Articles by Summer Rayne Oakes
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine invited me to an apparel industry environmental seminar chock full of good industry types. Seminars of this nature are always dreadfully boring, but it's worth it because you get the inside scoop on what the industry is (and unfortunately isn't) talking about. The principle topic was regulated substances and chemicals, how to move toward green chemistry alternatives, and how to manage all the issues associated with regulations. The meeting was the first important step in getting companies like Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne, L.L. Bean, and others to begin taking the steps needed to beef up their consumer-protection standards.
The buzzword of the day was RSL, or "Restricted Substance List." Most RSL's are either proprietary information or outdated. That is all changing thanks to the American Apparel & Footwear Association's Environmental Task Force, which spearheaded the seminar.
On June 27, AAFA released an RSL to help textile, apparel, and footwear companies take the first step in regulating -- and, in some cases, eliminating -- certain contaminants from their products. I emphasize "first step" because many of the companies sitting in the auditorium were only marginally aware that so many chemicals and substances made up the DNA of their outfits.
I could have been sitting across from a writer of US Weekly or OK Magazine, but I wasn't. I was sharing an hour of my morning with a journalist from Neue ZÃ¼rcher Zeitung (NZZ), one of the oldest and most respected newspapers in Switzerland. Granted, my interview was for their "softer" weekend edition, NZZ am Sonntag, but even that paper carries the weight of its weekday counterpart's esteemed name. That's why I was shocked to read a spuriously devised, albeit glamorous, story of my life when the article appeared.
Let's get one thing straight: The "journalist" did not slander my name. It was quite the opposite: He had me sharing a photo shoot with Mayor Bloomberg; saving sharks in Miami; buttering up old-school Sierra Club veterans; and convincing motorheads to shut off their cars in exchange for bikini-clad pictures. Ooh, how naughty of me!
He even quoted me in conversations -- on topics ranging from recycling batteries to rainforest preservation -- that never took place, built off of scenarios that never happened. Even the water I was drinking during the interview wasn't "glamorous" enough for him. He had me sucking back a Starbucks coffee after a whirlwind tour around the country. Note to future interviewers: I've never drunk coffee in my life.
"Eco fashion" has definitely become the buzzword of the moment.
Within the last month alone, my office has received calls from over a half-dozen trade shows and runway organizers seeking to green their events. Apparel companies and clients feverishly searching for organic clothing sources are also becoming quite common. The press seems to be foaming at the mouth for new material too, which is always a good sign; but, in the U.S. at least, we have yet to graduate beyond the "green" theme. This week I'll be speaking to a U.K.-based women's glossy on "ethical fashion," a term I hear used far more frequently in Europe."Ethical" brings a more social-cultural perspective to the mix, one you don't always get when talking straight up "eco" speak. The term has its roots in the fair-trade movement. Fair trade got its start 50 years ago, well before the idea of "eco fashion" was ever embraced by popular culture. It started with international aid groups working with small-scale African farmers. It wasn't until the late 1980s that an international system of Fair Trade certification and labeling was introduced, but heck -- that was about 20 years ago!
Still, "fair trade" and "ethical" fashion have yet to find their footing in America's popular culture. They are terms that still remain too esoteric for the general public, particularly because fair trade is more often associated with foodstuffs and artsy-crafty products. There are a couple of reasons for this.
That's the question that Jasmine, 16, innocently asks in Micha Peled's documentary China Blue, a clandestine view of three girls' lives in a Chinese sweatshop. I felt pretty embarrassed watching Jasmine cut the threads off our blue jeans during her 20-hour workday. It's the same Catholic schoolgirl guilt you get when the burly, bearded dude walks in on you because the gas station's bathroom lock is broken, or when your parents or roommate come home when they just weren't supposed to. Once again, we've been caught with our pants down.
But this time, we're participating in one of the largest human-rights abuses of all time. Which makes denim a damn good product around which to strike up a conversation about social issues.
Sorry, trusty Blue Jeans. You know I love you. You've been there for me through all occasions -- my birthdays, my late-night outings, my first kiss, my first break-up ... When I don't know what to wear, you're there for me ... but now, it's time to hang you out to dry ... if only to make a point.