From Brooklyn to Bangladesh: Ethical Fashion in a Globalized World

What I Learned About What We Think About Sustainable Fashion.

Notes on: From Brooklyn to Bangladesh: Ethical Fashion in a Globalized World hosted by NYU Stern Center for Business & Human Rights @NYUSternBHR #bktobd

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photo credit: @Khanoisseur

I was both surprised and relieved upon reaching room 2-60 in the NYU Stern Business Center on Wednesday. Surprised because I was in the presence of the physical manifestation of $1000 per credit hour. and Relieved because I had just spent quite a few minutes dashing through plazas between 3rd St and 4th St trying to find the place.

 

After being greeted warmly and helping myself to an open-faced sandwich (which I later learned was called a terrine) and delicious sparkling water with fresh lemonade, I made small talk with Matt from Chicago, who recently moved to NY to work with ESPN and wanted to meet the sustainability crowd.

 

I found a chair attached to one long, curved tables that arced gracefully around the multi-level amphitheatre and observed that panelists conveniently sat from left to right in the order in which their names were listed top to bottom on the screens behind them.

 

{picture of room}

 

As each panellist introduced themselves, I was quietly thrilled by how each individual so closely represented their organization in appearance, demeanor, and philosophy. Moderator Jessica Marati asked the first question: What is the biggest issue in sustainable fashion today?

 

Debera Johnson from Pratt University’s Brooklyn Fashion Accelerator was serene and professorial: Consumers expect a $4 T-shirt. They can’t have that and good working conditions. To her left, Maxine from Zady “the WholeFoods of Fashion” was hip and sophisticated, yet approachable. She said something like: People are moral beings who don’t really understand how their clothing exploits others.  Rebecca portrayed the timeless classiness and clean lines of Eileen Fisher, backed up with a keen intellect. Sarah was business with a soul, balancing profit and ethics just like NYU Stern Business in Humanities. Her response: There is a difference between stores and consumers. We are exploring a standards based approach. Companies should adhere to ethical standards in sourcing and production. Sarah related that as a private company, Eileen Fisher had the benefit of absorbing costs of fair business practices through their eco-bank and were currently working on completing their Higg Index evaluation, a self-assessment of environmental and social impact.

 

From there the conversation bounced between corporate and consumer responsibility: Will consumers pay more for ethically produced garments? Will they consume less because they understand the negative impacts of fast fashion? (Is normcore good for the fashion industry?) Who will lead the next generation supply chain? Is local production a viable answer to the ugly reality of factory collapses and 9 year old girls making our socks?

 

This event discussing business practices in ethical fashion was prompted by the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. Was this tragedy a watershed moment in which both garment producers and consumers finally see the blood on the T-shirt and acid in the river? The Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Vogue Magazine hope so.  

 

Panellists:

Sarah Labowitz, Co-Director and Bangladesh Garment Sector Research Scholar, NYU Stern Center for Business & Human Rights @SarahLabo

Maxine Bedat, Founder, Zady @MaxineBedat @Zady

Debera Johnson, Founder, Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator; Executive Director, Pratt Center for Sustainable Design Studies & Research and Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation @debera_johnson @PrattBFDA

Rebecca Magee, Social Consciousness Coordinator, Eileen Fisher @thisiwear @EILEENFISHER

Moderated by Jessica Marati, NYU Stern Class of 2015.

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