As climate change remains an outstanding issue, particularly for younger generations, many dedicated activists are choosing careers in sustainable fashion. While fast fashion continues to affect the environment, the movement for slow, ethical fashion grows.
The push for sustainable fashion has involved a number of people from influencers to politicians, and everyone in between. There are growing platforms dedicated to providing resources for fashion enthusiasts. One of these platforms is The Sustainable Fashion Forum, which works to raise awareness and build community.
Following their latest conference, Teen Vogue caught up with The Sustainable Fashion Forum’s Director of Partnerships and Strategy Ellie Hughes and Production Director Pame Bueno. They explained why they chose careers in sustainable fashion and what advice they would give to those who are interested.
Ellie Hughes: Back in 2015, my perception of the fashion industry was completely rocked when I watched The Trust Cost documentary. With no prior experience, I began researching and blogging about sustainable, ethical fashion and trying to spread the word to other consumers. Through my time as a blogger, I ended up getting offered a marketing position at a fashion company focused on fair wages and creating economic opportunity for women. At that company, I learned so much about what it really takes to do things the right way and how many layers there are that the average consumer doesn’t ever see.
My interest in fashion sparked as a child when I watched my grandmother sew garments from her Treadle Singer machine in São Paulo, Brazil. I instantly became fascinated with clothing design and construction, creating my designs out of paper and any old clothes I could find. I grew up with very little living in Bogotá, Colombia and hand-me-downs were the way my family could dress me. Instead of finding shame in this, I couldn’t wait to see what I would get next and what I could do to alter it to fit my style. I had a life experience that told me that there is value in secondhand clothing and also that there is a gap in the fashion industry we are not addressing. As a young adult, I immigrated to the United States for higher education and kept dressing with the affordability and uniqueness of secondhand clothing, which I would continue to tailor to the needs of my body. After college, I continued my studies but focused on fashion at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I studied garment construction and that’s where my passion for sustainable fashion flourished. I up-cycled men’s suits for my thesis gallery show and created sculpture wearable pieces. The response from the guests was so impactful. They were awed to see just how old clothes could be made into something new.
How did you get involved with The Sustainable Fashion Forum?
EH: As I learned more about the nuances of the industry, I shifted my focus from obsessing over individual purchasing habits to joining the larger movement which looks to policy change and societal shifts to address the underlying systemic issues. These days, I try to find a balance of using my energy to continue to champion small “slow fashion” brands through marketing (and my own closet!) but also work with organizations such as The Sustainable Fashion Forum to amplify conversation that tackles nuanced industry issues and effect change on a larger scale.
Independently, I continued studying sustainability in fashion from across the United States in Portland, Oregon, where I went to the first Sustainable Fashion Forum; I finally found where I belonged. In 2019, I went on to work with the founder Brittany Sierra in developing The Sustainable Fashion Forum, and the rest is history. Nothing brings me more joy than to help disrupt the fashion industry and bring to light the genius and artistry that is fashion made focused on people and the planet.
What advice do you have for people who are interested in working in the sustainable fashion field?
I would encourage anyone who’s interested in the sustainable fashion industry to get involved with whatever skillset they have and to think outside the box. I am not gifted with the ability to design clothing, nor do I have the interest in starting my own line, but I can use my abilities as a marketer to bring awareness to the issues at hand. We all have a role to play, big or small.