The Path to Sustainability

Here in Laramie, I've met some of the most incredible women I've even known.  Growing up, I always gravitated towards men.  I've always had more guy friends.  I just felt like I always had more fun with them.  No drama, he said, she said bullshit, no jealousy and competition...they just got me.  But, I always had about 2-3 close girlfriends in my life.  That was about my limit.  And now, everything has changed!  I don't know what it is about the women that have planted themselves here in Laramie, but I LOVE THEM!  

Everywhere I've lived, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Italy, South Carolina...I felt like I didn't really belong.  Sure, I had some friends (some amazing ones too) and always tried to make the best of the relationships and what was happening in my life.  But I never felt like I was meant to be there for the long haul.  I also felt like there were these clicks or groups that I didn't quite fit in with.  And if I was invited to hang out with them, it was sometimes made clear that I was at the bottom of the totem pole.  And I never understood it.  I've had incredible life experiences that I'm really proud of, I'm an artist, I've traveled the world, but I never felt like I was enough.  And I'm usually pretty easy to connect with, and of course hilarious ;)  

I know I'm rambling, but bare with me!  Back to Laramie!  So I landed here because, I fell in love with Wyoming the first time I crossed the border and I fell in love with my husband (who is a native).  I am a small town girl and Laramie seemed pretty perfect right off the bat.  I began developing my business and before I knew it, I was "in".  I would meet someone and they would say, "oh wow, you're a designer!  That's so great, we are so happy to have a Fashion Designer in Laramie!  Have you met (insert incredible person's name here)?"  This happened over and over and is STILL happening.  For the first time in my life. I felt like I belonged.  And not just fit in, but was welcomed with open arms.  Instead of, "oh you're an artist....well you aren't quite cool enough to play with us."  It was, "YES! You are here, come play with us immediately!"  

Back to the incredible women... This is the first time I've not felt the need to be competitive or jealous.  I know, I know...why would I ever feel that way in the first place?  Because our culture breeds us to be this way and it's one of the worst things about being a woman in America.  Especially when you are immersed in the fashion industry in NYC... we are trained to believe perfection is achievable, that thin is the only way to be beautiful and the way to lift yourself up is to put someone down.  In Laramie, I've meet an incredible amount of women entrepreneurs or women who are just totally kicking ass in every way.  The best part is, they reach out, they show up to support you, and no matter what you are going through, they are there to tell you you are worth it, amazing, and that you can do it.  Whether it is in our Facebook group, Uplift & Inspire, or at our monthly gatherings, whoever can show up, shows up and we motivate each other.  

So, through the group, we decided to celebrate on International Women's Day with a TedTalk style event.  We had 6 women speak with the theme, Behind the Facade:  The Real Story of My Business.  It was SO. AMAZING.  I laughed, I cried, I cheered.  It was an emotional roller coaster, and so nice to know that other business owners have had struggles too.  That they weren't afraid to share, they owned it and are still moving forward.  We can all deceive and be deceived with a lovely photo and whimsical quote through social media, leading us to believe that the life of a women in business is all butterflies and rainbows.  That's bullshit.  Yeah, we put our best face forward and show the best of what we have to offer.  But the journey is never glamorous and that is just fine.  

So I was one of the speakers and I wanted to share my talk here.  Because it tells a brief history and the road to sustainability for my business.  

"I’m going to tell you a story that I’m not entirely proud of…

Throughout my life I’ve always had an inner struggle with the Fashion Industry.  I have a passion for fashion, creating it & using it to express myself and my values.  However, during my time in FIT I started to disagree and dislike some of the superficial qualities of the industry.  The resentment set in and it led to my rebellion.  My hippie phase.

