Toronto designer Laura Siegel shows us that ethical fashion doesn’t mean ugly hemp hippie clothes

Toronto designer Laura Siegel shows us that ethical fashion doesn’t mean ugly hemp hippie clothes

(Image: courtesy of Laura Siegel)

Most people hear “ethical fashion” and think fair-trade Birkenstocks. How do you combat that crunchy granola image?
I focus on design. “Ethical” is a standard that has nothing to do with aesthetics.

So what makes clothing “ethical”?
Two things: the effect it has on the environment and the effect it has on other human beings. You want the people making your clothes to be happy people.

Your clothes are made by artisans all over the world. How do you find them?
The sustainable design world is strangely close-knit. My last collection was made by craftspeople from the Kutch region in India. I met them through a woman who runs an artisan collective there, and I met her through a sustainable shop owner in Vancouver.

(l to r) Siegel’s scarf is woven with scraps of recycled sari fabric. $135. This two-toned clutch consists of hundreds of interwoven leather strips. $225. The pattern on this silk caftan was created using an ancient form of tie-dye called bandhani. $435.

I have to ask: how much do you pay the artisans?
It depends on the craft. For dye work, it’s $16 to $40 per metre. For weaving, $5 to $30 a metre.

You made a documentary, Traceable, about a work trip across India. Most memorable moment?
There were some tricky times. We had to leave one community because the leader wasn’t happy we were filming. The people there had never seen a camera like ours, and all the kids got really excited. I guess you could say it caused a ruckus.

How do you get people to pay $150 for a scarf when H&M hawks knock-offs for a tenth of the price?
I’m not telling everybody to go out and buy my clothes. But people need to consume less. Often it’s like, “Oh, I don’t really love this, but it’s only $15.”

It’s tough to resist a bargain.
It’s so hard! And confusing, too. Everything is billed as “sustainable,” but is it really? The fashion consultant Julie Gilhart has a word for that kind of talk—she calls it “sustainababble.”

Bottom line: why should people care about this?
Because it feels good to care. It’s a nice way to live.