It’s a simple enough question, but you would be surprised how many of us are unable to answer it – What’s in your t-shirt? Common items like cotton or rayon may be listed, but one woman, Taryn Hipwell, wants shoppers and designers to know the true cost of the clothing they wear; she wants them to look, as her organization is called, Beyond the Label.
What began as a TED Talk in the city of Los Angeles (TEDxLA) quickly grew into something more. In a city known for its high-end fashion designers and trend-setting, Taryn, who has worked in the fashion industry first-hand, founded EcoDivas seven years ago as a way to educate consumers on the social, environmental, and even HEALTH costs within the fashion and beauty industries. On what caused Taryn to become an advocate for this cause, Taryn said it stemmed from her own health concerns after working with a major fashion label in New York City.
Her job was cutting fur, which already went against her own personal ethics, that had been dyed purple. However, while completing her tasks, she started noticing strange symptoms, “I was getting headaches and hives, and you would have thought I had the flu!” Since she had always been sensitive to starches, finishing agents, and fire retardants growing up, it didn’t take her long to realize it was the chemicals and dyes being used in the clothing.
Unafraid to share the often hidden, darker side of fashion, it wasn’t long before a speaking event turned into a series, the series into a website, and eventually Taryn had gained many like-minded fashion designers and consumers who supported her cause, and Beyond the Label was born.
What is Beyond the Label?
Beyond the Label is a series of activations used to educate the public on sustainable fashion in the hopes of making a shift in the industry. Events, parternships with companies and brands, booths, and even universities are used to “activate” and spread the knowledge of eco-fashion. Many consumers are unaware that cotton shirts often contain pesticides, or that fabrics are bleached and finished with a number of harmful chemicals in order to look great on a hanger. (Animal fur is typically dipped in formaldehyde! YUCK!) These chemicals on the clothes are then put on our bodies, and Taryn is a strong believer that your “health is affected by the clothes you wear.” Many people believe that they are itching or sweating because of the fabric, and although partially true, many times it could be a reaction to one of the chemicals used to grow, dye, bleach, or finish the product.
These chemicals not only cause health concerns with the workers and wearers; many brands also dump their chemicals into nearby water sources, or the chemicals and pesticides will run-off into drinking water. Taryn recounted a heartbreaking story in which pesticides were leeching into a town’s water supply and young children, 13 and 14 years old, were getting leukemia and other types of cancers from the water fountains. Instead of the brand changing its production policies, they paid the medical bills for the children because it was the more affordable option. Human rights and health were being put second to profit. This is why she believes a shift must happen.
How to Think Beyond the Label
The responsibility of thinking beyond the label not only lies in the hands of consumers; it also lies in the hands of designers. Taryn believes that, “It’s just sourcing better. Australia is pumping out incredible, sustainable designs because of their import and export.” And although there aren’t as many designers as she hoped using sustainable production methods, she does feel that you can find chic, fashionable pieces in the United States at a comparable cost to their mass-produced counterparts. “Here, [in Los Angeles] I can find a dress for $46-$75 that is sustainable and sexy, and you couldn’t do that five years ago.”
Below are ways to help you to think beyond the label, and support the cause.
Attend an Event – To get eco-fashion information first-hand, or to support the cause, one of the best things you can do is attend an activation (event) in your local area. Here you will be able to get your questions answered and many times even trade in one of your own non-eco-friendly shirts for a new, 100% organic cotton one from Beyond the Label. This weekend, April 8-9, 2017, Beyond the Label members will be at the Take Back Your Health Conference with Tiffany Paige in Los Angeles, California to discuss how to find budget-friendly clothing that won’t harm your health. Other upcoming events can be found here, and Beyond the Label hopes to travel to Texas in the spring of 2018 for Earth Day Texas.
Invite Beyond the Label to Your School – Another option is to let your school or university know about Beyond the Label. Beyond the Label is always happy to speak to or even partner with universities, especially those with design and textile programs, in order to educate the people who will influence the future of our fashion industry. (Any UIW students reading this?!) Their goal is to educate, inform, direct and connect movers and shakers in the industry to #makeshifthappen, so if you are a designer and don’t know what textile companies to work with, or if you are a merchandiser and want to know what stores to connect with, Beyond the Label can help.
Donate – If you can’t attend an event, donations are happily accepted to help cover the charges for travel, educational resources, etc. You can also donate your time by being a volunteer.
Shop Smarter – A big way to shop smarter is to KNOW what brands and designers are using eco-friendly methods of sourcing and production. There are many toxic fabrics out there, and according to Taryn, “synthetic fabrics are a by-product of the petroleum industry.” Some brands and stores Taryn recommends are: Bead & Reel, Journey’s, Timberland, Levi’s, Eileen Fisher, Stell McCartney, Patagonia, North Face, and Volcom. Currently, Beyond the Label is working aon a ssshopping guide to show people how to shop sustainably, and introduce them to new possibilities.
Spread the Word – Now that you know the impact retailers can have, it is your job to share what you know! Share this post, like the Beyond the Label Facebook page, talk to friends… there are a number of ways to spread the word.
If you are looking for more information on the state of the fashion industry, Taryn recommends watching the documentary The True Cost. It is available on Netflix, but be warned that it is graphic, and even shocking, in nature. A trailer for this documentary can be viewed below.
A Note From Anna
Taryn, it was such pleasure not only to hear how far you’ve come, but also learning from you. You are an up-beat, genuine person who honestly cares about other people’s well being, the state of our environment, and the wonderful world around us. You are an inspiration, and I wish you and Beyond the Label success in making our world a better place.