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A&E T.H.R.E.A.D. Interviews: Carrie Parry

Carrie: My name is Carrie Parry and I’m a fashion designer. My company is based on my passion for design as well as social and environmental responsibility.

A&E THREAD: Today A&E THREAD is talking with fashion designer, Carrie Parry, about fashion and designing with sustainability in mind. Thank you so much Carrie for being here. Let's get started. What initially sparked your interest in fashion?

Carrie: I've really always been fascinated by the way that people use clothes as means to express themselves, and I started taking classes in fashion and art at a very young age. I just really took every opportunity I could to immerse myself in the industry.

A&E THREAD: What experiences led up to your start in the fashion industry?

Carrie: I actually started working in retail in high school and taking summer classes at different colleges. I had my first fashion internship when I was about 18, and then went on to study at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London where I took my BA in Fashion Design and Marketing. And while I was there I did different internships and gained work experience in fashion, costumes, and textiles. So I've been very fortunate throughout the years to work with some really incredible and talented people, and I've really learned and grown from those different experiences.

A&E THREAD: Have any of these experiences helped to inspire you to design with eco-friendly ideas in mind?

Carrie: I'd say that my work in the fashion industry really opened my eyes to the environmental and social impact that the fashion industry has and really motivated me to create a line founded on those passions of really integrating fashion and social responsibility. I started working at a non-profit and environmentally conscious textile research facility and started taking a graduate course at the University of Delaware in Socially Responsible and Sustainable Apparel Business. The program and those experiences really helped to guide me in terms of how to constantly improve on the social responsibility of my company.

A&E THREAD: What do you personally believe makes a quality piece of clothing?

Carrie: Garments that are considered timeless and have quality workmanship. I think pieces that really empower and bring confidence to the wearer and are also made under socially and environmentally responsible conditions.

A&E THREAD: Now, obviously you're extremely passionate about designing with sustainability in mind. What is your definition of sustainable fashion?

Carrie: I prefer to use the term social responsibility as the relative term for environmental and social responsibility. So, to me, it encompasses social and environmental responsibility like labor standards, working conditions, everyday business activities, decreasing waste, our carbon footprint, the environmental impact of fiber harvesting, the dyeing and finishing processes, the social impact of fabrics and processes through to the care and disposal phase of garments – all processes and practices which work towards sustaining biodiversity. Sustainability to me is really a process that we're continually striving towards.

A&E THREAD: So it's definitely more to you than just what fabrics you decide to use. It's everything that goes into creating something.

Carrie: Definitely. Definitely. It's both the ethical and the environmental side.

A&E THREAD: Now, sustainable fashion is definitely a niche market that's starting to expand. I see designers all the time now that want to really put across in their labels that they're being environmentally friendly with the clothing that they design. Do you think that it will become more mainstream as time goes on?

Carrie: Yes, definitely. I mean, I really think that sustainable fashion is already gaining a lot of momentum. We've come really far. And a lot of the bigger companies are starting to really contribute to the movement, with new tools or education, like the Nike Design Tool, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and I think that, you know, these tools are really going to help bring awareness, a kind of cooperation between brands and hopefully also start educating other stakeholders. And I think we're really beginning to see the opportunity that corporate social responsibility has as they kind of continue to learn through their mistakes and challenges and see kind of what positive impacts we've already had.

A&E THREAD: Does being an eco-friendly designer bring any design limitations to fashion? Anything that you've experienced?

Carrie: Definitely. I'd say it's getting better, but sourcing material is definitely one of the limitations. I guess not having as much access to fabrics can be limiting. But it is more rewarding to source locally in a socially and environmentally responsible fabric. I think another challenge and kind of limitation for smaller designers is that we don't have that much leverage with our suppliers. So in order to implement the social responsibility goals that we have such as finding out more information from the suppliers about the supply chain, it can be difficult. Oftentimes I ask suppliers a lot of questions about where the fiber was grown and all these things, and they are shocked that I'm asking, and I think that they're just not used to people caring about it. But now there's something, like Source for Style which is kind of an online database where you can search for fabrics are all socially and environmentally responsible. So it's kind of encouraging more designers to begin using these fabrics. They're making it easier for the ones that already have been using them for a while.

