Meet Joyce Hu, Co-Founder of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance

At Ho‘omaluō we are constantly inspired by pioneers in fashion who have taken the journey to fight for environmental and labor justice within the fashion industry. One of those pioneers is San Francisco native Joyce Hu, Co-Founder of the Sustainable Fashion Alliance. In an interview with Joyce, we discuss how the Sustainable Fashion Alliance came to be, and the importance of uniting all aspects of the industry in order to ignite a greater change.

The Sustainable Fashion Alliance (SFA) is a member based organization in San Francisco founded in 2016 by Andrea Plell and Joyce Hu. SFA was founded by the desire to generate a supportive network for small to mid-sized ethical apparel and accessory brands by providing resources, opportunities, and creative avenues. SFA has partnered with a multitude of brands to encourage sustainable practices including Mara Hoffman and GAP.

The ultimate goal of SFA is to unite brands, businesses, and voices across the fashion industry in belief that “voice is more potent in union”. Today, Ho‘omaluō joins that union.

Can you tell the story of how the Sustainable Fashion Alliance came to be?

I was doing a lot of as I’ve been working in similar fashion since 2009 through my my my full time job at Wildlife Works. We have a fair trade factory in Kenya. And I was really hands down you know really trying to build the business. When we first started. And then part of our efforts in really starting to create a community locally here in San Francisco. I started doing some more events and along the way I met my co-founder Andrea and we decided to do kind of really the first San Francisco Fashion Revolution event in 2016. So you’re familiar with Fashion Revolution movement. Yes. Yeah yeah. OK great. So we did a will be called a flash mob where we made signs and we kind of like ticketed quote picketed around Union Square and kind of around the fast fashion stores to kind of bring people’s attention towards the makers behind clothing and you know why. Clothing is so cheap and these and these stores and you know that there’s a human cost. And then part of that and then we also put together a press focused event where we invited local sustainable brands and the local press to come meet some of the local brands that are here that are accessible that are doing really amazing things in the community and in the industry here. And that event really went really really well. And after those kind of events that we did we always felt this energy with the local community here that ranged from just fashion professionals but also all these startups and they all were so excited about just connecting and and really communing was was the big thing. And we really started to see this this lack of community and services around the local sustainable fashion and the fashion industry here. So I just said to Andrea because she’s also very entrepreneurial. Muriel herself she’s a PR consultant and hadn’t been doing it for years. And I said to her it’s like why don’t we just do this. Why don’t we start it. And I’m somebody who I’m very kind of fearless about starting things and I started it was pretty easy for me and we put together a Web site we bought the URL and kind of put together a little bit of a mission statement and just you know the vision around what we want to do. And it was really just quite spontaneous honestly.

And once we created it we sent it around to our local contacts and we built quite a good contact base between the two of us. We actually we probably know almost everybody in fact is in fashion actually here in Times go on one in one way or another whether we work directly with them or we know somebody at that brand.

So instantly we got 50 members and then we had like two or two people on our newsletter email list like instantly. And that was just literally like right where we we just announced that we’re going to start. So that was really exciting and that really was reaffirming that we knew that this was something that people really craved and needed. So that was like late 2016 and very soon after the next year we started designing just conversations and panel discussions around the topics that we really wanted to know more about. So if you want our Web site you’ll see the history of the events that we’ve designed and put together and they’ve all of course been just really amazing community building events and networking and knowledge sharing. And so that was kind of the first thing that we did and then we started to notice that the actual small or medium small to medium sized brands which a lot of times were they were like one women’s shows or like you know a very very small team of one to five people they were all really struggling to grow because it’s just it’s very very competitive. You know in fashion industry. So we started to think about the needs of this of this group of entrepreneurs and then we started to design some services around that. And then we started to realize that we need a little bit some revenue some money that we just would just pay for some of the events that we were putting on. So we then we just we started to make a payment for membership and literally it’s nothing it’s like hundred dollar a year and we launched that last fall and we have about almost 40 paid members and we also have brand partnerships with like Mara Hoffman and Gap and a lot of the sustainable brands out there that we really respect and are a huge. Source of knowledge and support for us. So that really has given us some more resources and validation again on what this community needs. So now we do we have quarterly meetings with our paid members and we are starting to design specific workshops and resources for their needs. So some of the workshops would include peer review. We’re going to bring in like a Facebook social media advertising specialist to come to like us for our workshop. We’re also doing like pooled services like pull PR service pools Photoshop services because it’s all really quite expensive to do those things on your own. So these are all things that you know marketing we’re partnering with local shops to pop up like a pop up series. So this is all been really really exciting for all of our members and we’re really we’re feeling good that we’re providing some really needed services so that’s kind of where we are today. That’s awesome.

