I chatted to self proclaimed Quirky Environmentalist, Izzy McLeod about all things eco, queer and sustainable living. Izzy is an online blogger who specialises in the environment. We loved this interview about how to be conscious of picking out products and brands, especially during Pride months.
As with our previous issue, all interviews are done via the phone and the wonders of video chat technology.
Q. Hey Izzy, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. For the sake of our readers do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Izzy: I’m excited about this Green issue!
I run the blog and social media for The Quirky Environmentalist. I generally talk about sustainability and environmentalism.
I’ve started talking a lot more about activism rather than personal action stuff and I’m soon to be a student again!
Q. We love your ‘Who made my Pride merch’ campaign. Can you tell us a bit more about how you came up with that idea?
Izzy: I’ve been talking about where Pride merch comes from for a couple of years now. I talk about ethical fashion via sustainability, it’s how I started on all the sustainability stuff.
Every Pride month I would write an article about what’s happening in the world, but nobody seemed to really pick up on it. A few years ago there were a few people outraged but that’s about it.
I’ve been involved with Fashion Revolution’s ‘Who made my clothes week’ which is a week that remembers the Rana Plaza incident.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this incident, it was a devastating event in which a factory collapsed and killed and injured thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh.
Fashion Revolution hosts that week over the same week in April when the incident happened. They ask brands who make their clothes to help make the fashion industry more transparent, more sustainable and more ethical.
For Pride month I was like ‘Why don’t I adapt that campaign but for Pride?’ by creating ‘Who made my Pride merch’. Because not only do you have all the same issues with supply chains that you do in any fashion factory, but then looking at the research (which, there isn’t much) into LGBT garment workers.
What I found is that it’s a lot harder for LGBT garment workers to fight for their rights and to try and get better working conditions. That’s because not only are they fighting against an oppressive system within work, but they’re also fighting against oppressive systems with their gender or sexuality.
Often these clothes are made in countries with anti-gay laws and anti-trans laws. It felt very hypocritical for these brands to say ‘yay we care about pride, we care about all of these people’ and even some charities who are supported by these brands, yet they’re using sweatshop labour in homophobic countries to make these pride themed clothes.
It just doesn’t match up and it’s a big slap in the face to the garment workers. I wanted to create my campaign around this.
Thanks to your blog, I recently bought the ‘Use your Voice’ Levis denim jacket.
I’d seen it at a BLM protest and didn’t know which brand it was, then I looked into it and where the proceeds go (100% to OutRight Action International) and was like, yup I need this for my wardrobe.
I did however check them on the ‘good on you’ site (thanks for this heads up from our staff writer Emily Kemp), and there is a lot more that they need to do for both the environment and their workers.
Izzy: Even some sustainable and ethical brands need to do more. It’s tricky because you can only do so much. It’s really frustrating. Especially when you need new underwear and I just thought ‘I’m gonna wait till everything breaks because I don’t want to have to think about it.’
You have to go through this whole process of what’s ethical and sustainable as possible! At a certain point it’s so exhausting.
Lucy -Yes totally! I love shopping but am always asking the question of how can I be more responsible with my purchases. I am a big fan of ASOS (I know I know it’s not the best). But they do have some sustainable lines, just it’s a question of researching them a bit more.
It’s a constant cycle of researching before purchasing.
Izzy: That’s what I aim to do with my website. It’s that research so people don’t have to trawl through lots of research themselves. I am probably going to write about ASOS soon as when all the stuff about Boohoo came out, they dropped them immediately. Despite this being common knowledge for a while now.
It’s very much to save face.
Q. You said you want your website to be a go to for checking the brand’s ethicalness and a good research source. What’s your ticklist for brands for what makes a brand ethical?
Izzy: It really depends on the brand, and I have different criteria for different things.
For example makeup – it’s hard to find sustainable brands in the UK that are ethically sourcing their ingredients.
MIKA – is generally sourced from slave and child labour. So that’s something to look out for. Then you also have to look out for things like shade ranges.
Trying to find a UK brand that is natural, sustainable and the packaging is good but they also have more than just 5 white shades and use diverse models. There’s a huge tick list, but I do tend to scale depending on what I’m looking for.
