Big things have been happening at Zady, the ethical fashion retailer, lately. At the end of September they announced the launch of a year-long research project called The New Standard, a platform that unveils information about the extensive labor and environmental issues that continue to stem from clothing production, including its impact on our oceans, drinking water, forest, climate change, and people. Click through the pretty graphic, and you can find friendly and extensively footnoted information about different textiles and garment production. Nylon, for example, creates emissions of N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2 and which, because of its long life (120 years) can reach the upper atmosphere and deplete the layer of stratospheric ozone, which is an important filter of UV radiation.
Zady coupled this with their #fashion4climate campaign, a social media push that raises awareness about the fashion industry’s impact on climate change. Deepak Chopra, Stella McCartney, Mark Ruffalo, and Livia Firth are all fans.
Not content to just drop these shitty facts into our midst, Zady gave us an action point at the same time, launching the brand’s first full fall/winter collection, made with a sort of nose-to-tail devotion to ethical and sustainable production. Each item comes with all of the specific production details for each item, from farm to final garment. The collection is full of classic, chic items: a slim button down, a boyfriend button down, an alpaca sweater, an alpaca cardigan, a jacket and an oversized sweater. (I’ve found myself wearing their summer linen shirt pretty constantly.)
I’ve always been a personal fan of Zady co-founder Maxine Bédat. She’s a petite, sweet, intelligent advocate for human rights who also happens to be a chic, French-style model for Zady’s clothes. So I asked her to meet up for a chat and a photo shoot. First we nerded out about ethical fashion, then we discussed some of her favorite beauty brands and places to hang New York City. Check it out:
How is The Essentials Collection different from typical button downs and sweaters?
We were reading about all these problems in the fashion industry and the environment and how labor is mistreated, and we didn’t see anybody who was taking a holistic view. They might use an eco material, or they might say they’re using an eco material – it might not be. That was why we started the Zady line. How do you create a truly sustainable product that takes into an account the entire supply chain? Because actually, most issues start at the farm.
We developed the New Standard because we saw that our community and the rest of the world hasn’t yet make the connection of how much of an impact has on the environment and on people. One in six people in the world works in the apparel industry, but they are in the shadows. Regular clothing, it’s all about the design and it’s a big mystery even to the brands how it is produced. That’s why there all these issues, like how 20% of freshwater pollution around the world is from the apparel industry, and of course is the second most polluting more broadly.
We design for the long term because the average person wears a product only seven times, which is insane. You can have a super green fiber, but if it’s this trendy thing, you’re still using a lot of resources to wear something only seven times. Then it’s about the fiber choice. We’ve discovered some scary and fascinating things about fiber choice. Over 50% of clothing made today is polyester. And now researchers are finding that microfibers of polyester when you wash it are going into our oceans. They’ve done studies showing the material is showing up in our shorelines, which fish are eating. It’s really scary. We’re using natural materials that biodegrade. This sweater is alpaca instead of cashmere. We found out that cashmere is contributing majorly to desertification in Mongolia. So we were like, OK, can we find something with that same hand feel? And it’s great for a whole host of other environmental reasons.
And then it was about how it’s grown. We’re removing toxins and pesticides from the entire supply chain. There are companies that use organic cotton, but then they use toxic dyes, or child labor. Organic cotton is really just the beginning of it. In the dye stage it’s using non-toxic dyes, treating the water before it gets dumped back into waterways, because in the developing world, over 90% of the dye stuff gets dumped right back into the water, which is what people drink from.
We do all the production domestically. We have facilities that we literally take the subway to. We get to check and verify that our production is actually taking place is facilities and not shadow factories. It’s funny because it’s literally an open door policy, because they’re door is always open. I think about that every time I walk in! (Laughs.) It’s not even a figurative thing!
Who’s designing the clothes?
A wonderful woman named Monica Nicoletti. We are so lucky to have her. When we were looking for a designer – it’s a huge decision – we were looking for someone who had very high-end experience but understood how modern women dress, in that they don’t have their work clothes or going out clothes, but want things that are easy to wear for every part of your life. I loved Italian style, they just know how real women exist in the world. When Monica came, she’s an amazing Italian woman who was at Alberta Ferretti and Club Monaco. Yes, please!
Do you have other things on your wishlist for the Essentials Collection?
Well, we don’t have pants yet. So that would be nice!
So are you aiming for a capsule wardrobe?
Yeah, that is what the Essentials Collection is. Everything is timeless, interchangeable, and layer-able. The shirt, with the sweater, and the coat.