As the Co-Founder of SFA what motivates you to continue to push for sustainability in fashion despite the disparity of labor and environmental justice? I mean it’s such a huge issue really. It is an industry and I just wanted to know like was there an event that occurred that really impacted you where you were like This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do for fashion. [00:07:28][29.2]

[00:07:29] Yeah I mean I think my kind of aha wake up moment really was through my fulltime job so before I started with all life works I had a job a very high pressured fashion job in Hong Kong and for a boutique luxury brand that was based there and they had they had boutiques all over the world. So I was working my butt off and in a in a city that has a culture that was not aligned with my personals personal values. And that was really the first thing that turned me off to fashion in general is just the culture of the fashion industry you know not not even like the supply chain. I was just thinking like the people that I’m working with in the company just suck you know. So that was really difficult for me and I struggled through that for about a year and a half almost two years and I quit that and came back home and I got got back in touch with the founder of Wildlife Works here and he he was saying the foundation of of this conservation company actually was with the sanctuary factories. So now the company is growing into our main revenue generator is actually producing and selling carbon offset credits. So if you’re not familiar with that you can go to wildlife and read up on on what we do at Wildlife Works which is basically to stop deforestation which is a huge part of the Climate Change mitigate climate change pollution. So we’re really really dedicated to that. But the foundation is starting the origins of life efforts was actually with the Fairtrade factory. So that’s where I started. [00:09:10][101.5]

[00:09:11] And so when I got my and ever since I was young I always volunteered and I always tried to integrate foundation work or nonprofit working in my career but it always was felt really disconnected from the work on the ground. And I worked for a job at the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health for about a year and a half and that really was just you know was eye opening in terms of just the foundation level work and nonprofit work it felt very misaligned with just the sustainable ways that you need to really support a community that that has some really serious needs. [00:09:53][42.4]

[00:09:54] And so the for profit model seemed like something that was you know a sensible solution really an more sustainable one. [00:10:06][11.6]

[00:10:06] And so I started a little while there with Wildlife Works. [00:10:12][5.8]

[00:10:14] In 2009 or so. And the first thing I do was actually go out to the project level project on that. I mean the projects on the ground in Kenya and all the factoring that the factory workers net the community that lived in the project area that we work in and all the the conservation sites that we work with work in our areas where there’s human and wildlife conflict. So we only work in areas where it’s very rural because that’s where the wildlife live. And so we provide alternative livelihoods to poaching and deforestation. So that’s what the jobs at the factory do. And so when I went to the factory I just it was so just. You know just to build to see the impact on the ground is is is so Eye opening.

[00:11:11] You know beyond that it was just like wow this is really you know this is what really means you know. And you know we’re so disconnected with where our things are made in general. I mean not just to not just close everything you know. I found that I’m that I’m talking on I kill it. I call it a killing machine you know because all the men in the you know the minerals that are needed for the battery that’s like literally slave labor. [00:11:34][24.0]

[00:11:35] That’s that’s being used to mine in the Congo. [00:11:38][3.3]

[00:11:39] It’s just it’s terrible. [00:11:39][0.6]

[00:11:40] So you know when you have if you have when you have the opportunity to go on the ground and see you know see where something is made it’s it’s a very you know it’s a life changing thing. So so for me that’s really what opened my eyes to not just the fashion industry but just conscious living in general. And it’s been a 10 year 10 year journey for me ever you know piece of the puzzle starts becoming it starts to really get highlighted in terms of just my living habits. And it’s a very incremental change. So you know to answer a question that really was just going going to the factory you know going onto the ground seeing the impact that that we make on the ground that’s what really solidified my commitment to this work. Mm hmm. Yeah. [00:12:41][61.4]

What are some of the events or partnerships SFA hosts and how do you feel that San Francisco has adapted to your movement? 

