By: Yuna Song
On February 4th, I had the pleasure of visiting Mod + Ethico, a clothing and lifestyle store that retails a variety of fashion pieces and accessories that are made sustainably and ethically. Mod + Ethico is currently active both online and offline, with their headquarters situated in the heart of West Loop, Chicago. The shop is a small but chic space, with an assortment of racks that carry a variety of collections including activewear, street-style, and business-casual. The brands that they collaborate with are selected with very high standards, requiring Fair Trade ethics and sustainable methods. The vast majority of these designers are American-made, such as Suki + Solane, a local Chicagoan brand, and Groceries Apparel, a sustainable fashion brand that adheres to “just-in-time manufacturing” (reducing waste and inventory costs by receiving goods according to production needs). I reached out to Candice Collison, the founder of Mod + Ethico via email, and she welcomed me into her store to have a chat about sustainable fashion.
As high-end garment retailer Eileen Fisher famously stated, the fashion industry is the second most polluting business in the world after the oil industry and is in desperate need of change for the better. Businesses like Mod + Ethico that bring awareness to the consequences of fast fashion and supports sustainable and conscious fashion are crucial to bridging the knowledge gap between producers and consumers today. “The whole supply chain is so far away and disconnected, that people don’t even think twice,” Candice shared.
Sustainable fashion for Candice means not only being sustainable to the environment, but also fashioning sustainable environments for people and where they live.
When asked about how she first became interested in sustainable fashion, Candice mentioned that she had always been interested in fashion as a form of self-expression, and named herself as a sort of “style chameleon,” wearing things that she herself thought were cool, rather than just what was the trend at the time. Over the years, she became increasingly interested in where and how things were made. Watching the documentary The True Cost had a significant impact on her worldview, but even before then, there were brands that she knew to be American-made, which in her mind stood for quality, even patriotism, but also American standards of labor that are higher than many places in the world, especially where the garment industry is thriving currently. However, with time and the onset of industrialization and globalization, these standards have changed for the worse, and have been sacrificed due to the rapid pace and high demand of the fast fashion industry. Amidst these shifting waters, Candice “felt not only that I had to do something, but also given my interest in fashion and my entrepreneurial aspirations, this felt like white space that meant something and also had potential.” She stated that this has been a journey for her, starting from just an interest in fashion, into a real passion and interest in sustainable impact on people but also the planet. Sustainable fashion for Candice means not only being sustainable to the environment, but also fashioning sustainable environments for people and where they live.
When I asked Candice for her thoughts on the reasons behind this carefree ignorance of consumers concerning the moral and environmental implications of fast fashion, she mentioned two reasons: 1) the difficulty in tracing back the production cycle of a garment, and 2) the tendency for people to turn a blind eye to the real facts. While the lack of transparency regarding the manufacture of clothing has been the status quo, brands such as Everlane and Zady are going against the tide with their unique approach to encouraging consumers to question and be aware of how clothes are being made. Everlane, for example, stands out amongst other brands for its “radical transparency,” by revealing the “true costs behind all of our products - from materials to labor to transportation” on their official website to the exact dollar and cent amount of their goods. Candice mentioned the Rana Plaza tragedy, the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as times when consumers feel connected at a human level to these important issues. However, on a day-to-day basis, what happens halfway across the world feels so incredibly distant to us, that most find it difficult to think twice about the whole supply chain and the true cost of our clothes.
When I asked what was the biggest challenge that Candice faced as a CEO of a company going against the tide of fast fashion, she mentioned the difficulty of building awareness, both for the brand itself and for the great environmental impacts of fast fashion. Mod + Ethico is self-funded, and Candice stated that her vision for the organization involved not being held to the expectations of investors, but growing and thriving at a sustainable pace, ensuring that they were not expanding too fast. In addition, consumer awareness of the environmental impacts of the fashion industry is still alarmingly lacking. Consumers are largely ignorant of the immense carbon emissions, water consumption, and chemical pollution that is inherent in the production and management cycle of garments. While Mod + Ethico strives to bridge the wide knowledge gap between producers and consumers of fashion, and establish their sustainable vision in this day and age, the fact that they are a small business having to compete with huge brands of large clientele is in fact a great challenge.
To someone who aspires to go into the field of sustainable fashion (me!), here are some words of advice from Candice herself: “Don’t get frustrated.” Sustainable fashion is, essentially, going against the tide of what mainstream fashion is. However, Candice believes that with time, the more sustainable method will become the default, and that then the outliers will be the ones held responsible. She also recommended continually expanding one’s worldview by listening to top podcasts, such as Conscious Chatter, and following influencers on social media who are currently doing interesting projects and promoting consciousness.
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More about the author, Yuna Song:
Yuna Song, third year Environmental Studies and Visual Arts double major, wearing a thrited outfit that cost her $5 (including the shoes).
Author bio: Yuna Song is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Studies and Visual Arts. She hopes to dedicate her life towards environmental justice and sustainable fashion after college. In the meantime, she spends her free time feeding her “healthy” addictions to thrifting, indoor gardening, and making sustainable clothes in her room.
More about Yuna's project:
Winter 2018 Student Fine Arts Fund
Project Title: Aesthetics of Sustainable Fashion
This quarter, I was awarded $750 by the Student Fine Arts Fund for my proposal to design a zero-waste fashion collection using traditional and contemporary methods of sustainable garment production. I am planning to design and build a capsule collection, a small selection of items that do not go out of fashion, featuring garments that each highlight a sustainable fashion technique from the slow fashion movement. The project doubly serves as a tangible exploration of historical techniques for sustainable fashion as well as a resource and means to raise awareness in the UChicago community on the impact of the fashion industry and its sustainable alternatives. I will be publicizing the entirety of this project, which will progress through spring and summer of this year, through Instagram and Youtube and invite others to join my journey on the Aesthetics of Sustainable Fashion.