Fast fashion is being challenged by the new US ethical fashion startup, virtue + vice
Fast fashion is the term used to define how some retailers and brands mass produce affordable clothing items quickly, and often using synthetic fibers.
In order to keep up with changing style trends and to meet consumer demand, fast fashion retailers may even introduce new items into their stores several times a week. This means trends transition quickly, making people’s clothes out of date.
Unfortunately, this type of fashion commerce can create a lot of wastage which in turn can lead to critical environmental damage as clothes are disposed of.
Similarly, fast fashion retailers using overseas garment factories might pay workers low wages and place them under pressure to work long hours in order to produce clothes quickly and on time.
Virtue + vice is an ethical clothing startup founded by the fashion designer and New York fashion industry veteran, Melanie DiSalvo.
Melanie’s company was born with the purpose of manufacturing ethical clothing, saving the earth, improving people’s lives and bringing eye-catching, sustainable fashion to eco-conscious women.
By replacing one spinning machine and one loom, you create 150 jobs! In India where jobs are scarce, job creation is huge
Virtue+vice is also doing its part in responsible supply-chain innovation. By providing an alternative and raising awareness, Melanie is shining a light on how fast fashion manufacturing methods are negatively impacting the world.
Clothing items by virtue + vice are made using ancient garment practices and new technology. They also produce a minimal carbon footprint, whilst the artisans who make them work in a safe environment and are compensated properly.
Melanie’s debut collection includes on-trend prints on natural fabrics which not only make the wearer feel proud about their fashion purchases, but they look great at the same time.
Everything sold on her website includes a fully transparent product profile which explains each step of the production life cycle – from conception to delivery. Melanie’s mission is in-sync with a growing trend in purpose-led purchasing.
In fact, earlier this year a study by Unilever revealed that a third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to purchase items from brands that they consider to be doing social or environmental good.
It’s not just overseas partners in the manufacturing chain that need improvement, exploitation happens in NYC as well
Here, Melanie tells Nativa World why she established her green enterprise and why she thinks the fashion industry has a long way to go…
Melanie, what does the word, ‘Achieve’ mean to you?
Achieve means to conquer a goal. I think in today’s ultra-competitive (I’m from NYC) world when we think of achievement we often think of being the best, or doing something outstanding. I think it’s the everyday wins that add up, maybe it’s just finding time to make it to the gym.
How did virtue + vice come to life ?
I’ve worked in the fashion industry for over 7 years, and lived and worked throughout Asia. I’ve seen a lot of awesome places and a lot of things. I wanted to create a brand that pulled back the glamorous curtain of the fashion industry and educate consumers on what it really takes to create shiny editorial magazine photos and Pinterest porn. I wanted to do this while creating an ethical and sustainable brand with real 100% transparency and a model for what the industry should strive to become.
SO MANY hands touch a single garment. It’s not just the person behind a sewing machine
Are you the first to offer behind the scenes visibility to consumers?
There are lots of companies that claim to be “radically” transparent. But, I’ve found that’s all they do is make bold claims. Transparency is not taking a photo of a factory worker. Transparency is knowing your entire supply chain from the farmers you get your fibers from, to where the yarns that sew your clothes are made, to the places where your tags are produced. SO MANY hands touch a single garment. It’s not just the person behind a sewing machine. Part of our goal at virtue +vice is to educate consumers on what to ask other sustainable and ethical companies so they can see through marketing and green washing. The reaction to our line has been overwhelmingly positive.
Which retailers have got it right?
There are some great brands like Krochet Kids and People Tree that do a lot of good work, and are extremely transparent. If you buy a shirt for $5 it’s kind of intuitive that something isn’t adding up. And it’s not just overseas partners in the manufacturing chain that need improvement, exploitation happens in NYC as well. The fashion industry is notorious for underpaying young fresh out of college kids, with the response that if you don’t take this job for this salary, someone else will. I’ve known people that make less than minimum wage here in NYC when you add up all the unpaid overtime they were forced to work and with the threat of losing their job if they didn’t.
Did you experience a life changing moment in Asia?
My ‘Aha!’ moment happened when I was in NYC. One of my superiors was bragging about how important she was in a third world country and how horribly she treated people over there because she had money, that they didn’t and that they were desperate to make some. Seeing poverty is bad, but laughing at it’s a whole other level of evil. It made me realize that we are the problem.
Any success stories with your work?
In India there’s always someone who needs something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. You can help half a dozen people on your way to work in the morning just by saving your leftovers and giving them to someone starving – and that’s huge for someone that hasn’t eaten for days. The worst thing I saw was a girl chained to a tree while her parents went to work. She had special needs and they didn’t have the money to properly take care of her. We were able to get her evaluated by medical professionals and education specialists who explained to them that chaining her to a tree all day wasn’t a good solution. Officially though, virtue + vice works with an orphanage and we give 5% of our profits to them. The Good Samaritan Children’s Home in India is working on building a new home, because they’re being evicted from their old one. It houses around 40 children most who have been there since they were babies.
Listen to the people that live in these countries, and spend their day to day seeing first-hand what’s really going on
How else are you educating consumers and what more needs to be done?
I post a weekly blog using my industry experience as a reference, along with well researched industry content. It’s crazy how much misinformation is out there. In today’s world where everyone’s a “blogger” and everyone’s trying to get out the most click bait worthy “news”, everything becomes so exaggerated and misinterpreted in a giant game of media telephone. My advice is that if that person hasn’t worked in the industry, or hasn’t spent a large amount of time overseas, take their opinion with a grain of salt and do your own research and digging. Listen to the people that live in these countries, and spend their day to day seeing first-hand what’s really going on – not people writing inflammatory articles to drive traffic and advertisers to their website.
What inspires your designs?
My designs are inspired by nature and vacations. I also use organic, natural, and low impact fabrics and dyes. Khadi is my favorite fabric right now. It’s hand spun and hand woven, and all the cotton comes from small local farmers. The process to make the fabric uses zero electricity or water. And by replacing one spinning machine and one loom, you create 150 jobs! In India where jobs are scarce, job creation is huge.
How has your business journey been so far?
My biggest challenge so far has been self-promotion. I think if I could do anything differently I would’ve set aside more money for advertising and PR. I didn’t realize how easy it is to spend money in those areas and how quickly budgets disappear. In the future I would like to start selling khadi to other brands. I’ve mixed feelings about foreigners coming in and starting mills and factories – yes they create jobs, but at the end of the day they’re often benefiting themselves more than the locals. I’d love to be able to use my NYC fashion industry contacts to bring more business to the people who are already creating amazing products and local jobs.
Melanie’s Business Travel Tips:
As a women who travels alone, often to places where it is very clear I do not belong there because of the color of my skin, and lack of any other tourists or business travelers, I recommend to arrange travel and accommodation with your suppliers. Have them pick you up from the airport, drive you around, etc. And it’s OK to ask, even if it’s in a major city like Hong Kong. If you feel uncomfortable, ask them to help and they always will.
Melanie’s Startup Tips:
Take the plunge, but don’t quit your day job. It might be hard work juggling two jobs at once but, the stability of your 9-5 makes taking startup risks much less stressful.
Photography courtesy of Melanie DiSalvo and virtue + vice