One of our favorite bloggers, Erin Loechner, founder of Design for Mankind, was kind enough to share her own personal story with us. A former fashion stylist, Erin is now a style writer and fan of all things artisan made, fair trade, slow, and ethical. She’s all about a more curated, connected, sustainable way of living with gratitude – complete with alpaca slippers, marble serving boards, and handcrafted books.
1. Name and occupation
Erin Loechner - Writer, Blogger, Stylist)
@erinloechner on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest
/designformankind on FB
2. How did you first get interested in artisan made, fair trade and philanthropic fashion?
I used to work as a fashion stylist and production assistant for a series of high-end sample sales. We’d phone a carefully-culled list of independent designers and rescue their leftover garments from end-of-season demise, then rent out a boutique hotel ballroom to display the gathered merchandise over the course of an evening. (The original pop-up shop, you could call it, or something of the sort.)
Every year, eight times a year, I’d swing open the doors and watch women trample women to score a silk blouse they saw at Saks just a month ago, now at 70% off. Every year, eight times a year, I’d survey the aftermath of an empty room and stuff the excess, unsold merchandise into oversized trash bags, deliver them to Goodwill.
It just seemed like there had to be a better way.
Later, I flew to Ethiopia, Haiti and India to learn more about fair trade best practices. After meeting makers who were so skilled in their labor and so grateful for the work, it became more difficult for me to justify fast fashion for my own closet - whether on sale or not. I love looking at my wardrobe now and knowing the faces/names of the people who made my favorite garments. It feels like a small step toward a more connected, more sustainable way of living.
3. Why is artisan made, fair trade and philanthropic fashion important to you?
Loosening fast fashion’s hold has allowed me to shake free from other areas of consumption, as well. Gone is my quest for the perfect home, for a curated collection of trendy tchotchkes, for much of anything at all. Ethical fashion has taught me to look at what I have, to use what I own, to want what I’ve already got. Resourcefulness, you might call it.
(Gratitude, you might also.)
4. Accompany’s global style is driven by wanderlust. Where are your favorite places to travel and discover local handcrafted goods?
My favorite local handcrafted goods are books and zines, actually, so the Tiong Bahru markets and shops offer some of my favorite printed treasures to date. I visited Singapore years ago and still haven't gained back my whole heart (nor bank account!).
5. People sometimes associate handmade and sustainable with a specific kind of boho style or vintage style. Do you think this is accurate? How would you describe your own sustainable style?
I can certainly see why there's an association there, as many handmade and sustainable goods are created in areas where local techniques and time-treasured traditions are celebrated and upheld. I love seeing the beauty of another culture's talent in its rawest form! But no, I don't think ethical fashion is restricted to boho style or vintage style. My own closet leans fairly minimal with a focus on fit and classic pieces that work well together. I'm far from boho, although I do like to play with statement pieces and vintage-inspired jewelry to offer a touch of personality and story to an otherwise modern, monochromatic wardrobe. ;)
6. What do you wish your followers and other consumers knew about artisan made, fair trade and philanthropic fashion?
We can, indeed, vote with our dollars, but we must vote wisely and boldly to support our truest values. The reality is this: there is no perfect brand or business. No perfect supply chain. The ethically-made bag arriving at your doorstop might be packaged in toxic plastic. A linen dress hand-dyed from sustainably-sourced, nontoxic herbs might be under-paying their suppliers.
And so, like much, we do our best. We do our research. We pay attention, we ask questions. My general rule of thumb is to know as much about the people who I’m purchasing from whenever possible (and I don’t mean the local Target clerk).
7. What are your five favorite artisan made, fair trade, and philanthropic pieces that Accompany has curated on our site right now, and why?
-Textiles are some of my favorite fair trade finds, and this pillow feels like the perfect marriage of classic and timeless while still feeling special.
-These house shoes are my winter obsession. I'm on pair #3 (I wear them until they fall apart, which takes a surprisingly long time!).
-A marble serving board has tons of uses - I love keeping one on my dresser to house lotions, potions and beyond. This one is beautiful.
-Hands down, this is my favorite piece on Accompany right now. Classic enough for daily wear with a touch of quirk. Perfection!
-I love Veja's mission, and these suede sneakers come in such a surprisingly versatile shade. I'd don these with denim, dresses and everything between.
8. What is your best advice for people who are just getting interested in sustainable living and ethical fashion?
Don’t incorporate slow fashion without first addressing your fast fashion mindset. The most ethical closet is the one you’ve already got. Meaning, if you wear what you have and work with what you own, you’re avoiding new purchases altogether. You’re avoiding 4 trash bags to Goodwill. You’re avoiding CO2 emissions, new contributions to unfair labor practices, and most importantly: you’re ceasing consumption.
Start with your own closet. Take stock of what you have and what you truly need. Get in the habit of reaching into your own wardrobe for a creative solution, rather than the nearest rack. If you must, put on your blinders. Avoid catalogs, fashion magazines, blogs or Instagram accounts that encourage shopping for sport. Reconsider the belief that you need a new dress for that fall wedding, that your perfectly useful denim is in need of an upgrade. Try a capsule wardrobe and practice the fine art of limitations.
Find the holes in your own wardrobe, if they’re there (they’re probably not, if we’re honest), and begin the research to fill that void ethically, wisely and well within your budget. Small steps, small steps, small steps.