Director of Environmental Strategies at Patagonia, Jill Dumain, and Founder and Creative Director of Alabama Chanin, Natalie Chanin, came to the Patagonia Chicago Mag Mile store for an evening of great discussion, crafting, and food on Tuesday, June 21st.
We talked about women in the textiles business & sustainability, ate amazing Provisions tacos, had wine, cider, and cold pressed juices, and were able to hang out with some amazing women in Chicago!
As someone who works for Patagonia and is entering the sustainable fashion/textiles industry, I was so excited to be able to meet these wonderful women. You can read more of my thoughts after the photos posted.
This event was absolutely amazing! I could hardly sleep because of all the thoughts running through my head. Luckily, my insomnia was due to having to type it all out! You can read about all my thoughts here:
Patagonia's reputation for environmentalism goes back to the beginning of the company when Chouinard Equipment, the company Patagonia was built from, changed their original for environmental reasons. Chouinard Equipment started making pitons and that became the majority of their business. After realizing they were damaging the rocks, Yvon Chouinard made the significant decision to change to a chock, which was a less harmful way of climbing.
From the start, Patagonia was always about leaving no trace but it wasn't until the late 80s that the company really decided to make an effort at making changes in the supply chain around environmental issues. It was also then when Jill Dumain started her career at the company in the textile development department. Take a look in 1996, and you'll see Jill at the forefront of the company's transition from cotton to organic cotton. In turn, Patagonia was the first company to use organic cotton, and soon urged others to do the same.
Natalie Chanin, founder and creative director of Alabama Chanin, started her company in the early 2000s under the name Project Alabama. After a number of events occurring, Project Alabama went under, and from there, Alabama Chanin was born. When Natalie's first business failed, she decided to give it another go, not giving up her dream of having a designer brand based in the state of Alabama. As time went on, without realizing, Natalie started making the business more sustainable. She wanted to be transparent and honest with her customers. The art of making the clothing in-house was an important factor for her, and she wasn't willing to send production overseas albeit the costs being significantly lower. Now the brand Alabama Chanin is the perfect blend of craft and fashion. Using hand sewing techniques to create beautiful and intricate garments, Alabama Chanin stands tall among the rest.
Fast forward to now- and Patagonia is celebrating 20 years of organic cotton use! Over the years, Patagonia has made strides in the research and development of sustainable textiles. I have a soft spot in my heart for Patagonia because they were one of the first companies that inspired me to go the ethical fashion route. From sustainable sourcing to transparency, to fair trade practices, Patagonia is a lead example of what it means to be an environmentally and socially conscious business. Luckily, I have the honor of working for them in one of their retail locations.
On June 21st, Tuesday night, Jill Dumain and Natalie Chanin came to the store as part of an event we hosted. They came to talk about the textile industry, sustainability, and their roles as women in business. There was hand-crocheting, free tacos (Taco Tuesday!) and drinks, and an amazing conversation about their personal journeys in business. There were also amazing questions that came from the audience, to further the discussion. Overall, this night was an absolute DREAM for me. When it comes to textiles and sustainability and women's roles in business, I geek out pretty hard. To me, Natalie and Jill are personal heroes- leading the way so young women like me who want to make a difference on this planet, but also want to be able to stay true to my craft, are able to. One of the greatest gifts of all was on Tuesday morning at a work meeting, I told Jill about how I have started a Fair Trade club at Columbia College in the hopes of making the school Fair Trade Certified by the time I graduate. I wasn't even necessarily asking for advice because I wasn't quite sure what to ask, but without hesitation, she gave me a chapter in Tools for Grassroots Activists to read that she thought would help me. We then talked and laughed about the importance of purchasing books instead of borrowing them, so that we could underline and take notes as much as we felt necessary!
Going into the day, there was no doubt I was nervous about meeting these two women that I truly look up to, but once I did I realized they were just like me. Yes, they are women of power in the industry, but there are so many similarities.
I realized I relate to these women because they haven't had it easy. Like all women in business, there are certain things we have to fight for. On my own path to becoming a conscious consumer, and someone in the sustainable fashion field, I have struggled. Like Jill (and Patagonia as a whole), I truly believe there is no such thing as being perfectly sustainable. No matter what Patagonia does, they face criticism. No matter how hard I try to shop sustainably as possible, I too face criticism. Once you declare that your choices from that point on will be to better the environment, people watch your every move under a microscope. People are quick to criticize when I forget my reusable water bottle at home, or when Patagonia's recycled polyester fleeces are shedding microplastics in the wash. Of course, no one wants microplastics in the earth's water, it's polluted enough, but they fail to realize and commend how much the company has done thus far to find a solution to recycle discarded plastic water bottles. The path to sustainability isn't a quick or an easy one. Both Patagonia and I, as well as others in the field, are doing the best that they can in that moment.
For Natalie, her first company failed. Fortunately, that didn't stop her from reevaluating her choices, and starting a new one. I relate to that when it comes to my career path. Most of my life I planned on going into the fashion industry, going to art school, living in a big city, and hopefully becoming a stylist. I was shopping fast fashion constantly, without realizing the choices of my actions. I even started a blog titled Style Tongue to document the outfits I wore. Today, if you know me personally, you will know that I've changed quite a bit. After the end of my sophomore year of college, I was planning on quitting so that I could become a marine biologist and help combat the damages humans have done to the ocean. Confident I was making the right choice, I still felt like I was failing the dreams I created for myself all these years. There's something terrifying about "failing", but little do people realize that it creates a huge catalyst for positive change. Instead of quitting fashion, I added a minor in Environmental Science and made the commitment to live a more sustainable life. I took every post off my blog, redid the site, and dedicated it to my journey as a newly conscious consumer. I now work at Patagonia and belong to an Ethical Writers Coalition, both amazing communities that offer tremendous support to me and my journey as I figure out what I'm doing with my life.
The point I'm trying to make this is insanely long post of mine, is that I agree with Patagonia's statement and the reason Jill and Natalie are on this tour. Our choices dodefine us, but our past doesn't necessarily have to. This is something that I've struggled with personally in the past quite often. For example, on a day to day basis, the choice to use plastic utensils instead of reusable bamboo or metal utensils does define someone if they do it on the regular. It most likely says that they're lazy and instead of washing the utensils after their use, they'd rather just toss them. That being said if they can recognize that it's a problem and not environmentally conscious, from there they choose to change their ways and that speaks volumes. My past as a high schooler who filled most of her closet with items from Forever 21, doesn't have to define who I am today. Since making the choice to live more sustainably, if I forget my bamboo utensils once and have to resort to plastic, that's okay. Or if I slip up and give into the pressure of purchasing something fast fashion due to a time deadline, or because of cost, I try not to get myself too down about it. Obviously, it's not ideal, but it was one time and I shouldn't beat myself up over it.
Living underneath the microscope the people around me have created, and the one I've even created for myself is hard. Luckily, I do have a great support system For that, I'd like to say thank you to all my friends, coworkers, and family, to my ethical writer community through EWC, Instagram, and fellow blogs, and to Natalie Chanin and Jill Dumain. The fight is a whole lot easier when I know I'm not doing it alone.