The world is changing, some say forwards, some say backwards, but for many it’s a balance. We must to move forward retrieve some of the processes and ideas of the past, and in the garment industry it’s more true than many other places. Here the move towards industrial production churning out man-made fibres became the single instrument that grew into a full orchestra in the symphony of modernisation that was the 20th century. Moving back to slower production and natural materials has become the motif of Wolf X Rose, and especially for their Chief Sustainability Officer Olivia Corwin who moved from one side to the other when she moved from large scale commercial production to the label and it’s focus on a better way of doing things, and joined me for an interview.
Its currently Movember and I noticed one of the discussion points the label focus heavily on is the link between what we wear and absorption through the skin, and the potential risks, what first brought you to the subject and do you think enough research is being done on the impact of additives to the clothing process?
I first became aware of this issue when I met Jeff*, my partner in Wolf & Rose. He is an expert on sustainability and particularly, sustainability when it comes to fashion. I have been extremely cautious for years about the food that I put in my body, but before meeting Jeff, it never occurred to me that toxins can be absorbed through the clothing we wear as well. And when you think about it, it makes so much sense. As a mother of 2 children, a dedicated fashion lover and veteran business woman, it was a real ah-ha moment for me.
I would like to see more research done on the impact of additives to the clothing process because there have been some studies but not enough for us to draw concrete conclusions. It is one of the initiatives of Wolf x Rose, actually – to form our own foundation and fund research that explores the correlation between toxins in clothing and their health implications. Regardless of the health side effects that chemicals used in clothing may cause, we know for sure that the chemicals have a catastrophic impact on the environment. And that alone, for me, is motivation enough to recalibrate how we ALL as earth dwellers evaluate how we consume. what we eat, wear, drive ……
*Jeff Garner, designer and Emmy winner for his documentary Remastered that focused on sustainability in fashion.
With your dying process you use plants grown yourselves, in an age of commercial consistency do you think it’s a benefit or a risk to have the unpredictability of nature in the production process?
I think the charm of our product is that it’s not commercial and we are embracing the idiosyncrasies of each batch. That being said, I know that may not be scalable and we are working towards as much consistency and stability we can create when dying with natural ingredients, but I do love that each one we hand dye is unique and that will never change. But currently, the “idiosyncrasies” can be quite varied and wide ranging and that just won’t work on a bigger scale.
In the creative process are plants being selected to meet design ideas, or are the designs driven by the availability of the raw materials?
We look at it like farm to table with food. Whatever is local and available at the time of year.
In circular sustainability does moving to natural materials help in the battle to save bees?
It definitely does in the way that the natural materials are not having as negative an impact on the environment – so that the ecosystem of the bees remains intact.
Kickstarter is an increasing part of financing a business, what was the attraction for you?
The main attraction was the possibility of great exposure and that in a worse-case scenario where we didn’t raise any money, it would force my partners and I to work through our entire business plan.
You’ve seen both sides of the fence in your career, starting out in large scale production, then moving into sustainability and small run production, do you think there can ever be an acceptable compromise that brings a true form of sustainability to the big box High St stores?
Not in my lifetime, but that’s the case with so many of the social equity, and environmental issues that we face today. We have to keep trying and moving the needle forward.
What was your moment of shift that led you away from fast fashion?
I think it was during the years I was pregnant — when you don’t fit into any of your clothing. I bought very few garments during this time and when I did, they were high quality because I literally rotated 2 dresses my entire two pregnancies. I think also when your family is expanding and your “stuff” is growing, the sheer volume of it becomes overwhelmingly obvious. That coupled with the amount of samples I was seeing being made in the factory and largely discarded and it just made me sick.
One of the big issues for me is how much responsibility consumers have to take for change, where do you think the balance is?
Well, there must be a demand for the supply so I think the consumer needs to share at least half of the burden in order for us to live sustainably.
If you could stand in front of the fashion industry and issue one immediate change and one long term goal, what would they be?
The immediate change… to acknowledge the need for reform in our industry.
The long-term goal would be to require each brand meet sustainability requirements similar to cleaner air initiatives in the automobile industry.
As a keeper of chickens, why do they cross the road?
I can only speak for my chickens and they don’t cross the road because they have it too good where they are.
By Ross Pollard – Emerging Designers Editor