Make a Fashion Statement for Sustainability
by Mick Schulte
Photography by Ernesto Sue Photography
“The more that people connect with the fashion industry through their own sense of style, the more invested they’ll be in what they wear,” says Beth Stewart, the cofounder and executive director of Redress Raleigh, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate consumers about sustainable fashion and textiles.
After seeing portrayals of sustainable fashion as uninspired and unflattering, Stewart put together a small group of like-minded people to form Redress Raleigh; that was more than a decade ago. “I knew it could be fashion-forward and fun,” Stewart says.
That initial excitement to reveal the captivating side of sustainable fashion led her team to organize their first fashion show in the spring of 2009. Since then, thousands of people, both attendees and designers, have participated in the Redress Raleigh Fashion Shows. The group also holds other events—such as mixers, panel discussions, and documentary screenings—in an effort to inform the public about the fashion and textile industry.
“Each time we buy something, it’s like a vote for the type of world we want to live in. Becoming educated about the fashion industry helps us make smarter choices as we shop, and ensures we’re voting for a healthy environment and a high quality of life for the people making our clothes,” says Carrie Misenheimer, the Redress Raleigh communications chair.
Recently the group has moved away from its initial focus on designers and fashion shows to more consumer advocacy and education. “Many people don’t know that the fashion industry is the second largest pollutant after the oil industry,” notes Redress Raleigh board member, Rosalinda Cruz.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take up to 2,700 liters of water to make one single T-shirt, and that is the equivalent of three years worth of drinking water. Beyond the impact on water conservation, clothes require energy to create and transport, and they produce waste. And then there’s the sordid history associated with the fashion industry’s labor practices.
Stewart and her team believe that residents of Raleigh and the surrounding areas tend to be receptive to making changes, particularly in light of these issues. “Raleigh’s strong roots in the textile industry make it an ideal location to begin the conversation around sustainability. With so many components of the supply chain—from local designers, to larger brands and mills in the Greensboro area, to institutions like N.C. State University’s College of Textiles—the Triangle already serves as a large hub for education in textile and design. This means that we can join a conversation that’s happening naturally, and we can meet our audience where they already are,” says Morgan Lang, the logistics chair for Redress Raleigh.
Besides frequent events and social gatherings, Redress Raleigh offers online resources for consumers to engage in meaningful conversations about the sustainability of their clothing. The organization’s website features a resources page with suggestions for books and movies, along with a document highlighting “10 Ways to Green Your Closet.” With suggestions like “repair and repurpose” and “shop local, shop small,” the informative paper serves as a guide for anyone curious about changing their shopping habits.
“One of my favorite things about Redress Raleigh is the e-newsletters. Each newsletter features a local fashion designer who is using sustainable practices in the making of their clothing. This has introduced me to a lot of different brands that I would not have heard about otherwise,” says Laura Jasmine, a local blogger who writes about fair trade and eco-friendly choices at FairlySouthern.com.
Through mediums such as the newsletter and social media, Redress Raleigh highlights the designers and industry experts who are making a difference by cultivating a sustainable ecosystem around fashion. However, Stewart is quick to note that the ubiquitous nature of clothing means the real differences are made by individual consumers. “Fashion and textiles are a huge part of our lives; we all wear clothing, and we’re surrounded by textiles in our home and workplaces. [In that] part of our lives, we can make a difference if we are more aware of the impact of our choices,” she says.