Interview by: Sharmishta Basappa / Merete Mei-Jin Noer
Photos by House Of Satori / Merete Mei-Jin Noer
It’s a hot day in Oslo, and the sun is out like never before – its the beginning of an unusually warm summer. I walk down to the Ferry Pier, Akershusstranda – Excited to meet one of the most interesting eco-bloggers I have come across in a long while – Kasi from the ethical fashion blog The Peahen. With the sun rays hitting my eyes like I’m on a ibiza holiday, I see a young, energetic and smiling young lady rolling her suitcase towards me. We greet and I bring her in to Vippa which we have written about here; a food court located at the end of the pier. So Kasi, how did you start The Peahen?
– It was an amalgam of many things. I studied social advocacy in school and was particularly interested in how to create change through communication and writing in the fields of sustainability and human rights. A the same time, I was also so drawn to fashion and style. I went to Milan to study fashion journalism and merchandising, worked in a local boutique and then moved to Manhattan to intern at a luxury fashion marketing firm.
After that, I decided to pursue a traditional fashion career because I couldn’t find a way to fuse in social good at the time. But when I worked inside the industry it opened my eyes to many unethical practices.
treating their employees unfairly (the validity of unpaid internships with major brands has been widely contested). It felt really conflicted about devoting my writing and marketing skills to brands I didn’t believe in. Plus, I really didn’t want to run samples across Manhattan instead of writing.
After my internship, I took some time away from fashion. After a few years away and clearer eyes, I decided: Why not write about the wrongs of fashion…in order to right them? I wanted other people to understand what I learned. So I started The Peahen to bring truth-telling to fashion. I was investing major brands, digging into supply chains, learning about sustainable design and textiles, and turning all that knowledge into articles and guides about shopping more ethically (Leather, When to Shop, Artisan-Made). Today, I’ve changed my tone a bit. It’s much more positive and I’m focused on featuring brands that do it right. I love styling unique looks and showing women that ethical fashion is approachable, fun, and beautiful.
Awareness. Most folks still don’t know it’s an issue at all. I think we’ve [consumers] gotten used to cheap prices. They’re a byproduct of the marketplace shift that encouraged conspicuous consumption in the 80’s. Today, we expect a top or jumper to cost 20 or 30 dollars/euros or for it to be deeply discounted (I’m talking like 70% here!).
These prices allow us to buy more and cast off something when we grow tired of it, even if it’s not worn out. Women are especially bad about this because we dress more for trends. In America, the latest stats estimate women are buying five times more clothing than we did in the 80s and we’re casting it off after wearing it a few times. Women’s clothing makes up seven times more of the total proportion of the world’s total supply of used clothing than men’s (Vox).
With fast fashion so cheap and readily available and we’ve dug ourselves into a pretty deep hole, especially in the States. Now, he barrier to overcome this is extremely high. Scare tactics and reporting haven’t seemed to work. For instance, there was so much coverage about sweatshop labor in the 90s and some brands did start to reform because of consumer demand (Nike comes to mind) but it wasn’t enough.
On the flip side, guilt-tripping consumers about their consumption habits hasn’t worked either. We see this today with the backlash against the ‘conscious consumption’ movement. Critics say it’s elitist and inaccessible. In my eyes, this is why it hasn’t caught on with the masses. I try to be aware of both of these pitfalls in my work and think more holistically, but I also don’t have a perfect solution. I guess I’m kind of in limbo working through it with as much information as possible.
Through more positive messages and emphasis on style and design.
Like I mentioned, I’m not sure this is the ‘end-all-be-all’ solution. I can only listen to my readers and what they tell me is that if they make a genuine connection with a brand or designer, they may be willing to pay a little more, within reason. To me this is encouraging. It means they’re open to learning about the maker and, by default, the extra work involved in their ethical and sustainable business practices. When consumers connect with a brand based on a particular cause they care about, their loyalty usually goes deeper. For example, artisan craftmanship, fair trade, veganism, and new age eco-textiles made from things like pineapple fiber or orange peels are all hot right now.
But I’d be sorely remiss to leave out the design piece here. Fashion, after all, tied to identity and style. I think the more ethical and sustainable designers can cement themselves with a unique look, the more mainstream they’ll become. They’ve got to be ‘trendy’ as much as I hate to say that or entirely distinctive. It’s harder and more expensive to produce ethically, so the bar is much higher for an ethical brand to to command a higher price point.
For this reason, I suggest brands lead with the aesthetics and do the ethical and sustainable stuff behind the scenes. Mara Hoffman does this extremely well. Her bold designs are recognized across the industry but she’s also built solid ethics and sustainable practices into her brand She’s just not in your face about it.