A&E THREAD: What are your favorite fabrics to work with and why?

Carrie: My favorite fabric right now is Bemburg Cupro. It's a pure cellulosic fiber reborn from the linter of the cotton plant, and it's fully bio-degradable and it's a natural, renewable resource. It's a really breathable fabric. It kind of looks like silk, and it's really, really soft and it's washable. It's a great fabric, and I love it.

A&E THREAD: When designing and selecting materials, do you take into consideration the end of your product's life cycle and how it's going to impact the environment when it's time to be disposed of?

Carrie: Yes, definitely. I'd say that the consumer care and end of life phase can sometimes be the most harmful in a products lifecycle. I really hope to be able to implement a take back program for our clothes. But currently we're working on really integrating education and how to care for garments into our website. On our care label, we advise consumers to reuse, remake, and recycle responsibly, always encouraging eco-dry cleaning when possible and washing in cold water and line drying.

A&E THREAD: We kind of talked about this a little bit before, the kind of challenges that you face while looking for eco-friendly materials.

Carrie: Yes.

A&E THREAD: In terms of the search process of finding those, is there anything else you'd like to elaborate on?

Carrie: Yeah. I think social responsibility just in general is kind of perceived of as black and white. It's really not the case. It's really complicated. In fact, I think sometimes it's hard, especially for me. So, sometimes it's hard because you want your choice of fabric to be the right one - the one that solves all the problems but there is usually a downside -or still something that can be improved. But there's always some downside or something that could be improved on. For example, I source my wool from a woman owned cooperative in India. It's all hand spun, hand woven, and really supports the livelihood of the people there, but it's not organic wool. So it's just always a choice, and you just have to take it one step at a time.

A&E THREAD: A&E THREAD produces a thread that's longer lasting, more durable, and hopes that garments will last longer and that there won't be as much waste in terms of throwing things out. Is this something that you consider while you're designing your clothing?

Carrie: Yes, definitely. The current concept of racing to the bottom to cut costs needs to be switched to racing to the top as a competitive advantage- creating considered, more durable better- crafted designs that have integrity. In Cradle to Cradle, the belief that “an industrial system that "takes, makes and wastes" can become a creator of goods and services that generate ecological, social and economic value” is very inspiring and something we should always strive towards. It can actually become a creator of goods and services that generate value. That's really inspiring.

A&E THREAD: Do have anything that you personally like to do with older clothes to give them a second life?

Carrie: For me, I think it's really all about styling and kind of purchasing garments that are timeless and not really trend driven. But with that said, I'm a big fan of swapping parties and over-dyeing garments.

A&E THREAD: Is there anything special that you do in your daily life to help protect the environment?

Carrie: Yeah, I mean recycling, supporting local businesses, and I really think about my purchases. I buy for quality and durability. And obviously use natural, organic cleaning and skin products. We grow herbs on the balcony, and I think I've probably lectured my friends and family too often about sustainability.

A&E THREAD: So what kind of things do people need to look out for when they're buying with sustainability in mind?

Carrie: I think it’s most important to look out for quality and design that kind of pass through the seasons, the trends, and garments you can wash in cold water and hang dry if possible. Ironing less is always good, dry cleaning responsibly, and also I really say just buy garments that you love and don't be afraid to ask questions of where they come from.

A&E THREAD: So it's definitely more about purchasing something that you're going to take care of and plan to use for years and years, not something that you could just throw away.

Carrie: Exactly, because it takes the same amount of resources to make a shirt that you're going to have for a week as it does to make one that you're going to have for ten years. So you might as well make sure you're getting the one that you're going to have for a long time.

A&E THREAD: All right. We've got one more question for you. If you could design a wardrobe for anyone in the world, who would it be?

Carrie: I love Katherine Hepburn. So, if I could go back in time, I would love to be able to dress her. I just love her kind of tomboyish sexiness and her tailored classic look.

A&E THREAD: We appreciate you spending some time with us today to talk about sustainable fashion. This has been an A&E THREAD exclusive designer interview with fashion designer Carrie Parry.

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