Eco Entrepreneur Q&A: Sam Leigh

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The world is addicted to fast fashion. Globally, we consume nearly 80 billion pieces of new clothing every year – 400% more than we were consuming just two decades ago.

Cheap prices, online shopping and social media have all contributed to a careless throwaway culture when it comes to our clothing.

Worryingly, the endless cycle of buy/wear/discard means ever-increasing amounts of textiles end up in landfill (more than 500,000 tonnes each year). Not to mention the wasted resources that goes into producing all of this excess fashion.

But as the Fashion Revolution movement attests, there are a growing number of consumers who are looking to slow down their fashion consumption and are turning to sustainable brands when making purchases.

Sam Leigh is the founder and CEO of online store eco.mono, which sells fashion, accessories and footwear from sustainable brands and designers, who kicked her own fast fashion addiction to the curb after seeing The True Cost. The 2015 documentary explores the impact of the fashion industry on the environment and the exploitation of low-wage workers in developing countries that occurs in order to cater to the world’s fashion addiction.

I spoke to Sam about how she made the transition from fast fashion devotee to thoughtful consumer, and what it was about The True Cost that inspired her to rethink her fashion habit. Sam also shares her tips for assembling a workable capsule wardrobe and how to care for your clothing so it lasts.

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Sam, you originally started eco.mono as a fashion blog before launching as an online ethical clothing store. What prompted you to start your blog and then later your store?

Whilst searching for new job opportunities after being made redundant from my corporate events job in 2015, I decided to write a fashion blog as a creative outlet.

As I started to research topics to discuss on the blog, I began to realise just how horrifying the ethics are in the fashion industry, and the negative impact the industry has on our environment. I felt as though I had been extremely naive up until this point.

A few people recommended that I watch The True Cost documentary, it really inspired me, and I decided to change the angle of my blog and focus on positive ethical fashion.

Over the next 18 months, I spent a lot of my time replying to emails, messages and comments advising my readers and followers where to shop and why, along with offering style advice. I then decided to add an online shop to my blog – a one-stop shop for the brands I am a huge advocate for. That’s basically how it all began.

What was it about The True Cost that resonated with you so profoundly?

I remember sitting in my front room, watching the doco and there was a scene that just hit me in the gut and I burst into tears.

Up until that point nothing had ever shook me to my core like that did (a few other docos have had a similar effect since) and I just thought, “Sam, how did you not know this? Who else doesn't know this? How can we tell more people?”.

From then on I decided to change the angle of the eco.mono blog to focus on positive ethical fashion stories, and talk about people and brands that are fighting the good fight, innovating and advocating for fair fashion.

For those who may not be aware of why fast fashion is so problematic, tell us why choosing to shop with ethical, sustainable fashion brands is so important.

Oh goodness, where do I start? Okay, so to put it very simply fast fashion is fashion that is being mass-produced and puts unnecessary pressure on resources, people and the planet. By speeding up the process and reducing costs this comes at the expense of people (mainly women) being exploited and environmental corners being cut.

By shopping for ethical and sustainable brands you are choosing what type of world you wish to live in. I know it sounds corny but you are voting with your wallet.

The ethical fashion tribe.

The ethical fashion tribe.

Ethical and sustainable brands all have different angles, for example, we categorise the brands we stock based on their ethical values: Environmentally Friendly, Empowerment, Fair, Hand Made, Locally Made, Minimal Waste, Sustainable, Transparent Production, Minimal Waste and Waste.

We do this because it is very rare for any brand to align with all 10 ethical values. Therefore, I think it is extremely important for consumers to figure out what values are the most important to them and choose to shop with brands that align with those personal values.

We are all different, we all have different principles and that is what makes us human.

What are some of your tips for assembling a workable capsule wardrobe?

The first thing I will say is, if you are still experimenting with your personal style, don't try and create a capsule wardrobe at the same time.

While you’re still experimenting, I would recommend shopping second-hand, this is the most ethical, environmentally friendly and cost-effective way to shop.

Then, once you have an idea of your personal style, you can curate a capsule wardrobe that will work for you and not make you feel limited or uninspired.

There are no rules for how many pieces you have in your capsule wardrobe. I think the most important thing is, whenever you are purchasing a new piece of clothing, ask yourself, “Does this work with other pieces in my wardrobe? Will I get more that 30 wears out of this item?”.

How do you care for your clothing? Do you have any eco-friendly laundry products or techniques you can recommend?

Yes, absolutely! Totally not sponsored but I use Dirt Laundry Detergent to wash my clothes, always on 30 degrees and I try to limit the amount of loads I do to two per week.

I also do not tumble dry anything; I have a drying rack (I actually have two) that always seems to be in my front room. Even though I only do two loads a week, in winter clothes take a little longer to dry.

Do you know who made your clothes?

Do you know who made your clothes?

What are some of your favourite sustainable fashion brands and what do you love about them?

Oh this is hard – it’s like asking a parent which is their favourite child! I love all the brands I stock for so many different reasons and I couldn’t possibly choose one. So, I am going to choose a few brands that I don’t stock (yet!).

Girlfriend Collective are a US-based activewear brand that produces pieces from water bottles and fishing nets. Their products are made in an SA8000 certified facility, which means it’s safe to work in, there’s no forced or child labour, and the workers have a right to unionise.

Plus, they have just introduced Re/Girlfriend, their new program that collects old Girlfriend Collective compressive leggings and upcycles them into new pieces that can be worn again and again.

People Tree are the pioneers of ethical fashion. The UK-based brand have been advocating for ethical fashion since before it was “a thing”, starting way back in 1991. The core mission has stayed the same over the past three decades since award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney founded the company. Every product is made to the highest ethical and environmental standards from start to finish.

Allbirds is a New Zealand-based brand leading the way in innovative sustainable design. Made with ZQ-Certified New Zealand merino wool, Allbirds use 40% less packaging than other traditional shoes, they are B Corporation certified, and partner with Soles4souls to create sustainable jobs and provide relief through the distribution of shoes and clothing around the world.

Thanks for your time, Sam!