Did you know that if you're reading this you will likely spend on average, $2288 on clothing and footwear this year? You could easily be purchasing items made in scary places by highly exploited people. Getting the real story behind your spending? It's harder than you think. Even more challenging? Finding the truth about what conditions your clothing was made under.
**NEWSFLASH** Sweatshops aren't exclusive to low-wage countries. In fact, it's likely any clothes you wear with a label saying "Made in America" could be made in a sweatshop not far from where you live or work. This makes companies like Mod + Ethico, founded in 2015, profoundly integral to supporting the changing of a very broken fashion system.
I had the good fortune of being introduced to Candice Collison this summer via a mutual friend. Candice is everyone's girl crush. Especially mine. Originally from Williamsburg, Virginia, Candice was introduced to world of retail via her mother’s gift shop. There she learned to appreciate how items are made and where materials are sourced. Candice has recently graduated with an MBA from the prestigious, Kellogg School of Management @ Northwestern University.
I was able to chat with the Chicago resident to uncover the vision she has for Mod + Ethico, the industry and the future.
Kelly Madera: Mod + Ethico has a laid-back, comfortably chic look that is empirically on trend without trying to be. How do you achieve that? How do you source the brands you feature?
Candice Collison: I seek out brands that prioritize comfortable, soft fabrics, and that have a timeless aspect to their aesthetic. Unlike some stores, I source only silhouettes and hues that I would wear myself - that also must fit into the principles of Mod + Ethico. I do think about trends, and what I believe will sell, but I will not sacrifice principle for style or comfort. I seek elements of trends in updated classics, or in subtle ways which lends to a more effortless vibe.
Sourcing brands is interesting, I do not attend a ton of trade shows, rather, I look for likeminded brands on Instagram - using hashtags like #ethicalfashion and referencing resources such as Safia Minney's book Slow Fashion, ethical fashion blogs, and listening to Kestrel Jenkins' podcast Conscious Chatter.
KM: Who do you see as Mod + Ethico’s competition in the retail market?
CC: I view the competition in two ways: 1) The norm, the alternative to ethical fashion - "fast fashion" and mass fashion - the fashion houses who are not the fast fashion houses per se, but have massive scale, produce in huge batches, and have large brand equity. This happens to be the majority of the market today. 2) The players in the ethical space, who are in some ways competitors, but I appreciate what they are doing for fashion. This includes stores who curate ethical brands, like Amour Vert; online concept stores focused on independent designers line Need Supply, and the brands we sell since they tend to sell direct to consumer.
KM: The ethical fashion industry is gaining traction, and while Mod + Ethico uses new products, how do you feel about selling recycled or up cycled clothing. Do you see yourself establishing a Mod + Ethico line in the future?
CC: Yes, 100%. I would like to start with denim. My main concern is denim's toll on the environment. It takes an immense amount of water to make just one pair of jeans - nearly I have seen numbers published ranging from 2,500 to 10,000 liters. Starting with denim would make a huge dent in saving one of our planets natural resources. I am also considering developing a clothing line at some point, and I am very interested in using reclaimed deadstock fabric to produce potential designs.
KM: Do any of the brands that Mod + Ethico features have any certifications or special impact measure tools to track their environmental or social impact?
CC: Yes, we stock Thinking Mu with GOTS organic cotton, post-consumer recycled polyester, they also use hemp which is an incredible fiber: It grows 4 meters in only 4 months, it requires a fraction of the water as compared to cotton, the 100% of the plant can be used for others purposes, it is 10 times more resistant and breathable than cotton and its roots alkalinize the soil.
Groceries Apparel is American-made, and dedicated to organic, natural and recycled fibers. With over five years of research, we have yet to find a certification that encompasses all of our values. So we started our own. Focusing on human empowerment, organic and recycled ingredients, and local, fair, and responsible manufacturing, our “Seed to Skin” certification is the first of its kind and represents a new standard for the apparel industry.
Veja is a French-based and Brazilian-made sneaker brand who uses FLO certified Fairtrade practices, recycled and organic cotton, naturally procured rubber from the Amazon. Veja uses an organic certification process for the cotton produced by ADEC.
These are just a few brands with certified organic and fairtrade practices, while others are committed to ethical production in more subtle ways, such as producing in small batches in the US and offering fair wages to their dedicated production teams.
KM: What inspired the creation of Mod + Ethico?..I have to say it represents the millennial generation in a new and refreshing way…!
CC: I initially founded Mod + Ethico with a vision to curate American-made brands. I was frustrated with the quality I was finding in designer brands, and knowing that marginalized populations were behind the production process, while the brands claim a disproportionate amount of the profit outraged me. The American-made focus was representative of fair labor, quality and local impact. However, after watching The True Cost, and discussing my motivations for American-made, I discovered that my principles were further reaching that just American-made. I pivoted a bit, renamed the brand (from Sewn in the USA to Mod + Ethico), and decided to focus on sustainability, Fairtrade, female empowerment, and charity. Mod + Ethico's evolution has stemmed from my own frustrations with the fashion industry and consumption. I still love style as an art form - one of personal expression, but I feel a sense of responsibility to provide better options to my community and beyond.
KM: No ethical brand can ever be perfect, but are there any improvements that you have intentions of cultivating? How closely do you partner with the brands you feature?
CC: We are far from perfect; there are still brands that we carry from earlier inventory purchases that align with the American-made principle, but not necessarily as closely to the sustainability principle that I am now incredibly passionate about. Going forward, we will be phasing out brands who do not touch on multiple principles such as fair wages as well as sustainability, or fair wages and charity.
Some brands we know extremely well, like Suki + Solaine who is based here in Chicago. I know the owner, the sales rep, and have visited their studio many times. We know other smaller brands such as Groceries Apparel and email directly with the founder. It's really incredible to be so close to some of the changemakers who began on the ethical fashion path years ago, and continue to make amazing strides in the industry.