Interview: Eco Fashion Evangelist Kelly Drennan

GFX Founder Patrick Duffy sits with Kelly Drennan, a social entrepreneur devoted to making change within the fashion industry. Ten years ago she founded Fashion Takes Action, out of her desire to create a better, more sustainable future for her two daughters and now the world! 

Armed with more than a decade experience working in conventional fashion, Kelly was determined to raise awareness for its negative social and environmental impacts – both with industry and consumers. Thus FTA was born.

How long has FTA been around and how did it start?

WE JUST CELEBRATED OUR 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY! IT ALL BEGAN WITH A FUNDRAISER FASHION EVENT CALLED THE GREEN GALA IN 2007. WE RECEIVED SO MUCH PRESS THAT MY PHONE WAS RINGING OFF THE HOOK WITH DESIGNERS WANTING TO KNOW WHERE TO SOURCE SUSTAINABLE FABRIC, BUTTONS AND SO ON. IT OCCURRED TO ME THEN THAT THERE WAS NO FASHION INDUSTRY ORGANIZATION IN CANADA THAT SUPPORTED THE MOVEMENT, AND SO FTA WAS BORN

How do you measure your impact with what you do?

OUR IMPACT IS PRETTY MASSIVE WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE FACT THAT WE WORK WITH BOTH INDUSTRY AND CONSUMERS. OUR INDUSTRY IMPACT IS MEASURED THROUGH ATTENDANCE AT EVENTS SUCH AS OUR ANNUAL CONFERENCE, THE WORLD ETHICAL APPAREL ROUNDTABLE (WEAR) AND THE FEEDBACK WE RECEIVE FROM THAT, TESTIMONIALS FROM BRANDS AND DESIGNERS WE WORK WITH TO HELP THEM ON THEIR SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY, PUBLIC SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS, AND OUR GROWING SOCIAL MEDIA COMMUNITY. OUR YOUTH EDUCATION PROGRAM IN SCHOOLS HAS HAD TREMENDOUS IMPACT – WE HAVE DELIVERED THE WORKSHOP TO OVER 5000 STUDENTS, AND WILL SOON BE LAUNCHING OUR FASHION IMPACTS CHALLENGE WHICH IS BRINGS CLOTHING SWAPS INTO THE FOLD.WITH RESPECT TO TEXTILE WASTE, WE MEASURE IMPACT BASED ON THE WEIGHT OF GARMENTS WE DIVERT FROM LANDFILL, AND HOW THAT TRANSLATES TO GREENHOUSE GAS SAVINGS.

You have worked with many fashion brands, are there are notable collaboration that have created a memorable impact for you? 

YES H&M WHO HAVE SUPPORTED MANY OF OUR EVENTS THROUGH GARMENT COLLECTION, WHERE FOR EVERY POUND COLLECTED, THEY DONATE $1 TO OUR NON PROFIT.

There is now a growing trend to be "green", do you think this trend will pass like many others?

NOT AT ALL. I DON’T BELIEVE THAT THIS IS A TREND. NEVER HAVE. EVEN 10 YEARS AGO WHEN PEOPLE SAID THAT, I WAS DETERMINED TO CHANGE THE LANGUAGE – IT IS A MOVEMENT. TRENDS ARE “HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW”. ONCE YOU KNOW SOMETHING, YOU CAN’T “UN-KNOW” IT. WE CANNOT GO BACK TO CONVENTIONAL WAYS OF DOING BUSINESS. SUSTAINABLE AND REGENERATIVE IS THE FUTURE AND IN ORDER TO GET THERE WE NEED TO BE INNOVATIVE, WE NEED SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AND WE NEED BRANDS TO INVEST IN THIS AS WELL AS IN THE WELL BEING OF ALL THOSE WHO MAKE THEIR CLOTHES. ANY BRANDS WHO SEE THIS AS A TREND, HAVE A VERY FLAWED BUSINESS MODEL AND WILL SUFFER IN THE END. CONSUMERS ARE GETTING MORE SAVVY, TRANSPARENCY IS IN DEMAND, AND WE ALL HAVE ACCESS TO SO MUCH INFORMATION NOW. 

