Q&A with Ethical Fashion Expert, Kate Black
Kate Black is the founder of the sustainable fashion blog, Magnifeco and author of her new book, Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty. I teamed up with Black to talk about the sustainable fashion industry, her eco journey, and what tips and advice she can offer us about re-evaluating our wardrobe.
Highlighting talented, environmentally conscious, and driven people, like Kate is what we’re all about! Enjoy!
Kate Black, Magnifeco
Tell us a little bit about your journey. What life event or series of events prompted you to focus on sustainable fashion? How did you become an ‘eco-vangelist’?
I have a background in digital publishing and online media and when I moved to Japan in 2007, without the language skills to work in my field, it was time to become entrepreneurial. I wanted to start something that matched my skills and passions, and Magnifeco was born. It started as a ‘daily eco-fashion find’ and grew to include mens and childrens fashion as well as beauty and travel. At its height, it was read in 120 countries and 26 contributors from 9 different countries.
What are your top 3 favourite ethical fashion brands and why?
I can’t pick just three – there are tons of great brands to choose from, and great ones in every category: shoes, bags, special occasion wear, underwear, outerwear – too many to choose. Three great Canadian designers also transplanted in Brooklyn would be Study NY, Brother Vellies, Rita Liefhebber. Three great designers in my hometown of Toronto would be Sonia den Elzen (Thieves and Zen Nomad), Laura Siegel, Jennifer Fukushima.
As a fellow Canadian – do you think Canada is making big enough strides in the sustainable fashion industry?
Domestic production is a great way to support a sustainable fashion industry in Canada, and I’m thrilled that so many brands and designers are embracing that. Every time I come home, I seek out and buy exclusively ‘made in Canada’ pieces.
What inspired you to create the global event platform, EcoSessions? How do you think these events would have impacted designers, industry and consumers alike and to what degree do you think you have been successful?
After the earthquake, tsunami and especially the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, I wanted to leave so my husband and I applied to immigrate to the US. He was given an O1 visa and I was given an O3, which meant I was allowed to live but not work. Consequently, the lawyers took one look at magnifeco.com and said ‘shut it down’. It was terrible. For the first time I was living in a country where I spoke the language, and I couldn’t continue to build my brand.
So I put the blog on ‘hiatus’ and launched EcoSessions®, as a ‘free’ event platform that brought designers, industry and consumers to gather to discuss change. I took the storytelling element of Magnifeco off the screen and into live discussions and panels. We’ve held events on: Sustainable Textiles, Innovations in Textiles, Non-Toxic Beauty, Slow Fashion, Ethical Retailing, and last year held a half-day conference at FIT in New York on Made in Africa.
EcoSessions has local ambassadors who have helped with events in Berlin, Boston, Toronto and New York. I am currently seeking more ambassadors in other cities, the goal is to run events in 12 cities in 2016.
What prompted you to write the book Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty? How difficult or inspiring was researching the material?
The Q and A from EcoSessions inspired my book. Each session I was surprised by the questions that were asked, and found myself thinking ‘someone should write an exposé about this so citizens, consumers, designers, know these things.’
Since that was the premise, it was pretty easy to gather info. I interviewed some of the top innovators in the fields of auditing, textiles, chemicals, etc. and everyone was so incredibly open and helpful in suggesting angles or reports to highlight the ‘bad’.
Revealing the ‘dark side’ is only one half of the book, the other half is sharing brands and designers who are doing it differently. That was already easy – I interviewed my favourites and then asked for their favourites. All in all it took about 8 months.
What are your views on building sustainability in the ever changing, always evolving world of fashion? I.e. How do we frame the conversation around sustainable fashion when it is very much based on constantly changing styles that may require new materials?
The industry is producing 90 billion garments per year, most from virgin materials. Material scarcity is becoming a problem and our consumption plays a large role in that. Conscious consumers are stepping away from mass consumption and, thankfully, the industry is growing in leaps and bounds when it comes to innovations in materials and recycling. Many brands already ‘take back’ – Puma, Nike, Patagonia, and that will increase dramatically in the coming years as brands try to recoup their materials.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out on this journey of conscious consumerism?
One of the goals of Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty was to help readers evaluate brands and items of clothing on their own, without trying to remember what to avoid. So I devised a acronym to lead readers to products that match their ethics, and brands that care — to shop for v.a.l.u.e.
I hoped it would be easy to remember because most of us, at our core, are “value” conscious. Fast-fashion chains that offer cheap clothes say appealing because we (the customers) are price-conscious and demand low prices. True, we want lower prices, but the trade-off is when we pay less, we also get less: less transparency, less accountability, fewer ethics and lower quality. We want low prices, but not at all costs. What we are really seeking is value.
V.A.L.U.E. Each letter correlates to an ethic that both helps decrease some of the burden on the industry and helps us buy better. When it comes time to shop, the questions to ask are: Do I need to buy it and does it need to be new (Vintage)? Can my purchase support craft, empower women or alleviate poverty (Artisan)? Or support my community (Local)? Does this item save something from the landfill (Upcycled)? Lastly, does this item support human, environmental or animal rights (Ethical)?