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Interview Series: Fashion Startup Mentor Shannon Whitehead

Posted by on 4 March, 2016 in Environment, Fashion, Human welfare

March is here and spring is near. Even though spring might mean allergy season — for me at least — watching nature reanimate and come to life brings feelings of hope. Hope for a better planet. Hope for a happier way of life. Can’t get enough hope in this day and age.

When I first learned of Factory45 and it’s founder, Shannon Whitehead, I also felt a bit of hope. Shannon, a mentor for sustainable and ethical fashion startups, is exactly what the fashion industry needs in a world where fast fashion currently reigns supreme. I have hope, with help from people like Shannon, that the trend of fast fashion will soon change.

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1. Tell us about yourself. What do you do?

I’m an advocate for the sustainable fashion industry, and I’m a mentor to early-stage fashion brands. I run an online accelerator program called Factory45 that helps entrepreneurs start clothing companies that are sustainably and ethically made in the USA.

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2. Did you have a specific “aha” moment that led you to a sustainable lifestyle?

Travel was my first introduction to sustainable and mindful living. When I was a kid my classmates were taking trips to Disney World and Cape Cod while my dad was schlepping my mom, sister and I off to places like Egypt, Thailand and Costa Rica. At the time, I thought it was really cool that I got to go on these exotic trips, but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the true effect those experiences had on me.

Not only did my dad’s love of travel instill a wanderlust and travel bug in me, but I grew up knowing what developing world poverty looks like and understanding how people in lower-income countries live.

When I graduated from college I took two post-grad years to “bartend my way around the world.” I lived in Australia for a year, traveled all around Southeast Asia, lived in South Africa for a year, and then went to Central America. It was during those two years that it really hit me. I realized that our reckless consumption habits in the western world directly affect the planet and the people in it.

That was the tipping point and it has changed everything: from the way I dress, to what I eat, to my worldview, to the personal responsibility I have put on myself to make change.

3. What advice would you give your teenage self, if you could talk to her today?

Well, when I was a teenager I was really bossy and opinionated. I was a good kid, did well in school, and didn’t get into trouble with my parents, but there was more than one world history class that I got kicked out of for being “disruptive.”

Unfortunately, society still tells girls and young women that they’re being “aggressive” if they’re too opinionated, “rude” if they speak up for themselves, and “bossy” if they know what they want. If I could talk to my teenage self today, I’d say, “Your ‘aggressive,’ ‘rude’ and ‘bossy’ demeanor is going to help you build a life you can’t even dream of right now. You can relax a little, but don’t change.”

4. What makes you feel beautiful?

I feel beautiful when I’m out of my routine and traveling somewhere I’ve never been before… preferably on a beach, drinking a coconut, right after a sweaty yoga class ; )

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5. Have any extra tips or tricks? Any favorite sustainable/ethical fashion or beauty items you’d like to share?

It’s hard to feel fashionable or beautiful when you know that the clothes you’re wearing and the makeup you’re buying has attributed to the pain and suffering of someone else. So much of what we buy to make us feel beautiful has been made in developing world countries where children and marginalized women are either enslaved or paid pennies.

My tips and tricks aren’t glamorous, but it really comes down to educating yourself so you know you are buying ethically-made products.

Here are a few different articles to get you started:

5 Truths the Fast Fashion Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

6 Things You Should Know About Your Clothes

4 Things to Remember Every Time You Shop for Clothes

Other than that… coconut oil. It’s the best face wash : )

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(I can’t speak for Shannon, but I use coconut oil for everything!)

I hope you loved this interview as much as I did. With every new month, I’m blown away by the advice given by the inspirational woman interviewed. The thing I find most interesting is how unique and personal each person’s advice is.

We are all unique, but fast fashion has a way of squashing that. Shopping at stores like H&M, Forever 21, Zara, etc. not only contributes to environmental pollution and supports poor quality of life for workers, it also makes everyone look the same. How boring! Ever since I said NO to fast fashion, my wardrobe has become more inspired by what I truly love and is a reflection of who I am.

It’s OKAY to be unique. It’s a little scary at first but, with time, you’ll feel empowered.