Interview with Jill Danyelle, ethical fashionista
Jill Danyelle works on creative projects dealing with the ecology of our lives. One of her projects, fiftyRX3, was a website about style and sustainability. It consisted of a photo documentary of what she wore everyday for a year with a goal of averaging fifty percent sustainability based on the environmental mantra 'reuse, reduce, recycle'.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Jill Danyelle. I do creative projects dealing with the ecology of our lives. One of my projects, fiftyRX3 , was about style and sustainability.
What do you think are the most important issue when considering ethical fashion?
There are many issues when it comes to ethical fashion - labor, materials, energy usage and waste in production, durability and necessity. Fashion in general is not very sustainable. Clothing, yes, style, probably, but the rapidly changing trends of fashion have a certain built-in obsolescence. Is a shirt made from organic cotton that will be out of style in a year or two any more sustainable than a non-organic one made to stand the test of time? I think it is difficult to be perfect, but you can at least be educated on the issues and try to make more thoughtful, informed choices.
Why is ethical fashion important?
Ethics are important in any endeavour or industry. We live within a system of finite resources and are connected in some way to everything and everyone in our world. So, while global warming has rightly been the focus of a lot of recent environmental campaigns, consumerism, toxicity and fair trade are still important relevant issues. Cotton, a cornerstone of the fashion and agricultural industries, uses approximately 25% of the world's pesticides at a detriment to the water, land and crop laborers. To me, ethics is part of ecology and evolution, part of learning, growing and surviving individually and as a race.
Do you think it is ever OK to buy clothes from high street stores?
I don't believe in giving mandates or preaching to people. Being informed and thoughtful in your choices is ideal, but there often is no one right choice for everybody as sustainability is a complex issue. Additionally, it can be expensive to buy organic clothing, as a large portion of the eco-market is made up of independent designers who are typically in higher price points. Luckily, some of the high street stores are doing ethical/eco pieces. Given the volume they produce, a small eco-embrace from a large company can have an impact.
Hopefully, as the organic cotton industry grows the prices will continue to come down. However, buying new organic pieces is not the only way to dress sustainably. Personally, I tend to avoid high street stores, but if I were to purchase something, I would try to find a piece I could wear a lot and that wouldn't go out of style too quickly.
Who do you admire in the world of ethical fashion?
I admire all of the independent designers who choose to run their businesses sustainably. It is hard enough to be an independent designer, so to add the extra considerations for sustainability, especially a few years ago before the textile industry started to catch up, takes real conviction. Obviously, people like Katharine Hamnett, Linda Loudermilk and Stewart+Brown were pioneers.
Additionally, companies like Patagonia and Nike made important early decisions to support the organic cotton market. My friend John Patrick has invested in working with the cotton suppliers for his label Organic, which received a Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund nomination this year. With this recognition, hopefully, more people in the industry will see that it is possible to have both ethics and aesthetics.
Finally, I also admire people who have examined and questioned the role fashion has in our lives. People like Andrea Zittel, Grey Sweatsuit Revolution, Kate Fletcher,Little Brown Dress and Swap-o-rama-rama are all on my links page.
There seem so many issues around ethical fashion, what can I do to make a difference?
I like design and new looks as much as the next person, but, again, I try to be thoughtful with my purchases and resourceful with what I already have. I often try to:
pull out things I haven't worn in awhile
reinvent a piece or wear it in a different way
think about what I could use and buy items I hope to wear a lot and/or keep a long time
focus more on quality over quantity
buy clothing made from sustainable materials
buy vintage and second hand.
Where can I go to find out more?
One of the reasons I started fiftyRX3 was because I could not find content that was addressing sustainability and style in a way that appealed to me. The project has ended, but all of the archives remain at fiftyrx3.blogspot.com. I think it is a good snapshot of a time when the fashion industry was just starting to become aware of sustainability. There are many other resources out there now, especially as the green movement has picked up. I am sure a couple of Google searches will yield a multitude more than it did three years ago.
Jill Danyelle, Umbrella Dress
'The umbrella dress has a lot of meaning for me. It was the first piece of the collection and is the first garment I ever created fully from drafting the pattern all the way through construction. The dichotomy of the dress really interests me. It is an elegant cocktail dress, but yet made from what people considered garbage, broken umbrellas that I reclaimed from the streets of NYC. Therefore, it provokes thought on life cycles in design while also taking a stab at the fashion industry and the importance that is frequently placed on what we wear.'
Shirt dress and recycled umbrella jacket and bag, Jill Danyelle
Shirt dress and recycled umbrella jacket and bag
'The image on the left is an extra large men's organic cotton shirt made into a dress, the bag is made from one recycled umbrella. The image on the right is a dress made out of t-shirts i received in a
swag bag and the jacket is made from one recycled umbrella. The shoes are vintage.'
Vintage clothes and ring necklace, Jill Danyelle
Vintage clothes and ring necklace
'A vintage grey slip under a vintage linen slip, vintage shoes, the necklace is a ring of my father's on an old chain, the shoes are vintage, the bag and sweater were purchased new.'
Dress, Jill Danyelle
'I made this after taking a three week intensive pattern making class. I'd had enough. I draped the bodice and did the skirt with a lot of free form cutting and sewing.'
Convertable cashmere dress, Jill Danyelle
Convertable cashmere dress
'I converted this old cashmere dress using just scissors and no sewing right before I wore it out the door. It had a cowl neck, long sleeves and an unflattering length. Now it can be worn two ways, depending on where you put your arms, but I almost always put them through the lower holes and create a folded, draped neckline.'
Photograph of Jill Danyelle
Photograph of Jill Danyelle
'This one has four layers. Organic cotton t-shirt under a light weight silk dress I've owned for 20 years under a dress I made by recycling cashmere sweaters under a vintage sueded jacket. The necklace is made from clay beads that I made by hand and strips of old silver fabric bought at a thrift shop. I found the bag, which I absolutely love, at a flea market. I bought the shoes at the Jaime Mascaro factory in menorca when I was sailing around the island years ago.
'The actual fiftyRX3 collection probably could have been more premeditated and done better. Committing to a daily online activity, e.g. blogging, is a lot of work. In many ways that commitment kept the project on track, but it also took a lot of time away from creating things. In the end, the daily photos, getting dressed every day, became the creative constant in the project.'