The New Fashion Initiative launched in January of 2019 to help propel sustainable fashion forward through civic engagement, activism, education, and policy. Spearheading this new nonprofit is executive director Lauren Fay, whose unique background in media, community organizing, and business development consulting brought her full circle back around to a lifelong love of fashion. Blog editor Elizabeth Cline talks to Fay about what the organization has planned.
Tell us about The New Fashion Initiative and what inspired you to launch it.
The New Fashion Initiative is an education non-profit that raises awareness about the environmental and social impacts of the clothing industry. It is an outgrowth of the work that I did last year as the Country Coordinator for Fashion Revolution USA. While helping to produce almost 80 events and build their community of volunteers to 50 plus nationally, I saw was needed in the US. More than a social media platform, I wanted to create educational programming and a policy initiatives. One of the most important metrics of our success is collaboration. Every project that we launch is with at least one other non-profit partner. I believe we go further, faster, together.
Fashion has always been a love of mine and designers have been my rockstars. I still pour over magazines, read biographies, drool over coffee table books of my favorite fashion houses and individuals. And I believe that #lovedclotheslast and we need to #loveclotheslonger. I have been vintage-shopping since the age of 12, still have the first-ever piece that I bought (a beautiful purse). I worked at at a vintage boutique throughout college, and still love playing dress up with people. When I graduated, my first job was for Cosmopolitan and later, I started the first bilingual Latino lifestyle magazine in the US, A-List Magazine, with friends in San Diego. I have worked as a stylist, a personal shopper, a closet-organizer–you name it.
Unfortunately, I disliked just as much about the fashion industry as I loved: the worker exploitation in supply chains, fast fashion’s theft of ideas and designs, the lack of inclusivity/POC in the ranks. Over three years ago, I decided to return to fashion—and push for the change that I wanted to see. I was inspired by people around me who worked for the betterment of people and planet–my husband who works for a AIDS-vaccine non-profit, and my good friend Gaelin Rosenwaks, who is a badass marine biologist/explorer,
With so many issues facing humanity, why focus on sustainable fashion?
For so many reasons—firstly because how we make and use clothing touches all of the important issues of our time. Fashion touches on labor rights, human rights, women’s rights, sexual abuse and harassment, racial inclusion, overconsumption, water access and usage, and all forms of pollution including chemical, microfibers, deforestation.
And because fashion is also beautiful, creative art. I love working in this field with these creative souls that I have revered my whole life. I thought I could do the most good in the world working in the industry that I love.
What are you most hopeful about when it comes to fashion and the environment?
I love seeing the growing acceptance of second-hand clothing and the shared economy. Not just the success of TheRealReal, thredUP and Rent the Runway but in the current cultural zeitgeist. I always loved shopping with my older sister because I would think, that will be mine in a few years! I love wearing clothing that tells multiple stories.
What is really needed is to extend the lifecycle of clothing that has already been made. And slow down the overall volume of clothing being produced.
What’s the key to getting more people aware of the issues?
I think the key is to engaging people offline as well as online. Elementary and college curriculum, information-sharing forums, community-building, policy initiatives– these will create the needed shift in US society.
What can we expect from TNFI and what upcoming projects are excited about that you can share with us?
We are collaborating with GoodStuffNYC, founded by FixUp. The event will be a circularity-focused pop-up in the South Street Seaport this summer. Look for another really excited project with Eileen Fisher in the fall. And follow us on social media [Instagram | Facebook] to hear about things as we launch them.
Now for the fun part: Favorite item of clothing, favorite designer, movie with the best clothes, favorite book on fashion?
My favorite item of clothing: I have a pair of brown Frye motorcycle boots that I bought with babysitting money when I was 14. It’s been 25 years and a couple of resoles later—and they are still my favorites.
Favorite movie with good clothes: I am a sucker for the Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies. Ginger’s dresses while dancing…I love the Old Hollywood look, even though it’s not my personal aesthetic.
Favorite book about fashion: Overdressed. It inspired me to go back to school at FIT and start working with Fashion Revolution. I am lucky and honored that Elizabeth is one of our advisory board members. And she is helping us get started as the editor of the blog.