By Jennifer Graham
Salts Organic Clothing has been plugging away at the organic ethical fashion game since 2005, before the term "eco fashion" even existed. Through the company's nine-year journey, lessons both soft and hard have been learned about selling people on the value of thinking sustainable in fashion. Salts has been a lone producer manufacturer (me and my sewing machine), a local manufacturer (local small factories) and is now looking to find an ethical business model that is environmentally AND financially sustainable. Salts has had two retail outlets on their home of Vancouver Island, the last one closed in November 2012. This spring Salts Organic Clothing came back with a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter and a new attitude about how to reach the masses with the viability and wearability of eco-friendly clothing.
There is a terrible catch-22 in the business of selling organic fashion. The people who believe in what you are selling are not, by and large, "consumers." That is, they aren't the shoppers who are wreaking havoc on the planet and in sweatshops with their fast fashion consumption choices to begin with. In fact, this group is the opposite and tries to make a point to not buy new at all. Great for the planet, but doesn't work well for the business of growing eco-friendly clothing as a mass appeal concept.
The next catch is that the consumers of mass fashion aren't yet sold on the need for change. They are hard to reach, and unless you have major name brand appeal, they rarely notice a small, ethical company's existence. The next battle of the organic clothing war is price. It's a barrier for most in choosing to try a new product of any kind, especially a clothing product. Lastly, there is the battle of the waste of making extra clothing pieces that you are not sure you are going to sell. Most small designers are not also fortune tellers, so it's hard to know if that chili red color you picked for your next collection is going to take before you roll it out to the public.
Can crowdfunding alleviate some of the risks in the ethical fashion business? Absolutely. It solves all of these issues and more. Crowdfunding allows the designer to reach a larger audience and helps get the word out about their good work. The early adopters of organic clothing can share the project with their networks. This allows the company to reach those who might still be shopping fast fashion or unethical retailers with their message. You might be a big fan of ethically made clothing, but your Aunty Sherry might have no clue ... until she sees you share a great organic clothing project on Facebook.
The battle of price is won by the designer's ability to fund the collection before production and also to know exactly what the shoppers want produced before manufacturing. This allows small clothing companies to lower their prices for supporters when they pledge for the clothing they want before production begins. The designer now knows what colors their clients want before production and what the top sellers in the line will be. Most designers of sustainable fashion have struggled to meet factory minimums for production. Often when you have highly specialized fabrics, like GOTS certified organic cotton blends, there are huge minimums just to get the fabric made (think 500 meters or more). This is a hard pill to swallow for small producers, and crowdfunding solves this problem by backing the designer and giving them the ability to invest in larger amounts of fabric upfront.
With eco-friendly clothing, designers need to think about making the clothing wearable and beautiful first; clothes can't be sold on their eco-friendly merits alone. I believe that it has to be an amazing product that the public wants, first and foremost; adding in the fact that the clothing is sweatshop-free and made with certified organic cotton is the icing on the beautiful cake. Eco and ethical fashion needs to reach and convert those people who love shopping and clothing with the message of sustainability and less is more. I believe that is where the bigger impact will happen. With the Rana factory tragedy, sweatshop labor and working conditions have taken center stage, but in this loss, there is a great opportunity to get the message out about ethical choices available to consumers.
Eco fashion needs to reach the women who love to shop to really take hold. One by one, we can convert these women with a renewed hope that fashion can be done better. Fashion can have a positive message of fair labor, organic ingredients and nontoxic dyes -- and at the same time be some of your favorite garments to wear. As more people try this new way of dressing, the word will spread about the beauty and viability of ethical organic fashion, and crowdfunding is a great way to reach a bigger market for independent eco fashion designers.
Jennifer Graham is the founder and Eco Fashion designer of Salts Organic Clothing, an eco friendly clothing company that connects and champions eco-conscious living through education and promotion of all aspects of living green. Salts Clothing's Kickstarter campaign is now Live until May 1, 2014, 8:10pm. Support the collection with your pledge and share today to encourage a more ethical future in fashion.