Interview with Ethical Fashion Site Trusted Clothes

Trusted Clothes, an orga­ni­za­tion devoted to promot­ing ethi­cal and  sustain­able fash­ion, recently inter­viewed me for their blog. Below is an excerpt of the inter­view, writ­ten by Scott Douglas Jacob­sen.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE HAYES (PART ONE)

Jaime Hayes interview trusted clothes

Tell us about your­self – family back­ground, personal story, educa­tion, and previ­ous profes­sional capac­i­ties.

I started in the fash­ion indus­try in 1999 in St. Louis, work­ing at a boutique after college, and sewing after my senior year in college because I wanted some­thing hands-on and concrete. I was study­ing English liter­a­ture, and while I loved to read and write, it was abstract and alien­at­ing for me. My person­al­ity type doesn’t mesh with it.

Jaime hayes interview trusted clothes

PM Studio- photo by Damon Locks

It is nice, at the end of the day, to have a pile of work, see what you’ve accom­plished, and in a concrete way. I moved to Chicago to get a second BA at Colum­bia College in Fash­ion Design. I was lucky. I got a job in the indus­try while I in school. It was at a hand­bag company called 1154 Lill Studio.

The company was a real pioneer in mass customiza­tion. As a result, we needed to make every­thing one-by-one, made-to-order, and with a quick turn­around time – three weeks. We made every­thing in-house first and then in the Chicago area. It was a lesson in produc­tion manage­ment and effi­ciency. I was seeing local manu­fac­tur­ers first­hand, which was rare at a time when almost every­body was offshoring.

My conscious­ness was raised in work­ing with contrac­tors and real­iz­ing that a lot of people don’t get paid fairly, making friends with stitch­ers, and hear­ing their stories of immi­gra­tion and exploita­tion in the sewing indus­try. So, I started asking ques­tions and becom­ing consci­en­tious.

Jaime Hayes INterview

100% Wool Felt Top and Vegetable Tanned Leather Skirt. Photo is by Jenni Hamp­shire.

I ended up getting a grad­u­ate degree, a Master’s degree at the Univer­sity Chicago in Social Work. I focused on labor rights in the garment indus­try. I worked as a labor orga­nizer for a few years in Chicago. Primar­ily, I was work­ing with undoc­u­mented, Mexi­can population–frontline work­ers.

I was giving train­ing on worker’s rights and help­ing to orga­nize campaigns in the work place. However, I missed work­ing with my hands—the colors and textures of fashion–the more direct creativ­ity that world affords. Follow­ing this, I joined Chicago Fair Trade and became involved in that move­ment as a volun­teer help­ing to pass a Sweat­free Ordi­nance at the city and county level in Chicago.

Also, I took on a lot of free­lance work with fair trade compa­nies. I worked for SERRV. They sent me to China. I did some work in Peru, in the Lima area. Also, I have done a lot of tech­ni­cal design for local compa­nies in ethi­cal and fair trade fash­ion. Finally, I launched my own line in Janu­ary of 2015.

You argue for a living wage for work­ers. Why is it impor­tant for the sustain­able and ethi­cal fash­ion indus­try?

It is impor­tant across the board. I’m focused on fash­ion because that’s what I do for a living. It is impor­tant in a more global level as well. Fash­ion, cloth­ing, and sewn prod­ucts are some of the most labor inten­sive indus­tries in the whole world. It is a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ indus­try.

Jaime Hayes interview trusted clothes

Hand Burnished Leather Coin Purse- photo by Linda Pulik

Anyone inter­ested in women’s rights, support­ing those most easily exploited, or erad­i­cat­ing poverty, would do well to look at the fash­ion indus­try because that’s the ‘bottom.’ We can find the easily exploited people there.

If these work­ers can be paid well and treated fairly, we can do a lot to improve the rights of women and young girls, erad­i­cate poverty, improve health outcomes, increase liter­acy, and so on. It is a huge issue. We need to be aware of it. In Chicago, the labor move­ment cites $15/hour as the living wage.

So, we pay above that for our stitcher. That’s how we gauge that here, but it is differ­ent in each city and coun­try based on the cost of living in that place.

To sepa­rate two ideas float­ing around in the conver­sa­tion, the phrase “ethi­cal and sustain­able fash­ion,” but this belies two sepa­rate and related ideas. Ethi­cal fash­ion on the one hand; sustain­able fash­ion on the other hand. To start, what is the impor­tance of ethi­cal fash­ion to you?

For me, the impor­tance is the human factor. Nobody should be dying while making our clothes. Even so, 2013 was the dead­liest year on record in the fash­ion indus­try. If you look back histor­i­cally, it is simi­lar to the begin­ning of the 20th century in the US with the Trian­gle Shirt­waist Factory fire. People die while making fash­ion. That’s ridicu­lous.