There is definitely a strong voice in San Francisco.

What are challenges SFA faces on a daily basis? Are there laws within the state, country, ie that prevents eco-conscious actions to be implemented? 

Yeah I mean for as I say we’re we’re a member based group or just you know we’re really just you know created to support local local businesses and we do want to spread nationwide. [00:14:54][10.8]

[00:14:55] But in terms of the global fashion machine yes there’s a lot of limitations. There’s just the global supply chain is so massive and it’s really founded on. You know really problematic systems so that that in itself is going to make it very very difficult to change a lot of people in the industry say that you just know that the only solution really may be to create a new system and abandon the one that’s happening now. But it’s just that’s just massive. It’s just a massive undertaking. The policy is definitely very very key to you know protecting human rights and the environment as well. [00:15:45][49.7]

[00:15:45] And slowly there’s some movement but it’s still not good enough. You know minimum wage which is a policy matter. It’s so far in the living wage. A lot of these countries. [00:15:56][11.0]

One of your partners is Fashion Revolution and with FRW ending just yesterday, was there any personal or particular event you experienced parallel to the event of Rana Plaza? 

00:12:42] And so you know San Francisco we just recently had S.F. S.F. w I which was the Sustainable Fashion Week. And that was in correlation in partnership with Fashion Revolution. [00:12:54][12.2][00:12:56] So you got that. Yeah I got to go with the events it was pretty good. It was pretty good I. [00:13:00][4.5]

[00:13:01] Well you tend to. Was it well. Well yeah well attended. [00:13:05][3.5]

[00:13:05] Yes I know we know the people who were Sandra. Yeah. [00:13:09][3.8]

[00:13:09] Was pretty good I had gone to the film premiere so I got to see their new remake film media. So yeah. So now that Fashion Revolution Week has ended just yesterday and that whole movement the whole organization was created in reaction to Rana Plaza. Was there any personal or like particular event that had happened say even in San Francisco that cause motivation is the scene. Well fashion alliance or was it just like also just an accumulation of everything like Rana Plaza and all of the factory collapses that were occurring. [00:13:47][37.5]

[00:13:49] Yeah I mean that was the first the answer to your first question about you know how as I say was created was basically the same as when do now as we did that event for for Fashion Revolution and we saw the energy of people that that wanted to really commune. And that was the motivator. And they all everybody was so passionate about the same issue and angry really really just you know the feeling of anger and you know that that was it galvanized our commitment.

[00:15:57] So yeah lots and lots and lots of limitations for sure. Genuinely curious. This isn’t a part of my my pre interview set. [00:16:06][9.4]

[00:16:07] But a lot of times like when I had reintroduced I’m not reintroduced but introduced myself into the realm of sustainable fashion. There’s always that conversation you wear when sometimes people try to justify fast fashion. It’s always people always try to say that while these woman and these children or these minorities that’s their best option in regards to labor. So how would you feel like how do you feel about that in regards Where do you think the change needs to be just in the industry in general. [00:16:41][34.4]

[00:16:42] Because if you I mean yes that’s you know that’s slave waiver you know just because they don’t have another option is it may make it the right one. [00:16:51][9.1]

[00:16:53] So you know that argument really is just a terrible disease. [00:16:59][6.5]

[00:17:00] You know it’s out of lack of options and you know these are people that you know are the most marginalized in the world. Mm hmm. So yeah I I I don’t condone that that philosophy. What was your specific question around now. [00:17:17][17.4]

