Category Archives: sustainable

Interview with Hare+Hart

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I emailed Hare+Hart some interview questions which they promptly answered.  Company founders, Jennie Engelhardt and Emily Harrison, are doing some very inspiring work in the leather business and have taken the time out of their busy schedule (including moving and preparing for a two month trip to Argentina to work on their upcoming line) to answer our questions.  Thank you Hare+Hart.

SA:  Let’s start at the beginning, how did you end up in Argentina making leather garments?
H+H:  There are more cows living in Argentina than people.  Historically, Argentine culture is centered around the cow, and Argentina is one of the largest beef exporters in the world.  Subsequently, leather is also a significant part of their cultural history and is regarded as some of the finest in the world.  I first learned this while studying abroad in Buenos Aires.  As a Spanish major, Emily moved to Buenos Aires to work in the wine industry after graduating, and because of our mutual affinity for fashion and Argentine culture, we have been talking about starting a company bringing Argentine leather to the U.S. since she arrived.

Last summer, I went to visit Emily in Buenos Aires and was having a leather jacket custom made.  While I love the jacket, we couldn’t help but keep brainstorming new leather jacket ideas, we soon realized that we had an entire collection thought out.  So after years of dreaming about our own company, we decided to actually do it.  And since Emily is living in Argentina, and I am in New York working and had been working in the fashion industry, it seemed like the perfect time and way for us to combine our love of fashion and Argentine culture and create Hare+Hart.

SA:  So there’s been a lot of hype over your label being “ethical” but to some it may be an oxymoron to use the word “ethical” to describe leather. How do you respond to that?
H+H:  We realize that there are people that will always be opposed to the leather industry, but what sets us apart from other leather producers and from manufacturers of other furs and skins is that we are taking the hides from cows that are already being used for consumption.  The cow is an integral part of Argentine culture and identity, and beef is the core element of the Argentine diet – and Argentines eat ALL parts of the cow, not only the cuts that we are familiar with in the United States.  We are creating a product from what would otherwise be waste from the beef industry.

Additionally, we ensure that we use hides from cows that were grass-fed and free roaming, so that the cow had a high quality of life.  We also care that the people involved in creating our products are treated with consideration and fairness, so we only work with manufacturers and artisans that pay their worker fair wages and benefits and provide healthy working conditions.

SA:  So, other producers of leather garments are using hides and wasting the rest of the animal?
H+H:  Often when cows are being raised in large feed lots for beef, only their meat is considered.  Their diet is based upon the cow growing to provide the most amount of meat possible and they are butchered in a way that produces the most amount of beef in the easiest and cheapest methods possible.  This ruins the hide and makes it impossible to use it to create leather products.  It is more expensive and labor intensive to slaughter a cow to take advantage of both the beef and the hide, and therefore, it is not always the standard practice.

SA:  Just to be clear, how do you define fair wages and benefits, and a healthy work environment?
H+H:  We do not work with manufacturers that provide sweatshop-like working conditions.  We will only work with manufacturers that pay their employees fair wages based upon the standard of living for Argentina and provide paid vacation and maternity leave.  The environment of the manufacturer must be clean and not pose a health threat to any of the workers.

SA:  Do you have a Code of Conduct?
H+H:  We do not have an official Code of Conduct, but since it is important to us personally to make ethical decisions, we carry that through to all aspects of our company.

SA:  You two seem like very trustworthy people, but how can consumers trust that your claims about the production process and your materials match the reality on the ground?
H+H:  As consumers, we think it is very important to make well informed purchases.  We try to make our production process as transparent as possible, so that consumers know all aspects of the Hare+Hart products that they purchase.  We also feel that it is important to not make blanket statements about being an ethical company.  Rather, we inform our consumers about the steps we are taking to be environmentally friendly and humane, so that they can decide for themselves whether or not our products work with their belief systems.

SA:  Do you plan on making this information available to consumers through the Hare+Hart website?
H+H:  We have an “About” section on our website that explains the steps we are taking to make our company as ethical as possible.  Also, as we begin to develop our Spring 2011 line, we plan on blogging about the process and the decisions that we face.

