Edmonton event highlights need for change in fashion industry

Photo from Unbelts studio. Claire Theaker-Brown/Unbelts

A group of Edmontonians is asking residents to put more thought into their clothing and the work that goes into it.

Sustainable fashion has become a big buzzword in the fashion industry, and consumers are beginning to slowly move away from “fast fashion.”

READ MORE: ‘Fast Fashion’: environmental impacts and what you can do as a consumer

One of those consumers is Jocelyn Davison, who began learning about the impacts of fast fashion after working closely with local business owners and designers.

“I have been connected with some extremely incredible companies in Edmonton that have taken the time to educate me on what’s happening globally [in the world of fashion and sustainability], but also showing me what they are doing to combat that and bring awareness to the city,” Davison said.
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Davison, owner of The Virtual Effect, decided to use her own platform to host the event Elevate: A Pursuit of Fair Fashion, which aims to bring new light to ethical and sustainable fashion.

“[The Virtual Effect] picks a topic that I feel needs to be discussed and that I would like to educate people on. We wrap that up into a beautiful night out that educates┬ápeople at the same time.”

READ MORE: This is why sustainable fashion matters

Elevate will host five panelists from consignment and thrifting experts to those manufacturing locally and overseas.

“We’re asking, ‘How can we continue to enjoy our love for fashion, while not negatively affecting the people behind it and the planet?'” Davison said.

Panelist Claire Theaker-Brown founded Unbelts in 2011 while she was living in Shanghai. The small business had a goal of creating high-quality sewing jobs for skilled tailors in her neighbourhood.

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“I wanted to tell a different story of what ‘made in China’ could look like and highlight the beautiful quality and workmanship is possible if we don’t put this pressure on supply chains to create massive quantities of low-quality goods very quickly,” Theaker-Brown said.

The company flew belts back to Canada and the business took off. Theaker-Brown moved back to Edmonton in late 2014, where she began to see a need for the same kind of sewing jobs in the city.

“Last fall we launched our Edmonton sewing studio. We now have twin studios here and in Shanghai.”

Theaker-Brown explained how her businesses growth is tied to slow fashion, producing less and on longer timelines.

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton events highlights need for change in fashion industry

“We’ve put our values first, at the expense of more profit. The value that has always been at the heart of Unbelts is creating great jobs. That means jobs that pay living wage and jobs that allow people to do their best work without undue pressure or stress,” Theaker-Brown said. “It doesn’t create huge amounts of inventory or waste for supply-chain exploitation.”

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She said it can be challenging to shop slow for a multitude of reasons.

“It feels good to consume. We all love that hit of dopamine. I think the apparel industry has an interesting challenge to face. How can we give people that rush without actually consuming something that is new?”

Theaker-Brown said there are also economic barriers when it comes to the slow-fashion movement.

“A lot of more sustainable or ethically-made apparel is more expensive. If you take out very cheap labour, costs go up all the way along the whole supply chain. That cost has to be absorbed somewhere,” Theaker-Brown said.

“I think it’s really important to recognize that a lot of consumption doesn’t happen because people aren’t willing or aware to participate. There are economic limitations to doing so.”

Panelist Jennifer McConaghy, owner of Life Preloved, explained how slow fashion invites a different way of shopping into our lifestyle.

“We want to make sure our clothing goes further. Swap with friends, re-mend your clothes instead of always buying new,” McConaghy said.

McConaghy’s business resells garments for clients online or at local pop-up shops. She also takes what isn’t profitable and reuses the clothes in a clothing swap.

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“I love blowing people’s minds of what they can find thrifting,” McConaghy laughed.

READ MORE: Practical, stylish, or just plain ugly? Winnipeg fashionista breaks down the fanny pack

Fashion Revolution Week is also held in Edmonton once a year, aiming to educate people and organizations on how to work together towards radically changing the way our clothes are sourced and produced.

“It’s a global movement. Edmonton’s event is called ‘Change of Clothes.’ It’s all about extending the life of your clothes,” Theaker-Brown said. “You can also ask the brands that you love to answer those questions [about your clothes] so you know what the process looks like. Ask how people are being compensated to make those pieces that you are wearing.”

Elevate: A Pursuit of Fair Fashion is happening April 25 at 6:30 p.m. You can find tickets here.

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