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Meet ‘Sustainable’ Sass Brown: Eco Guru

By Chere Di Boscio

Originally from London, Sass Brown established herself as a designer with her own signature collection selling in the UK and across Canada. As an academic, her area of research is in community outreach and ethical design practices in fashion businesses, and she has published papers and spoken around the world on the topic of sustainable design. She has also worked and volunteered in women’s cooperatives in Latin America, and taught workshops to manufacturers and fashion enterprises in Peru.

Her book, Eco Design, for British publishers Laurence King, is also available in Italian as well as Spanish, and showcases some of the best expressions of eco fashion around the world, and her blog, EcoFashionTalk, is read by hundreds of thousands.

Previously acting as the Interim Dean for the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) School of Art and Design in New York, and Acting Associate Dean, and the Resident Director of FIT’s campus in Florence, Italy, she is currently, the Founding Dean of the  Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI).    

Here, she tells Eluxe about why she dislikes cheap fashion, shares her favourite up and coming brands, and explains how all of us are all powerful.

Why did you decide to have a ‘green’ focus for your blog, EcoFashionTalk?

The blog is an outgrowth of my book Eco Fashion as well as my personal, political and activistic world view.   The intent behind both the book and the website was to inspire the next generation of designers and communicate who was excelling aesthetically in various areas of ecology and ethics in fashion design. I firmly believe that there is nothing sustainable about producing another boring beige T-shirt or ugly piece of clothing.     I also felt that sustainable fashion had reached a tipping point, where the best could be measured from a purely aesthetic perspective with the mainstream industry, combined with the fact that many still think of eco fashion as boring, beige and scratchy, and I wanted to break that myth.

Why do you think bloggers are becoming increasingly important in the publishing world?

Bloggers are the digital media equivalent of the plethora of democratization movements. The Occupy movement that is helping draw attention to the inherent injustices in our financial system. The Arab Spring, where the internet and social media helped topple dictators. The DIY maker movement that spawned Etsy. MOOCS challenging the mainstream educational system. 3D printing that is making design accessible to anyone.   Blogging is just one manifestation of a massive democratization of expression.

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Which green fashion labels are currently in your top 5 lust-list?

Km/a – an Austrian label that don’t promote themselves as green but do use a number of recycled fabrics such as decommissioned parachutes, and textile offcuts. They make a particularly powerful coat for both men and women made from the worn blankets from an Austrian prison produced and made by the prisoners themselves.

MAYER Peace Collection – this is another label that do not market themselves as an eco brand. Based in Berlin, the label produces a stunning collection of pieces from upcycled domestic textiles and vintage flour sacks intact with holes, stains and signs of wear, along with the graphics that identify the farmer’s name.

Steinwidder – an Austrian brand that produce an amazing collection from upcycled used socks and sweatshirts that really has to be seen to fully appreciated.

Alabama Chanin – US based work intensive designs based on traditional quilting. Her work is a wonder of workmanship with layers of organic and recycled cotton cut away and embroidered to reveal the various layers, and sewn entirely by hand.

Gudrun and Gudrun – a Faroese duo that produce exquisite hand knits from local sheep with local knitters. The designs are produced from undyed Faroese sheep that live on unfertilized grass.

The list does change all the time as there is just so much amazing work being done that makes a difference.

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How do you merge ethical and non-ethical brands in your wardrobe?

I am a big believer in heritage buying, making considered purchases of things I know I will love and wear again and again, because they reflect my personal sense of style rather than a trend. That way everything just blends together beautifully.

Do you use any green beauty products?

I only use Aveda for my skin and hair.

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Which new green labels do you see as up and coming?

There are so many, I would say Titania Inglis in NYC, Atelier Awash in Berlin, Christopher Raeburn in the UK has been doing well for sometime, but he just keeps on going from strength to strength.   Anita Kirlekar who is an Icelandic recent grad in the UK and does exquisite nuno felting.   Honest By has been getting more and more exposure also.   Stewart and Brown has a cool aesthetic that also translates well, as does John Patrick Organic, but I am only scratching the surface.

Which is better: buying green, or buying vintage?

I don’t believe in ranking, there are so many issues and no one choice is perfect, there are flaws to all choices currently, and no such thing as a fully sustainable fashion product.   Do you care more about carbon emissions than fair trade?   Which one is more important, it’s impossible to quantify, values are highly personal.   You can buy a completely organic fairly traded dress, that racked up significant carbon footprint being shipped around the planet several times for example. Vintage doesn’t require the production of new virgin material, but could also rack up significant carbon emissions through logistics. No one is right.

What’s your position on leather? Fur?

I am not anti fur or leather. I have been vegan in my diet for many years, and although it is a personal dietary choice based on moral as well as health reasons, as long as we consume meat, it makes no sense to me not to use the by-products. I do not support animals farmed solely for their fur or skin however, and I do believe in animal rights.

Which shopping habits do you think are the most important ones consumers need to change?

Consumption of cheap fashion, or truthfully consumption in general.   Cheap fashion is really far from that, it may be cheap in terms of the financial cost, but very expensive when it comes to the environment and the cost of human life.   The recent terrible tragedies in Bangladesh should have acted to alert most people to the hidden price tag to fast fashion.   Clothing like all other things worthwhile should be valued, should be enjoyed and savored, not a cheap take away that is consumed and discarded as easily as a take away meal.

Any last words?

Collectively, we have enormous power with our voices in social media, and with our wallets and what we choose to invest in. Inform yourself and know what you are funding with each and every purchase you make and if you see an injustice, speak out and share it.

To visit Sass’s Blog, please click here.

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