What are the easiest ways for a fashion consumer to participate in "sustainability"? 

WE BELIEVE IN THE 7 R’S OF FASHION:

REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF CLOTHING YOU PURCHASE

REUSE WHAT YOU CAN, TURN THEM INTO RAGS, BAGS, RUGS, ETC

RECYCLE WHAT YOU NO LONGER WANT – NOT JUST THE GENTLY USED, CLEAN AND ODOURLESS BUT THE STAINED AND TORN PIECES TOO – MANY COLLECTORS WILL ACCEPT THIS AS IT WILL BE REUSED IN SOME FORM, JUST NOT RESOLD IN A RETAIL STORE.

REPURPOSE – BUY SECOND HAND CLOTHING, ATTEND CLOTHING SWAPS, UPCYCLE SOMETHING OLD INTO SOMETHING GREAT

RENT CLOTHING, WHETHER IT BE A PARTY DRESS, A POWER SUIT OR STREETWEAR. THERE ARE MANY OPTIONS AVAILABLE!

RESEARCH – LEARN WHAT BRANDS ARE MAKING PROGRESS, WHERE YOU CAN BUY LOCALLY AND FAIRLY MADE CLOTHING, AND WHAT YOUR FAVOURITE BRAND IS DOING (IF ANYTHING) TO REDUCE THEIR SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT.

REPAIR – LEARN HOW TO MEND YOUR SOCKS, PATCH UP HOLES IN THE KNEE OR SEW A FALLEN HEMLINE

Can you share some of your favorite brands that are "doing it right?" 

ABSOLUTELY! HOWEVER PERFECTION DOESN’T EXIST, SO WE INSTEAD APPLAUD THE BRANDS THAT ARE MAKING EFFORTS. SOME ARE FURTHER ALONG THAN OTHERS, BUT IN ORDER TO MOTIVATE OR INSPIRE BRANDS WHO HAVE YET TO JOIN THE MOVEMENT, WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE WHEN EFFORTS ARE BEING MADE. THERE ARE LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF SMALLER BRANDS NOW DOING GREAT THINGS, AND NOT SACRIFICING STYLE OR DESIGN IN THE PROCESS (WE IN FACT RUNDESIGN FORWARD: CANADA’S SUSTAINABLE FASHION AWARD TO RECOGNIZE THESE EFFORTS). BUT ON THE LARGER MORE ACCESSIBLE SIDE OF THINGS, THERE ARE SOME MEDIUM - BIG BRANDS DOING GREAT THINGS: REFORMATION, EILEEN FISHER, ZADY, LULULEMON, MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT CO-OP, PATAGONIA, H&M, PRANA, PEOPLE TREE, STELLA MCCARTNEY, LEVI’S, ADIDAS, NIKE, NAU, NUDIE JEANS, FILIPPA K, EVERLANE, AND INDIGENOUS. 

What kind of items will people find at the Swap on on the 22nd? 

WE ARE ACCEPTING CLOTHING AND SHOES, AND ACCESSORIES SUCH AS HATS, BELTS AND SCARVES (NO JEWELRY, NO SWIMWEAR, LINGERIE OR WORKOUT/YOGA WEAR). WE CAREFULLY EXAMINE ALL THE PIECES, AND DO NOT ACCEPT ANYTHING THAT IS TORN, STAINED OR DAMAGED IN ANY WAY. WE ALSO PREFER BRANDS THAT ARE OF QUALITY, AND WILL NOT ACCEPT MOST FASHION FASHION ITEMS. SO YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE SOME GREAT QUALITY CLOTHING THAT IS FASHIONABLE BUT THAT SOMEONE JUST HAPPENS TO BE DONE WITH! SOMETIMES WE EVEN GET PIECES WITH THE TAGS STILL ON THEM THAT HAVE BEEN COLLECTING DUST IN A CLOSET.

For more info on the GFX + FTA Swap - Click Here

Chris Marta