As a young professional looking to work in human rights, Rachel spent the years following her master’s moving to different countries several times a year. She had been invested in sustainable living and fashion for a while, but every move meant that she moved away from the sustainable businesses and brands that she was familiar with in each location. She started to keep track of the sustainable options she knew in an Excel spreadsheet, sorting them according to country, city, product type, etc.
Her hobby quickly caught the attention of friends and colleagues, who could often afford to buy sustainably, but had no idea where to start. Rachel uploaded the Excel-Sheet to OneDrive, and started sharing it with anyone who was interested. However, since this document was updated on an ad-hoc basis and had no clear system or criteria beyond her personal preferences, it often failed to provide the resources she was being asked for. Rachel decided that transforming this hobby into an Action Project would be a good opportunity to invest the time and energy into developing a more detailed and diverse database of brands that could be used by a wide range of people.
“Fast fashion” used to be hailed for its affordable prices and rapid availability of all the latest designs and trends. However, today it is increasingly coming under fire for its many hidden costs – environmental, social, health, and even human. Fast fashion pollutes the planet, exploits and maintains global inequalities, damages our health, and even costs us our lives.
From the consumer with an unexplained rash to the child sorting through mounds of discarded clothing in a landfill site, and from the worker still waiting on her wages from an unsafe factory job to the animals choking on plastics and industrial waste, a single fast fashion T-shirt – which, on-average, is only worn five times – can harm countless lives.
What is the alternative? Until relatively recently, the concept of ‘green’ or ‘fair trade’ fashion in Europe was associated with frumpy hippies in loose outfits. You could be stylish or sustainable, but not both. In some ways, ethical fashion seemed almost intent on remaining a fringe, insular community which the uninitiated found confusing and difficult to access.
In the last decade or so, however, there has been a rise in brands setting themselves ethical, sustainable standards. Small-scale production and high-quality, sustainably sourced materials for longer-lasting products, and fair wages and safe working environments for employees are an integral part of their ethos, along with a commitment to transparency and accountability to their customers. The main difference has come with the kinds of fashion offered: today’s ethical fashion industry has broadened its reach, offering a wide variety of styles and sizes.
Les Pages Vertes (“The Green Pages”, or LPV) is aimed at those who can and want to buy sustainably, but are not necessarily knowledgeable enough or willing to take the time to research sustainable alternatives to fast fashion. It lists over 400 brands available in 44 European countries, across all ages and genders. It includes everything from clothing and shoes to accessories and sportswear, and from bridal and maternity clothes to head turbans for cancer survivors.
Rachel divided her project into roughly two phases: research and assembly. For almost four months, the main task was to find ethical and sustainable brands across Europe that qualified for the directory. This meant searching for brand websites, news articles, blog and social media posts, etc. that referred to sustainable brands at the international and national levels. In addition to searching in English, to maximize her reach, she also conducted separate searches in each country’s language(s), using Google Translate and – where possible – friends who understood those languages. In total, this phrase resulted in gathering approximately 1,000 potential brands.
Next, she went back through the selected brands to narrow down which were genuinely sustainable and fit into the criteria she had set for the project. This meant not only searching for names, but also verifying their websites, looking at the ethical and environmental standards to which they were subscribed, finding where products were made, checking certifications, etc. Throughout this stage she also took more careful notes of each criteria, looking for common trends and essential information that needed to be included in the final result. By the end of this process, she narrowed it down to 450 or so brands.
This then provided her with a “skeleton” for the directory, which was cleaned up and turn into a more easily readable and accessible format. Rachel included a foreword explaining the project, as well as a user guide to make it as simple as possible to manage.
Rachel had created the project’s Instagram account early on to follow relevant brands and use the social media platform’s advertising algorithms to find similar brands to those she followed. Once the directory was ready, she began to work on its social media presence, as it is intended to be used both as a way of reaching out to potential users and of starting conversations around sustainable fashions with consumers and brands alike.
LPV will continue for the next few years, with an update planned for end of 2021 to include new brands and updates of currently listed ones. Rachel will work on expanding its reach through social media, as well as any other communications opportunities that become available. She will also be working on providing a French translation, in order to make it more accessible to non-English speakers in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, etc. The project is very much open to collaborations and contributions from other Fellows who might be interested!