Friday, May 6, 2011


Yesterday there was a fashion forum downtown.  I was a panelist on the topic of Sustainability & Philanthropy.  It was an incredibly inspiring conversation, and I was humbled to be in the company of my other panelists.  Eviana Hartman of Bodkin, Scott Mackinlay Hahn of Rogan & Loomstate, Derek Sabori of Volcom, and Shaun Tomson who is a major surfing legend and environmentalist.  I was so nervous before the session thought for sure I would ralph on Scott Hahn.

I thought I would share my notes... they will not do anyone any good in the recycling can.  Enjoy!

  • What is the value to the consumer today of the environmentally- friendly moniker? Does it have increased worth or have we already reached over-saturation in the marketplace? Is this merely a coastal and somewhat elite consideration?
Being environmentally-friendly should not be about creating some kind of artificial value. It is the only option for us (humans) on a global level if we hope to preserve our ability to live and thrive on this planet.
When I look at this panel i see one over arching connection.. every person here has a deep and profound connection to our earth and our eco system.. be it through surfing, or hiking, camping, climbing, etc.  When you feel connected to something, you feel a great responsibility towards it.  
To say that the market is over-saturated by environmentally-friendly products and brands would be incorrect. until every brand and every product takes the environmental costs into consideration in their decision making process, we will not be doing enough.
It is not just an elitist or coastal concern. It is a global concern that everyone must address if we want to change our global course. While we at Jesse Kamm understand that when it comes to purchasing goods and services, price is often the number one consideration for many people, but we hope that the paradigm will eventually change so that when people consider the cost of a product, they also consider the environmental cost of that product, whether it be pollution of the oceans and rivers, increased waste in the landfills, or toxic hazards to the people who produce and use the product. If consumers and brands are able to include these costs in their decision making analysis, they might find that the “cheaper priced” item is actually significantly more “expensive” in the long run. The cheapest products in the long run are those that are built to last, and which minimize their impact on the environment throughout their entire life cycle.
- What is the future of sustainable fashion? Are we making a move away from the niche products towards mass?
We at Jesse Kamm certainly hope so. At some point perhaps everyone will move to a more sustainable model and labeling your brand as “eco” will no longer be necessary.
There is an added value to products that are eco, and that can be passed along to the consumer as higher prices. This might make “eco” products appear to be elitist or a luxury item, but in reality, we don’t have the luxury not to be “eco.”
The cost of not being “eco” needs to be considered at the level of the firm and not just the level of the consumer. When firms consider the “complete” cost of their production decisions, including pollution, treatment of workers, as well as all of the other aspects of sustainability, they will begin to see a shift in their production decisions. At this point, “eco products” will complete their move from niche to mass market, as a true and thoughtful analysis of the total cost of producing items will hopefully lead firms away from producing toxic goods, and only goods that are produced responsibly will be available. (This is going to take a while!)
- What is the effect of making socially responsible/environmentally concisous products on your business’ bottom line?
It is more expensive to produce goods in a responsible manner. That is a fact. Some of these costs can be passed on to the consumer, especially in the case of a luxury brand. However, some cannot, so the profit margin is inevitably reduced.
...This is only if you take a myopic view of profit. If you include the costs of environmental damage in your decision making, as well as the added value of making a sustainable, durable product, your “bottom line” might be more attractive. We all need to move away from looking at the bottom line only as dollars made. What good are all of those dollars if the planet is trashed in the process?
Eventually, we will all pay the collective cost of environmental degradation. If it does not happen during our lifetime, then we will pass those costs along to subsequent generations. Personally, I think that we are already starting to see those costs, as our natural environment becomes more degraded every day, and cancer, autism and other disease rates sky rocket with no apparent does not take a large leap of faith to speculate that this is related to our toxified environment.
Unfortunately this is a classic case of the “Tragedy of the Commons.” Because it is free to pollute, and because no one owns the natural environment, firms will continue to pass their costs along to the environment to bring a less expensive product to market, or to increase the monetary profit margin.
It seems unlikely that companies around the world will consider on their own accord. However, there are ways to make them consider these costs, such as a taxation on pollution. If polluting costs a firm money, then they will adjust their practices accordingly. This is a much larger discussion about environmental economics, but in a nutshell, if companies are only worried about their bottom lines in terms of dollars, then by monetizing environmental quality as well as environmental degradation is a way to force companies to consider their actions is a more systemic manner.
- With so many brands making “eco” claims, do you feel that ethical and environmental apparel products would benefit from some oversight -- much like the term “organic” has certain standards in the context of food. If so, what would the criteria look like?
There needs to be oversight to ensure that if a company claims to be making a green product, that product is actually green. Just like the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies sustainably managed fisheries, or the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies sustainably managed wood products, there needs to be an organization that can certify companies as “eco.” This would entail a thorough inspection of all aspects of production, from materials manufacturing to production practices. By producing overseas, many companies avoid the regulations associated with EPA oversight, so any certification process would need to be an international body, capable of inspecting overseas practices as well.
I think that the best place to start would be upstream in the production process, where the textiles are produces, dyed, and printed. By certifying the raw materials that go into the garment industry, designers could then trust that they were making socially conscious decisions when they select their raw materials. Once certification of textiles and materials is in place, certification processes can move onto the individual firms by inspecting their individual production practices.
Certification is a good thing, not only for consumers, but also for producers. As a designer, I need to be certain that when I purchase a material that claims to be “organic” or eco, that it actually is. 
A great example of confusion in the marketplace is bamboo, bamboo is a great raw material, which grows quickly, acts as a carbon sink, and is rapidly renewable. However, that does not make bamboo textiles as eco choice, because in order to turn bamboo into a usable textile, it needs to be treated usually extensively with toxic chemicals and solvents. Designers cannot be expected to conduct a full analysis of every material that they use, so a general oversight body would be a great help to us!
- What companies are making advances in this arena -- wedding technical practices and design excellence -- that you consider to be most exciting and innovative? Who are the leaders of tomorrow in this space?
The first company that comes to mind is Patagonia. Yvon Choinard is an inspiration. He founded his company because he needed superior products to enjoy his time in the outdoors. It was never about a trend or an attempt to be something that he was not.
Patagonia is not a green company because they thought it would increase their sales. They are a green company because Yvon and the employees of Patagonia are people who enjoy the outdoors and understand that we are a part of the ecosystem...not apart from the ecosystem.
By getting out into nature, one gains an appreciation for the earth’s natural systems. Whether that be surfing, hiking, spending time in the mountains, or anything else that gets you out of the city for a moment, it is impossible to ignore that we are part of a system larger then ourselves.
Patagonia is not a green is just a company that is always thoughtful in its decision making. When a more responsible decision can be made they
make it. When less natural resources can be used, they use less. When a more durable product can be made, they make it. By understanding how their decisions affect the environment that they love, it is easy to include the environmetal costs in their decision making, and as a result, they make environmentally responsible decisions.
Add to that their work with Fundación Patagonica in Chile and Argentina, and their long term participation in 1% for the planet, and Patagonia serves as a role model not only for companies in the fashion industry, but also for all companies.
Jesse Kamm would like to be thought of in the same light. As a company which makes responsible decisions at every opportunity, always considering the full implications of the decisions that we make. Jesse Kamm is not a “green” company...we are just a company trying to do the right thing.

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