An interview and visit with Kelly Drennan, founder of Fashion Takes Action.
I recently headed north to Toronto and had the opportunity to meet up with Fashion Takes Action’s Kelly Drennan who is hands down, the most connected women in Canadian sustainable fashion. From her Distillery District showroom, Drennan runs part education/retail for the public and base operations for the eco fashion industry grooming designers to be better at what they do, and raising public awareness for the benefits of sustainable fashion and responsible consumerism.
Busy as she may be, we nailed Drennan to her seat to ask her some questions. Here’s what she had to say.
FTA seems to do everything for designers including helping them be more sustainable to selling from your showroom. Are there many places in Canada doing what you’re doing?
FTA is the only organization that does this kind of work in Canada – both from working with designers and retailers in helping them along their sustainability journey, and also with respect to raising consumer awareness. We provide our members with the tools and resources to help them become more successful. To us, this means helping them gain a genuine understanding of sustainability and how it relates to their business, being transparent with their branding and messaging, accessing eco friendly fabric, certifications and other services, as well as getting their product in front of the media and general public.
Sole Rebels footwear
Tell us how the showroom came to be.
We poll our members regularly to ensure that we are on the right track and are delivering the kind of services that they need – that are both timely and that will help them achieve more success. We would continually hear, from our more established members, that they needed help with sales. These are, for the most part, the designers who already had a solid grasp on their sustainability plan, and who had a credible product on the market, but who needed help reaching the media and the consumer.
As a non profit organization, finding the most affordable space was a bit tricky, until the opportunity to move into the Distillery District came about. We share the space with one of our members, Lara Bazant which has enabled us to deliver even further on our mission to support our members. The showroom is currently focused on retail sales, however we have plans to grow our relationship with buyers. Our goal is to soon be supporting our members on the wholesale side of their business as well.
Miik founder and designer Michael Gaughan
How hard is it for designers today to produce sustainably? Do they need to pick a niche within the eco-fashion realm or can they do it all?
We realize perfection doesn’t exist, but that even the smallest steps can make a huge difference. We encourage our members to do whatever they can. In order to help out with their increasing costs, we provide various discounts with preferred suppliers ranging from eco friendly fabric to FSC certified business cards. We are seeing more creativity and diversity with emerging designers who are taking the term “sustainable” and making it their own. The past year or so has seen a boom in reclaimed, rescued and upcycled collections and some more established designers who were using only organics or closed loop fabrics, are now also adding in reclaimed pieces. We love to see experimentation as this movement is constantly growing and changing. What was considered to be sustainable 5 years ago is quite different today. Certification is also one of the biggest challenges that our members face, and we hope to address this in the coming 12-18 months by making it both more accessible and more affordable.
Anne Pringle of Local Buttons and Fashion Takes Action founder, Kelly Drennan
Can fashion be a portal for people to think differently about how they consume?
Absolutely. Our tagline is “Changing the way we create and consume fashion,” so we spend a great deal of our time trying to make this shift happen. It has to be about more than just the fashion alone. We rely heavily on the support of the media to continue to spread the word. We also believe that designers also have a responsibility to provide more information to their customers about why sustainable is better. It isn’t good enough to just say that it is organic or recycled, but why that is important. What are the conventional alternatives, and how are they negatively impacting our planet and its people.
When consumers are empowered with the knowledge that something fashionable was made from something else and thus saved from its otherwise destined landfill, or that a stylish dress was made from quality eco friendly fabric and not mass produced in a sweatshop, then it is that very knowledge that can help people change the way they consume. I at least like to think this is true.
Monica Mei of AIME and Melanie Ferrara of Device
What is the #1 bit of advice you’d give a designer just getting out of design school?
It’s hard to think of just one bit of advice, but I do think that if a young designer can secure an internship with a small independent designer, then they will learn so much from that experience. It will provide a huge learning opportunity, and with a the right kind of leadership and mentoring, can prove to be invaluable.
Another very important bit of advice would be to focus. I see too many young designers who lack focus – their collections are not cohesive and they are clearly still experimenting. I have also seen collections drastically change form season to season so that they in no way appear to be made by the same brand (but they are). Finally I think young designers need to just slow it down and take the time to really understand who their demographic is and thus how to properly price their work. Research and testing is one way to do it. It will save time and money in the long run, instead of learning through trial and error, which is not only expensive but often results in an excess of dead stock – this is a problem both financially and environmentally!
Images: Amy DuFault