SA:  As designers, do you believe that it is your responsibility to consider the social and environmental impact of the garments you produce?
H+H:  We believe that it is our responsibility as individuals to consider the social and environmental impact of everything we do, so naturally we extend this belief to our brand as designers.

SA:  Quite frankly, conventional leather tanning processes have a reputation for being
particularly harmful to both people and planet.  Are your processes within the
Hare+Hart supply chain different from conventional methods?
H+H:  While most leather manufacturers use harsh chemicals throughout the entire tanning process, we use vegetable dyes to color the leather and only use finishing agents to stabilize the color and finish.  The tannery we use, has also passed rigorous environmental standards (ISO 14001:2004) regarding the chemical process they use to finish the leather.  We are  also researching chemical-free methods of finishing leather and hope to be able to find a method that is not cost restrictive and incorporate it into our process in the near future.

SA:  Is this a solo project or are you working with your tanners on it?
H+H: Since we are not leather scientists ourselves, we are working with a chemist at a tannery to develop methods of softening leather for apparel use without using chrome.  It is possible to use leather that is dyed with 100% vegetable dyes, but it is still finished with chrome.  Currently there is no method for producing a leather that is pliable enough for apparel without using chrome or another harsh chemical in the finishing process.

SA:  Do you feel that it is the designer’s responsibility to know what these certifications mean?  Are you visiting the tanneries and making sure that their standards match your requirements?
H+H:  For us, we feel it is important to know about the materials we use and where they come from.  This includes knowing about environmental certifications and visiting tanneries to learn as much about the tanning process as possible.  We are in the midst of updating our website to include full disclosure on our production methods and materials.

SA:  Could you walk us through your design process (from conception through to consideration for end of product life); at what point or stage does the notion of consequence impact your design choices?
H+H:  We start our design process by sketching ideas for possible products, which we scan and email back and forth.  We then source different leather and lining options for our designs and only consider those which are environmentally sound.  We only work with tanneries that use vegetable dyes and have passed certain environmental standards, and we use natural linings such as tencel and acetate.  We try to select linings that are made as close to Argentina as possible in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

We are also creating reusable dust bags from recycled materials, and we try to run our business as environmentally friendly as possible.  We use recycled shipping materials and paper products, we work with a printer that is powered by wind energy and we reuse old documents for scratch paper for our designs.  We try to make ethical decisions in all aspects of our company because it is important to us and our belief systems.

SA:  Did you use any particular responsible design resources that guided you through the process?
H+H:  Unfortunately, there are still no go-to responsible design resources for us to use in creating our line.  We spend a lot of time researching responsible production methods and brainstorming ways in which we can improve upon industry practices.  This is an ongoing part of our work; as technology increases, so do the means of ethical production, and we want our products and company to be as ethically conscious as possible.

SA:  How do you view your relationships with the different businesses involved in your supply chain?
H+H:  We view our relationships with our tanneries and manufacturers as partnerships.  Both of our businesses depend on each other, and we want to support our partners as much as we can.

SA:  What has been the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
H+H:  Customs!  We had no idea that there could be so many potential problems facing a shipment of samples from Argentina to the U.S.

SA:  As you move forward, what inspires you and what scares you?
H+H:  We are inspired by anything from a city, to music or food.  We create pieces that we ourselves want to wear, and we strive to articulate leather in unexpected forms and silhouettes.  Our values also inspire us to create new industry practices and establish new and more ethical standards.

What scares us the most is that consumers will continue to think about fashion without considering the environment.  Consumers have more power than they realize, and if they create a demand for ethical products, companies will start taking more steps towards more ethical practices.  We know it is not realistic that companies completely change overnight; however, we hope that more and more companies will realize the difference they can make by making even very small changes.
“The most important thing that we want people to learn is that small efforts can make a big difference.”

SA:  What are some of the key lessons coming out of this experience that you would like to share with this community?
H+H:  The most important thing that we want people to learn is that small efforts can make a big difference.  Designers often think that they have to go 100% organic in order to make a difference, but there are many small steps they can take that make a big difference.  If all companies in all industries start making small changes, it will have a larger impact both environmentally and socially than having only a handful of companies that are making large changes.  This also translates to the individual – environmentalism is not an all or nothing practice.  There are many small changes such as recycling, purchasing organic or local produce or turning off the lights that can make a big difference.

