We have to revaluate clothing as an investment
On a mission to improve sustainability in fashion, Sass Brown uses her design skills, love for craft traditions and position as a teacher at the Fashion Institute of Technology at the State University of New York in Florence to steer the industry towards a better future.
“I sort of grew into my eco-consciousness,” Sass says. “I had a certain consciousness as an independent designer, but that became eclipsed when I started working for big brands. The transition to education allowed me the freedom to remember what was important to me, and helped me reconnect to and explore my passion for global craft at a time when ethics and fashion were never mentioned in the same sentence. I wanted to help effect and communicate that change.”
When discussing which issues are the most urgent in the fashion industry today, Sass points out that its near impossible to say. “How you rank them relates to your personal ethics,” she says. “Is Fair Trade more important than reducing carbon emissions? There is no right or wrong, no matter how you answer that question.” Instead, one of the biggest challenges is changing attitudes: “We live in a culture where clothing is cheap, accessible and considered a form of entertainment. Replacing mainstream fashion with ethical fashion is not a complete answer – we have to radically reduce consumption, by revaluing clothing as an investment.”
The author of several books and editor of Eco Fashion Talk – which showcases sustainable brands and initiatives – Sass’ own philosophy is greatly influenced by her interest in global craft. “My passion is definitely in the tradition of craftsmanship and the incredible cultural diversity, history and heritage that is so tightly woven into the history of textile traditions around the world,” she says. “Over the years I have become more conscious about what I buy, preferring things that become staples rather than fleeting infatuations.” Sass’ own wardrobe contains items from around the world, picked up on her travels. She has an affinity for European design, including a soft spot for Vienna-based upcycling designers k/ma: “I have a prison blanket coat from them, the warmest coat I’ve ever owned,” Sass says. “MAYER Peace Collection in Berlin is one of my favourite designers, working with vintage domestic materials. In the UK, Tamara Fogle is my favourite bag designer; her vintage flour-sack bag is my constant companion. In New York, I love Donna Karan’s Urban Zen that supports Haitian artisans, and Jason Ross for his incredible handmade leather accessories.”
To consume ethically, Sass stays updated online. “I live on the internet – subscribe to endless blogs, newsletters and websites,” she says. Labour Behind the Label, the Clean Clothes Campaign, Greenpeace, the Ethical Fashion Forum and Ecotextile all feature on Sass’ reading list, alongside EcoSalon, Ecouterre and Coco Eco Magazine.
If fashion sustainability seems daunting, fear not: Sass is convinced that no one can know everything. “This is a complex industry that can overwhelm people, so don’t feel compelled to be an expert; just start somewhere,” she says. “Support local designers and local manufacture; get your clothes repaired or redesigned to extend their life; buy vintage. It’s like greening your home – start with the lightbulbs, but know it doesn’t stop there. Keep on learning and improving, bit by bit. It’s a journey, like life itself.”
Words by Emma Lundin
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