08 May Ethical Network of San Antonio on the Future of Sustainable Fashion
The conversation about ethical and sustainable fashion has become more and more prominent as we experience global changes in the way fashion is viewed. During Vogue’s recent webinars held in the wake of the Pandemic, the big topic was of course, The Future of Fashion. With their first session being dedicated to sustainability, it’s no secret that designers, fashion brands, and retailers are listening to the needs of the conscious consumer, and some are leading the way in this enterprise. We recently had an Instagram Live, with the President of the Ethical Network of San Antonio, Sharmon Lebby, to discuss the local efforts leading the ethical and sustainable movement in Texas and their global impact through these efforts. Here’s how it went down!
What is The Ethical Network of San Antonio?
SLTV: I am so excited to interview you! Everybody, meet Sharmon Lebby, President of Ethical Network of San Antonio. I specifically wanted to interview you because I am a big proponent of sustainability and ethical practices in fashion, business, and life in general. Sharmon, please tell us about the Ethical Network. What is the mission of this nonprofit?
ENSA: So, the Ethical Network of San Antonio is a collective of businesses and individuals that prioritize ethics in the way they conduct their business and the way they purchase things. It’s a group of not only conscious consumers but also those seeking to add a little more purpose by including more specific ethics in their business practices.
SLTV: What criteria do you look at for potential members of the Ethical Network?
ENSA: We look at a variety of things. We recognize that ethics and sustainability mean different things to different people. Our biggest thing we look at is businesses that are aware of their supply chains and knowing where their products are coming from and who is making them. In that sense, we also look for local artisans, anybody who is handmaking their product, using sustainable, renewable, recycled materials, also organic and natural products. This goes across the board with fashion, food, and beauty products, we encompass it all.
Photo via Ethical Network of SA
SLTV: That’s wonderful! What led you to go that route?
ENSA: Honestly, it’s something I’ve been into most of my life. About 3 or 4 years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to sustainable and ethical fashion. It wasn’t a term I had before, so I started to look into it more and decided to start a blog about it. I, then, created my own ethical fashion line. After that, I was introduced to this group of women (Katherine Pruett, Rachel Kelley, and Erin Brook Menendez) and together we formed the Ethical Network of San Antonio. The intention was to support and help these businesses thrive within the community.
Pictured: Rachel Kelley. Photo Courtesy of Ethical Network of San Antonio
SLTV: Yes, we know and love them too! So, you are San Antonio based. Have you expanded your reach to other cities in Texas?
ENSA: Yes! We do work regionally, with people in Boerne, Austin, and even Corpus Christi. We do work with other cities and plan to continue to expand, but we’ll stay based out of San Antonio.
SLTV: Of course! Just like our Texas Fashion Industry Initiative, as we are so proud to have you as a Board Member and Sustainable Fashion Advisor. That’s my passion and I know the importance of bringing people who are passionate and knowledgable that can gather the resources in the best possible way. I think it’s crucial and we’re so excited to have you and your team on board.
ENSA: Well, I’m super excited too!
Right: Katherine Pruett. Photo Courtesy of Ethical Network of San Antonio
Sustainable Fashion on a Global Scale
SLTV: So, speaking of fashion… What are your thoughts on the Sustainable Fashion Movement on a global scale? Do you think it’s picking up or do you think that it needs more awareness so that it can become the norm?
ENSA: I do think it’s picking up. I think that this younger generation is more conscious of
what they’re purchasing. They may not always be able to afford it because it can get a little more expensive, but I do think that there is a shift where people care who they’re buying from and the impact that they have on the world in general. Sustainability in fashion, I feel that it’s growing, but it’s also evolving. It’s kind of funny, because we just had a meeting the other day, and one of our team members said: “As we know more, our values change”. That is definitely the case with sustainable fashion. One thing that may have been sustainable before, may not be seen as sustainable now. It’s constantly evolving as we know more, so it’s really hard to say exactly where it’s going, but we continue to work and hope that it becomes more of the norm.
Sharmon Lebby’s Blessed Designs at the Impact Guild Holiday Market. Photo Courtesy of Ethical Network of San Antonio
SLTV: I agree with the youth being more conscious. You see them researching more and looking into the products they’re purchasing. People are asking themselves, “How are these products sourced? What materials are being used? What are the conditions of the farmers and factory workers? Are they being paid a fair wage?” There are so many factors involved in the ethical & sustainable world.
ENSA: There are! Now without a doubt, second-hand fashion is swiftly growing, which is amazing and great. It’s the fastest-growing sector of the fashion industry right now, so I’m super excited about that! I’m head to toe in second hand right now, except for the earrings which are made from repurposed materials.
