Changing the world, one shirt at a time!


Every day I come in to work, and the first thing I do is go through my ever-overflowing inbox of emails. At least half are junk and go straight to the trash. Yesterday however,  I came across an email from Perlita Ortega, who is a master’s participant (for global entrepreneurship)  at the University of San Francisco.

She had a simple enough question – but one worth answering and sharing. I think in 2o11 it is especially relevant as consumers are taking a hold of their voices more firmly than ever.

Her question was, ” If you as a socially responsible designers, feel this  is a growing trend.  Also, do you feel that a fashionable socially responsible market place is something consumers may be looking for?”

My response is an emphatic YES!

I had to laugh when Ms. Ortega pointed out, “as you can imagine in a Business masters program, I am surrounded by mostly business minded people who I struggle to convince that this in fact is a movement”.

When I think of the fashion industry and how it changed the world… I think of Coco Chanel, Jean Muir breaking the barrier between couture and ready-to-wear, Vivienne Westwood with her modern punk and new-wave fashions, Manolo Blahnik dominating shoe design since the early 1970’s, and Christian Dior, arguably the most influential fashion designer of the 1940s and ’50s with his hour-glass silhouette.

But what happens when it is the consumer that begins to shape the trend?

My response to Perlita was this…

I believe with all my heart that responsible designing is a growing trend. I think it needs more recognition from the fashion industry as a whole, but It has been growing for a while now. What I like to think of, is when we do reach a level where social and Eco responsibility becomes common, what new twist will then be added? It is exciting to consider.

I follow a lot of trend forecasting and research and am also socially and environmentally aware. I like to use the term aware, because as a consumer myself, I do not see myself as an activist or someone on the far wing of the movement. I am always aware of my impact, I recycle and give back to my community as best I can. At the same time, I just could never see myself as a vegan, or giving up everything I love for a cause. It may be selfish, or perhaps it is just realistic in knowing myself. I think that is a big part to fashion as well. The question of compelling a population that is traditionally a little bit selfish, to make a big change.

Do you remember when the extra-concentrated laundry detergent became available in the smaller bottles? The companies engineering the change wanted to save money, use less plastic, and become more eco-friendly. Tests even proved that you can use less detergent and get the same results as the diluted version available in the larger bottles. The result – people continued to buy the larger bottles. They didn’t want to change, and they didn’t trust it could do the same job as the larger one.

Established fashion companies and designers are the same, resistant to change, and also looking for the best price as well.  So much is about the money – asking a big company to change is nearly impossible. However, the market today has a big focus on smaller designers, smaller companies. Many of the larger department stores cut their buying of established name brands to pick up smaller line’s during the recession.

With my company Multeepurpose, we made the decision to produce locally within the US, give back,  and to use fair labor standards from the very beginning. It was an easy choice for us, and our costs have always included these things, so we never had to see dwindling profits because of it. We did make the switch to eco- friendly and pvc-free water based printing a year after we started. We always wanted to do this but at the time Multeepurpose began the quality was not there and prices were through the roof. Now, the quality has finally reached where we want our products to be.

I know we all start small, but I do believe we can change the world one step at a time (or in my case one shirt at a time). Even the greatest brands start one piece at a time. Not really related to social responsibility but good for the point I am making, Guess inc. started their empire with one item – the Marilyn Jean. Juicy Started with a Tee shirt. Even James Perse started with one item – a Tee Shirt. If they can start billion dollar empires with one item, what’s not to say a movement can start in the same way?

Major consumer trends are more like swells in the ocean rather than one time tsunamis, and this one has been building for a while now. When it comes to the mega trend of generation Y (perhaps we should say Generation G- for generosity as the writers of trend-watching are calling it), consumers and people alike are putting extra weight on random acts of kindness, craving realness, and true human connections. Even with social platforms like facebook, social distance is a very interesting phenomenon. Just as it takes us closer to people, it also takes us away. I believe there will always be that push and pull of identities, and with that comes fashion.

Fashion serves as a social identity, a means of communication, a statement, it fills a need that is missing. It can compensate for something, serve as a solution, or hide something (and so much more). That is why it is so trend based. Wants and needs are forever changing and very personal to its consumers. Right now – consumers are beginning to care and make buying choices based on that. The fashion industry will have no choice (if it hasn’t begun to already) to respond.


I’d love to open this up for discussion if anyone has anything to add or comment on 🙂




2 responses

  1. Megan Dougherty

    Megan Dougherty: “We are a country of consumers, so producers have a great responsibility. consumers are now asking for eco-changes, which is great! i strongly believe that in the near future companies who do not take this into consideration will stop making profits because consumers will stop buying from them when socially and/or environmentally responsible alternatives are available.”

    February 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm

  2. Shannon

    Being socially conscience should not be considered a trend. A trend has a peak and ultimately dies. However, Shana does have a great point.
    Companies know that when they make a product that they are hurting the environment in some way. Now when you look at a product they advertise that they try to min the impact on the world.
    Retail sales are about 80 percent of our economy and is so diverse that what is in style in New York will not be the same thing as San Diego. That is not to say there are main seasonal trends that hit all regions.
    I see being more environmental in fashion is more of a movement. People are open up to it, but price and out sourcing is something the industry still values.
    I am so happy that Shana and Multeepurpose are starting this movement. As we see the world change I feel the harder industries will adjust to these new needs.

    March 21, 2011 at 8:49 pm

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