We had questions for virtue + vice, a designer of eyecatching summer-y dresses, skirts, tanks and caftans. Founder Melanie DiSalvo chatted with us about starting the women’s clothing brand to help consumers connect the dots about fast fashion, eco-consciousness, global community, and uniquely gorgeous clothing. It’s safe to say that we’re now pretty much obsessed.
Trend Alert: She turned us on to an incredible artisan material that’s used to make some the clothes by virtue + vice.
What was the inspiration for starting virtue + vice? I have been working in the fast fashion industry for over 6 years and I have seen and heard my fair share of horror stories. I just had enough. I started searching for eco-friendly brands to work for, and I realized that a lot of them were the same old thing, but with greenwashing marketing. I decided to not only go out and do my own thing, but to educate customers on how things are made and the questions to ask so they can see through the B.S. themselves.
How did you become expert in sustainable clothing? I think what I really am is an expert in fast fashion with a passion for sustainability. I think it’s important to know how the system works if you want to break it. And knowing the ins and outs has made creating this brand a lot easier. I know every trick and loophole in the book, and what to look for and ask for.
What makes a clothing brand sustainable or ethical? Sustainable and ethical are two different things. Sustainability has to do with the environmental implications of making these clothes. Ethics is: Who are the people making the clothes, how are they affected, how are the local communities affected?
In my opinion, sustainable clothes should be made with the lowest impact possible, with renewable organic resources, in systems that don’t deplete or damage the earth, and in factories that do not dump tons of toxic waste into the local water supplies and soil. Ethical clothes should be made by people who receive fair wages, in safe working environments, in factories that give back to the local people and communities they are a part of, without exploiting them.
Tell us about the latest virtue + vice collection. What’s the story? Our spring/summer 17 line is designed for warm weather travel. The pieces are meant to be comfortable, easy to care for, and can transition from day to night. Like the Laney wrap skirt, pair it with a bathing suit for a day at the beach and then throw on a top and heels and you are ready for even the fanciest restaurant.
Tell us all the reasons why Khadi fabric is awesome to wear. I LOVE KHADI. It is the most sustainable fabric out there. We can break it down into sustainable and ethical.
Sustainably speaking, it’s handspun and handwoven—so no electricity or water are used in the process. The cotton is sourced from small local farmers, maintaining a low environmental impact. Then you have the ethical component: By replacing one machine, you create 100 jobs in communities where jobs are hard to find. Khadi is sustainable, ethical and has a really unique look that machines will never be able to replicate.
How do you combine traditional ages-old methods and modern technology to produce virtue + vice clothing? We start with Khadi and then we digitally print on it. You can‘t get any more original than Khadi, and digital printing is pretty new to the industry. It’s basically like a giant desk printer that prints on fabric instead of paper. It uses a lot less electricity and water, and has very low air emissions. So by combining the two you get a sustainably superior product
In your experience, do American consumers struggle with any aspects in particular when it comes to sustainable clothing? I think consumers don’t know enough about the process of how clothes are made and companies are taking advantage. Simply labeling something as “transparent,” “sustainable” or even “organic” means nothing if there is no proof.
There is no regulation on organic cotton. For example, an organic cotton shirt could only be 10% organic. I can’t tell you how many companies I see calling themselves transparent, and they only show a picture of a factory. Where are your yarns coming from, your fabrics, your tags and labels? Where do your fabric suppliers buy their dye? It’s great that you don’t make your clothes in a sweat shop, but what about the rest of the supply chain?
What advice do you offer to consumers who want to be a part of the conversation to change how clothes are made? Ask companies questions publicly. Take to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and ask them how your clothes are made. If they can’t answer, chances are there is something to hide.
What’s next? Where do you want to take virtue + vice in the next few years? I would like to expand our product line into men’s and childrenswear.