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Slow Down: Zady Takes a Long-Term Approach to Apparel

“I can’t force you to work with us but what I can tell you is that my generation, people in my city, don’t even know that wool comes from sheep,” is what Maxine Bédat said to convince Jeanne Carver, owner of the environmentally conscious Imperial Stock Ranch in northeastern Oregon, to make wool sweaters for her ethically minded e-commerce site’s first foray into private-label products.

Since its launch in 2013, Zady has expanded its selection of clothing, accessories and home décor from conscious brands such as Billy Reid, Etiquette Clothiers and Objects Without Meaning to include its own apparel, like T-shirts and the aforementioned sweaters.

Speaking last Wednesday to Worn Stories author Emily Spivack as part of the ongoing “Fashion Sharing Progress” series at Glasgow Caledonian University New York, Bédat (a self-described “recovering lawyer”) shared how Zady is redefining transparency and responsible production within the apparel industry.

“I grew up with fast fashion,” she said, “And I remember when fast fashion first came to America and I was very excited about it. I was that generation where clothing went from costing quite a bit of money to not having to think about it.”

Today, however, she’s less fond of the high-speed, high-volume side of the industry. “It’s not as if we’re saying don’t buy anything ever again,” she was quick to point out. “It’s more that the pace has gotten out of control. The average American buys 70 pieces of clothing every year. Just 20 years ago it was 40.”

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That’s why Zady is focused on the long-term in every facet of its business, whether it’s working with brands that support a dying craft, pay their workers a living wage, use recycled materials or practice all of the above. (Or, as is the case of Zady’s private label: produce timeless designs using high-quality fabrics sourced from sustainable facilities that won’t fall apart after three washes.)

“We really focused on brands that are very close to their production,” Bédat noted, adding that consumers can learn as much or as little as they like about the process, as the site shares behind-the-scenes stories, photos and video clips from each company.

“What’s our responsibility in terms of educating the consumer? How much does the consumer want to be educated? What’s going to get them to shift their buying habits? Is it the story or is it knowing all of the pieces that go into making something?” Spivack asked. “And terms like eco-fashion, green, sustainability, slow fashion… They’re thrown around, holding brands to certain qualifications. How do you align all these measures so that consumer doesn’t have to do all the work?”

“We try to avoid those terms because there’s so much misinformation out there. That I think is a lot of the frustration that a consumer has. What we’re really trying to do is talk about facts,” Bédat explained. “We remove the clutter of the terminology and speak to the facts. What we’re trying to do is highlight and be transparent.”

“Is it possible for established brands to change their business model?” Spivack asked.

Bédat nodded. “Ultimately sustainability isn’t eco or green or a trend. It’s a sustainable business principle, to be in business in the long term,” she said. “We have to see all parts of our supply chain as partners. When you have that partnership, that’s when innovation happens.”