Episode Transcript

Kasia Souchen: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

Do you know what the world's second biggest polluting industry is? The answer to that question, may be right in front of you or right on you, actually. It's clothing. The 3 trillion dollar fashion industry is the second most polluting industry right behind oil, the environmental impacts of fashion are severe. For example, you will all for sure know cotton, a very common material well, it is amongst the most pesticide intensive and water intensive crops in the world. In the world's least developed countries an estimated 40 million people sew more than 1.5 billion garments in 250,000 factories and sweatshops each year. In many cases, these workers are not provided with basic workers rights, fair wages and ethical working conditions. So it's time to ask the question, what are you wearing? My name is Kasia Souchen at CARE Canada and the host of this podcast, CARE fights poverty by empowering women and girls around the world in more than 94 countries.

Today, I am joined by Tara Hogerterp to talk about what is called sustainable fashion or you might know it as eco, ethical or slow fashion. Thank you Tara for joining us today and welcome to the podcast.

Tara Hogerterp: 01:52 Thank you for having me.

Kasia Souchen: 01:55 We can start going way back to sort of capture what interested you in the beginning about sustainable fashion.

Tara Hogerterp: 02:02 Well, the story started when I noticed that some of my clothing was just not holding up and and in particular it was my jeans, they would get that nasty little, uh, wear in the inside thigh. And My mother-in-law was like, you know, I can't fix that for you. I can't help you with that. And so this pile of jeans kept piling up higher and higher because I couldn't throw them away. There was so much perfectly good fabric there and, and clothing, but it's just that one tiny hole made them unwearable and also undonatable. So I, I went out and bought a sewing machine. I'm like, I, there must be something I can do with this. And that started me trying to use the jeans as fabric. And then also learning how to sew and then understanding how much work actually goes into making clothing.

It was astounding because I could go and buy a dress for $30, but knowing how many hours of work actually go into making that dress, it was, it was a shock to me. And so I started looking into what was happening in the fashion industry and as I started to look closer at that, I realized that there was a problem. So I started looking into how, how clothing was made and what companies were doing to make the clothing and kind of what their standards were. And I started looking into it and noticed that there wasn't a lot of information provided online. And I was like, well, that, that's not right. And so I started contacting companies and asking them how was your clothing made? And I'm like, well, there's no, this information isn't anywhere. So I started putting it up on a blog post to kind of make sure that other people could find where that information was and start. So I started that process and that's kind of how, how my interest in this started.

Kasia Souchen: 03:58 That's amazing. I think that's very ambitious of you to go out and get a sewing machine. I think most women know that tear. Um, so I, I commend you very much for that. Um, I think what you are describing from what you saw in stores when that dress is $30 or $14.99 or $7.99 is something called fast fashion and is that something you're able to define and what you think the impact has been for consumers of fast with fast fashion?

Tara Hogerterp: 04:28 So fast fashion or it's also called just in time production, that sort of um, production where the, the company demands that we have x number of clothing made and delivered by x date and the, the issue becomes that the, the companies want new clothing. It's either per fashion cycles per season or sometimes it's even monthly, so there's a lot of pressure put on factories to get a large shipment of clothing done and then then the next order comes in. And so it's just this immediate need for, for new fashion.

Kasia Souchen: 05:07 I think there's an expectation that consumers should have the latest fashion with every different change of the season.

Tara Hogerterp: 05:12 Exactly. When whenever they go to the store, there should be something new for them and that, that, that has a serious impact on, on the workers. It's got a serious impact on the environment and um, and it's going to have an impact on the quality of the clothes, can't produce all of that clothing and habit high standards in that short period of time. So you are going to get clothing made with cheaper material. You're going to have clothing that's made not as well. And the people who are making the clothing are going to be put under immense pressure,people can be fired for getting pregnant. For instance. You can have issues where, um, you're expected to work extra hours and if you sick you will lose your job. To be frank, most people, there's no way for us to really know what the conditions are we can only get kinda sneak peeks into things that get leaked out. But for the most part, it's very difficult for even some of the companies to know what exactly is happening on the ground, where their clothes are being made.

Kasia Souchen: 06:17 Tara right away, what comes to mind is the fire that broke out on November 24th, 2012 at the Tazreen Fashion factory on the outskirts of Dhaka. Bangladesh, 117 were confirmed dead and over 200 were injured. Do you think this tragic incident impacted fashion or consumers and how we view fashion?

Tara Hogerterp: 06:40 Yes, I think. I think it it. It has, but the problem is this seems to be a bit of a cycle where we have. We have these moments of awareness where we're all like, oh right, we've got to do something and we get demands made, and then it kind of peters out. Like I remember when I was younger it was child labor and we've got to stick it to those organizations and then it kind of slows down and a lot of those companies are still around and they're still producing. They've weathered that storm and whether or not they've actually changed their practices, sometimes a few things get changed or they tweak, tweak a few things and people forget and so unfortunately these tragedies kind of come through and then there a big reminder and then it starts to fade a bit, which which I think it becomes our role to kind of to keep reminding people that they need to think about where they purchase their clothing from.

