The alarm clock on sustainability has gone off and it’s time to wake up, smell that carbon footprint and act accordingly. Staggering reports have been issued stating that the fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, just after oil, which gives ‘dressing up in the mornings’ a completely new outlook. And even though a later investigation conducted by The New York Times’ chief fashion critic and director Vanessa Friedman, suggests that it may have been an overstatement, the wasteful process behind a garment’s lifecycle is undeniable.
There’s an urgent need for brands like Los Angeles-based Left Edit, created by Kestrel Jenkins and Holly Stavnes, to pose as answers to this pressing ecological issue. The two Midwest entrepreneurs had a casual meeting in San Diego, California where they agreed on “the current pitfalls of the fashion industry and how fashion can be a solution, rather than a destructive force,” said the designers in our interview. That laid the foundation on what eventually turned into a kickstarter campaign in 2018 to launch their vision.
At the moment, they were both building their own projects. Kestrel, a journalist, had started the podcast Conscious Chatter where she focuses on why what we wear matters. Meanwhile, Holly had a line of headbands she sold online and at local boutiques. They merged their experience in retail and eco-friendly practices to build Left Edit based on an identified need for more fashion-forward garments that are equally as sustainable as they are stylish and affordable. Since the brand was set in motion they’ve vowed to ensure quality, movement, versatility, longevity and sustainability in every garment.
Grounds for hesitation
Before giving the project green light, they hesitated: “The thought of bringing more to a world that was already saturated with physical goods, especially clothing, was a hard decision to make,” acknowledged the founders. And for good reason, as much as 150 billion garments are produced each year to cater to a market consumption of 62 million tons, expected to go up to 102 million tons by 2030. Yet, 30% of clothes are never sold, making overproduction one of the biggest challenges the industry has to deal with. The United Nations Environment Program disclosed in an article that as much as 87 per cent of the total fibre input used for clothing is incinerated or sent to a landfill, that is, one garbage truck filled with garments is reduced to ashes or ends up in a landfill every second.
The same factors that were keeping them from starting their own business were the same validations they needed to go forward. On the understanding that there was a lack of diverse sustainable clothing options and a growing demand for more alternatives to fast fashion, they committed to the project. “There wasn’t really a particular moment where we both said ‘this is enough,’ but there were plenty of moments that we both said ‘we need to do better’ and that is what continues to drive us on our journey,” defended the entrepreneurs.
Better practices for a better world
As part of their core values, their design and production process is conscious about saving water. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the fashion industry can pollute up to 200 tons of water for every one ton of fabric produced as large quantities are required to grow raw material, process, dye and print. “We do not use conventional cotton, as cotton is one of the thirstiest crops. Instead, we use Tencel, which is derived from Eucalyptus trees and uses 80% less water than cotton,” explained the designers and continued, “We also use Linen, which requires less water, as well as Cupro, which is made from reclaimed cotton linter (bio-utility waste) and is converted through a closed loop process.”
They’re also aware that dyeing is one of the most toxic practices in the global fashion supply chain. Sulfur, copper, arsenic, lead and mercury are just some of the chemicals found in the colors and that end up in wastewater. “For this reason, we dye our fabrics locally in LA and our dye house uses Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS-certified) dyes for lower impact processing,” assured the brand. In addition, Left Edit resists the use of virgin polyester / plastic. Their buttons are sourced from Panama and made from Corozo nut, a seed from the Tagua Palm and as far as their zipper taps go, they are made using 100% recycled REPREVE yarn, derived from recycled plastic bottles. It is also great to know that their garments’ interlining (which goes in the inside of a collar or the waistband of a skirt) is made of 100% recycled polyester fiber.
Sustainable materials: the challenge
Eco-friendly material is great but it is not easy to source: “The problem is due to limited options that exist, as well as the high minimums that fabrics suppliers require.” Unfortunately, they’ve also encountered that not many investors are willing to invest in material development and therefore new innovative solutions are slow to come by.
Building a community
Coming from a marketing and journalism background, neither of them have a formal design education, but they like to think of this first collection as their diploma. They’ve also created a support group of sorts that have helped them build a better business. “This is where Kestrel’s background comes in clutch”, said Holly, “Through the relationships she has built at Conscious Chatter, many of the brands she has connected with have been more than willing to lend a hand. It all stems from a place of invested interest and dedication to the progression of the industry.”
They acknowledge that of brands like Whimsy and Row, Back Beat Co, Sotela and Tradlands have been a huge part of their success. They’ve been honest about their struggles, their learnings and even shared their key manufacturing vendors they trusted to keep them from making the same mistakes. In the end, “finding time for connecting with others as well as ourselves in this busy world is our key to being well-rounded.”
On a final note…
They can’t call themselves fully sustainable, but they’re on the right track. “We are entirely aware of the fact that by creating a product, we are going to be creating an impact. For us, it’s about constantly striving to further reduce it. Also, there is no ‘sustainable’ label or certification — it doesn’t exist, and we actually believe that the definition of sustainability should constantly be evolving as the industry at large learns more.”