28 June 2013

The Good Wardrobe: Interview

The other day I stumbled upon The Good Wardrobe and my eyes lit up. A website to help make the quest for sustainable fashion easier and more accessible? Yes please! I thought you, good reader, would be interested too, so I had a chat to the founder, Zoe Robinson, to find out more...

Hi Zoe, thanks for joining us! Can you tell my readers what The Good Wardrobe is?

"The Good Wardrobe is a free online style-sharing community hub. We mix the best ‘conscious’ fashion with services that prolong the life of clothes. If you’re looking for a sewing class recommendation, organic jeans or the best local cobbler, just ask The Good Wardrobe community, or search in our ‘long-life style directory’ for inspiration."

What inspired you to start The Good Wardrobe?

"About three years ago my sewing machine broke. I had no idea where I could have it fixed locally and I had no idea who to ask – I was stumped. I figured I could probably find someone online if I searched for long enough, but I wouldn’t know what their service was like and felt I would much rather have a recommendation.

At that time I’d been working as an ethical stylist and fashion writer for a few years. An increasing number of people told me they were interested in dressing more sustainably but couldn’t find what they were looking for. The general consensus amongst them was that ethical fashion was too expensive and too hard to find - this was a barrier which I wanted to break down. I knew there were amazing, affordable brands out there and a lot of knowledge too but the dots needed to be joined.

So, it wasn’t just one light bulb moment, but a series of ideas I had about creating a platform for people (both experts and the inexperienced) to collaborate and share knowledge. I believe being able to sew and mend clothes is part of having a sustainable wardrobe so it just makes sense to bring the two together – something which other ethical fashion sites hadn’t done."

How can sewing enthusiasts get involved?

"The website is in beta at the moment so the site only has a fraction of what we want to share but we would love your support so please do join us and start to share your wardrobe wisdom! Here’s how:
- Forum: you can post questions on our forum or help other people by answering theirs.
- Directory: review shops, sites and services in the directory to help grow our community and help others find what they are looking for. New listings are being added all the time but please do tell us if your favourite shop or site is missing – if they share our ethos of great ‘service, style and sustainability’ we will add them to the site.
- Sew It Forward: this is our initiative to encourage people to share their sewing skills. You can download a gift voucher from the site and give it to someone with the promise of sharing your sewing, knitting or mending skills with them. (Please let us know what you have taught or learnt and send us your photos too).
- Spread the word – if you like what we’re doing, please share by social media and tell your friends, family and anyone you know interested in sewing."

Apart from sewing our own clothes, how can we ensure our fashion consumption is more sustainable?

"There is a lot we can each do. Much of it is simply about thinking and being more conscious of our choices:

1) Buying to last – before making a purchase, think about how much wear you will get out of that garment. Does it really suit you and will you want to wear it for years to come? Look at the quality of the fabric, cut, stitching – will it stay in good shape or fall to pieces after the first wash?

2) Seek out garments that are:
- Fairtrade: this ensures workers producing the fabric or garment are paid a fair, living wage, are treated with respect and work under safe conditions
- Organic: this cuts out the use of harmful pesticides making the process safer for farmers, their communities and the wider environment
- Buy second hand, recycled or upcycled garments: they use fewer resources than producing new, and prevents what might otherwise have been waste textiles ending up in landfill.

3) Ask questions - many of us tend to trust the brands we buy from and take it for granted that the clothes we buy on the high street are produced under fair working conditions. If you have heard about the recent garment factory collapse in Bangladesh which killed over 1,200 people you may already know that some of the UK’s most popular high street brands had produced their clothes in that factory. Next time you visit your favourite store, ask staff if they know where their clothes are made. If you have concerns, write to the company’s CEO and tell them you care about the people who make your clothes. And talk to your friends and family about ethical issues in the fashion industry – even if you’re just asking them if they know where their clothes come from. Chances are, if they haven’t thought about it before, they will now.

4) Wardrobe care: wash at low temperatures and only when needed, line-dry, protect garments from moth damage and learn to mend.

5) When you are finished with your clothing dispose of it considerately – if it’s still in good condition donate it to a charity shop, a charity textiles recycling bank like Traid, go to a clothes swap or sell at a market, car boot sale or dress agency (we have listings for these on the site)."

You were recently shortlisted for the Observer Ethical Awards - congratulations! How did that feel?

"I was thrilled! I have been an admirer of what Lucy Siegle (awards founder and Observer columnist) and Livia Firth (Creative Director of Eco-Age who sponsored the Well Dressed award) have been doing over the past few years and I feel very proud to be runner up in a category judged by them."

What are your hopes for the future?

"The aim is for the site to become a comprehensive resource for sustainable fashion. I want to see thousands of people across the world sharing skills and knowledge as a result of The Good Wardrobe.

We are just launching a new function on the site: with the help of some friendly corporate sponsors you will soon be able to earn credits for helping on the forum and use them to donate to one of our chosen charity projects. Our potential sponsors will share our ethos and want to be involved in our community whilst donating to charities working towards a more sustainable fashion industry.

The link between learning to sew and ethics in the fashion industry is important and it’s one we want to develop. When we know how to make or mend, we can better understand the amount of work that goes into producing a garment so we have a genuine appreciation for Fairtrade and the premiums paid to workers. Subsequently, we are more likely to think twice before buying a new shirt for £3 from the high street, and are less inclined to throw clothes in the bin. There are lots of exciting Sew It Forward plans and events in the pipeline so watch this space!"

My sentiment exactly - making your own clothing provides an understanding of the processes involved in production and can thus inspire a more mindful approach to consumption and the way we interact with the world. Thanks very much for sharing The Good Wardrobe with us, Zoe, and keep up the good work!