Kasia Souchen: 07:33 Tara, there's definitely a movement to something called slow fashion. There are articles popping up online with different sort of products and messages available for consumers. How would you define slow fashion and how do you see it taking shape?

Tara Hogerterp: 07:48 Slow fashion, I think has principles in having good quality clothing, um making sure that the product is environmentally friendly and it's from resources that are sustainable and reduced uses of pesticides and that sort of thing and then fair for the workers that are getting paid for the value of their work. So that's kind of one aspect of slow fashion and you can have different ways of interpreting how you can use that in how you develop your wardrobe.

Kasia Souchen: 08:25 Some pretty exciting stuff. I think it can still be fun. And speaking of fun, I can't get over your most gorgeous dress for everyone who can't actually see Tara is wearing an incredible dress that she made herself. I think that right there is an example of slow fashion and sort of your craftsmanship.

Tara Hogerterp: 08:44 Well, yes. I made this dress from my husband's old, work shirt that had a stain on it, so I cut the stain out and uh, an old pair of jeans and a piece of small piece of fabric that I found that I really loved. So that bind the three to make something new.

Kasia Souchen: 09:00 That is remarkable. Can I order one? How can someone at home right now on their couch or driving in their car listening to this podcast, take action? I bet. And I hope some of our listeners are looking at their tag, trying to see where their clothing is made or maybe looking online to find out where that is or what the production might look like or how the employees are treated. So if they're beginning to start to research, what are some things that consumers can do or our listeners can do to make a difference and help change the world in this sense in terms of sustainable fashion?

Tara Hogerterp: 09:36 Well, the first thing you can do is you can go online and look for companies mission statements. Some of them will have a statement that says, um, that this is how we source our products. And these are the factories we use, some will give you the names of the factories even. Some will give you no information and there'll be nothing there. So what I would do is encourage people to go and look and then shop at the places where they feel people have made an answer that is good, good enough to them. I would also ask questions. So if you see nothing, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from sending an email or sending a tweet or a Facebook message to the company and say, Hey, just wondering what your position is or how do you check to make sure your products are ethically made. And at times I get responses back, I've had responses back within 30 seconds and I've had responses back within a couple of days and I've had no response at all. So but, but it's very interesting and telling and it can kind of start to be a bit of a guide as to where you feel comfortable shopping and where you would feel comfortable spending your money.

Um, other things that I would suggest people could do would be to look for quality. There's things you can do to kind of give you a hint because not everyone well how do you know if it's good quality? Lift up the t-shirt. Is it see through? That's a good sign that maybe the cotton isn't that good quality. Look for the seams are neat on the inside kind of what's been hidden, just to make sure that it's been put together. If there's like you can already see it wearing, maybe that's not something you can do if you're looking for ways to really reduce how much you buy, because that's the other part in that that might be the role of us as consumers is that we are buying into this. I must have the latest and the newest and we also buy into. It's a great deal. I might as well get to that kind of attitude and that kind of thought.

So it, it, it's about changing our mindsets a little as well. You shouldn't buy it because it's a good deal. You should buy it because you need it or you really love it or, or that sort of thing. It, it and people have different relationships with clothing than they do, so you may look at, you may have a different idea of what makes you happy, but for some people like fashion and clothes really do make them happy and they want to be able to purchase and it's part of part of their, who they are. So it's, it's important to kind of find that balance that works for you.

Kasia Souchen: 12:24 Yes, and I love that first tip about, um, actually how much power you have as a consumer that I think most people don't realize that if you actually write to a company and say, I'm considering not buying your product because I don't believe it's made in just standards, they will listen collectively if more and more people are asking those questions um you can use really the power of your dollar. I think too, another incentive might be that you end up saving money if that incentivizes people?

Tara Hogerterp: 12:52 If it does incentivize people's sure you, you could end up saving money. I really like the buy fewer but quality pieces buy things that that are, are, are really good and that will last and I think that that will go a long way to, to kind of changing your mindset and, and also influencing companies in a way because if you're only buying the pieces that are quality made and will last, then they're going to want to make more of those.

Kasia Souchen: 13:22 We say a lot with where we put our dollars.

Tara Hogerterp: 13:23 Yes. Yeah, definitely. When you see that good deal, at the end of the day, someone is paying the price for that good deal and if it's not you, it's definitely not the company that's selling the product. They are not going to be giving up their money at the end of the day they are for profit companies. So if you were getting that excellent deal, someone has paid the price, it could be the how it was made and the people who made it. It could be the materials that were used and the farmers who had uh farm, the cotton, there is someone down the road that is paying the price for that. So just if people take a moment to think about what a good deal means, um, and, and remember that at the end of the day it has to be paid for by someone.

Kasia Souchen: 14:19 That is an excellent point. Thank you so much Tara, for taking the time to speak with us today about sustainable fashion and sharing with our listeners some very tangible and actionable easy ways that they can change the world. Thank you to all of our listeners today. Please stay tuned for our next episode. As always, we are on Spotify and we are now pleased to announce that we are on iTunes, so search 15 minutes to change the world and subscribe to keep posted for all of our episodes.