I began only buying 2nd hand, I wore long skirts and unflattering tops with no bra, ever.  I bought organic and natural cosmetics, ate local foods, burned nag champa and danced barefoot to folk music.  After years of preaching to friends and family about using better products, recycling, and in general, just giving a shit about the planet, my enthusiasm faded with their lack of interest in switching up their routine.  So, I set aside my long flowing skirts, put on my big girl pants and started to conform.  I still kept a lot of my old habits, but I stopped preaching. My life took a number of turns and I eventually found my soulmate here in Laramie.  He told me he wanted me to pursue my be a Fashion Designer.  FULL TIME!  So, I started developing my business and before i knew it, I was in the midst of creating my  FW15 collection.  I was finally proud of what I was doing. That first year, I was thrilled that my business made a profit!  With 2015’s motivation, and a new year on the horizon,  I was finally ready to execute a collection I’d dreamed about for the past 5 years, inspired by my first road trip out west.  In the meantime I applied and was accepted to the Western Design Conference in Jackson.  I was going to debut my FW16 collection at the fashion show there!  That summer I worked my ass off, 12 hrs a day.  I became a manufacturer.  I cut design after design and began throwing the scraps in a pile on the floor.  All along I’d been reusing scraps or donating them,  but it was nagging away at me.  And in the midst of living my dream, I had a breakdown.  I stared at the pile of waste I’d created and cried.  What had I done?  I was so busy pursuing my dream of being a designer that I had selfishly forgotten the inspiration that led me to this dream collection, Mother Earth.  At that point, I barely wanted to even finish the collection or go to the show.  How can I promote myself and my business if I’m only contributing to this incredible problem?  Danial found me distraught and calmed me down, pushed me to move forward, reassuring me that I would find a way to make use of what felt like a 100ft pile of waste.  So I kept going.  The show in Jackson was a flop.  I barely held myself together and I came home wanting to dig myself into a hole with my debt of over $5000.  I knew then, it’s time to change.  So I began focusing on building a sustainable business plan. I didn’t know how or what I would do, but that fate would have it’s way.  

This story may not seem to be that bad, so you have a pile of wasted textiles?  So what?  Well… I’ll give you some facts...

The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world ... second only to oil.  Thanks to the Fast Fashion Movement (think H&M, Forever 21…)  The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste per year. That’s about 11 million tons a year, in our country alone.  Not to mention the harsh chemicals used to produce textiles. Did you know it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton & to produce 1 pair of jeans?  Then there are harmful dyes being used, and you are wearing them against your skin, the biggest organ in your body.  And of course, synthetic fibers that take 100s if not 1000s of years to biodegrade.  I’m not even scratching the surface of slave labor, who is sewing the clothing? Who is producing the fabric?  How much do they get paid and what are the working conditions like for them?  It’s all overwhelming!

Now you are all thinking, oh no what do I do?!  Don’t panic!  Yes, we do need to be responsible consumers, but take it one day, one purchase at a time.  Here are some helpful hints.  

  1. Do take some time to research local and sustainable brands.  It’s imperative that we support small businesses that are making a huge impact.  This is how we can force high fashion brands to change their practices.   

  2. Know your style and buy accordingly.  Forget the damn trends, they are developed by people drawing you into consumerism.  Dress for your lifestyle and own it!  Buy something you will wear for the next 10 years.  

  3. Buy the best quality you can afford.  Know that sustainable fashion is a privilege, it is not cheap, so save up to buy something you can be proud to wear.  Think of every garment as an investment.  Buy a story that is aligned with your values.  

And as Vivienne Westwood says, "Buy less, Choose well and Make it last."

So, I read a book written by a dear friend of mine. In it he says, "I realized that there would be times in our lives when there would be higher causes to pursue than our own individual goals.  I think that in order to live according to our ideals and values, sometimes we do have to sacrifice our own self-interests and defer to the greater good and well-being of our families and our country."  -Martin Bravo  

I have carried this with me in developing a new direction for Rachelle Rose Designs.  

With that, I ask you to become an active citizen through your wardrobe and ask yourself, what do I value?"

Getting this off of my chest and owning my mistakes and failures was so good for me.  And, incredible to feel so supported by my piers.  It was an emotional experience to say the least.  Not to mention that they are thinking about what I said and are trying to be more mindful of their clothing purchases.  My heart is full!  

At the end I announced my new path to a sustainable fashion business.  My husband, Danial and I are going to start raising alpacas for fiber this spring!  I'll be using all natural (sustainable) fibers, implementing zero waste design & natural dyes.  And I'm going to take my time this year to experiment and develop clothing I love that is aligned with my values.  Something I can be truly be proud to put my name on.  Instead of following all of the rules of the fashion industry, I'm going to produce what I want, how I want, and in whatever time frame that fits with my lifestyle.  I've never been one for rules, so I'm rebelling against the industry yet again. 

I'm in the process of experimenting with Wyoming wool and I wanted to create something that made me happy.  That makes people laugh and smile, because, well, it's just silly.  So here is my first fun piece for a spring art show I did here in Laramie.  It's wet felted and needle felted.  I call it, "Wacky Alpacy".  

Stay connected during my journey to a sustainable Rachelle Rose Designs!