Meet Willa Stoutenbeek, founder of W.Green, a branded communication agency focused on sustainable fashion & lifestyle. In 2013, I saw her on stage at TEDxAMSWomen. Her rallying cry to clean up the fashion industry by changing our own shopping behavior really resonated with me. “Just because we’re not willing to pay more for the clothes we buy, doesn’t mean no one else pays the price.” Just ahead of the 2016 TEDxAMSWomen edition, I sought her out for an interview. Over breakfast, we talked about food, fashion and consciousness.
Inspiring a higher level of consciousness
“A sustainable future is one where people make conscious decisions, a world in which everyone realizes what they do – and do not – contribute. Today, most people are not aware of their impacts, they are mostly ruled by the industries in their lives. To create awareness and consciousness, we need a new, inspiring kind of activism that resonates. That inspires people to make better decisions rather than limiting their choices or telling them what to do.
For most people, that expanded consciousness starts with food. She feels this is a natural starting point, as we put food into our body. Some then progress to add cosmetics, the things we put on our body. But hardly any really think about the clothes we put on our body, the outer shell we use to convey so much about ourselves. That seems to be much more difficult to oversee, so we just don’t try at all.
Do more with less
For fashion, change starts with a hard look in the mirror. As a consumer, we can do so much more with less. There’s actually an entire movement, urging people to reduce their wardrobe to 30 pieces or less per season. It’s much better to have a comprehensive, well-coordinated set of high quality, sustainable clothes, than a closet full of fast fashion, including many items you’ll hardly ever wear. Doing more with less isn’t just better for the planet, it also makes it much easier to get dressed in the morning!
Beyond the treehuggers
Many entrepreneurs have started to create more sustainable clothing. Their initial target group consisted of treehuggers and other converts aware of the issues in the fashion industry. These consumers of more sustainable fashion already know – and worry – about many of the terrible working conditions and environmental threats in the complex supply chain for the fashion industry.
For sustainable fashion to become mainstream, it will have to reach a much larger audience and this will require change from within the industry. There certainly is a growing level of consciousness within people in the fashion industry, but this is often overshadowed by a feeling of inability to create real change. The term fast fashion doesn’t just apply to the pace of buying and disposing clothes, it also applies to the frantic pace of work to get from one collection to the next. The issues in the supply chain are of concern to the sensitive creatives designing our clothes. There simply isn’t enough time to reflect, let alone to innovate and act to drive positive change within the industry.
Also, I strongly believe we need more fashion in sustainable fashion. What I mean is, a bigger offering of aesthetically interesting clothes that people really want to wear. At W.Green, we’re therefore always in search of a great balance between ethics and aesthetics.
Innovation for a better future
Most innovation will therefore continue to come from small scale initiatives from outside the established industry. As such that’s not an issue, but it is often a barrier for larger clothing companies to adopt or copy such innovative ideas, as the industry and the outsiders simply don’t speak the same language. The realities of scale and the complexity of the supply chain are simply too different, requiring bridge builders to translate, co-creation, collaboration and hard work by many to achieve success.”
With a background in fashion and a strong conviction that change is needed, Willa is clearly well-positioned to be one of the bridge builders that helps the industry change from within. In her own life, Willa is looking to innovate and drive change as well. Despite very long hours put in every day, she has more ideas than she has time; ideas like setting up a W.Green branch in Berlin or developing an entirely new department store concept. She uses meditation and yoga to balance her busy live. And at the same time, she’s is looking for ways to make W.Green more self-sustaining. So she can create and seek out more new innovative adventures herself.
Interview by Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis) for Change in Context. To read about other interesting people, book reviews and other posts about change, communications and sustainability, please subscribe.
Photos of Willa by Elle and W.Green.