It’s no secret to us that fast fashion has sprung a fractured garment industry, rife with human rights and environmental abuses. Of the millions of people making our clothes today, the vast majority are women. When we consider brands like H&M, Forever 21 and Victoria’s Secret, we’re considering the millions of women working behind closed doors who face immense challenges to make ends meet.
Makers in fast fashion’s factories not only face the challenge of an unlivable wage, many are also demeaned through verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Stories behind Made In India and Made In Jordan show us that women are struggling to rise up.
In comes Caitlin D’Apragno, founder of new sustainable brand Sea. She’s a fashion lover who comes from three generations of fashion-passionate women. She’s also risen from a history of abuse and has recently created a line of sustainable goods to support women who have faced abuse. We sat down with Caitlin and got to know how she rose up to launch her new line:
Did you always know that you wanted to work in fashion?
It was actually my family who influenced my interest in fashion. My grandma was extremely stylish and in my early twenties I had the privilege of wearing one of her vintage Missoni dresses to the Melbourne races. And my mum worked in the fashion industry since I was about 10 years old – she’s also very stylish. She introduced me to the fact that getting dressed is very much a creative process.
That led you to working at major brands before launching your line. How did it impact your work today?
My jobs in the industry gave me tremendous experience that’s informed Sea. I moved from Melbourne to London to work at Harrod’s (which is like Barney’s on steroids.)
At Harrod’s my manager told me that I was, “way too entrepreneurial” and ended up firing me on that basis.
I then went to Reiss, where I took over their cotton category negotiating costs and deadlines. I learned how to negotiate with buyers and develop relationships with suppliers. That was just really an invaluable experience.
What brought you to ethical fashion?
My papou (grandfather in Greek), had passed away unexpectedly in 2013 and he was really my inspiration. He was a person who believed in me and accepted me for who I was. After he passed, I went into this deep questioning which led me to have a very strong reaction to my wardrobe.
I started to feel very suffocated by all of my shoes and clothes. I realized that I had turned to shopping for all of those years as a coping mechanism for my very complicated upbringing. I felt like I needed to let go. I ended up donating my whole wardrobe to Oxfam. It was just the best decision I have ever made.
Now I am very much about simplicity through ethical fashion and good quality products – as well as eco-friendly, biodegradable fabrics.
In comes Sea! I am using fish leather where the fish skins are repurposed from the food industry and would normally be a waste product. It really excites me and that’s where we are starting.
You also have a social impact element to Sea through your non-profit Willpowered Women. Can you tell us more about that?
I moved from London to the U.S. for my marriage. But it was only after we married that my husband became very violent. I was not going to put up with that and so I left. 1 in 4 women in the U.S. will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. That is a lot. And we’re in the 21st century, you know? So we still have a long way to go.
Abuse of women is international, in our garment factories and in our homes.
So at Sea, 10% of our profits go towards Willpowered Woman, which helps women without children who are recovering from an abusive relationship. When my husband started abusing me, my aspirations for the future were really my main reason why I knew that I had to get out. I knew that if I stayed he was going to stop me from having any progress in my own life.
It feels very fulfilling to do the work I do now and I’m so thankful that I’ve found my calling in life.
What tips would you give to someone looking to be a more conscious consumer?
When you do buy, consider buying ethical fashion an investment towards your future self.
At the end of the day if you have one quality item that you love and adore and that you use all the time, that has 10x more value than a 5 dollar t-shirt you’ve worn once.