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Feb 28, 2017

Interview: Kestrel Jenkins (Conscious Chatter)

I met Kestrel at an event in NY in 2011. She was working as editor for ethical fashion blog, Ecouterre. She's been around the ethical fashion block, is super knowledgeable, and passionate about conscious consumerism and the impact of global fashion inustry. She is founder AWEAR World,  a platform that inspires us to think about where our clothes are made and community of mindful consumers and change makers. Her podcast,  Conscious Chatter is great and I see from Insta she has a new project up her sleeve. Here's what she has to say about that...

"There are so many brands doing inspiring things today, and I have had the opportunity to watch a lot of that evolution. But this has also helped me realize that as much as I grapple with the question of bringing another "product" into the world, I believe we need more conscious options. My business parter Holly and I are in the process of building a product that doesn't compromise on fit or quality, style or ethics. For more on this project, and to watch our development, you can check out LEFT EDIT"

It's ALL about marketing. I know it's really important to let products speak for themselves without relying too much on story telling or risk of exploiting the producers BUT the artisan sector has become a crowded space and it's important to tell your story in order to differentiate your brand and build community. Can you touch on this in general? 

I know many have been saying this for years, but I am still a firm believer in the fact that the product has to speak above the conscious chatter. The product needs to be built on quality and aesthetic, and it needs to be functional. If I buy something "ethical" and then never wear it, what's the point? So, for me - the product comes first. Now, when it comes to telling the story, I think this is equally as important, but it's not the #1 link to the consumer. We love understanding the "lifestyle" behind a brand, or the people behind the company or the curation of a brand's look. I find that these pillars are key to reaching a broader audience, which is something that is always on my mind - how do we bring more people into the sustainable fashion conversation faster? 

You've been involved in ethical fashion for a long time. What the different sub-groups of ethical clothing? Which do you think are currently the most prominent?

Honestly, I think there are so many sub-groups to ethical clothing today. The reality is there are so many "layers" behind the garment supply chain, and the "sub-groups" of ethical fashion today are a clear reflection of this complicated system.  Today, you could shop for: organic, made in USA, fair trade, naturally-dyed pieces, styles made from recycled materials, upcycled/repurposed garments, handmade, vegan, products with a transparent supply chain, and more. When it comes to prominence, I feel like the most utilized words to describe it is "sustainable" - which is exceptionally broad, and doesn't necessarily pain a clear picture. But, it's becoming a larger part of the mainstream conversation, and that's powerful to me.  Also, I think with the help of bigger publications and documentaries like The True Cost, consumers are a lot more tuned into the idea of "fast fashion".

Do you think the general consumer is interested in knowing the impact of their purchases?  

I think the general consumer wants to look good. They want what they buy to make them feel good, and they want to emit a specific look - a part of their personality - when they wear something. At the same time, the millennial shopper wants to also support brands and products that they believe in. So, when something looks good and also has a rad story behind it, they're even further inclined to get onboard. I truly believe that people crave connect with other people that live in an entirely different place in the world, who have an entirely different way of life. When someone realizes that what they are buying could help support someone in a community across the world, as cliche as it sounds, it inevitably strikes a heart chord. Now, exploiting this natural human response is where it gets tricky from my perspective. There is a fine and tricky line between telling the story, empowering the producers, and stroking the ego of the shopper.

What kind of products would you like to see more of?  Which products are you tired of? 

It may seem ridiculous, but I still search for staple pieces. I tend to be the shopper who buys outlandish, random, crazy, print-centric pieces on the regular. At the same time, I am always wishing for more basics that can be mixed, matched and layered. I think there are too many brands in the ethical space that are trying to say something in an over-the-top way, whereas to appeal to more people and bring more people in, I feel like the industry needs classic pieces that can be worn by multiple age groups and body types. Pieces that make you feel good when you put them on, and pieces that fit exceptionally well

Do you think there should be a distinction between artisan made and ethical factory production?  

I absolutely think these are 2 completely different stories to tell. One involves connecting to a craft that has a history associated with it; it involved cultural preservation and the future of global art. The other is more reflective of the push to shift the health, safety, and livelihood standards of factory manufacturing.

Can 100% handmade, artisan produced collections compete with factory produced clothing and accessories given the supply chain and pricing parameters (capacity caps and fair wages)?

Honestly, because of brands like Soko, I think they absolutely can. There are ways to build virtual supply chains today, and this can open the door to competition with larger producing factories. Also, while I think it's not going to happen tomorrow, the movement for quality over quantity has begun. We have the minimalist rage where people are reducing what they have, and we have a lot of people who are sick of their garments falling apart after 1 or 2 wears. Consumers are part of this shift, and while we have a long way to go, they are voting with their dollars more than ever today.

Who are some of your favorite ethical fashion brands? 

In all reality, the majority of my shopping is secondhand / thrifted. I also can't help but go to Reformation when I need something funky or fancy. I'm a massive fan of Tradlands, and their menswear-inspired shirting for women. Also, I am swooning over your new Kingston stripe; I'm going to have to bring one of those new pieces into my wardrobe.

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