A Deliberate Path to a Career in Sustainable Fashion with Jancy Quinn
Ichecked in with Jancy Quinn last Wednesday from my quarantine spot in Seattle, Washington. She relocated to her vacation home in Truckee, California with her boyfriend just before the stay at home order was issued to ride out the quarantine period in a pretty picturesque and tranquil spot. As her hobbies and routines have been upended, like everyone else’s, she’s created a new routine:
“I try and start each day with meditation or yoga, try to take a shower! I’m trying to keep things fun and fresh with cooking, movies, and going for walks. Also trying to avoid the news as much as I can. The biggest thing I can do is maintain habits and routines so I can just keep going.”
Similar to me, Jancy has noticed that she is having more meaningful FaceTime conversations with friends and family than she has had in years, “For the last decade everyone’s default has been “I’m busy” and now I am really enjoy connecting with people.”
Destined to craft indoors and camp outdoors
Jancy Quinn has spent the last 5 years crafting her own career path as a consultant for small and large retail brands and companies on how to implement more sustainable strategies. 8 years ago, a viewing of the documentary, True Cost, about the inner-workings of the fashion industry and its disastrous impact on societies and the environment, changed her course forever. Since then she has made it her life’s mission to bring together her two true passions: fashion and design and a commitment to environmental stewardship.
“I’ve always had this wild, magnetic attraction to fashion. I think it’s the self-expression and beauty of it. On the one side I was a lifelong sewer and craftsperson with a love for fashion. But on the other side I’ve been a lifelong environmentalist. I grew up in the Midwest, hiked and camped for every vacation as a kid. What I didn’t realize was that these two sides to myself were actually in massive conflict with one another. A love of fashion and trends and my love for the outdoors and nature.”
Her introduction to sewing and crafting came even before she was born; sewing and an interest in fabrics was built in her DNA. Both her grandmothers and mother were expert seamstresses, one grandmother started a small knitwear line while the other ran a large fabric store in Southern California. At the ripe young age of 8 Jancy first started sewing her own clothing and toys, “I made aprons from vintage curtains, started a jewelry line that I would put together from estate sales. I’ve always been a craftsperson.”
Creating your own Sustainable Fashion Master’s Degree
After her True Cost pivotal moment, she made a lot of changes, quickly. “I tried everything, I tried rental, consignment, clothing swaps, and even challenged my friends to buy no new clothes for 9 months.” And she succeeded, although she allowed herself the luxury of new underwear and running shoes.
Out of this she has crafted a career for herself in the past 5 years at the intersection of fashion, design and sustainable apparel. With her experience in marketing she started a social media presence under the account It Matters Wear to “simply be a part of the online conversation” and celebrate brands and businesses doing good things in the space.
Jancy’s devotion to sustainable apparel is palpable and not just a lot of talk. She made swift and deliberate actions to educate herself by pursuing online degrees (from NYU), shadowing companies and organizations she respected and admired such as The Renewal Workshop in Oregon, and has volunteered her time to consult for companies. And she recently started a podcast, Pulling the Threads, with the goal of having conversations that inspire us to simply learn more about our clothes.
“I feel like I am creating my own Masters in Sustainability”
Her advice for those looking to make a career in sustainable fashion and for younger students interested in the space largely comes down to getting your hands dirty and following your curiosity. She caveats that, if you’re specifically interested in material science and chemical makeup of fibers, then that likely requires a master’s degree from an accredited 4-year program. That’s a very clear path. But the rest is quite open and requires a lot of trial and curiosity. “There’s a lot of information out there, brands provide a lot of information and you just need to roll your sleeves up,” states Jancy.
Consumers are changing, but slowly
Jancy notes that people, like her and me, who were previously heavy shoppers have definitely shifted and are looking for more information and options.
Consumers are also starting to demand more sustainable options. She gives credit to millennials who are asking and putting their money with their mouth is, even if they were the generation to propel the Forever21 boom. Brands and the industry are starting to follow.
“Sustainable fashion means beautiful things without harm.”
She indicates that there is a long way to go in the industry and that some of the solutions may not be solving the underline problem of overproduction and insatiable consumption habits. “When I discovered rental, I thought that was the answer to all the problems but then, when I started factoring in all the shipping and dry cleaning, it stopped making as much sense.” It is still perpetuating a need for newness and the “buy now” sensation of the past 15 years.
I challenged her to think about what utopia would look like. If there are no trends and fun fashion-y things in a more sustainable fashion landscape, won’t it all look very boring? But she strongly believes that the art of crafting and self-expression will never die, “It will be about making that uniform your own.”
The winners will have sustainability in their DNA. It will be authentic.
Looking to the industry, she admires Eileen Fisher, who has embedded sustainability and thoughtful design into their DNA since day one. She also is excited about small brands like Elizabeth Suzann, who designs and produces locally in Nashville, Tennessee. As consumers become more thoughtful and deliberate, they are only supporting businesses who are being thoughtful about their business end-to-end. She’s also excited about Public Habit and our commitment to only make what we sell as an important step to tackling the textile waste rampant in the industry. For brands, it’s now the cost of doing business and they have to be thinking about their impact and the environment in their business models.
How do we make sustainability more accessible and mainstream?
The question that keeps us up at night at Public Habit is about sustainability and accessibility. How does it become mainstream if it’s all priced up to 30% higher than generic clothing? Jancy states without skipping a beat that first off, we shouldn’t be able to buy clothing for $7. “That is a problem that we have created a norm for a fashion item to cost the same as a can of soup.”
Her conclusion is that the conversation needs to change and will change as more and more influencers and brands start talking about the importance of sustainability. It will be a slow shift since we need to ask customers to change their behavior and start to recognize that one good, well-made item costs the same as 10 poorly made items and will last much, much longer.
Finding hope amidst the pandemic for a more connected world
Contextualizing this moment we are in with a global pandemic changing the course of history as we know it, Jancy is optimistic. Everyone she knows is questioning their habits and will reevaluate what matters, the longer this goes on.
“Do we need abundance or do we actually have enough?”
There is a sense of global connectedness because of the pandemic and she is hopeful that we can all be more considerate towards each other and the planet. There is unlimited opportunity to make positive changes. Plus, “I have to be optimistic, what’s the alternative?”
If you have any questions or comments related to this post, or think we missed something important, please comment below or send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to reach Jancy for a consulting project or just to say hi, she can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @itmatterswear.
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