spruced by marlene

interview: alex from fair-a-porter

By Marlene | Published: 17. October 2014


I’m cleaning up my closet. Or rather: cleaning out. It wasn’t what I was aiming for. Quite the opposite. After a year of wearing the same ten pieces over and over and over again, I wanted something fresh. To spend some money and get a whole new wardrobe. I just wanted to check first what I actually had in my closet (pregnancy = forgetfulness). Turns out I really had forgotten about quite a few pieces I own. Embarrassingly, some of them even had the price tag still attached. Second surprise, more impactful: the pieces I really still wanted to wear made for only a neat little pile of clothes. So I started asking myself: What do I really need? What still fits (and not just in the sense of: over my butt)? Who the hell is the woman who bought ten grey sweatshirts for me?

And I asked myself how I shop. Sometimes the answer is simply because I like how something looks on me and makes me feel. Which explains my inability to walk past a grey sweatshirt (three of which I honestly really needed. Fine, four). But not always. One dress was a treat for a tough week in the hospital, a pair of heels came from London, because who goes to London without shopping, a pair of flared jeans looked so good on someone else that I needed them too. More often than not the reason was that I just wanted something new. Perhaps unsurprisingly I don’t wear any of those pieces very much or even at all, despite the fact that they’re nice.

And so I’ve made a resolution. Once I’ve sold and given away the excess stuff, and before the pile can get big again, I want to think more about why I spend my money.

That’s one reason why I’m excited by what journalist Alex Bohn is doing on Fair-a-porter. The blog is devoted to fair fashion, of which there isn’t just more than I expected, but some truly beautiful and affordable labels. Fair-a-porter is also about how we consume and what we can change (or even should) – without sacrificing the love for fashion.

But she’s much better at explaining the project herself.

Alex, what prompted you to start Fair-a-porter?
I’ve been going to the shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris for the past ten years and I still get excited about discovering beautiful fashion there. But more and more the one-sidedness of the whole spectacle bothered me. It’s always about beautiful models in beautiful clothes, star designers and young talents. The people behind the seams stay more or less invisible. That started to feel wrong to me, unfair even. The media don’t report on these people, except when a tragedy like Rana Plaza occurs. Fair-a-porter is how I’d like to make a difference, by showcasing the protagonists behind the beautiful clothes. Such as the CEO of a sustainably produced brand, a textile worker or a designer. Fashion is not an anonymous product.

There’s a ton of stereotypes about fair fashion. Which ones aren’t true?
That it all looks like something you can buy at a farmer’s market: felt hats, scratchy woolen jumpers and socks, dresses in the shape of potato sacks.

I was surprised by how many brands I discovered on your blog that are „good“. Why don’t labels create more attention when they’re producing sustainable fashion?
Brands that only produce a small part of their collection in a transparent and ethically sound way obviously make a much larger amount of fashion by conventional means. If you shine a light on all that’s „best practise“, you also bring attention to the fact that you’re not being „good“ across the board. I believe that most brands don’t want to face the questions consumers might have about that. But that’s not the whole truth, because quite a few brands do talk about what „good“ they’re doing. They just do it in their CSR reports or with targeted PR. Something that doesn’t always make it to the shops. Even H&M, which is very committed to sustainability, places a capsule collection like Conscious Denim with the the rest of their clothes range.

Let’s say I’ve made the resolution to change my shopping habits. How possible is it even to shop more ethically in my everyday life?
It’s a question of perspective. Consuming ethically can mean buying less but of higher quality and thereby reducing the negative impact on the environment. It can also mean giving more weight to your decision-making. Nobody forces us to support production cycles that are bad for other humans and for the environment. You make a choice with every purchase about what world you want to live in. I know that sounds theatrical, but it’s a simple fact. If everybody stops shopping at Primark, Primark stops to exist. Getting the information about brands out there is something I want to achieve with Fair-a-porter. The fashion that we show can be bought with good conscience.

