Stephanie Hepburn is part of a fast-growing movement to slow things down. With her newly launched shopping website, the local author is setting her sights on one of the most time-sensitive institutions in the world: fashion.
The Slow Fashion movement, based on the same principles as the Slow Food movement that emerged in the mid-1980s, got started in London in 2007.
But the impetus for Hepburn to contribute to its momentum took root much closer to home. She moved to New Orleans with her husband in February 2006 and saw a city struggling to recover from the devastation Katrina’s flood waters had left behind.
“In order to rebuild the city there was a sudden demand for low-wage labor, which created an ideal scenario for labor exploitation and human trafficking,” said Hepburn, whose initial research on unethical labor practices started in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and expanded to the entire United States and other 23 countries.
The result was “Human Trafficking Around The World: Hidden in Plain Sight,” published in June 2013. While writing the book, Hepburn was also writing a weekly fashion column for the local newspaper.
“Friends and family found the two (subjects) contradictory. In reality these topics have been yin and yang for me. They added balance — seriousness and levity — to my life. I didn’t imagine that one day I would be able to merge such different loves, putting the two topics I care about into one mission to create an ethical fashion shop,” said Hepburn. But connect the two she has with Good Cloth, a shopping website with “ethically sourced, human friendly, sustainable” goods. (www.shopgoodcloth.com).
“The fashion industry has been focused on fast designs, but our designers practice slow fashion and create design pieces for quality and longevity. This approach to fashion encourages slower production schedules, supply transparency, fair wages, a lower carbon footprint and, in some cases, zero waste,” Hepburn said. “The designers carried by Good Cloth ethically source materials, positively affecting workers and the environment.”
Since starting work on her shopping concept last June, Hepburn has vetted 11 designers with clothing and jewelry collections that are in sync with the philosophy behind her website.
“People may look at a clothing label and be aware of what goes into the item in terms of materials and dyes, but they don’t pay attention to the person who made the clothing,” she said.
Hepburn, 37, the mother of two small children, was wearing a pair of red flats made of recycled materials, her layered look paired with a staple in her closet — organic cotton leggings.
The ballerina-style shoes sell for $43 and are made of recycled material that can, yes, be recycled. The makers of the shoes, in fact, ask their customers to return their old shoes so the small company can do exactly that — make another product.
Providing ethical working conditions and fair pay is required of designers whose goods are sold on Hepburn’s website. “The consumer should ask, ‘Was any person harmed in the making of this garment?’” Hepburn said.
On the website, prices start at $27, with clothing for men, women and children. Many items are limited-edition and handmade, with a range of options from casual to luxury.
The sidebar for the shopper not only provides categories such as size, color and price, but the consumer can also click on such categories as “ethical value.” Each designer provides a statement about the making of their garments.
Hepburn has basically done the homework for the busy, yet conscience-driven, consumer.
On the Good Cloth home page, she informs her customers that they are not just shopping for fashion, they are also making a change “pushing the pendulum in the design industry toward transparency, ethical sourcing, fair treatment of workers, sustainability and high quality.”
“Your pocketbook is your power,” she said.