[00:17:17] Yeah I was just wondering like you know easy your life with your work with blood life works as well. And like the rise of technology and machines replacing human labor and everything along the spectrum of that how do you feel would be the best way to implement like making sure that these workers sustain a job in fashion without working at such an extreme. [00:17:47][29.6]

[00:17:48] You know and yes you feel as if it’s more of a political issue more of like of that country’s like policy more so than anything. Or is it more of a problem of these larger corporations. [00:18:01][12.1]

[00:18:02] It’s all of it. It’s all I mean if you got it towards any fashionable rationale they’re going to tell you that it’s a multipronged. [00:18:08][5.6]

[00:18:10] Problem. You know policy has to change. [00:18:12][1.8]

[00:18:13] Consumers have to change and demand better of the brands than the companies that you buy from. And companies have to. [00:18:21][8.3]

[00:18:22] Know that they have to feel the pressure you know. And if they’re a public health company that pressure is not going to come from anywhere except for consumers and investors because they’re completely profit driven so. [00:18:37][14.3]

[00:18:39] So as a consumer as a consumer you can do your part you know not just put your dollars where your values are but also contact the brands that you love or you want to buy from but they don’t have they’re not aligned with your values. Just email them and contact them and Instagram them and ask them and if enough people ask they will feel the pressure you got your back to your point you know policy needs to change. [00:19:07][28.4]

You mentioned that one of the brands you work with is gap. Are they would you consider them an ethical brand or would you consider them reaching towards sustainability. What is your like what is gap doing in movements to go towards more eco conscious fashion?

Yeah they’re reaching towards their working what they’re working within the system that they are in. They’re trapped in it it’s difficult you know and you know we we my my personal philosophy is that we need to partner with all the brands even the brands that aren’t sustainable right now because you have to work within the system to change it. You know and you know if you just shame them. That doesn’t really foster a collaborative environment and culture.

Because it is like you know I mean gap those big companies although you know because they have the biggest impact they can do the most harm and they can actually do the most good with no one if they just say I’m going to use all organic fabric that would just completely transform the whole organic supply chain you know on their organic cotton supply in general and industry.

But it’s a tough thing to do. Working within the global supply chain. So they actually I don’t know if you’ve done a ton of research on GATT but if you go to their sustainability pages you can find more specifically the things that they’ve been doing which is you know it’s not might not be enough but it is is what they can do.

And I do you know I I personally know the people that work in those programs with us they’re leading those programs on the ground and I know how hard that work is and how hard it is to move the needle. So I definitely support that kind of work. But you know there is a lot more work to be done of course

Wildlife Works is a fair trade carbon neutral factory in Kenya…can you share the story behind that? 

Wildlife Works was founded about 20 years ago by Mike Kaczynski. He had his own consulting firm. So he has a business mind. He went to Kenya for on safari with his wife and. Always loved animals. Fell in love with with elephants but unfortunately saw this terrible cycle of violence between the armed poachers and the armed community and he realized that these people need jobs. You know it’s not like they want to go post elephants they just have no other choice. So his vision was to create a market based solution to create alternative livelihoods for the community on the ground.

He started with the factory because that was a skill that you can teach in the middle of nowhere. And he brought in industrial sewing machines. He hired 10 Rangers. That was like almost 20 years ago now. And then the fashion industry’s really gone through quite an evolution with fast fashion and now is sustainable fashion being all a bit more forefront so that business is really grown and like I was saying about 10 years ago eight eight eight or so years ago we transitioned into the carbon carbon business. But the factory is still providing 70 jobs at the project level there in Kenya and it’s just been a beautiful part of our job creation strategy. And you know there’s there’s nowhere else in that area where people can get a sewing job really. So it’s really cool.

Enjoy Ho‘omaluō’s interview based blog posts? Want to learn more about pioneers in the sustainable fashion industry? Read more in our previous blogpost, featuring Bill McNicol where, We talk Sustainability with Bill McNicol, Designer of William Frederick Clothing

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