Call for Entries// The Earth Awards

The Earth Awards is a global search for creative solutions designed for the 21st Century. The award represents six categories: Built Environment, Product, Future, Systems, Fashion, and Social Justice.

Dilys Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion, has been included in the Selection Committee, and will be judging the Fashion category, along with other designers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, humanitarians, environmentalists and spiritual leaders.

Here is the mission of the awards:

Human imagination and ingenuity are the impetus of every good design. All across the world, people from every walk of life are generating good design ideas that offer groundbreaking solutions to the ecological and social challenges of the 21st century. The Earth Awards provides a platform for these visionary ideas, presenting a unique opportunity for individuals and organizations worldwide to expose their design innovations to a global audience. The Earth Awards is committed to the idea of popularizing the most viable of these innovations, and transforming them into market-ready solutions.

The submission period closes May 10th. Good Luck!

Check out this video of last year’s finalists!

Source: CSF

VOTE// Fashion Takes Action, Design Forward Award

Who’s your favourite responsible Canadian designer?

Fashion Takes Action (FTA) has officially launched Canada’s 1st annual eco design award, Design Forward.

I had the pleasure of working on this project, and I am so excited that Social Alterations could support this important initiative in Canada,  and I will explain the extent of our participation in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Here are the nominees:

All the information you need has been made available to you, the public, and you are invited to vote online for the designer you believe best represents ‘eco design’ in Canada. Once you have cast your vote, the decision will be left in the hands of the jury, who will select their winning choice from the top three finalists.

The criterion for voting is based on production, material, design, and special features. Take your time getting to know each designer: you only get one vote, so make it count!

Check out the prize, valued at approximately $50,000!

  • A free membership in Fashion Takes Action
  • A three-month national PR campaign, provided by Third Eye Media
  • Feature in EcoSalon – the number one green fashion blog!
  • Participation at Nolcha Fashion Week’s Ethical Fashion Preview in NYC in September 2010
  • Travel and accommodations for two, provided by Air Miles Reward Program
  • 75 meters of eco-friendly fabric, supplied by Telio (to make a sample collection to show in NYC)
  • Look book photo shoot with full creative team including photographer, models, hair & makeup and stylist
  • Look book graphic design by pencil design
  • $1,000 towards Fair trade and Organic certification, provided by Ecocert.

The voting will close @ midnight on Friday, April 16th.

To all the designers, we wish you luck!

Responsible Leather

Is there such a product?  According to Hare+Hart, there is and they’re using it to make beautifully designed pieces.  Company founders, Jennie Engelhardt and Emily Harrison, tell us on their website:

“we believe that the materials and production process are just as important as the aesthetics. We produce our collection in Argentina so that all of our cow leather is sourced from grass-fed, free roaming Argentine cows, providing a better life for the cow as well as preventing marring of the hide. We choose hides from cows that are also being used for beef so that no part of the animal is wasted.”

They then go on to address labour conditions in the production process saying that “we ensure that all of the craftsmen working on our items receive fair wages and benefits.”

Over at GretaGuide, the video below was posted showing Jennie and Emily talking about their company, its values and their vision for the future.

Hare+Hart: Ethical Leather Line from Greta Eagan on Vimeo.

Their look book is stunning with easy to wear, graceful everyday pieces.  I love, love, love their Schiller jacket and their Donelan tuxedo blazer.

It’s no secret that Mary and I are fans of their designs.  Mary has even become a fan on facebook!  Still, SA is a website dedicated to responsible design and it’s clear that Hare+Hart have the design bit covered, but we want to know more about the responsible part of their business.  So, I emailed Hare+Hart yesterday asking them for an interview and they have graciously accepted (thanks guys!).

If you have any questions that you would like me to ask, please let me know by email or on our facebook fanpage.  I plan to email the interview questions on Monday.  Stay tuned for an update to this story!!

Social Alterations// Slides

Nadira and I both promised to make the slides from our presentations at the FEI conference available online, and here they are, along with a slideshow of some of the images we captured from the event. I’ve reposted the videos of the presentations for convenience.

