Local Toronto designer Kate Austin talks about the importance of ethics, goodwill and sustainability.
In the words of style iconic, Carrie Bradshaw, “Nothing lasts forever; dreams change, trends come and go,” but I think if Carrie existed in today’s fast fashion climate she would argue that sustainability and ethics are here to stay.
From mass waste to cultural appropriation and unethical labour practices, there is a dark reality hidden behind that perfectly pleated skirt you picked up from Shien.
Shopping today can be a constant battle between shopping ethically and sustainably and shopping cheap and trendy. But, female entrepreneur and local Toronto designer, Kate Austin proves it’s possible to have both an ethical and colourful business for today’s woke Carrie Bradshaw’s.
From her international fair-trade partnerships to the organic fabrics and environmentally friendly natural dyes used – every portion of the Kate Austin lifestyle brand is consciously and thoughtfully manifested to provide products that are not only beautiful but serve a larger purpose you can feel good about and trust.
We had the pleasure of connecting with Kate, here’s what she had to say:
With the continued growth of the fast fashion industry, how do you strike a balance between being competitive and ethical?
One of my biggest goals with my business is to prove that being ethical can also be the best choice for a sustainable and profitable business. I truly believe that fast fashion has no place in our future- not just because of the devastation to the planet and unconscionable exploitation of people- but also because the business model actually doesn’t make a sustainable profit- it’s actually not super profitable to sell poorly made things so cheaply. Fast fashion margins are crazy low- they need bananas volume to just break even – and they often are reliant on investors to keep going. It’s a very pyramid-scheme house of cards industry. My business is designed to be sustainable in every way- financially sustainable included (and self-reliant— profit from sales is re-invested to the business as it grows).
As well, fast fashion supply chains are more vulnerable than slow ethical fashion brands- as was evidenced this past 18 months with the pandemic. Shops closed, layoffs, low earnings, huge amounts of inventory burned (literally), production halted and shipping interrupted. By contrast, smaller fair trade production partners like the lovely peeps I work with in India were able to retain staff- no one was furloughed- and continue working safely at a lower capacity. When manufacturing conditions are barely safe, to begin with, a global pandemic can push a factory over the edge into closure. I was so thrilled to be know that my production partners were able to stay safe and keep their jobs through this tumultuous and challenging time. And I was thrilled to be able to continue to produce and sell new collections and offer my customers consistency and quality even during a global pandemic and shutdown!
I believe the shoddy quality of ff makes KAD competitive as well. The quality of Kate Austin Designs is very important to me— I only sell pieces built to last beyond the fast fashion moment- designed for a lifetime. I even offer mending kits so if anything gets torn or stained you can keep wearing it!
Kate Austin pieces are carefully designed as “one size fits many” outside of fast fashion trend cycles, so waste is not an issue for us. In fact, Kate Austin Designs aims to be a zero-waste company so we’re also working on ways to upcycle and use every piece of fabric that we produce.
I am also competitive in customer service. When you shop at Kate Austin Designs, we want you to know that you are super special and we care- we want you to feel the love! I love a great snail mail package, and so part of the KAD experience is a lovely festive eco-friendly package. We personalize every parcel because we want to share and spread good vibes! Small pleasures can bring great joy- I honestly believe it! And I feel that personal connection is something I can offer that fast fashion brands simply can’t. The presence of caring human hands at every stage – from production to shipping— even at the design stage I work very hands-on – imbues the clothing with a special life that’s missing in fast fashion pieces.
It may sound like a silly question, but considering the fast fashion industry’s lack of authenticity and continued cultural appropriation, why is it so important for you to partner with Ecuadorian women?
Not a silly question at all!!! I love it!! The short answer is because it’s so much fun- they are awesome and inspiring people! And also because it’s the right thing to do. I often think about how doctors have to take an oath to do no harm and I feel like why don’t we all have to do this- in every industry? I believe in karma. I respect the long-held traditions and crafts of these women— there is magic in connecting with people who have such special skills in their DNA. It is truly wonderful working together. Our partnerships bring that magic to every piece we produce. I believe objects (and clothing) have value, meaning and spirit— and things that are made by the people with deep connections to their past, to their craft traditions, to their stories— they are full of soul. It’s also really important for me to do this because it’s my hope that our partnerships can be a model for other brands— to show that there’s another way of working that isn’t exploitative and insincere, that these authentic connections and products resonate more with consumers and ultimately is the better choice.
Your devotion to sustainability is inspiring, especially during a time when it’s so crucial. Have you always had a passion for environmentalism or did it grow out of the recent unrest?
Thank you so much!! I’ve always always had a passion for environmentalism! I’m a total 70’s child- Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute! I’m also just a huge nature freak and outdoors gal. My happy place is outside, in the woods or a meadow, swimming in a lake or the sea— my instincts have always been to respect and protect our planet. Before I went to art school and became consumed by textiles I studied feminist theory- there’s a deep connection between fighting oppression and being an eco-warrior. I’m a lifelong cyclist and a vegetarian too!
As a woman who has not only broken the glass ceiling but has empowered other women in the process, is there a piece of advance you can offer to women wantrepreneur?
Kindness and openness will take you far. Collaboration is the most fun way to work (and live life!) Feminism is fun and will set you free. If you’re a parent, good reliable childcare is KEY. VOTE— and always vote for the person who cares for the interests of ALL women, not just the rich white ones!