ethical conflict with the things I was being taught. But I kept going, and in doing so I made a promise to myself to use messaging and storytelling in an ethical way to bring attention only to companies doing good in the world.
Above: (L) the first issue of REFIX magazine; (L) Plell styles and (R) takes footage for a fashion film for Myrrhia Fine Knitwear; photos c/o Ecologique Fashion.
I was also working a corporate job in biotech, and felt that ethical conflict again. At the time, I was in my early twenties and going by the books in terms of what I thought I had to do for my life. It wasn’t until I became really conscious of the food that I was eating and the clothes that I was wearing, that the world opened up in a whole new way for me. I questioned everything that I had been told in the past, including my education, and the company that I was working for. I ended up quitting the job because I didn’t want to support something I didn’t want to believe in anymore. And on a whim, I moved to San Francisco, a city I’ve loved since a child, seeking conscious community. By then I evolved my blog into a magazine – REFIX– and was working with photographers, models, and ethical designers around the country was able to produce editorial spreads highlighting the beauty of slow fashion. I connected with the 25th Street Collective in Oakland, an incubator for slow food and fashion, where I met several designers of which I began to do projects with. While writing for Ethical Fashion Forum’s SOURCE on the side, I started doing creative direction and public relations with Myrrhia Fine Knitwear which gave me insight into local manufacturing efforts and materials as her business doubled as a fashion brand and knitwear manufacturer. She showed me organic cotton yarns from Sally Fox’s farm which was only an hour and a half away. This got me interested in local fiber sources, which led me to my introduction to Rebecca Burgess and Fibershed. One year after interviewing Rebecca for EFF SOURCE, I began working with the organization by co-producing the Fibershed Fashion Gala in 2013, as well as coordinating the runway show for the recent Grow Your Jeans Project. Working with Fibershed immersed me in a whole other world I had previously known nothing about. I grew up in the suburbs without a lot of “natural” in my life when it came to food or products. I was a kind of that 90’s chemical child who loved trips to the drug store for scented nail polish and chewy sprees. To know who makes your clothes is one thing, but to be exposed to the farms and introduced to the farmers, the different plants and animals the fibers come from and their harvest times, as well as the native dye plants allowing an array of seasonal color palettes – the whole idea of regionalizing a garment supply chain was just mind blowing for me.
Above: Looks from the Grow Your Jeans runway in 2015; photos by Paige Green.
JD: You mentioned the ethical conflict you felt when pursuing marketing — and it sounds like that came around to really assist you in all the work you’ve been doing promoting ethically conscious/eco brands — but do you see a conflict between consumerism and environmental limitations?
AP: I think that it all comes down to becoming more conscious consumers. It really is about evaluating the things you currently have and using them – maximizing their potential, and if you need to buy, buy only what you need, and buy less of it. Learning how to extend the life of our products by fixing, mending or giving them new use. When buying new, being able to ask yourself the things like “do I need this?”, “will this product last me a long time?”. It’s a balance and somewhat of a dance, because you want to support companies or brands or makers that are doing really great things and are making strides in the industry, but you also don’t want to use that as an excuse to buy, say, 5 hats that you don’t need that are going to sit around.
JD: It seems like it’s really burgeoning and there are so many great new designers on the market or designers who may be more conventional starting to incorporate more organic materials – but the fashion industry at the same time moves so quickly and encourages people to buy in excess. And there’s a tension there between the growing ethical movement and the, ideally waning, fast fashion industry
AP: Fast fashion is definitely not the answer, although it is helping consumers catch on to the fact that they can buy fashion in organic materials. It makes me happy to see a lot of designers putting their foot down and no longer abiding by the wasteful fashion calendar that brings the pressures of new styles every week. A lot of this consumer need is driven by insecurity- I was guilty of it in my late teens early twenties too. At a young age I had a limited income and would opt for fast fashion chains to get my fashion fix, until I discovered second-hand and vintage clothing. One of the things that really moved me was looking at my own closet at the time, and looking at all my tags and thinking: oh my gosh, Made in India, Bangladesh, Mexico – all over the map, and I don’t know what any of this is made of, and why were they all falling apart in the wash?!
As a society we need to become more comfortable with ourselves – our bodies and who we are. We need to stop looking at social media and comparing ourselves to what we think we should be. I think that’s one of the major factors in always needing more, needing needing more to fill an invisible void that we’ve created for ourselves. I also think that there’s currently a lot of entitlement going on, where even if we can’t afford it, we’re trying to have this ‘princess closet’ of interchangeable outfits so that we’re always in style and so that people think better of us. In doing so we’re having such a negative impact on other communities, the environment and consequently ourselves.
Above: (L) Backstage and (R) on the runway at the 2013 Fibershed Fashion Gala; photos by Paige Green.
JD: So when it comes to Fashion Revolution day, what do you think that consumers, or clothing wearers can do to participate?
AP: Fashion Revolution encourages wearers of clothing to demand the right to know where their clothes come from by asking the brand directly on social media – twitter or instagram. Snap a pic of yourself with your top inside-out exposing the label. Tag the brand the clothing was from and ask them for example: Hi (brand), “I’d like to know #whomademyclothes ?” It has also become a tradition to wear your clothing inside-out on Fashion Revolution Day to bring awareness to the campaign.
Another thing you can do to participate is to do a haulternative. A haulternative is a different kind of haul video. Instead of doing a YouTube video about all the new things you bought from the mall, do a video about an outfit that has a story- whether it was a hand-me-down or thrift shop score, to something you made or mended yourself.
There are countless other ways you can get involved, including a “How to Be A Fashion Revolutionary” booklet available on fashionrevolution.org
JD: If people are in the Bay Area, how can they support Fashion Revolution West Coast? AP: Since Fashion Revolution Day falls on a Sunday, we are taking over the entire week and have a handful of free events going on this month including:
- A kick-off party and Fashion Revolution panel discussion in Oakland, CA on Tuesday April 19th with Fibershed Founder Rebecca Burgess, Shamini Dhana of Dhana Inc. and Starre Vartan, founder of Eco-Chick
- A slow fashion pop-up happening all week in San Francisco (April 18-April 24th)
- A peaceful FASH MOB fashion show in San Francisco’s Union Square on Fashion Revolution Day (April 24th) at 4:00pm featuring a Fibershed runway look and fashions by local sustainable brands. Come with your clothing inside-out and join us for a peaceful march in the square!
- Belvele is also hosting a True Cost Screening and Panel on Thursday, April 21st in San Francisco (not a free event but any proceeds and donations from the event will be donated to a fund for the victims of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse)
- Also, be sure to “like” Fashion Revolution West Coast on Facebook for more updates and events near you!
I think this year the benefit of not just having Fashion Revolution day, but Fashion Revolution week allows communities all around the world to think about how we can keep the momentum of the message going all year round, and not be limited by a day or even a week. Because it is something that people forgot – people needed to be reminded about. If it’s consistent, people will remember.
JD: Do you have any books or movies that you think are really essential reading material or educational information?
AP: Yes, yes yes!!
Above: (L) Plell speaking on behalf of EcoHabitude at a Green Drinks NYC event at the EcoHabitude HQ, and (R) setting up for a press event at the EcoHabitude showroom; c/o Ecologique Fashion.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Details for the Fashion Revolution Week events in the Bay Area as well as abundant opportunities to learn about natural dyeing and local fiber fashion can be found on the Fibershed calendar.