So this week I got to check out Good on You, the new app I found that helps you select ethical clothing. It’s easy to use, easy to read, and it’s for iOS and Android. It’s pretty useful, although they need to add more designers to their list. (I’m sure that will come with time.) As it’s Christmas, and I’m going to a party, I thought I’d shop around for something to dazzle people with. I tried to visit as many stores as possible, but I didn’t get to every downtown retail store, so it’s not as if this post is some kind of scientific study or anything. It’s really just a first attempt.
I began my search at one of my favourite stores. I asked if they had anything in natural fibres or sustainably manufactured clothing. The clerk suggested I try another store.
I was crushed. I really liked that store. But that’s the thing about becoming a Greener and Completely Better Person: sometimes you have to close some doors. Not a great start, but things got better. Clerks in a couple of other shops stared at me blankly when I made my request, but some Stratford stores are really aware of the environmental damage and the unfair labour practices of the clothing industry. It really is pretty bad. Did you know that our consumption of clothing is projected to TRIPLE by 2050?? It all winds up in the landfill. And the ocean.
The first cheerful note in my shopping trip was at Resonance, on Downie Street. The clerk was knowledgeable and concerned. She showed me some really nice lines of clothing, things that looked comfortable and stylish, but wouldn’t keep you up at night worrying about burnt Bangladeshi teenagers.
So I started looking at labels, and checked on the ones that claimed to be sustainable and ethical. I did the same at Cora’s in the Market Square, and at their upscale store, Cora Couture. All the people I talked to in these shops were very concerned about the social and environmental problems in the clothing industry, and they were very helpful.
These shops have given me a good start in looking for ethical fashions. I’ve begun a list of environmentally friendly designers available through Stratford retailers, and I plan to keep checking back to update my list. Click here to see the list.
To make a long story short, I didn’t buy anything, even though I found some really nice things. This happens to me a lot these days. I read what’s happening in the world, and it just makes me heartsick. So instead of buying a new dress, I went back to to the store I started out with, Kinna Sohna, where I had seen a beautiful silk scarf. It’s sustainably made, and will last years and years. It kind of dazzles, and people won’t notice that it’s on the same dress I wore last time. And anyway, what’s so bad about wearing the same thing twice?
I’ve pretty well established my shopping mantra. Shop locally, but buy less. Think about quality and longevity. Don’t be surprised if it’s more expensive. Accessorize instead of buying new things. Check the label, do research. Think: natural and organic fibres, working conditions, company transparency.
I still can’t say I feel great about clothes shopping, but I do feel better, and this is a good start on making shopping trips a lot simpler and easier.
In clothing, as in everything else, I believe in shopping locally, and it’s not just because when you shop locally you are helping everybody out, including yourself. Nope. I shop locally because I want to look that clerk in the eye. I want to see what she does when I ask the touchstone question: “Does my ass look big in these pants?” When you find a store you can trust, you stick with them.
On the other hand, if I want to become a Greener and Completely Better Person I need to identify clothing that does the least harm to the environment and to people. My visit to Kinna Sohna was just the first trip out, and that one was easy, because Sartaj, the owner, has a face-to-face relationship with her suppliers. Not all Stratford retailers can say that. It’s not their fault, it’s just the nature of retail these days.
Good on You: https://goodonyou.eco/app/
I want to set up a list of local merchants who stock ethical merchandise, but I need a tool to help me be sure a label is really what it represents itself to be. So I looked around for something portable and reasonably comprehensive. I chose Good on You, an app for iOS and Android. There are others, but I like the philosophy of this app; it applauds companies that are doing well, and encourages others to do better. Really, there’s no point in being nasty about it. We’re all in this together.
The app, as the name implies, is from Australia, established by the nonprofit Ethical Consumers Australia. It rates labels for their treatment of their workers, for their attention to the environment, and for their transparency. They seem to be expanding fast, and although they don’t have some of the Canadian suppliers I looked for, they do have Canadian content, like this article on Canadian designer Jennifer Fukushima (You can find Fukushima clothing and accessories at Resonance, 23 Downie Street).
So that’s it for a start. I’ll be trying out my ideas next week with a shopping trip to downtown Stratford. There are a lot of labels, and a lot of research to do. If you use the Good on You app, let me know how it’s working for you. If you know of a better one, let me know that too. Happy shopping!
I’ve been doing the research for the clothing part of this blog, and it’s making my head hurt. There are so many variables in finding sustainably made clothing! Seems to me that the only way I can be ethically dressed is if I go around naked, but that’s frowned upon here in Stratford. I’ll just have to do the best I can; I need to set up a list of criteria that will help me find clothing that is the least harmful to the environment as well as to the humans who make and wear it.
I decided to start out at Kinna Sohna, the new international clothing store on the corner of York and Erie. I chose Kinna Sohna because the owner, Sartaj Kaur, stocks clothing in natural organic fabrics, coloured with organic dyes. I’ve been reading a lot about the environmental damage caused by clothing dyes and the dangers of chemicals in clothing, and I want something different.
Sartaj Kaur, Kinna Sohna
Sartaj has been working with naturally dyed fabric for 17 years now; she had a well-known store in Toronto before moving here. Her supply of organics varies; she told me she would love to stock only organics, but people take time getting used to the different look and drape of the fabric, and as a small shop, there’s only so much she can do.
Some of her things are just wonderful, like this hand-stitched quilt. It’s a museum-quality piece; I can’t imagine the hours of work that went into making it. The colours are deep and vibrant, and the patterns absorbing and intricate. She also has scarves, tunics, and dresses in colours like this, and handcrafted bags that are works of art.
Kinna Sohna is dedicated to ethical sourcing. Sartaj works with master craftspeople, cooperatives, tailors, and family businesses in places like India, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico and South East Asia. She understands her suppliers, she knows the regional styles, and she can tell you all about the textile, the stitching techniques, and the kind of dye used. That’s important to know when you are buying quality clothing.
Fabric by the yard at Kinna Sohna
Working directly with producers has allowed Sartaj to build a varied inventory. Kinna Sohna sells hand printed fabric by the yard, and no fabric is wasted; scraps are made into hairbands, jewelry bags, and other small items. Craftspeople from the Stratford area also sell through Kinna Sohna, and she is looking for more suppliers.
I had a really good time at this store. Not only was I completely entertained by Sartaj’s descriptions of her sourcing trips, I just fell in love with her inventory. Sartaj reminded me that carefully crafted articles are more expensive than polyester knock-offs, but if you choose well, an article of clothing can last you for years. Believe it or not, she still has shawls her mother wore when she was a baby!
I am really trying to think carefully before I buy another article of clothing. I want to push back against our throwaway philosophy of dress. A heavy wool, conservatively cut, can last a lifetime. Cotton fabric may wear, but with every use it gets softer and more interesting to look at, and you can mend it. A good silk can be really versatile, and it will glow with age. Silk is also light, so it’s easily hand washed, and you don’t need to send it to the cleaners.
The thing I liked the most about Kinna Sohna is that I saw things there that you will find nowhere else. I saw some wonderful rugs and wall hangings, beautiful jewelry, and many one-of-a-kind articles in really satisfying earth colours. I also saw upcycled articles, like the exquisitely embroidered scarves made from old saris. When she gets in more of her popular upcycled silk jackets, I’m going back. I think it’s time I made a splash on the Stratford scene.