Generally my go to is:
Do they have info on their website about who’s making their clothes not just ‘we are committed to making a difference’ but do they audit their factories?
Are they showing me that they care about their staff?
Is there information I can see on their website about where their clothes are made and who’s making them?
Sustainability wise it’s just looking for their sustainability statement (which lots of brands have) but there’s certain things to look out for.
You can tell when words are words, but key things to look out for are:
- How they manage their waste
- Where their energy is coming from
- Materials they use
- Recycled collections (especially with big brands, it’s not sustainable if you have thousands of other collections out)
- Brands that are doing things slowly
- Smaller brands too
- Brand that aren’t bringing out 1,000s of new clothing items per day
- Smaller collections – more timeless pieces
Lucy: Yeah just a few things then? It’s all about balance and weighing it up. I’m a big fan of LUSH too and their pots which you can clean out and return once you have 5 and get a free face mask. But on the other hand, their spray bottles aren’t fully recyclable… so it’s not always perfect.
I’ve been looking more for smaller brands, especially during a pandemic and you want to try to support them too.
Izzy: Oh one other thing I forgot to mention is size range. Although I can shop almost anywhere, if they’re not at least going past a XXL or at least looking to, I ask them why. That’s also why I like shopping at smaller brands as they do custom sizing so it’s more inclusive.
You can’t make sustainable and ethical fashion a reality a reality of everyone, if it’s not accessible for everyone.
There’s a lot, even with the models brands use to show their clothes. It’s great you cater to different sizes, but let your models reflect that too. I’ve gotten used to calculating these things.
Q. How did the campaign go? Are people still using your templates to challenge brands?
Izzy: I think because of the timing of it – it was supposed to launch on June 1st – but because of BLM I postponed it. I think that there wasn’t much attention on what I was doing, and rightfully so. The attention was on BLM.
It didn’t have the impact I was originally intending, but I did have people using the hashtag and people asking me questions. It is going to carry on next year too though.
I found it really interesting that I reached out to a lot of publications and other bloggers – some came back to me and wanted to get involved, Fashion Revolution wanted me to write for them but we’re keeping that for next year now.
A couple of publications and one or two charities but then ghosted me. Then I saw they had their own Pride range out. All working with these brands. So I was like “ahh you were interested until you had a look and thought I don’t wanna put my foot in it!”
I think next year I’m going to focus on charities as well as big brands next year. I know charities have to make ranges to raise money for LGBT communities but I want to make sure they’re caring about the garment workers too.
Lucy: So at UNICORN we have our own merch range too, which we made sure was as environmentally sound as possible!
Q. How can people get involved to help make a difference?
Izzy: There are a lot of different things.
Start small. Start with something you’re interested in, it could be something like ‘Who made my pride merch?’ and looking at who is making your clothes and making a personal change.
Or looking online for an online or local activist group I recommend intersectional environmentalists. They launched recently and they have a whole page about LGBT environmentalism and how a lot of that is interlinked.
Also pages that are basically about justice is justice which cover things such as BLM, latinas lives etc they’re a good resource.
Find something that you’re interested in and can help make a difference and go from there.
Q. For our fellow UNICORNs who are just getting aboard the eco train, what would be your top tips for starting out on their sustainable life journey?
- Look at things you’re interested in
- Start small
- Look at one thing – it can be easy to get overwhelmed. I still get overwhelmed and guilt myself for not doing enough.
It’s important to remember we live in a system that’s designed for overconsumption and exploitation and was built on slavery and exploitation. There’s only so much you can do with individual action within that system, so that’s where activism and calling on industry and governments to do better comes in.
It gets frustrating, but if you can get involved in community activism or online activism it can help reach your individual action a bit further.
It’s easy to get frustrated when you think what else can you do and you feel like the world is against you – because in some ways it is. But finding a community whether that’s online or in person who are also frustrated and angry at the world, that can help.
Thanks so much for chatting with us Izzy, we can’t wait to see what you do next!
Editor’s note: The viewpoints expressed in this article are of the interviewer and the subject of the article.
They / Them | Environmentalist
Izzy was interviewed by Lucy Everett