Sep 19, 2019 | By Louise Squire
As consumer demand for sustainable, ethically-sourced products heightens, here at WGSN we’re dedicated to highlighting the opportunities this challenge presents across the board.
A shift towards sustainability comes not just from an environmental need, but a financial one too, as consumers begin to reject brands and businesses that aren’t on board.
We’ll profile the brands who are leading by example, talk to expert industry insiders and bring you all the latest innovations, helping you to bring sustainability into the 21st century.
For more insight and inspiration, head to the sustainability section on WGSN.
Combining a digital magazine with a curated, online store, THE KINDCRAFT acts as a platform for global, ethical design, telling the stories of the sustainable products it offers.
With a focus on creators using sustainable practices, it delves into all areas of the design process; from the inspiration, to profiling the makers and exploring the technical elements.
We caught up with THE KINDCRAFT founder Lauren K. Lancy for the next in our sustainability series to talk her experience, THE KINDCRAFT mission and the longevity of slow fashion.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself: What inspired you to start THE KINDCRAFT? What’s your background and your focus now in the sustainable sector?
The inspiration to start THE KINDCRAFT actually came from my previous experience. I was a designer for big brands in New York, a freelance trend forecaster for WGSN, and I regularly traveled to places where heritage craft is a part of local culture. The first time I visited Southeast Asia, I experienced the richness of handwoven textiles, natural indigo dye, and pottery. I began to meet makers and see ‘slow made’ as an antidote to mass-produced consumer products. Learning about their materials, techniques, and inherently sustainable practices was a turning point for me. I realized that there was a better way for designers like me to work.
There seems to be two sides to THE KINDCRAFT, the magazine and online shop.
Did the written content and discussion around sustainability arise naturally, or was this part of THE KINDCRAFT mission?
It was always an integral part of THE KINDCRAFT. When I started it, I really wanted to share the stories of the artisans I was meeting in Thailand and Laos and I hadn’t really seen anyone talking about craft from a designer’s perspective. I knew that once people could see the process behind the products, they’d understand why they’re so special.
There’s incredible complexity involved with sustainable, ethical practice —it wasn’t being addressed when I was at design school. I suppose I’m hoping to nudge mainstream “design thinking” towards incorporating these practices and ideas.
Over the last few years, THE KINDCRAFT has grown into a global platform. Our focus remains squarely on makers — artisans, designers, activists and artists who offer alternatives to mass-produced goods. In addition to the website and shop, we publish an email brief as a resource for designers and makers and also provide advisory services for brands and institutional partners. We’re proud to say our magazine accepts no sponsored content and we work to deliver independent insight and inspiration over a broad range of topics to our readers.
You’re currently living in Asia and it seems like you discover a lot of traditional craftsmen locally to you. Do you move to an area to find makers to collaborate with? Or can you describe how you have built your network and the process of collaborating?
Yes! I feel strongly about building good relationships with my partners, so I do live where I work. I’ve been based in Southeast Asia for 5 years and have traveled extensively throughout the region to do research. I’m currently working on my third artisan collaboration in Chiang Mai, a new project in India, and a collaboration with a New York-based textile artist that has Thai components. Generally, I design products that suit my partner’s skillset and materials and then we work together as equal partners to craft one-of-a-kind collections exclusive to THE KINDCRAFT Shop.
Having worked for a range of US retailers, how has your experience shaped your approach today?
When I was working for big brands in the US, I didn’t know how things were made. I’d design something, write a tech pack, and send it off. I never met the people overseas that I emailed with everyday.
Today, I’m an independent designer that gets to choose who I work with — small-scale artisan groups and independent makers that I know and trust. We work together collaboratively to produce small batches of goods, made with ethical practices and natural materials. Although I’m working on a small scale, I’m proud to have an ethical and transparent supply chain.
Working on handcrafted and sustainable products is small scale with longer production times. Do you think there’s longevity in the Slow Fashion movement, and how scaleable do you see sustainable processes? What practical advice do you have for brands or professionals trying to transition to more sustainable methods?
My advice for brands and professionals: Push for thoughtful design at every level of the process.
It’s the only way to drive the improvements needed to make sustainable practices “the new normal”. Independent ethical brands might inspire the world’s largest apparel groups to produce less or source natural materials, while governments could regulate hazardous materials and better supply chains. If we all do better and share best practices and logistics, then we’ll have a more sustainable industry.
I think it’s clear that, over time, it’ll be much easier and cost less for brands to “do the right thing” and make things sustainably.
I don’t think that “Slow Fashion” is a passing trend. It answers the consumer call for “quality over quantity” in the same way that the organic food movement changed that industry forever.
There is a whole host of new certifications, funded research and organisations that are committed to changing the industry. In recent years what areas of sustainability do you think the fashion industry has made major progress in? What do you think the future of the industry looks like?
There seems to be a lot of interest in ethical fashion right now, but many brands don’t go beyond the marketing campaigns and actually do the hard work of sourcing responsibly. I think we need to slow down and be thoughtful about worker well-being and reducing material waste. I’m encouraged by material innovation in recent years, too. From biodegradable sneakers to materials made from plastic ocean waste, there’s a lot of opportunities for brands to show their customers that they’re paying attention to the environment and trying to be thoughtful and innovative.
‘Sustainable’ is a term that is difficult to quantify. How do you think we can create more clarity around the terms we use, or is this an area that will always be subjective?
Problems are often easier to articulate than solutions and “sustainability” is a word that, in our industry, encapsulates everything from human rights issues to pollution and environmental destruction from materials, to shipping, to throw-away culture. There’s so much to unpack, but I think that the important thing to remember is that we should be working to be ‘better’ not ‘perfect’.
Transparency has been touted as one answer to complex supply chain and mass production issues. How do you feel about transparency in fashion and to what extent do you believe this will transform the industry?
I don’t think that transparency is the sole answer to our industry’s problems, but I think it’s an important step in the right direction. If consumers demand transparency from brands, then corporations will have to open-up about their practices and start evaluating if they’re doing a good enough job. The hope is that this process results in a healthier supply chain and, ideally, a closed-loop system.
Slow Fashion has to be more transparent, too. I’ve seen ethical brands who hide the identity of their suppliers or fail to reveal their processes. THE KINDCRAFT not only discloses who our makers are, but we often do in-depth articles which directly promote them.
Do you think that, ultimately, customers will drive change, or do you think cooperation amongst industry giants is needed to turn the tide?
Change will have to come from everywhere: consumers, industry giants, governments, global watchdog organizations, and design schools all have to do their part. Consumers now expect clothes which minimize pollution and maximize respect for the worker. The fact that these are now mainstream ideas should give us all encouragement that the tide is turning.
Where do you see THE KINDCRAFT going, what are your focuses for the future?
When I started this project, I was deliberate in my decision to keep things positive — celebrating makers who were doing things well rather than shaming consumers.
In the future, we’re looking to grow our platform. We want to encourage thoughtful, ethical design, to give resources to designers and consumers, and to deliver nuanced journalism on the issues we care about. We offer consulting services and, hopefully, will do some in-person events this year as well!
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