Thanks to everyone who offered feedback, we were so grateful for your considerations. Please, keep let’s keep the conversation going!

Be sure to contact us with any questions!

Social Alterations @ FEI from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

CSR Trends in China’s Apparel Supply Chain from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Find more photos like this on Social Alterations

WATCH// Social Alterations @ FEI

Here are just two of the videos we took at the conference. We have more videos to come, so stay tuned for those.

The first video is of my Pecha Kucha talk. I’ll be posting the slides and my notes a little later on. Please contact us if you have any questions on the works cited in the presentation.

Social Alterations @ FEI from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) held the table next to ours during the Market Place on day two of the conference. We asked them what exactly responsible fashion meant to the EJF, and for their thoughts on why designers should care.

FEI Conference 006 from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Pesticide Action Network (PAN) was also there, asking participants “what organic cotton means… me”. Pictured above is Nadira Lamrad (right) with her answer.

Social Alterations @ FEI

So here we are in London for the Fashioning an Ethical Industry Conference: Fast Forward. Today, Nadira and I will both be presenting at the conference, and with Katrine in attendance, this will mark the first time the SA team is all together in the same place at the same time!  

We will be doing lots of blogging and twitter (ing?) from the event, and will have our presentations uploaded later tonight for you to check out, so be sure to tune in.

Follow on twitter via @maryhanlon for that feed.

Wish us luck!

Can Design Change Behaviour?

This question was answered recently by Banny Banerjee, Director of the Stanford Design Program and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering.  In short, his answer is YES!

“Our behavior is deeply influenced by the norms and frameworks that surround us and design can be used to create systems and experiences that work with an underlying understanding of human behavior and cause people to fall into entirely new patterns of behavior,” says Banerjee, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Because behavior can be influenced—not just observed—it provides an important opportunity for tackling complex challenges such as sustainability.

“That opportunity is perhaps best addressed with design. Uniquely trained to simultaneously consider human factors, technology and business factors, designers can help identify a behavioral goal (e.g. reduce energy use) and then work from that to employ the best systems, ideas, experiences, and technologies to enable alternate realities in the future.”

Banerjee’s work, which is related to energy consumption in the home, has shown that designers should focus on ways to appeal to the ‘irrational‘ side of consumers.  That’s the side that chooses to buy the designer t-shirt even though a generic brand t-shirt of equal quality is available at a much lower price.  According to ethnographic research,

“…consumers are not swayed to adopt solar power based on a rational comparison of dollars per watt, as much as on whether their neighbors have taken the plunge. Also, people do not have an intuitive understanding of energy like they do with time and money. It does not appear to be enough to flatly inform people of the facts of their energy usage. Instead emotional motivation, habits, and tiny choices that people make in their day-to-day lives without necessarily being conscious of them are important factors in how a crucial resource such as energy gets used.”

Can these ideas be applied to fashion design?  Absolutely!  Think of the previous passage like this:

…consumers are not swayed to adopt solar power ethical fashion based on a rational comparison of dollars per watt unit, as much as on whether their neighbors have taken the plunge. Also, people do not have an intuitive understanding of energy the impact of their consumption decisions like they do with time and money. It does not appear to be enough to flatly inform people of the facts of their energy usage the impact of their consumption decisions. Instead emotional motivation, habits, and tiny choices that people make in their day-to-day lives without necessarily being conscious of them are important factors in how a crucial resource such as energy gets used consumption decisions favour sustainability.

The current fashion industry is largely driven by a ‘fast-fashion’ trend.  A popular arguments is that the consumer is driving this trend and companies that do not comply will fail miserably.  The problem with this argument is that it assumes that the consumer is at the bottom of a pyramid of responsibility and the designer is, of course, at the top simply creating products needed craved by consumers.  But, if designers, through their actions (read: designs), can change behaviour, responsibility is suddenly shared between parties involved in the system (including brands).

