Often a contradiction to traditional thought, sustainability and fashion are hardly new friends. At least, that’s the case in Ithaca, New York, where it isn’t rare to walk by clothing storefronts advertising sustainable fashion.
Sustainability is no new trend within the confines of Ithaca. Whether you’re in a bakery, tattoo parlor, pizza place, or even a tax firm- being sustainable and environmentally friendly is just a way of life in the small, rural city.
Among a sea of small “mom & pop” shops, Bloom, clothing and play area store, has its walls lined and racks filled with women and children sustainable clothing. Though only opening their doors just over a year ago, Bloom is doing well. The owner’s knew a shop like Bloom “[would] be welcome in a town like Ithaca.”
“We have a lot of organic clothes that we can just feel really good about putting our kids in and selling to other people’s children,” says Bloom co-owner McKenzie Jones-Rounds. Along with her business partner, the two wanted make sure their store had sustainable ethics at their core.
Though don’t be fooled by the “hippie-clothes” aesthetic that many think sustainable clothing must have. “A lot of the things that we have I think are more consistently in fashion. They’re simpler things, so they can be paired with something else.”
But the issue of sustainable clothing isn’t nearly as simple as “being green” for the environment. “It’s a multi-layered issue,” Jones-Rounds commented. A major issue for Bloom owners’ is knowing that their clothing “is coming from people who were treated fairly- being paid a living wage or at least a minimum wage, working in conditions that are really safe.”
As the above graph demonstrates, the labor conditions Bloom owners’, and many other sustainably-conscious within the fashion world, feel strongly about is just one of many issues sustainability faces within the fashion industry.
Sustainability Collides with Haute-Couture
There is a stigma in many parts of the fashion world that believes sustainability isn’t meant for high-end level fashion. One of the designer’s knocking this stereotype down is Rachael Reichert, a fashion designer who specializes in women’s haute-couture, and just so happens to be from Ithaca.
“Growing up in Ithaca definitely embedded a conscientiousness of environmental issues in me,” says Reichert. But her decision to make sustainably-friendly designs didn’t solely root from her Ithaca heritage.
“While I was at Central Saint Martins [where she studied fashion design], I read an Environmental Justice Foundation report about the effects of the cotton industry…[that] detailed so many aspects of the industry of growing and harvesting cotton that are harmful both physically and socially across numerous countries.”
After that, Reichert made a decision to never buy cotton again unless it was organic, and now scrutinizes all her fabrics and trimming purchases.
Sustainable designs of Reichert, via her website’s Collections Page
Though the Ithaca community was very supportive of Reichert’s efforts, she decided to expand her business opportunities and head to NYC this past January. With her design’s selling up to $600 on her Etsy page, Reichert is surely making headway in the cut-throat business of fashion.
Does this mean that perhaps sustainable fashion is making progress past the small, environmentally friendly areas like Ithaca and in the heart of the fashion industry itself? Only time will tell…