Sustainability within the fashion industry requires a system of accountability. As a consumer, this requires a re-examination of the ethical issues behind all our fashion purchasing decisions.
The soul of the Vancouver is its distinctive neighborhoods, many worth a day of exploring. Wandering the city, we explored the city off the beaten path, meandering through Granville Island, Chinatown, and Gastown: 3 areas known for traditional apothecaries and markets, as well as a handful of Vancouver-style indie stores and artisan studios catering to the area’s newer influx of artsy customers. In one of the local fashion magazines, I read about Erin Templeton’s vintage boutique and so her boutique became a must-visit stop on my list.
Erin Templeton’s boutique hosts a mix of vintage clothing in the front of the store and, in the back office, I could see rolls and rolls of treasured leather cuts and reams of salvaged fabric rolls. The robust swatch selection is the result of her hard work and time spent scouring thrift shops for leather treasures that found their way to her home studio in Vancouver. There, the leather cast-offs are repurposed into beautiful handbags and accessories. This is what gets me excited and starts my inspiration and ideas flowing! Erin pulled out a few of her vintage leather jacket finds, one that she plans on converting into a treasured handbag to be worn and loved for many years. Most of these fabrics will be introduced in her fall line, and delivered to various retailers. This is up-cycling at its best ~ re-creating something new from a piece that has been discarded, unused, turning re-purposed leather into luxury handbags.
Of the myriad sustainability challenges that we face in the apparel industry (waste both in materials and in consumer habits; toxins in both agriculture and production; distribution and fossil fuels; workplace and community safety; water use; etc.), which are of main concern for you, and why?
We don’t really have any waste, all leather is recycled. We do toss out the linings from the garments for hygienic reasons but that’s about it. Even the smallest piece of leather is used for change purses, or reinforcements. I collect leather for local craft projects like kids groups making dream catchers and stuff. There’s always someone who will want the scraps!
In order for sustainable fashion to make a difference, consumers have to want to buy it! Can you share some of your design initiatives that appeal both to my critical eye and to the average consumer? What are the hallmarks of your signature style?
I think that’s where I started out, I was picking vintage for a living and finding the most beautiful leathers that weren’t being appreciated. I always hid the fact that my items were made from recycled leather by making patterns that fit within the patterns of the clothing. I wanted the bags to speak for themselves and be worn because people loved them, not to be attached to a gimmick. Though, it was hard to explain the one of a kind aspect to people, it is sometimes easier to make the previous garment obvious to avoid confusion! I really tried to design around usability, making the bags adjustable, and long wearing, not trendy so the person who bought it would use it forever and ever!
Who or what has influenced your work? Which designers do you most admire?
Jil Sander, what she does is very difficult.
What fabrics do you use? Are there any that particularly excite you this season?
Part of why I have stuck with the recycled leather is because each piece is different. They are markers along the way: I remember distinct pieces and recognize them when they are walking down the street – kinda like kids you knew in grade one. It’s fun. I always get excited about using the elk and bison that is tanned in Western Canada. It’s very rustic and unpredictable, which is a good and bad thing sometimes!
Part of the battle of encouraging consumers to shift their purchasing power is in the messaging. When someone asks you why you are working in sustainable fashion, what is your answer?
It’s my first love. My shoppe also sells vintage that I collect; I find it inspiring, and I think that you should go with what you know. I think the key is to keep it simple, so it is well used. And buying something for a bit more and really loving it will make that item more valuable to you. I try and make things that can be worn many ways that will last so that they really become a part of your life. I have such wonderful customers who get their friends and family on board, maybe because they carry my designs around with them everyday. It’s sweet; I’m lucky that way.
Do you address the “throwaway” aspect of fast fashion? (i.e. material take-back and recycle initiatives, designing for more than one season, creating more appealing classic design rather than just trend-driven apparel, etc.)
It is my nightmare that I will come across something of mine just tossed away. I have picked vintage in warehouses for years and years and it’s amazing to see how addicted to cheap crap people must be. I see pretty things just tossed away, no doubt because it was 14 dollars at Old Navy or Joe. I really don’t think about the trends so much. Sometimes I guess I have happy accidents and my things are of the moment, but I honestly most often find that isn’t my customer anyway.
Classic is classic, not trendy.
Since sustainability in fashion is not just about the materials you use in your products, but also about the supply chain and your own operations, can you share any information about your company’s operational footprint, energy and water conservation, waste reduction, packaging, or other operational efficiencies that you embrace?
We make everything in-house in my studio/storefront. Our products are made up of approximately 1/3 recycled (recycled leather garments), 1/3 imported and 1/3 locally tanned leather (locally farmed and tanned elk or bison). We often have interns come in and learn to mark and cut, glue and fold, we have several studio assistants, and a seamstress in-house. I also sew. We are small, so we are always doing the best we can to make things efficient and sustainable. We really don’t have anymore waste here at our studio than you would at home.
What are your biggest obstacles to staying committed to sustainable fashion?
Sourcing materials, labour costs and managing everything I guess. We do all of the production from the beginning to the end, so I think the hardest thing is not losing my mind.