In a conversation with Mary Hanlon, she brought up the idea of applying design concepts to address sustainability.  Using end-user experience as a focus, Mary made the following point:

“When we consider that the impact of a garment on the user side of the life-cycle is often larger than on the production side, it becomes clear that the consumer experience cannot be ignored.  We need to change the norms and frameworks that surround consumers to create systems that move toward sustainability.  If fashion designers are able to change consumer perception through aesthetic based frameworks, they have the responsibility to change behaviour.”

Changes in consumer behavior can be done through a variety of strategies including the choice of materials and effective labelling of care requirements which was discussed before on SA.  Some other strategies can be found here.  Perhaps the most recent example is that of Brazilian company Tristar Jeans which advocates freezing your jeans instead of washing them which is only necessary to remove stains.  Also, their jeans are reversible allowing longer wear time between washes.  For more on Tristar click here.

Go Green Week, 2010 // The University of the Arts

Timo Rissanen offers a great post with his notes on ‘The Sustainability Equation: Ethics and Aesthetics in Contemporary Fashion’ and on the ‘Ethics and Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion’ exhibit at Pratt on his personal blog “Timo Rissanen: Fashion Creation Without Fabric Waste Creation.”

Not to be confused with the Pratt exhibit, that runs until the 20th of February, the graduate students of the MA in Fashion and the Environment over at the London College of Fashion will host “[a]n informal evening called Ethics+Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion, […] on Friday 12th February at the HUB” for Go Green Week 2010, along with other awareness campaigns such as a fashion swapshop and workshops.

Here is message from the MA Fashion and the Environment students via the Centre for Sustainable Fashion with all of the details:

“Fashion is saving the world this week at the University of the Arts! The first UAL Go Green Week of 2010 at The University of the Arts is fast approaching, held the week of the 8th until the 12th February, and the students from the LCF course MA Fashion and the Environment, who are advocates of an ethical and sustainable fashion industry; based at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, are raising awareness throughout the University of the exciting and innovative developments of sustainable design within the fashion and textile industries.

We have a couple of, what promise to be, exciting and informative events organised for Go Green week, in order to increase public consciousness of environmental issues that are becoming increasingly prominent of late in the industry. Over the course of the week, the Fashion and the Environment students are out to spread the word about what you and I can do to make our wardrobes greener, so to speak! Green is the new black, darling!

A Fashion Swapshop is organised for Thursday the 11th Feb, at the HUB, at the Davies Street between 6pm and 9pm. We are invited to search our wardrobes for garments we never wear, bring them along, and swap them for ones we will wear and love. The Swapshop is not the only focus of the evening, as it will also include speakers from textile recycling company TRAID who aim to protect the environment by diverting clothes from landfill, clothing customising workshops, and, for one night only in London, a vintage clothing stall all the way from Italy–Mercatino Michela.

An informal evening called Ethics+Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion, will be held on Friday 12th February at the HUB, at the Davies Street between 7pm and 9pm (the bar will be open) introducing and exploring the diverse and innovative areas of sustainability within the Fashion and Textile Industry. This event will be personally hosted by MA Fashion and the Environment students from LCF in collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. Open to all students from around the university , we are invited to come along to learn more and find out why this is such a vitally important area of contemporary design, ask questions and even get advice regarding sustainable design for our own projects. This evening promises a scintillating line up of from ethical clothing companies such as: People Tree, Ethical Fashion Forum and, Environmental Justice Foundation (also selling their t-shirts) who will be discussing the work they do to play an important role in a changing industry. The evening will also include a short film made by the MA Fashion and the Environment students, showcasing the variety of work and unique individual talents all working towards securing a more sustainable fashion future.”

More info at SU Arts University Student Union.

Source: CSF

Green Carpet Challenge

We can’t celebrate good intentions, we have to celebrate beauty(Dilys Williams, London College of Fashion)

We’ve really been enjoying watching Mr. Darcy actor Colin Firth’s wife Livia Firth challenge herself to take on ethical fashion this award season. Livia is no stranger to ethical style, however, considering she’s the owner of ethical shop Eco Age in London.

She’s been blogging about the Green Carpet Challenge over at Vogue UK, so that we can follow along with her on this incredible journey. Along the way, she’s been interviewing ethical fashion gurus like London College of Fashion Dilys Williams and ethical designer Christopher Raeburn.

Be sure to follow her as she takes on this challenge!