Has your way of shopping changed since you started the blog?
Not really. Great fashion is great fashion, that’s what I’m interested in. But I have become more inquisitive: Where is this piece from, what materials were used to make it and how were the resources cultivated, how transparent is the brand in communicating their production methods? It’s pretty outrageous how little information the brands give out. What has changed is that I make fewer impulsive buys. I ask myself more vigorously if I really need something or not. When I’m shopping, whether it’s in a store or online, I often reserve the piece for later. If I don’t go back to pick it up, which I often don’t, I don’t need it.

What criteria do you use to determine whether a piece is „fair“?
To be on Fair-a-porter the brand firstly has to convince me from a fashion point of view. Plus, it has to be produced ethically and transparently. Which means it should fulfill at least one of these four criteria:
1. Proof that the raw materials used are at least partially certified organic or recycled.
2. An environmentally sound production that reduces water consumption, incorporates sensible waste management, uses renewable resources and processing techniques such as recycling, upcycling and cradle-to-cradle.
3. Longevity is another important aspect. The quality of production and use of premium materials ensure that the things we show on Fair-a-porter aren’t throwaway fashion.
4. We support brands that are part of NGOs or institutions that support a transparent supply chain, improving the ecological and social impact, and are open about it in their annual reports.

Who is a designer whose philosophy you admire?
I’m very impressed with how little compromise Stella McCartney has made with her brand. She’s a very good example that it’s possible to make high fashion that’s also transparently produced. Edun is a similar case. It was already a good project when it was just Bono and his wife Ali Hewson doing it, unfortunately the design was boring. Now, with Danielle Sherman, who’s worked for The Row, it’s improved by miles, while still being ethical.

If money was no object, what fair brands would you wear?
Stella McCartney, Edun, Loro Piana, honestby.

And if it was?
Acne, some pieces from hessnatur, Filippa K, the conscious collections from H&M.

Thank you, Alex!

P.S. Here’s another blog I find inspiring: Make It Last by Emma Elwin and Lisa Corneliusson, stylists, editors and prominent Swedish bloggers, whose style I admire even more since they started supporting sustainable fashion.

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1 Comment

  1. pi
    Posted 2. November 2014 at 14:46 | Permalink

    hey marlene, danke für diesen tollen artikel!
    ich kann deine gedanken zu dem thema sehr gut nachvollziehen und finde auch das interview und die arbeit von alex bohn sehr spannend.

    seit ich mich als markt- und werbepsychologin auf die themen umwelt und nachhaltigkeit spezialisiert habe, hinterfrage ich auch privat immer mehr meine eigene und die allgemeine konsum-sozialisierung und das daraus resultierende konsumverhalten.
    besonders im modekontext ist es sehr spannend, manchmal geradezu erschütternd,
    die eigenen muster zu durchschauen.
    genau wie du es beschreibst, wird auch mir immer mehr klar, wie oft ich aus fragwürdigen gründen konsumiere – ob belohnung, kompensation, langeweile, selbstoptimierung…jeder kennt seine eigenen gründe, ausreden und rechtfertigungen.

    bei mir (und offensichtlich vielen anderen) akkumulieren sich diese gründe und die konsumakte zu einem kaufrausch, der es unmöglich macht, sich über einzelne anschaffungen noch lange zu freuen. und das ganze wird leider zusätzlich noch auf dem rücken der umwelt und anderer menschen ausgetragen. es ist wie das schlucken einer bitteren pille, dieses spiel zu durchschauen.
    und es ist noch viel unbequemer und schwieriger, etwas daran zu ändern.

    die hier von euch zusammengetragenen ansätze finde ich sehr wertvoll und auch für mich praktikabel.
    – weniger und bewusster konsumieren
    – nicht rein kommerzieller fast fashion hinterherlaufen, sondern in langlebige lieblingsstücke investieren, hinter denen noch echte menschen und designer stehen – im optimalfall mit einer vorbildlichen produktionsethik
    – wenn das finanziell nicht stemmbar ist, vintage/second hand kaufen und die nicht mehr heißgeliebten sachen auch wieder in diesen zyklus zurückgeben bzw. spenden.
    – sich immer wieder bewusst machen: dinge können einen niemals so glücklich machen wie erlebnisse, ein gutes gewissen und wertschätzende interaktionen mit anderen menschen, kulturen und der umwelt

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