Written by Kaya Dorey

Kaya Dorey, a member of The DO School community, is the UN Environment Young Champion of the Earth for North America. She founded NOVEL SUPPLY CO, a conscious and eco-friendly apparel brand based in Vancouver. Kaya introduces us to NOVEL SUPPLY CO and other changemakers that are making waves in the fashion and retail industry.

Purposeful Retail

Purposeful Retail, a kinder kind of retail, is starting to make a name for itself. Small brands are reinventing what the industry is all about and pushing back on the beast that is fast fashion and mindless consumerism.

After doing a year-long project on textile waste as part of my Sustainable Business Leadership program, I became aware of the amount of synthetic items in my closet. I learned that synthetic is derived from petroleum and chemicals that can’t biodegrade or be recycled. This is when the vision for a sustainable apparel brand started percolating.

Kaya in her element. Photo: Cassandra Casley, Twist & Shutter

The common thread between my story and the three other entrepreneurs I interviewed for this article, is that we are all driven by this shared cause to shift the current fashion industry to one that is less wasteful and more ethical and sustainable.

This article will shed light on how we are building a more purposeful retail sector, the challenges we face, our suggested solutions for change and some trends and innovations that we think are changing the world of fashion.

Meet the fashion changemakers

Shannon Lohr, Factory45

Shannon Lohr. Credit: Joyelle West

Shannon Lohr is the founder of Factory45, an online accelerator program that takes sustainable fashion companies from idea to launch.

After realizing just how damaging the traditional fashion industry is to the environment and the people making their clothes, Shannon and her co-founder decided that if they were going to start their own fashion brand, then [they] were going to do it in a way that was good for people and the planet. They launched a company with 100% recycled fabric and 100% organic notions successfully through Kickstarter.

Shannon works with entrepreneurs all over the world who have made it their mission to start clothing brands that are sustainably and ethically made. With the help of Factory45, these new brands are launching some of the most transparent supply chains in the fashion industry.

Laïla Bédard-Potvin, harly jae

Laïla’s brand harly jae.

Laïla Bédard-Potvin founded harly jae. She designs feminine vintage-inspired garments that are ethical and sustainable. Her design process focuses on creating pieces that are timeless both in design and quality, giving their customers pieces that can be worn for years to come. She designs and manufactures each piece locally in Vancouver, using eco-friendly fabrics. These aspects of their business allow us greater quality control and a much smaller impact.

If she could have one impact on the retail sector it would be to inspire customers to reevaluate their dispositions around consumption. To understand the consequences of trendy, throw-away fashion and the solution that slow fashion offers, where one curates a small but intentional closet. And to reconnect with the joy of well-crafted and classic designs, not to mention, the world of charm that natural fabrics have to offer.

Jessica Redditt, Jessica Redditt Design

Jessica Redditt working with her models at a photo shoot. Credit: shopcanyongoods

Jessica Redditt is the visionary behind Jessica Redditt Design. She designs elegant women’s wear that is made from reclaimed and natural textiles. She believes in the power of plants and hand-dyes many of her garments with natural dye. She aims to collaborate with other sustainable designers to support the sustainable fashion movement and inspire other brands to adopt slower and more conscious fashion production models.

Kaya Dorey, NOVEL SUPPLY CO.

Kaya Dorey wearing her own tank top. Photo: Cassandra Casley, Twist & Shutter

My name is Kaya Dorey and I am the founder of NOVEL SUPPLY CO, a conscious apparel line made ethically in Vancouver, BC, Canada. My philosophy is to design with the end in mind. This means, design with fabrics, threads and dyes that are biodegradable or could be upcycled or recycled at the end of their life.

My comfortable casual style comes through in my designs that are relaxed, versatile and gender-neutral.

I wasn’t able to source sustainably-dyed fabrics so I sourced undyed fabric and I do small batch natural piece dyeing once the garment is made and screen print with more eco-friendly inks than traditional screen printing inks.

I collaborate with local artists to create the designs and print limited edition runs per each artists’ design.

