PARO IN ELLE.NL
Last month we sat down with Lisa Goudsmit from Elle to talk about how to shop responsibly. If you want to read the original article in Dutch, you can find it here. For all the non-Dutch speakers we translated it down below.
Buying sustainable fashion online: how do you become a critical shopper?
FOR THOSE WHO NO LONGER SEE THE WOOD FOR ALL THE SUSTAINABLE TREES: WE ASKED TWO EXPERTS FOR ADVICE.
by Lisa Goudsmit
Sustainable fashion is - fortunately - slowly becoming the norm: many beautiful things that are made with respect for people and the environment are for sale. At the same time, it is difficult to discover sustainable options when shopping online. How do you find good brands? And what does "good" actually mean? We asked Zoe Patience and Ruth Sutherland, founders of the online store PARO STORE, for advice.
The Australian and English friends and founders of PARO STORE have both lived in Amsterdam for years and started their own online store last year, in the middle of the corona crisis. They tell us: "We both worked in the fashion and creative industries and saw disturbing things: the amount of waste, for example, and production without respect for the world, just to make money. We wanted to create a concept store that only promoted progressive and responsible brands, so we started PARO."
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION ACCORDING TO YOU?
Ruth: "Well, we don't actually use the word "sustainable", we're talking about "good design". For us, that means a product with a positive impact, or as little impact as possible, on the world and people. There are so many decisions to be made during a manufacturing process: from the fabrics, to the production and transport. We support brands that make the best possible decision every step of the way and tell their inspiring stories. "
Zoe: "We spent a lot of time looking for well-made, beautiful fashion; many sustainable clothes look the same. During our research, we came across so many great small brands that didn't get a platform yet; so we decided to start one ourselves."
Zoe and Ruth
CAN YOU GIVE EXAMPLES OF THOSE BRANDS?
Zoe: "For example, we sell the Norwegian/German brand Studio Mend: they repair items with a hole in a cool way, giving them a new life. You don't expect something broken to be so valuable. Or E.A. Williams: This London-based designer dyes and prints clothes with natural materials, such as wild flowers. She learned this process from her mother. Really great, because it makes you appreciate nature even more."
Ruth: "Or Mia Larsson: she collects food waste from restaurants, such as oyster shells, and turns them into jewelry with silver. This has little impact on the environment, because silver can be recycled without loss of quality and shells are biodegradable. These ways of designing make you look differently at the world, materials and products. And if you know how something was made or by whom, you will be more careful with it. That is why we stand for ethics and education."
HOW DO YOU DO THIS?
Ruth: "It is difficult to find sustainable brands, especially to gather knowledge about them: so we bring that together. If we want customers to know about the manufacturing process, we need to provide them with that information. It is also nice for the makers when consumers know how much effort and love they put into the products."
Zoe: "We are therefore as transparent as possible on our website. We also developed a system with codes: we attach an icon to each item, such as "vegan", "organic", "locally made", "circular" or "empower people". In this way we help customers navigate our website, just as you do with a menu in a restaurant: there you can often see at a glance whether something is vegetarian or spicy. We have researched the production of the brands and made the information easily accessible on PARO."
THIS IS ON YOUR WEBSITE, BUT HOW CAN AN INTERESTED CONSUMER DETERMINE FOR THEMSELF WHETHER SOMETHING IS MADE IN A "GOOD" WAY?
Ruth: "It takes a lot of effort, because there are no regulations or certifications for the entire sector, such as with food. That really has to change. There are, of course, quality marks from certain organizations in the fashion industry, but to be honest, they are not always a guarantee: disasters such as Rana Plaza also take place in certified factories. So ask brands themselves for information about the production process. Do it on social media, so that everyone can see it. We think transparency is key: if a brand wants to provide information, that is already a good sign."
Zoe: "And in addition, shop according to your own principles. What is important to you? Do you want to support small brands? Do you think it is important that something is vegan? Or do you think other characteristics of a material are important?"
I FOR EXAMPLE ALWAYS DOUBT WHETHER I SHOULD BUY LEATHER SHOES THAT LAST LONG BUT MAY HAVE DAMAGED ANIMALS IN THE PRODUCTION PROCESS, OR CHOOSE VEGAN LEATHER THAT MAY NOT LAST AS LONG?
Ruth: "There isn't really a "right" or "wrong" in that regard. We take a positive approach: doing research is most important. For example: there is vegan leather made from synthetic fabrics and vegan leather made from fruit or by-products from the food industry. Both have a different impact on the environment. We sell shoes from Virón, a plant-based brand that makes "leather" from apple and corn. They are very transparent about their production process, give the exact percentages of ingredients in their shoes. But you can always go for leather shoes that last for years. Find out how the leather is obtained and treated, and make sure the sole can be replaced so that it will last a lifetime."
Zoe: "There are a lot of options that are "good" for a variety of reasons. The most important thing is that you understand why and that you have all the information to make an informed choice. That is why we highlight all aspects of production: after all, there are also brands that, for example, use organic materials but otherwise do not produce fairly and then call themselves "sustainable". That's greenwashing. We advocate for complete transparency so that consumers can distinguish greenwashers from brands that are really trying to make a better impact on the world."
HOW CAN YOU FURTHER CONTROL THE PRODUCTION PROCESS?
Zoe: "There's no quick answer to this question - that's one of the reasons we started PARO - so it's important that you're willing to do research. Think about the entire supply chain and how people, materials, and processes are involved in production. We start with the people because it is so important to know that whoever makes your clothes has been treated fairly. Supplier certifications and “codes of conduct” are not enough, look for brands that partner with their suppliers, visit regularly, tell you about it or show it off."
Ruth: "Process has everything to do with how something is made - turning the raw materials into fabrics and making the garments. Look for things like minimal chemicals, managing the use of resources such as water and energy and minimizing waste. Where did the different production phases take place? Local production is great, but there could be a reason to produce further away, so ask the brand about it. Ask anything you want to know."
Earrings by Mia Larsson
E.A. Williams uses natural dyes