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Interview with an Ethically Motivated CEO

The Change Stirring Within the Fashion Industry

This interview came out of a research project I completed for my English class. The project was on the subject of "fast fashion," which is a term used to reference the production of cheap, in demand clothing. I interviewed Jessica Kelly, the founder of Thr3efold, which is a company with a "threefold mission of people, planet, and profit" that is working to connect designers with ethical factories and form business relationships that are economically sustainable and environmentally friendly. One of the things about Thr3efold that piqued my interest was the fact that their founder is from my hometown, and she has firsthand experience with the local impact of fashion and how it makes its way down the chain of ownership. You can read the interview below.

Interviewer: Callan Rushing

Interviewee: Jessica Kelly, Founder and CEO of Thr3efold

Callan Rushing: What is the largest negative impact that you’ve seen that fast fashion has had on developing countries such as Bangladesh and China?

Jessica Kelly: I can’t say that I’m completely familiar with what their economies were like before fast fashion and I would have to do some more research on that. Fast fashion largely influenced Bangladesh and a lot of those countries so in one argument you could research how the economy has shifted and look at other factors besides fast fashion that have had a heavy influence on the economy.

When I was doing my research I came across an article that you had written that broke down the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. What are some positive changes that you’ve seen within the fast fashion industry since that tragedy?

Since the collapse there’s definitely been a huge consumer awareness and a demand has taken place in wanting full transparency from brands in regard to how they operate and also wanting there to be a higher standard that they are held to. And that has been a huge shift. Just the fact that H&M has an eco-conscious clothing collection and a material recycling program and ASOS has their eco-collection and you’re seeing that become more and more important and brands are talking about their sustainability efforts. And also as millennials have been growing older, they’ve become more informed consumers and are choosing to shop at brands that are ethically sourced and are upfront about their manufacturing procedures, which I think has had a huge impact.

So in that vein, as a consumer, what is something that myself and my peers can be doing to bring attention to the issues surrounding ethically sourced fashion?

There’s so many things! And not all of them require this massive lifestyle shift which I think is important to state. The main thing is not shopping at Forever 21. I actually don’t buy anything they make quite a lot but the factories they work with and the efforts they’re making to close the loophole in our supply chain in fashion but also in how they’re doing things. And any change that they make in the right direction we see as a positive thing. Forever 21 is going in the opposite direction. So not putting your dollar there is an easy shift to make. Another thing is starting to follow accounts that feature ethically made brands and being able to shop those. Starting to ask questions is another small change, and we’ve all got things that we deal with on a regular basis like work, school, and family and we might not have time to sift through pages and pages of backend of the websites of every brand that you shop. Websites like Project Just have done some of that research, sorting through what companies say on their websites and what is actually true.

Has your company worked with other companies that are fast fashion suppliers in order to improve factory conditions? Are there others that have followed in the footsteps of H&M?

There actually are others that have been doing it for awhile. The BF corporation owns several companies and while I haven’t worked with them directly, I know that they have been making strides in a positive direction.

What goes into the process of declaring a factory ethically certified?

It depends on the certification type, but it generally revolves around eight things: No slave labor, no child labor, fair wages, clear communication from management, no discrimination, safe and healthy work spaces, environmentally friendly practices, and the right to unionize. So those are the basic things and the certifying bodies have auditors that are paid by the factory to come in and inspect everything. This is usually an annual process to maintain that accountability.

Do you reach out to factories in order to certify them or do they come to you?

We don’t actually certify factories directly. There are four levels of certification already in place in the fashion industry, so we build relationships with their teams and we utilize the factories that they’ve already certified. So if we have a brand come to us and say that they have this special bra that they’ve designed and need a place to manufacture it, we can go through these ethically certified factories and pair them with the right one. And we’re adding new factories to that list all the time.

***

My interview with Jessica was encouraging because I could sense her passion for change and she has worked to toward getting tangible results. These results can call attention to the work that needs to be done not only by the companies creating the product, but by the consumers who create the demand for the product.

"When you make a choice, you change the future." —Deepak Chopra

Jessica Kelly, Founder and CEO of Thr3efold

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