On Friday night, a packed audience of fashion design students, educators, and sustainable fashion advocates gathered at Parsons School of Design for our New York premiere of Made in Sri Lanka. Our latest documentary uncovers the journey of fashion students from Parsons and California College of the Arts as they visit Sri Lankan factories and homes to meet garment makers and hear their stories.

Audience members engaged in a lively conversation with keynote speakers Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss and Company; Timo Rissanen, Associate Dean of Parsons; Yvonne Watson, Associate Professor of Fashion at Parsons; Abrima Erwiah, president of Studio One Eighty Nine; Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake; and two of the Parsons students who attended this learning journey, Ioli Tzouka and Yimin Deng. 

Yimin Deng with pieces from his monochromatic thesis collection
Ioli Tzouka features a sample of her traditional hand-woven textiles on her loom.

Following the panel, the audience had a chance to mingle at an after-party, which included live performance art and a sample of sustainable jewelry, clothing, and accessories created by Ioli and Yimin.

As a part of our #humansoffashion series, I spoke with attendees from professors to industry insiders, asking them about the the future of sustainable fashion. Here is a roundup of my favorite responses: 

Yvonne Watson, Associate Professor of Fashion: “When I was in Sri Lanka with Remake I was struck by the ordinariness of the women I met. All they wanted was to support their families, their parents, their children–all the things that matter to me. The smallest change here can make the biggest impact there, not just for those women but the multiple people they support. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge with what is behind our industry, real people with real lives.”

Timo Rissanen, Associate Dean Parsons: “Find the humanity in fashion every day. I try to remember that there was someone who made my shirt and although I’ll never meet them it doesn’t change the fact that they are a human being with the same hopes and dreams.”

Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi Strauss and Company and Remake Board Member: “The problems plaguing the fashion industry are complex but the solution can be simple. Do the right thing whenever you have a choice.”

Brittany Dickinson, Professor at Parsons: “As an educator at Parsons, I’ve found students who are invested and do care about sustainability but still don’t have enough resources to learn enough about it. I’ve personally never been to a factory outside of NYC even though I’ve worked in the fashion industry as a designer for a decade. I’m hoping to learn as much as I can to incorporate into my social impact and sustainability seminars and create a space for students to engage.”

Emily Ingebretson, Communications and Outreach at Ubuntu Pathways: “One of my biggest passions is conscious consumerism. I recently heard about the H&M scandal, that they have $4.3 billion dollars worth of unsold clothing which is outrageous to me. It shows a deep disregard for everything but profits and expansion and we shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to this. H&M manipulates a deep insecurity that we have as people and fills it with shit.”

Margaret Karczewski, Designer of Kordal Studio: “I’m the designer of Kordal Studio and we’re committed to sustainability in every way possible. We’re Fair Trade Certified too! I’m inspired by Studio 189, another sustainable brand, because they organize marginalized workers to create community instead of trying to be a savior. Building community and giving workers a voice in the system is what leads to empowerment.”

Linda Patentas, Program and Development at BRAC: “I believe all our small sustainable interventions and successes are incredibly disconnected and therefore slowing down progress. That’s why there’s such a need for a unified movement and platform where consumers can understand the industry. Boycotting a store won’t change anything until corporate teams have proof that customers are leaving because of their ethical standards, for all you know they could just be shopping at the store next door. How do we better connect the consumer with the company? Even within a business there is a lot of disconnect, for example between the corporate social responsibility team and the buying team.”

Maddie Provost, Designer at J. Crew: “I’m a designer at J. Crew and I graduated from Parsons. J. Crew’s company culture is very open-minded and we have our fair share of sustainable moments, like sometimes incorporating recycled fabrics and always donating our fabric scraps and sample swatches. We have an incredible amount of waste but every week, we fill up bags and bags with all the samples we get and take them to a recycling center in Queens called FabScrap.”

Mary Bemis, founder of Reprise Activewear: “I used to work in finance and advertising but was passionate about sustainable fashion so I made the switch into this industry, and 6 months later everything came into place and the clothing line I had been dreaming about became a reality. There’s a lot of chemical transfer in activewear, due to toxic dyes and sweating while working out, so plant-based materials were a priority for me.”

Ariana Barat, Printmaking/Manager at Parsons: “I believe that change in the industry is everyone’s responsibility, from international labor organizations to national governance to the companies themselves, but also very much the consumer. Without the consumer, the company doesn’t exist; we’re very much in charge.”

Asad Faruqi, Oscar winning filmmaker, Girl in the River, and director of Made in Sri Lanka: “I think the exploitation of garment workers also has a lot to do with patriarchy and the colonial history of western nations. Women are now not only caretakers but breadwinners too, and in these male-dominated societies where our clothes are made, they are forced into factory jobs where they can be marginalized and mistreated.” 

In San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Amsterdam? If so, register here, for our upcoming Made in Sri Lanka film screenings. Together lets make fashion a force for good! #remakeourworld 

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