SLTV: I’m wearing second hand, too! This awesome, because I think that it’s not just about giving these clothes a new life, but it’s so much more attainable. This top I’m wearing is J. Crew and it retails for like $80-$90 and I found it for like $5!
ENSA: Yes! It is definitely the most accessible way to do sustainable fashion. Good buy!
Fast Fashion vs. Slow Fashion
SLTV: So, what are your thoughts on Slow Fashion vs. Fast Fashion? I know that Slow Fashion is the way to go, but it’s not always affordable like we’re saying. I’ve done extensive research on brands looking for materials like Tencel, Organic Cotton, repurposed silks, etc, and just find that building a full wardrobe with these textiles is just out of my budget. Is there a possibility of making sustainable and ethical fashion at an affordable price?
ENSA: That’s a really good question! There are some brands that attempting to do that, but in all honesty, it’s not easy. I wrote an article for Ethical Style Journal a while back, basically breaking down the cost of ethical fashion and why it costs so much more. The biggest thing right now is the fact that it’s still, in a sense, a niche area, so not as much product is being made. As crazy as it seems, the more gets made, the cheaper the cost will be. Which also brings another problem, because volume is an environmental issue as well. So, working on making greener fashion is possible, but that means outsourcing to other countries because of costs. If you’re looking for slow fashion made in the U.S. at a lower cost it will be much harder. So to answer your question, unfortunately, there’s no way to make slow fashion at a cost that could compete with fast fashion. Ethical fashion is a privilege. If you can afford it, it’s a privilege and may take saving for months to afford it for most people. Another thing is calling it slow fashion. It really is just regular paced fashion as opposed to the 52 seasons that we’ve come to associate with fast fashion. Before it was just 2 seasons, producing less at a higher cost.
SLTV: Well, that makes sense and I would honestly prefer to save up for a quality ethical purchase than for an equally expensive item that wasn’t ethically made. The other option is vintage, too! What about companies that are fast fashion that have a recycling program to turn old textiles into new clothing?
ENSA: I say “Bravo! Good for you!” However, if they could work on the 99.9% of the rest of their items and ensure that their other products are sustainable then that would be a true impact. The small percentage that they’re doing is great, but it’s clear, and I hate to say it, that it’s “greenwashing”. If that is not the crux and foundation of your business, then you’re not really doing anything.
Photo Courtesy of Ethical Network of San Antonio
SLTV: So, it shows an effort, but greenwashing is like trying to blind us from the truth behind their harmful practices to produce the majority of their items. I personally made a commitment to no longer purchase fast-fashion, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s very difficult. What would you say to people who are trying to stay away but are finding it to be a big challenge?
ENSA: The main issue is the companies who produce, but of course it’s supply and demand. When you support a business that has certain practices, that send a message that you’re okay with that. When you start purchasing their Conscious Collections for example, then that’s what you’re telling them that you want. I would also promote the humanity behind the smaller brands and the joy of knowing exactly who you’re buying from. As a consumer, you might also want to do a sort of cleanse. Maybe stop buying fast fashion for 30, 60, 90 days. You’ll be amazed at how much money you’re saving!
What can we do?
SLTV: That sounds like a plan! I had to do this detox where I even had to delete those shopping apps and unsubscribe from their newsletters because the temptation was just too much! I take this very much to heart, and as the Sustainable go-to person at Style Lush TV, my job is to make sure that our company aligns with these values, as well. What would you advise to small businesses like retailers, designers, and beauty industry? What can they do to reduce their impact and move towards a more sustainable and ethical practice?
ENSA: Wow, there are so many ways! For retail, I would start with the packaging. Staying away from single-use plastics and steering towards more eco-friendly and biodegradable options would send a huge message. I would also say checking into your supply chain. Going as far as you can to make sure they’re legit, the company, factory, and practices. I would look at what they’re paying their workers and the conditions. It’s a more time-intensive process, but people are asking questions and want transparency, above all. For the beauty industry, I say staying away from toxic materials, try moving towards Organic, clean, and cruelty-free.
Photo Courtesy of Ethical Network of San Antonio
SLTV: Those are great tips! It might turn out to be more expensive, but as we were saying earlier, the consumer is looking for these things and will be willing to support these practices above non-ethical as it becomes more mainstream.
ENSA: For small businesses, it’s definitely harder, but we try to encourage them to incorporate their motto or their mantra to be “People, animals and the environment over profits” and the rest will follow.
Be sure to follow Ethical Network of San Antonio on Facebook and Instagram. For more information on how you can take your business towards the sustainable and ethical future visit ethicalnetworksa.org