Sustainability is nonnegotiable, unavoidable… and completely overwhelming. How are we, mere humans, supposed to be sustainable when we really, really love wasteful things, like cars and clothes? The answer, according to the fashion veterans and up-and-coming sustainability fiends at Theory: start small. Start with your suit.
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This advice is not without substance, either. To support the idea, Theory just launched Good Wool, a sustainable fabric new to the brand. The fabric is sourced from a family-owned farm in Australia, and spun in an eco-friendly mill in Italy. The line also uses biodegradable lining, buttons made from corozo nuts, and recycled paper hang tags. Theory has heavily relied on wool in its collections for a while; a shift such as this will have a major impact on the brand’s footprint. Theory’s CEO and founder, Andrew Rosen, and its senior vice president of merchandising and development, Wendy Waugh, took us through the initiative.
On sustainability in fashion
Andrew Rosen: Every company has certain values that are important to it, and [sustainability] is just one of the values that’s important to us. I think we have to act in a responsible way. We want to support our environment, and our planet. If we can do a little bit more each year, that’s great. And if we’re doing it, hopefully others will follow.
Wend Waugh: From a company perspective, your first step is to look at your raw material supply. Take whatever the largest fabric is that the company is using: What difference can you make with that? The biggest impact with the product they can make is with the raw material. Wool is important product to us, so we started with the raw materials wool uses.
On choosing wool
AR: Really, wool is sort of the foundation of what we do. The ability to execute this with the farm in Australia and the mill in Italy—it was the natural place for us to start.
WW: Wool has always been one of our mainstays. We’re starting with one of the company’s largest programs, and one I think will make the biggest difference. In terms of the total garments and fabrics were using, sustainable wool makes a big impact. I got to know the farmer [from the mill we’re using]; I asked him lots of questions about land management and animal welfare. It was pretty amazing to see how much he cares for these animals. He even teaches people how to shear the proper way. He cares about the animals and about the land.
On learning about sustainability
AR: It comes both from the companies and from the consumer. A good first step to being more sustainable is really to understand what’s going on. Once you understand what you can do, you’ll see what more sustainable decisions you can make are. I think sustainability matters a lot to the consumer. If it matters to the customer, it should be important to the company.
WW: You don’t go from being not sustainable to sustainable overnight. There’s an education, an awareness that needs to happen. We see what we want to improve on. There’s the fiber, the fabric, the manufacturing process—there are so many things. The buttons are corozo nuts, which are harvested naturally and support families in Ecuador. We also use our recycled paper. I think the responsibility for us is to look at the total picture—our energy usage in our own buildings, educating our own employees. Where can we, as a brand, be more sustainable in everything?
On the future of sustainable fashion
AR: There are lot of initiatives going on in big companies around sustainability. I think this is a new culture in the world. We’re looking at this from all sides, too. It’s not just the fabric, but how else we can be more responsible—from manufacturing, down to the lightbulbs we use in our office. I don’t think this is getting smaller; I think it’s getting bigger. And why wouldn’t it? It’s just the right thing to do.
WW: I’m so thrilled we’re doing this; I’m excited about all of it. Every time we make a change, and we make something that will help sustain our environment, I’m so excited I almost just jump up and down. We’re getting closer. One more step.