For many of us, shopping is a guilty pleasure: We often take home more than we need, and sometimes don't even get around to wearing that Forever 21 dress we bought on a whim. "At least it was only $10," we tell ourselves to stave off buyer's remorse.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the guilt should go deeper than idle concerns about unnecessary spending. Relatively cheap clothing from fast fashion brands such as Zara, Forever 21 and H&M are contributing to one of the biggest issues we face today — pollution. In fact, the fashion industry is the largest polluter in the world, second only to big oil, thanks to overconsumption, non-biodegradable materials, harmful chemicals in fabric dye, and more. You really REALLY don't need that $10 dress.
Aside from the detrimental effects on the environment, making such cheap clothing has a massive hidden cost — the toll taken on factory workers abroad who make less than living wages, and often have next to no rights.
As consumers, it is our responsibility to seek out those brands that value the environment, ethical production, and workers' rights. After all, clothes should be quality investments, lasting us years, not disposable pieces for the landfills after one season.
But while there are plenty alternatives to fast fashion brands, professional woman looking to buy socially conscious garments that are also perfect for work may be scratching their heads on where to look.
Enter Maven Women, "a unique line of socially conscious, elegant and fashionable women’s workwear, made using the highest quality eco-conscious materials."
Maven Women was created by Rebecca Ballard (pictured above), a public interest lawyer and advocate. Over the past ten years, she has worked on a number of issues related to the global garment industry, including: human trafficking and modern-day slavery, economic migrants in debt bondage, the intersection between women's rights and the rights of garment workers, and fair trade.
When asked what inspired her to make the career switch from law to fashion, Ballard tells A Plus that she herself had been frustrated by a lack of options for women looking for sustainable workwear. This, coupled with her experiences witnessing injustices in the fashion world, propelled her creation of Maven Women.
"The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh shocked the world into consciousness and gave me a clear call to action," she says. "For some time I'd been passionate about mainstreaming fair trade and purchasing products in line with my values, however, when I saw the chilling images from Bangladesh I became even more determined to use my life to 'move the needle' in the global garment industry."
Of course, Ballard was not the only professional female consumer wanting shopping alternatives after seeing such violations of human rights. After spending a decade in dialogue with American working women, she found many shared her same desires to create industry-wide change — and look stylish while doing it. Ballard calls these people Maven Women — "Any woman who seeks savvy, sustainable style. She values treating both people and the planet well and seeks to make choices in line with her values and the world she wants to create."
Targeting working women makes a whole lot of sense, as Ballard explains:
"So many working women are inherently change-makers who seek to mentor and empower other women. It’s our nature to advocate for the change we seek, make decisions in line with our values, and shape industries."
The clothes sold by Maven Women are produced by supply chain partners in South Asia, which are in line with the company's commitment to restorative justice. "This is a part of the world where so many people have been harmed in the course of their work in the global garment industry," Ballard explains. Additionally, Maven Women is finalizing its supply chain for its inaugural collection, but have already announced Mehera Shaw — an India-based fair trade manufacturer with an artisan development foundation — as one of these partners.
Beyond ensuring its line is ethically produced with sustainable materials, Maven Women takes into account the unique preferences of its costumers by involving them in the design process. On the website, costumers can engage in co-creating garments by voting on their favorite styles.
"I've found that women inherently know what cuts work best for them, and it's a shame more brands haven't asked them directly," Ballard tells A Plus. "They are still being told what to wear rather than asked what they want. The industry struggles with making clothing women want to wear that fits, flatters, and is appropriate for the modern woman's lifestyle. This process also makes great environmental sense, as it cuts down on wastefully producing clothes that aren't as appealing. I love how our co-creation process has demystified the fashion industry and given women a greater sense of agency. Consumers have a sense that the fashion industry is out there, so removed from our lives. It's really not that way."
"We have more power than we realize to come together to shape consumptive patterns and create the world we seek."
If you're thinking all this talk of slow fashion sounds great, but when it comes to buying, it's out of your price range, you are not alone. Many consumers, used to buying cheap, disposable clothing, have a hard time looking at a single garment as an investment. But changing the industry to help both garment workers and the environment starts with a change in attitude and buying habits.
For those who think slow fashion is too expensive, Ballard has this to say:
"I've always been a numbers person. I love budgets, thoughtful spending, and good materials-forward design. The numbers, in fact, show us that buying timeless, high-quality pieces that fit and flatter actually saves us money. It's not the cost of clothing that matters, but cost per wear. Don't believe me? Do the math on your favorite pieces yourself and see how they compare to your cheapest ones. I bet you'll be surprised at the pennies you sometimes pay per wear of the decade-old dress that still fits and flatters in just the right way."
That said, Ballard recognizes that while socially conscious fashion should never be cheap, there are still many options that will not break the bank. We asked her about some items she's purchased herself and regularly wears. She lists a PACT wrap dress ($44), an Amour Vert linen t-shirt (purchased for $68, currently on sale for $28), a Fair Indigo empire waist dress ($69.90 on sale for $53.99), and items from Bead & Reel's collection including wedges ($69.00 on sale for $48.30) and shorts ($49). If none of these things fit your taste, Ballard suggests checking out Maven Women's curated list of socially conscious brands, going to vintage or thrift stores, or even holding clothing swaps with friends.
Besides shopping slow fashion, what can we do to help change harmful industry practices?
Ballard suggests joining in on the conversation about the issues by visiting Maven Women's blog, engaging in advocacy against bad actors, and voting for legislators who care about changing the regulatory framework to support sustainable, ethical production. "For example, the recent anti-trafficking legislation in California is a great step. Reducing or eliminating taxes for companies that produce ethically would make tremendous industry-wide change and help so many people around the globe."
Ballard ends with this thought: "The goal of Maven Women isn't just to create socially conscious workwear. We dream really big, and our hope is to move the needle in the global garment industry. Our platform contains top-notch content on all of the key issues related to our six core values that we believe are key to systemic, industry-wide change."
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead