Ethica and the Business of Green Fashion

by Jen Brady on March 21, 2014

Carolina Cantor photocaroline

Have you ever thought about fashion as an important aspect for reducing your carbon footprint? Considering that we all wear clothes, it’s pretty important! No matter what we buy, it’s our responsibility to ensure our money is being spent ethically. From food to clothing, we can make a difference in our economy and environment. When looking for a green fashion company, Ethica stood out as an organization that practices what they preach. Ethica is a high-end retailer that works with artisans to offer “ethical, eco-friendly, sustainable fashion.” They also work with Nest; a nonprofit organization that helps artisans around the world. In addition to giving back, Ethica employees work to stay green and Ethica even offers carbon neutral shipping. Co-founder and Fashion Director, Carolina Cantor, was kind enough to give me some of her time so we can all learn more about ethics in fashion and more!

Jen: Ethica is unique in that your store offers quality items with a variety of vegan, fair trade, Made In The U.S.A., handcrafted and sustainable goods. What inspired each of those qualities as a need for your business? Do you have a background in fashion or travel?

Carolina: Our mission is to support designers and brands that are taking tangible steps to be environmentally-friendly, people-friendly, and animal-friendly. We came up with these categories as a simple way for visitors to browse the site according to the ethical quality that resonates most with them. Some categories do overlap and many items fit into multiple categories. This is why we also have a ‘Why It’s Ethical’ tab on each product page to provide details about that specific item or brand.

The Ethica team has experience in fashion, editorial, and luxury marketing. We love traveling and finding special pieces made by local designers and artisans using materials and / or crafting techniques native to that region. We like wearing items that tell a story about the culture and the person who made them.

J: To the average consumer, how would you explain sustainable clothing? What makes this quality important when shopping for clothes and how do they differ from clothing not labeled sustainable?

C: The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world. For instance, polyester, the most widely used synthetic fiber, is derived from petroleum. A lot of clothing today is treated with dyes and chemicals that are potentially toxic and carcinogenic. Because so many fashion items are produced on a mass scale, there are significant environmental repercussions.

There is no one quality that makes an item “sustainable.” It’s more about the conscious choices that are made in terms of the raw materials and the production processes that lower an item’s environmental impact. Choices that can increase an item’s sustainability include:

1) Using natural and organic fibers, recycled and upcycled components, as well as natural dyes and colorants.
2) Sourcing and producing products locally and in small batches.
3) Employing techniques, such as zero-waste pattern making, recycling, water conservation efforts, and the like.

J: I see you offer carbon-neutral shipping. How does this work?

C: Through CarbonFund.org, a nonprofit that helps individuals and businesses reduce their carbon footprint, we offset all of our shipping (domestic and international) through the purchase of carbon credits. These credits go toward various environmental projects related to reforestation, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Additionally, for items shipped within the U.S., we send them via UPS using a carbon-neutral option, which involves purchasing offsets to support projects including landfill gas destruction and wastewater treatment.

J: I love that you support Nest, a nonprofit designed to develop businesses for artisans. Please tell us more!

C: Nest is an amazing organization that works with various groups of women artisans in different countries to produce beautiful, high-quality goods. Their approach is truly admirable because not only do they alleviate poverty by providing women in underdeveloped communities with work opportunities, but they also organize workshops and ongoing training programs to develop their crafting and leadership skills. Ultimately, they empower these artisans and provide them with long-term, sustainable employment opportunities.

J: Ethica supports ethical practices with their vendors and incorporates these practices into their own business environment. In what ways are your offices working to be environmentally friendly? Do you have any tips for other offices?

C: We are based out of a LEED-certified green tower, which means that, among other eco-friendly qualities, the building was designed to be water and energy efficient. As a company we are very conscious about waste, and we reuse as much as possible. Our packaging is eco-friendly, as are our clothing tags, business cards, and printing paper, etc.

There are several quick and easy changes that offices can make to be more environmentally friendly:
1) Printing as little as possible (on recycled paper, using both sides).
2) Recycling all paper and cardboard products.
3) Opening the blinds to take advantage of natural light, and thus reducing the need for artificial lighting.
4) During the warmer months, opening the windows to allow in the breeze and reduce the need for air conditioning.
5) Turning off and unplugging appliances to prevent “vampire” energy loss from electricity on standby.
6) Since many of us work from a computer, adjusting the settings so that it goes to power-saving mode after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity, and turning it off at the end of the day.

These are just a few examples, but I think it’s important to highlight that if each person makes an effort to start implementing small changes, they will collectively add up and have a significant impact on the office’s carbon footprint. Most importantly it’s about fostering this awareness and having it be an integral part of the company culture.

J: What other ways should consumers consider being more environmentally friendly?

C: Millions of tons of clothes are piling up in landfills every year, resulting in increased methane gas production. Consumers can make conscious efforts to change their purchasing habits and make it their goal to create less waste. They can consider buying high quality items that will last longer and making purchases less frequently. It’s about quality, not quantity, which is why it’s important to avoid poorly made items that often fall apart after a few wears. Also, they can avoid purchasing clothing just because it’s ‘on trend’ if they plan on wearing it only for a few months and then discard it the following season. We encourage people to focus on purchasing special, timeless pieces that they’ll want to keep for years to come.

For more information on Ethica, please check out www.shopethica.com.

Jen Brady

I love Green Lifestyles Network’s mission to give people solutions and embrace love of each other. Through my writing I hope you will find fun, love, and inspiration. My inspiration is spirituality, gardening, natural beauty and beauty of one’s character. As a Psychology major with experience in the beauty industry, I found a passion for embracing self esteem through positive messages.

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