Our founder, Lydia Wendt, was recently featured in an article by Jackie Mallon of Fashion United after her Keynote, at FIT's Sustainability & TEXTILES summit, on the American Farm To Fashion movement. Read the whole story at FASHION UNITED



Friday, June 09 2017

On the heels of the president’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, as members of his administration continue to demonstrate an immunity to science or knowledge on matters that effect our planet, members of the fashion industry gather at FIT for its annual Summer Institute. Panelists of sustainability mavericks and leaders reveal the latest models to implement which will help our industry become more responsible. The goal of those in attendance is to cherish Mother Earth, while still operating businesses that are successful and profitable. As those in Washington continue to turn in circles and peddle the idea that climate change is a hoax, those in this room press forward with urgency, speaking in terms of recovering, renewing, preserving, never withdrawing. As knowledge is power, and even more so when shared, I will report on the program’s highlights in this three-part series.

Farm To Fashion

We are what we eat has become an accepted belief, and food is now considered a form of healing from the inside. Lydia Wendt of the California Cloth Foundry, argues that our clothing, which enrobes our largest organ, our skin, is a way to heal from the outside. Not only does our skin, like the earth, absorb everything and therefore needs to be handled with care, but carefully made clothing can be a way to heal our notoriously toxic industry. Wendt worked for years in the fast fashion industry and says, “I was actively contributing to the problems; I was negotiating pennies right out of the suppliers’ and farmers’ pockets. It was a race to the bottom of the market. Eventually I saw the light and felt the need to take responsibility for my actions in this industry.”

The Next Big Fashion Movement

She believes that transparency is the next big fashion movement. The California Cloth Foundry works with Californian farmers, who receive sponsorship under the Clean Water Act, and an entirely American supply chain which she lays out like this: Gary Martin grows the cotton in California, Mark and Mike spin it into yarn, Kenny and Caroline scour it in North Carolina, Jason dyes it in Maine and May cuts and sews it in California… Although there is still a carbon footprint involved in the transport, Wendt cites an example of a conventionally made pair of jeans that made its way from an American Cotton Gin to China to Pakistan, India, Peru, the USA then to Europe, and asks us to consider the difference. “Fast fashion is design for obsolescence, ours is a premium product designed to last.” Avoiding conventional dyeing, and finishing, which means no fossil/crude oil ingredients, only plant, mineral and protein-based colors still has its challenges at a consumer level, and she hopes that color variation and fading, like your favorite pair of jeans, will soon be considered a beautiful feature, not a defect. Imminent developments, according to Wendt, will be hemp making a return; new threads already being produced from yeast and bacteria, and vertical farming eliminating the burden of land use, and that's just for starters. In the meantime, she throws down the gauntlet to everyone: “Be my competition. That way everyone wins.”

Cotton Folk in Cahoots

Mark Messura of Cotton Incorporated makes no bones about the choice between cotton or polyester. “Synthetics are not a sustainable option.” Polyester’s non-renewability and links to fracking are briefly mentioned before Messura makes a case for more education by brands and retailers to consumers who are still unaware of what goes into their clothing. According to a Cotton Inc study, customers still overwhelmingly value price, fit, style, durability, and other factors over environment. Like The Sustainable Cotton Project that Lydia Wendt works with, "Cotton Inc has introduced the practice of bringing retailers and brands to the farms in the same way they routinely visit their factories. If customers don’t have confidence in cotton,” Messura says, “they don’t choose another cotton, say from another country, they choose another fiber, usually a synthetic.”

Mother Nature Vs Crude Oil

The customer no longer knows what she wants as there is just too much out there and she needs guidance, is the opinion of the panel. Pepper says, “We need to change the perception of cotton as the cheap fabric, and market it like we do makeup or luxury items.” Wendt wonders how many consumers even know their favorite polyester T-shirt is made from crude oil, adding, ”Cotton is a luxury fabric from nature.”

By contributing editor Jackie Mallon