As consumers become more educated about the impact of the fashion industry, many are looking to support local brands who are conscious of where and how they source their fabric and materials. We speak to two clothing brands based in Nashville to find out more about their work, and how ‘slow’ fashion is both better for the environment and more ethical.
A recent study found that the fashion industry produces more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. The availability of cheap clothes, often produced in dangerous factories with no protection for its employees, has a significant impact on the global warming issue facing us in the modern age. In recent years, there has been a growing backlash against this ‘fast-fashion’, with many brands now recognizing the negative effect of this consumer trend. Two brands in Nashville, ABLE and Natalie Busby are independent clothing companies that are focused on making long-lasting, sustainable and ethical clothing.
The fashion brand ABLE was set up by founders Barrett Ward and his wife Rachel, who were living in Ethiopia when they met women coming out of the commercial sex industry, who needed help to find jobs. “They trained them to make scarves and after selling over 4,000 of them in two months, knew they were on to something. Since then, we’ve grown into a lifestyle brand with clothing, footwear, bags and jewelry – all of which further our mission of creating jobs and opportunities for women,” explains Jordan Soderholm, the brand’s fashion director.
The fashion brand ABLE was set up by founders Barrett Ward and his wife Rachel, who were living in Ethiopia when they met women coming out of the commercial sex industry, who needed help to find jobs.
When it comes to ‘fast fashion’ and its impact on the environment, Jordan agrees that investing in high-quality items, which are sustainably sourced, is the way to reduce the footprint of the clothing industry. “I’ve found that spending the money on a quality item is worth it, because it stays in my wardrobe for years and is super versatile, instead of living in my wardrobe for a season and then that item either falls apart or looks irrelevant because it was so trendy to begin with. I’ve also found that taking time to slow down and think about whether I need something and how I’d style it before purchasing has saved me a lot of money (even though I’m spending more money per item). Buying items that are more classic than trendy means I have a closet full of season-less items in beautiful fabrics, instead of a constantly evolving closet that I’m not proud of.”
When it comes to sourcing ABLE’s materials, Jordan explains that they focus on how their clients will live in the clothes. “We think about what is going to be practical in our customer’s closet, and what she will wear time and time again. Creating beautiful products that last mean that you are providing products that shouldn’t end up in landfills.” The brand is focused on having a minimal footprint when producing its clothes and accessories. “We work to have as little impact on the environment as possible, which is something we’re constantly learning about. Our goal is to turn what was an environmental liability into a profitable resource. Our vendors are also a part of our sustainability process. We work with fabric mills and tanneries that are engaged in clean water practices to minimize pollutants from the dyeing and tanning processes,” says Jordan.
Launched in 2014, Natalie Busby’s eponymous clothing line features chic basics made from the finest materials. “I had my first season in the fall of 2015. I was tired of fast fashion. I was thinking about clothes that are quality pieces; wardrobe staples that are both modern and interesting.” Busby always wanted to have the brand manufacturer its clothes within the USA; everything is designed in the studio in Nashville, and the products are made in small batches in a factory near the city. “It was a core principle for me. I think the south has a very cool manufacturing history. There used to be a lot of garments made in the south-east especially, and a lot of it disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s when things moved overseas. I found a great manufacturing partner in Nashville, and found myself visiting a lot and just fell in love with the city.”
I think the south has a very cool manufacturing history. There used to be a lot of garments made in the south-east especially, and a lot of it disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s when things moved overseas.
Like Jordan, Natalie believes in the power of purchasing staple items that transcend seasons and will last for a long time. “When you’re young and shopping, money is a big motivating factor. Once you have a little more, there is something about the ritual and treat in investing in something a little nicer.” The pieces that Natalie designs are made with the modern working woman in mind, but also draw on Natalie’s personal experiences and life. “My Grandmother is a huge style icon for me. She used to take me to travel to Paris, and we used to shop a lot together, and I always found it interesting to shop for clothes that I could wear – as a teen and college student – which she could also wear, as a woman in her 60s. It’s that principle of agelessness of style.”
Natalie acknowledges that being intentional in your fabric and manufacturing choices does require more effort in the design process, which may be why some brands are reluctant to actively seek out local fabrics or ones that are better for the environment. “There is so much more thought. You spend a whole lot more development time [on it]. Whereas another brand can just choose [a fabric] and move forward, you are trying to go backwards and source all your things and where they come from, and assess if they are better or worse than another choice. Instead of saying, ‘Oh, that works with the design so let’s just move forward’.”
And what are the plans that these brands have for the future? For ABLE, it’s to grow the range of products that they offer. “And no matter how large ABLE grows, the ethos around the brand will continue to revolve around its key message of supporting those who work in the fashion industry. “The heart of any goal is ultimately to create more jobs for women and to make an impact on consumers and the way they shop. We are pushing for transparency and change in the fashion industry, and hope to onboard some of our favorite, inspiring brands to our Accountable platform so that publishing the lowest wage of your workers becomes a common fact you can check for when purchasing your products!” For Natalie, she would like to source more fabrics locally. “The US has great cotton and denim, but silks, for example, are generally from China. We use a lot of Japanese fabrics, which are nice and high-quality. But as I grow, I would like to explore more local fabrics.”
ABLE and Natalie Busby are part of the growing number of retailers who acknowledge how important it is to consider sustainable, local and ethical brand values in business. As more people becoming aware of fast-fashion and its negative implications, these brands are only set to grow.
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