Kaya’s take-back program explained.

My goal is to make the most minimal impact on the planet and create the least amount of waste while taking responsibility for the products I am making through my take-back program called AFRESH. Any products returned to me will be upcycled into things like stuffing for pillows to extend the life of the material. I also upcycle all fabric scraps from production and have them sewn into kids clothing by a local non-profit called, Abel Wear, which empowers women with barriers to make additional incomes for their family.

How to create a more purposeful retail industry

The solutions to the problems within the fashion industry are complex and far-reaching. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach to shift the industry to one that is more purposeful, ethical and sustainable.

Firstly, we can’t do it alone. It’s going to take effort from both the private and public sector as well as consumers to create the shift we need. Shannon suggests that “in order for the current state of retail to be more purpose-driven, we need to end fast fashion. For as many new ethical and sustainable independent brands that launch, we won’t make a dent without the big brands getting on board and reducing the amount of new clothing they’re putting out into the world.”

Nature + Skateboard + Dog = NOVEL SUPPLY CO. Photo: Darby Magill.

Laïla believes that we need to “shift the way retailers produce and market their products… in order to create intention and purpose in our marketplaces.”

I completely agree with Shannon and Laïla although I don’t think the big brands will necessarily change on their own without some incentivization and this is where the role of the government comes in. The public sector will need to implement policies to shift our current economy from one that is based solely on growth, capitalism and resource consumption to one that is more regenerative and responsible.

In other words, our government needs to support the small brands who are trying to do business for good by offering tax breaks or funding incentives to brands who are innovating with green initiatives while penalizing those organizations who are contributing most to climate change, pollution, waste and social inequality.

Kaya in Vancouver, BC. Photo: Cassandra Casley, Twist & Shutter.

This will make it possible for the brands who are doing things in the most environmentally and ethically responsible ways to flourish.

Consumers also play a major role in this as well. Laïla explains that in addition to a shift in the way retailers produce and market their products, there also needs to be “a shift in consumers’ consumption and habits.” Consumers have a strong influence on what brands make and with the internet and social media, they have the power to be vocal and demand that brands be more transparent with their supply chains. This will ultimately lead to brands making more responsible choices.

The forefront of innovation

It’s a very exciting time to be a part of this industry as there are many new innovations and technologies being developed that will help to make purposeful retail more widespread and accessible.

Jessica Redditt Design look. Credit: shopcanyongoods

Shannon is “most excited about the new technology around recycled fabrics.” She believes that “if we can continue to innovate by making recycled fabrics from discarded garments like Recovertex is doing, then I’m hopeful that we can see a more circular supply chain within the global fashion industry.”

Laïla loves the shift “towards a minimal and intentional lifestyle…” She believes that “this practice recalibrates us to be guided by what feels good internally vs. what the external world tells us we should want.” She’s also excited about “the availability of natural fabrics that are emerging, the world of (made-to-order) 3D printing, the trend for locally made products and lastly, innovative companies such as Instagram & Shopify who have supported small brands in building community and business strategies for this new way of doing business. A notable mention must also go to the sharing economy which has sprouted online communities where one can connect with like-minded users to sell, trade and give their clothing away, ensuring nothing goes to waste.”

Jessica and I share similar values when it comes to operating principles, sourcing and production and we can’t wait to see how automation, bio-based textiles, blended fabric recycling innovations, no water dyeing techniques, and cooperative shared spaces will create meaningful change in the industry.

The look of Jessica Redditt Design. Credit: shopcanyongoods

Our Future

Our planet is finite and our resources are scarce. We are starting to experience the effects of climate change, overconsumption, waste, lack of water and a migration crisis. As fashion is one of the biggest contributors to many of the aforementioned, there is a stronger sense of urgency than ever before to do something about it.

Shannon, Laïla, Jessica and myself are doing our best to make changes within the fashion industry but we can’t do it alone. We need you, the people on this planet, to make better choices, support the small brands that are trying to make a difference. Be vocal and demand transparency. Together, we can do this.