How excited would you be to see someone wearing Zady head to toe?
So thrilled! I hope I never lose that excitement, like “Ohhh! Someone is wearing Zady!”
Who do you consider your competitors?
Our competition is any brand serving the working woman who wants clothes for work and play. Our target isn’t the eco audience. This is how fashion should be. We have to live in the world where this is the new normal.
What kind of woman wears these clothes?
It’s been fun because we have the Zady tote bags so I’ve gotten to see who’s carrying it. I get excited, like, “Oh, she’s so chic!” (Laughs.) Those are very special moments. What has been exciting for us is to see there are women across the country who buy Zady, and not just a city thing. People are interested in knowing where their products come from. They want a good value.
I remember when you did the event with Eileen Fisher, she talked about how they did this big sustainable fashion campaign, and nobody bought anything. So you’re in this space where you’re saying if you buy clothes, buy good clothes. But some people feel like you’re not truly sustainable if you buy into consumerist culture.
That seems a bit extreme.
Because environmental people are never extreme.
Ok, yeah. (Laughs.) I think Eileen is a bit different, because she’s trying to get her existing customers to care about something they didn’t care about before. That’s a much harder nut to crack than what we have, which is a generation that is more focused on the environment to begin with, and understand they can be activists with their purchasing power. I think it’s so awesome that they are bold despite their challenges, but it’s a bit easier for us because we are building with a different generation with a different mindset.
I have a policy where if somebody feels like their time is more useful somewhere else, they can walk out of a meeting. They don’t have to take a meeting for a meeting’s sake.
People when talking about ethical fashion always point to H&M and say they are evil, but Forever21 isn’t doing shit, and H&M seems to be trying. What do you think about a fast fashion company that is trying some sustainability initiatives?
I think authentic attempts are good and a move in the right direction. I would say that the biggest issue in sustainable fashion is the pace of our consumption. It makes sense. We are busy people with busy lives and there may be one brand that represents evil, and I think we’re just going to get to a state where there is more nuance. I mean, look at this restaurant [Pret a Manger]. We would have never had this restaurant when we were younger. I had parents who were doctors and we ate at McDonald’s on the regular. (Laughs.) I don’t see us at that inflection point right now. But we are moving toward that point.
It seems like the best of times and worst of times. People are starting to be more aware, but every day there is new depressing information. So how do you keep yourself upbeat and moving forward?
I feel so empowered that we have control over that, and there are lots of things we have no control over. We always try to remember to have a sense of humor about it. We have Shitty Fact Tuesdays. It’s depressing stuff, but you can’t get through it unless you have a sense of humor. You have to laugh and be honest at the same time.
Who is your role changing now that Soraya Darabi has taken on an advisory role?
We were smart enough and close enough at the beginning to know that companies evolve over time. So it’s nice that we remain friends. And the company has shifted as we develop product and have a brand behind it. When you keep your eyes open from the beginning, you know in a start-up things change really fast.
You obviously wear brands you carry on Zady. Are there other brands you love to wear?
When I go skiing I love to wear Patagonia. They have great style, and a bold mission to create clothing that has a low impact. They are honest with how challenging that is. That is what the industry needs. I would put Eileen Fisher in there too – trying to be green but not greenwash. It’s not easy, but you have to make choices. Our organic cotton for our shirting comes from Turkey, because everything could be local – the weaving and spinning and growing – and then it is shipped over the U.S. That means an education in the fact that shipping has a much lower impact than using a truck cross country. That is a very extended way of saying Patagonia and Eileen Fisher. And Stella McCartney if I’m really gonna splurge.
What about beauty brands?
I like Herbivore Botanicals. It’s really nice and they have beautiful packaging. And a new one, Earth Tu Face. One [founder] is a nurse, and the other is in natural goods, and they partnered together. Everything is so nummy, and also the packaging is nice.
So packaging is important to you.
Yeah. It’s like making a sweater that might be green but is ugly. You want the entire experience to be chic.
More life questions: what is your favorite restaurant?
Hmmm, where do I always go? What was that place, one of the original farm-to-table places in Chelsea? (Her PR rep and I go on a quest through Yelp. Foragers? Buco?) Cookshop! Their stuff is great.
How about bars?
Do you have time? How many hours a week do you work?
DON’T ASK ME THAT QUESTION. I go to the Standard. Does that count?
Yup! And when you’re not working what do you do for fun?
I have people over. I make dinner for my friends. And I’m going trapezing! It was my birthday present from my husband.