Ethical Fashion Made Accessible: An Interview with Mod + Ethico Owner & Curator Candice Collison
Candice Collison is a woman with a mission, a brand with a story and a business with a heart. After being inspired to make responsible fashion more accessible to consumers, she created her eCommerce business of Sewn, a store focusing on fashion that’s fair-trade, sustainable and American made. Since then she has opened a brick and mortar store in Chicago’s West Loop, Mod + Ethico, making the shopping experience as enlightening as it is stylish.
High Fashion Living: What was your primary focus when first opening Mod + Ethico?
Candice Collison: When I first started my e-commerce store I was focused on American made. I wasn’t as focused on sustainability- I mean inherently being made in the US there are stricter standards than something produced in China for example. But as I started defining who we are I started thinking not just about being American made, are they using their own fabrics, are they even closer to being a full supply chain. I’ve been saying yes to more brands that are running their own supply chain from end to end, knitting, dying, owning the raw materials through to production. And if they also are charitable and donate their proceeds in some way, that’s even better – These days I’m looking for a bit more, I’m not just looking for something cute and made in the U.S. I’m looking for more of a story behind a brand and really strong core values.
High Fashion Living: How did your story start with this store?
Candice Collison: Oh gosh, it’s a little round about. So I said I started e-commerce first and started with American made, and part of that goes back to my heritage. So I’m from like a very working class family, the first person to go to college, I got my MBA from Kellogg, I worked for Facebook and Google, just so different from my family. I come from really meek beginnings, my dad’s a carpenter, my brother’s an electrician, they work with their hands so just the American manufacturing industry started diminishing and I started noticing it young. No, my family wasn’t in manufacturing, but it’s still in that vein of craftsmanship and people working with their hands.
High Fashion Living: What then finally pushed you to open your own store?
Candice Collison: My mom was the manager of a little retail store, and I worked there when I was young so just being really close to retail and craftsmanship was at the core of how I grew up and it influenced me to open up my e-commerce shop, I worked for The North Face and knew I loved fashion and that I wanted to open up something of my own at some point, and I found myself over the past years becoming increasingly frustrated with fast-fashion, not even to the awareness level that I have today. The cache is all about the brand, the quality is diminishing, and I’m still paying almost designer prices. Something that maybe used to be made in the US but is now made in China and I’m still paying the same price. The company is taking all the profit, and the workers are being marginalized. With social media making fashion more accessible its sped up the whole process of fashion. The editorial cycle was longer, but now you go to fashion week, and people are snapping pictures of the runway, and it puts pressure on the fast-fashion industry, and that trickles down to the brands putting pressure on the workers and the assembly line, they feel like a cog in a machine and it’s really sad. So all of this inspired me to even think beyond the American-made movement and to try to tackle something that’s a little bit more complex, and even in a small way like opening a boutique and standing for something and giving people options that are just better.
High Fashion Living: When it comes to picking your designers/brands, where does that process start?
Candice Collison: I have several means, a lot of designers are reaching out to me on Instagram, that’s how I met Suki + Solaine, and also some of the showrooms I’ve been working with, one of their brands will carry organic, or American made brands, brands that are quite similar, so that way. Then, just based on brands that I curate, I think that’s how a lot of them find me. I haven’t been actively seeking brands for a few months. Most of the designers that I sell come to me and say, “hey we really like what you’re doing, we think we fit really well into your aesthetic as well as your mission and values.”
High Fashion Living: Are all of the brands you carry made in the United States?
Candice Collison: I will do some international brands, if I am going to source something that’s international, it has to meet several of the criteria that I look for: sustainable fabrics, ethical treatment of workers, fair trade certifications as well as the aesthetic. Lately, when I’ve been approached it’s been made in the US
American made is really what you started building Mod + Ethico around, what was the next important issue for you?
Candice Collison: For me, it’s really the ethical treatment of workers and being environmentally safe. Part of it was like the assembly line scenario that I touched on, but it’s hairy, there are so many different aspects of ethical fashion- from non-organic cotton and then pesticides that leach into the drinking water of people, to the speed to market and the pressure that puts on people to work longer hours and to meet the demands of the brand, it puts the workers in dangerous conditions. Then there’s the whole aspect that we haven’t mentioned of child labor, that’s something that’s an evil I don’t this people talk about anymore.
High Fashion Living: What do you want more shoppers to know about fast-fashion?
I understand this is a habit [fast-fashion] and a trend that won’t be gone overnight but to just have people be more aware of it and shoppers be more mindful about how they’re consuming, that’s something that’s huge for me. The carbon footprint of fast-fashion is huge; most Americans wear a garment less than five times before it’s tossed or donated. So it’s all that, again, the waste and the water, the pressure on workers that that creates just so someone can wear that item 5 times, and then it goes into a landfill, all these steps are detrimental.
High Fashion Living: How would you describe the overall aesthetic you try to curate within your shop?
I look for things that balance structure, comfort, style and can be versatile with in your wardrobe. I want to be giving longevity to our garments, and they should be made to stand the test of time. I want that in my store, I want the items people buy in my store to be staples that are in their closet for a long time. I think that goes with my aesthetic too; it’s modern and urban and stylish- there is an element of ath-lesiure to the clothes I sell, and that’s because I want people to want to wear it regularly, I want clean pieces that can be worn a variety of ways. I want pieces that are super stylish but that you’re going to want to live in.
High Fashion Living: How would you define the difference between style and fashion?
Candice Collison: Style I would say is really personal, style can be anything. Style is pretty timeless and kind of like your personal brand. Style is a reflection of your creativity. When I think of fashion I kind of think more of the industry, of all of the components to it and it feels more like just the compilation of trends and business side and it feels more large scale, that changes over time whereas style is more timeless and personal.
After having the amazing opportunity to sit down with the inspirational Candice Collison, I realized we only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as responsible fashion goes. Being mindful while being stylish seems overwhelming to most shoppers. Because of the depth and importance of this topic, we are inviting you, the readers, to stay tuned for a series of three upcoming articles. The purpose of these follow-up articles is to inform consumers about Ethical Fashion better and to help shoppers be mindful by providing shops, brands, and tips to style more responsibly. Stay tuned at High Fashion Living!
By Kit Royce