“It’s about progress, not perfection.”
Raise your hand if you agree with this statement.
(My hand is raised).
Okay you can put your hand down now.
I used this exercise to make a point: if progress is in itself a positive measure, why do we judge fashion brands harshly when it tries to make changes for the better? Shouldn’t we give brands who are trying to do make positive changes in their business more credit, even if they still have a long way to go?
This was on my mind when Tyler Clinton, founder of e-commerce website YOUWE got in touch. YOUWE stands for You Get, We Give, Together. His e-commerce website site focusses on selling responsibly-made products whilst donating 10 percent of profits to a charity of your choosing.
“We are a company that focuses on getting the community involved with thinking differently about product purchases. The products that we sell have stories that already exist by either being handmade, empowering women and men that are at risk in 3rd world countries, products that help a certain charity or cause, or the product is ethically made. Each product has its own story. YOUWE’s goal is to further that story by allowing the consumer to choose a cause where a portion (10%) of the profits is donated to. This allows the story to live on and it connects the consumer with charities that are doing amazing things.”
However something bugged me about YOUWE and I knew what it was the moment I read the About Us – the business lacked a focus on eco-friendliness, something I believe is central to ethical fashion. Here’s an example of t-shirt description on a product page:
I zeroed in on the 100% cotton. I wondered, why not organic? So of course, I brought it up with Tyler:
“I noticed that some of your garments are 100% cotton and not organic. Others use acrylic etc.
So my questions (as I am a writer too and am fully transparent with my audience):
Is there a method in the way you have chosen the items? Have you considered sustainability in your item choices? Are you considering improving on your production methods to include organic cotton and other more eco-friendly options etc.”
Now when I saw American Apparel in his response, my first reaction was oh no no no no no not American Apparel. But then I thought about it some more and decided that I shouldn’t focus on the negative but on the positive: that he liked the idea of being sustainable and would switch over!
But didn’t we agree that it’s about progress, not perfection, right?
So why should I discount Tyler’s willingness to make improvements just because I have concerns around American Apparel’s lack of supply chain transparency? Kudos to Tyler for at least recognising the important of sustainability and acting so quickly in bringing organic cotton into his product offerings.
And then exactly four days later, I received this email:
And when I received this email I did a little fist pump to myself because this is why I do what I do: to affect positive change.
We weren’t born perfect and we weren’t born knowing everything.
I myself wasn’t always an ethical fashion advocate. It was only in 2008 when I went to visit factories in China in the hopes of starting my own fashion label that I had my own “enlightenment”. The experience is what changed my fashion trajectory from one consumed by fast fashion and trends, to a more mindful one. It is because of that experience that Eco Warrior Princess exists.
And while I choose to help brands who meet high ethical standards, I’m willing to help brands who are willing to help themselves too. And that’s why I agreed to feature YouWe. Plus I checked their website and they are now offering nearly all their tees in organic fine jersey. Great work Tyler!
5 Minutes with Tyler Clinton, founder of YouWe
Founder Tyler Clinton grew up in church and spent some summers in Mexico helping a community build and repair structures. Seeing those less fortunate is what initiated his passion to give back. Since Tyler loves story-telling, we thought we’d give him an opportunity to tell his.
What inspired the idea behind YOUWE?
For the last 6 years I noticed that there has been a trend of products that are cause related. Tom’s shoes being a widely popular brand that pretty much started the trend then followed by Warby Parker and then a handful of other brands. Now we see this being a normal thing, which is pretty generous and really cool to see. I noticed that they only donate to one certain cause. But what if the consumer wasn’t interested in that cause or what if they were more passionate about another cause? I saw a gap and I wanted to connect brands with causes. This sparked the idea to curate these types of products in one place. As you donate to causes, we are creating an even bigger story.
How are you incorporating ethical elements into your brand?
YOUWE only selects products that are eco-friendly and/or ethically made and/or that already supports a cause by the brand. Every product that YOUWE sells has a story with one or more of these elements. Products that empower and employ at-risk women, products that create jobs in 3rd world countries. Products that have recycled and/or up-cycled elements. Products that are sourced from organic materials. Products that are handmade. Products that fall within fair-trade guidelines.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
YOUWE will carry more products ranging from baby to adult wear, home goods and cosmetic. YOUWE also plans on implementing web tools to track your giving and stories from the products that were purchased though YOUWE.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through your ethical fashion start-up/entrepreneurial journey?
There are a lot of cool and amazing products out there that YOUWE would love to be apart of and to put on our shelves. But when you look deeper into the product some aspects don’t fit the model and beliefs that YOUWE has. Finding the correct product has been a challenge.
What advice would you give to people who are looking to shop ethical fashion?
To really know your brand and what it means to them. Understand where it came from and what good it is doing in our world. In YOUWE’s framework, we are all about the story of the product. From how it was made – the purchase by the consumer – to the cause that was donated to. If the consumer really understands the story and cause that they donated to, YOUWE is a full believer that the story will live on by allowing others to follow in the same way. We believe that we can help our world by the things we do every day… shop.
Tyler Clinton lives in Washington State with his wife and two boys. He hopes to involve his kids and teach them to run a business that benefits and gives back to others. To learn more about Tyler and YOUWE, head to www.youwe.org