Always. I have to really fight the urge to buy Zara all the time. Their stuff is so chic. I mean, I get it. Who wouldn’t want something that looks like Off White or Phillip Lim two weeks after it comes down the runway for a tenth of the price? But I know too much. I’m jaded, I guess you could say. But I think my form of jaded is a good thing. I know Zara doesn’t release information about its supply chain, which means it could be violating human rights, and I’ve seen the company rip off designs from large and small designers (just consult Diet Prada). I’ll give them some credit for strides in environmental ‘consciousness’ and improving regulations in their supply chain, but the brand’s insane amount of output is what gives me pause.
Whenever possible,, I try to seek out brands that put people and planet first and openly prove it.Sometimes I do buy fast fashion brands secondhand. Mostly, I try to focus on high-quality vintage that I can source to history, I’m not opposed to buying some fast fashion basics. Especially with the 90s being so in right now. I also still have a few fast fashion pieces in my wardrobe from years back that have actually help up well. I work to take care of them as best I can by not washing them too frequently. I don’t want to cast them off and contribute to the the insane amount of clothing waste that gets shipped to other countries and squelches their economies. So I guess my approach is all about the Goldilocks principle – love what you’ve got and add new stuff within reason.
I they really have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. First off, luxury used to be synonymous with quality but that’s not always the case anymore. Conglomerates own luxury, middle tier, and mass-market brands and sometimes they’re producing all their lines similarly and just selling them at different price points based on the brand name. So the quality standard becomes moot. Consumers have to question everything nowadays to ensure quality.
There are conglomerates that are enforcing innovative sustainability policies from the top down and it’s diffusing across all their luxury lines. For instance, Kering created a Materials Innovation Lab as a resource of eco textiles for all of its brands. It gives (more on their policies here). I find that work very encouraging.
There’s still such a duality thought. Look at two major luxury brands: Stella McCartney, an ethical and eco-pioneer; and Hermes, which publishes zero information on its ethics or sustainability.
When it comes to luxury, I like to as a few questions to gauge ethics as a litmus test. A few I typically as are: Is the brand using a small, family run factory (i.e. sourcing its its leather in Italy)? If so, can they tell me why that makes a difference? Is their supply chain traceable? Do they talk about their textile choices? Etc. etc.
Yes! I just got back from Oslo, Copenhagen, Riga, and Stockholm. For me, Oslo was a bit pricey. The whole city really. But because of this I stumbled into some really great vintage stores that had amazing designer pieces. That’s what stood out the most to me there. The did find one ethical gem: I Fair & Square. After stumbling into a space they shared with other local designers, I talked to their founder about how he set up the brand with a commitment to transparency way. I wish I could order the basics in the states. They’re so soft!
I have to compare Copenhagen and Stockholm together since they’re both the most advanced cities when it comes to eco fashion. I guess this makes sense because they’re the most cosmopolitan. Maybe it’s because I spent more time in Stockholm, but I saw the most sustainable fashion there. I spent a whole day thrifting in the Sodermalm neighborhood. They have these thrift stores all over the city called Stadsmissionens that are much more organized than ours in the states. I had such a dreamy experience. Similar chains are in Copenhagen too but I didn’t have time to visit.
Also in Stockholm, I visited the Nudie Jeans repair shop and a store called Grandpa that stocks a ton of sustainable brands, most of which were new to me. Design-wise, there were parallels in both cities. They like neutrals and clean lines across Scandinavia. I was buying all the loud, colorful pieces and the lady at Stadmissionen was like, “Oh thank heaven, these have been on the shelf forever!”
Riga had its own vibe for sure. I’d say it was much more dressed up and the whole ‘maximalist Gucci vibe’ seemed to resonate more. Women were in pink, heels and embellishments. Riga also has these secondhand shops all over the city where everything is 2 euros. That was awesome! Plus lots of cool concept stores (my favorite was IH) where they showcased art and design. It was definitely upscale.
Read more in Kasi’s guide to sustainable fashion in Scandinavia.
I went to the kick-off event and then attended a meetup with some creatives and influencers that I’ve worked with digitally for a few years. For many of us, it was our first time meeting in person and discussing our businesses and ideas in fashion. It was so cool!
Going forward with The Peahen, I’m going to be focusing more on styling and vintage. Most of this will happen at the local level in my hometown, Austin, Texas, but I’ll still be publishing guides and such. I talked about this two women who owned a vintage store in London and we were chatting about how vintage trends really trickle down from London to the states. Then we ended up going deeper and discussing how to ‘digitize’ vintage fashion to make it easier for women to shop according to their style and bodies. So often they’re confused and give up! I think there’s a goldmine here and I’m really set on the idea of using data to make vintage easier. I want to teach women how to identify quality, time period and the best pieces for them.
I’ve heard so much about the Summit itself and can’t wait to see what my peers write in their coverage.
At the time the interview ends, Kasi is on her way to the DFDS dock, which is a boat that takes her to Copenhagen. We look forward to continuing to read her journey on discovering ethical brands from all over the world! See her blog at: http://thepeahen.com/