What we’re speak­ing of when we say ethi­cal fash­ion is really base­line, sadly. People should make a living wage. A wage that allows them to live on and support a family. To be frank, $15/hour in Chicago would not be enough in Chicago, but it’s better than the mini­mum wage in Chicago.

Secondly, people should work in a healthy and safe envi­ron­ment. Sadly, that’s not the case in a lot of the garment indus­try, espe­cially that which is offshored.

What is the impor­tance of sustain­able fash­ion to you?

The issues are simi­lar. There’s over­lap, but sustain­abil­ity refers to the envi­ron­ment and issues affect­ing the planet. I come out of the labor move­ment. So, I am less educated about those issues, but even if you just look at sustain­abil­ity from a human perspec­tive, the health of the planet has huge rami­fi­ca­tions for every­one.

We are all connected. We should care about what is happen­ing on the other side of the world. It is about human rights. We all deserve basic human rights, and beyond that, the abil­ity to thrive and grow. From the human perspec­tive, the pesti­cides that are used to grow our cotton, the petro­leum that is used to create poly­ester, the dyes that are used to create the colors in the fabrics … all of these things affect the work­ers who are apply­ing those pesti­cides or dyes. They go into our water supplies. It is about treat­ing out world well. There is huge over­lap between issues of sustain­abil­ity and ethics.

jamie hayes interview trusted clothes

Hand Screen Printed Leather Jacket; photo by Damien Thomp­son Photog­ra­phy

My favorite term is slow fash­ion because this takes into account the qual­ity of the prod­uct and the design. It’s coming out of and inspired by the slow food move­ment, the tenets of which are to know the prove­nance of this food or, in our case, the cloth­ing. So, where do our clothes come from? What about the raw mate­ri­als like the cotton, wool, poly, or leather? To have trans­parency about that, to appre­ci­ate and value the item, the expe­ri­ence around it, to slow down, buy less, buy higher qual­ity. That’s impor­tant infor­ma­tion to provide as a designer. Because, to be honest, you cannot do every­thing perfectly, espe­cially as a small company. You might not know all of the labor condi­tions in the factory that makes your zippers or buttons, but you can choose the high­est qual­ity zipper.  This can allow the garment to have as long a life as possi­ble.

Some­times, we have to think about compet­ing issues and balance those all out. Slow fash­ion is the most honest way to do that as a designer in my opin­ion.

What was the inspi­ra­tion for Produc­tion Mode – and its title?

(Laughs) Coming out of the labor move­ment, I have done a lot of neo-Marx­ist read­ings. I was think­ing about means of produc­tion and the orga­ni­za­tion of work, and what brings people joy. I was think­ing about that when I named the company.

But the inspi­ra­tion goes way beyond that. At the end of the day, I am a designer. I love fash­ion. I think we need to make a lot of changes in the indus­try, but I love cloth­ing as a means of self-expres­sion. It brings me a lot of joy. I think it brings a lot of people on this planet a lot of joy. It’s an expres­sion of who we are: our culture, iden­tity, values. It doesn’t have to be a super­fi­cial, passive consumer expe­ri­ence.  It could be tailored to fit your body exactly. That’s how it was used for generations—until recently, in fact.

Now, it is a dispos­able thing. It doesn’t have to be that way. One thing I always want to be a part of the company is the concept of artist collab­o­ra­tion. It stretches me as a designer. It makes sure there is some­thing unique about the prod­uct and time­less.

For exam­ple, for the first line that I launched, I collab­o­rated with an artist named Paula J. Wilson. She designed an all-over print for leather. Another artist, Nora Renick-Rine­hart, executed the print and applied it to leather. It is not some­thing seen often with leather. It is limited edition. It is designed by a well-known artist. So, there’s a whole story. I can trace the prove­nance of the mate­ri­als, the print, the execu­tion of the print, etc.

For the next line, which I’ll launch in the Fall of this year, the fabric is designed in collab­o­ra­tion with an artist named Nuria Montiel. It is executed by local weavers called the Weav­ing Mill in Chicago. They are located about a mile from my studio. They have two indus­trial dobby looms. It is a collab­o­ra­tion between the four of us to produce the fabric for the line. It can’t be found anywhere else. It was inspired by Nuria’s art work, influ­enced by the textiles of the Bauhaus move­ment, and Peru­vian and Mexi­can textile tradi­tions.

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I’ll post part two soon. Thanks to Trusted Clothes and author Scott Douglas Jacob­sen for the inter­view, and for their support of Ethi­cal Fash­ion!