Meet Garik Himebaugh: The Eco-StylistWritten by Adela Cardona
If you’ve ever wondered how to make an impact with everyday habits, Garik Himebaugh –founder of the resource for ethically made fashion Eco-Stylist – has you covered in regards to your wardrobe. With services such as a directory of vetted ethical brands, sustainable personal stylising sessions and ethical guides, his company is here to make it easy for you to “dress like you give a damn.”
As a punk kid, Garik’s rebellious streak manifested in listening to music that spoke about peace as a radical way to fix issues in a world used to war. Now, by choosing to promote ethical fashion, he’s sending a radical message to his audience: style and joy go together with climate and social justice.
We recently chatted with him to go deeper into what ethically made fashion means to him, what the Eco-Stylist is all about and what we can do as citizens and brands to do good while looking good.
Disclosure: sensing a great symmetry between Beckett Simonon and Eco-Stylist, and having undergone a strict certification evaluation, we are now one of the brands on their directory and will be doing ongoing collaborations, stay tuned.
Now, to the interview...
Why did you create the Eco-Stylist and how did it become what it is today?
The current version of what Eco-Stylist is, a place to make it easy for all people to dress like they give a damn, began as a way to bring men into the conversation around ethical fashion choices. And before that it was an even different idea.
Four-five years ago, the very first version of what later became Eco-Stylist, was a styling chatbot for men and at the time we were recommending general choices like ASOS or Amazon. Until I met an ethical brand in Boston that was focused on living wages. It inspired me to think about social impact through providing good jobs that were paid fairly. With that in mind, we retooled the bot to recommend ethical brands, but we later threw it out because we were not seeing the customer experience people hoped for. On the other hand people were asking really interesting questions: they wanted to know how we researched brands, what made a brand ethical, we listened to them and that’s how we got to where we are now.
Essentially what the Eco-Stylist is, is a resource for everyone, not just men, for sustainable fashion. Depending on how much money and time you have, you can either access the free resources, like the directory where you can see brands that are researched and why. But if you want everything to be taken care of for you, then you can choose our personal styling service. And if you are in the middle, this is why we have all these guides for ethical fashion on the blog. Because if we want sustainable fashion to be the norm, our work is to make it easier for people to find it.
How would you describe the Eco-Stylist’s approach to ethical fashion?
For us it’s all about that marker of where we want brands to be in order to make an impact. It is definitely future looking, which is why we have created a system of tiers of certification and three pillars that sustain it.
Our definition of ethical fashion concerns both people and the planet. We don’t think you should look at it in a one dimensional way.
Transparency is one of the three pillars because it is kind of a first step, you can’t do anything without transparency in fashion. Because all the exploitation in this system happens in the dark. The mistake people tend to make, however, is thinking that there is overlap between being transparent and being sustainable. Just because you are transparent does not mean you are doing the rest of the work.
Then we consider what brands are doing with their factories, with people, in terms of fair wages and conditions. The more progressive side of this is doing things like allowing or encouraging unions and cooperatives; as well as giving back to the communities where they make their clothes.
And for the third pillar, sustainability, it is all about reducing environmental impact. Do they have sustainability goals? Are they measuring CO2 or water waste? Do they have programs for circularity, repair their clothes for free or offer repair services? Do they promote slow consumption?
This is what we imagine sustainability should mean. We think it should include people and not only refer to the environment. Just because something is made from recycled fabric it does not mean it's ethical.
Customers don’t usually understand what people have to do with the planet. And it is not just about injustice to people, but also about who those people are, and where they are located. That’s where it gets really problematic because if you live in a first world country, you don’t think about the people who are in Bangladesh making sweatshop labor, they are on the other side of the world being exploited. We exported the issues we had here. And we need to reconnect with those people, think of them as our neighbors.
From your experience at Eco-Stylist, do you see men in the US being more interested in these issues? What issues are they more concerned about?
Ethics is pretty important to a lot of them. The primary concern we get is: “I wanna know that my clothes weren’t made in a sweatshop or that the people that made my clothes were paid fairly.”
The second one would be: “I wanna know that it was made in a more environmentally conscious way, I wanna know how it was made.”
What can people do, as citizens, to make an impact?
For an individual I would say: any action is good. Even just following accounts, sharing content around social or environmental issues. You don’t have to do everything. Just doing whatever is most aligned with you is enough and that is critical. Because it can be overwhelming. Individuals don’t need to think about all these moving pieces. If you really like a sustainable brand or thrifting is your thing, that’s great.
The other debate that I see that sometimes ends up being destructive is activism pinned against individual impact. And in any social change individual impact has always been there: it builds momentum. If you find yourself in that debate, know that it is not either or: you can do both. And if you only have time for one, cool. If you are in the US, calling your congressperson to ask them to pass a climate bill or you are lobbying for a local climate bill, these are all good things and they can supplement each other.
Just find what makes sense for you and don’t get overwhelmed. It all matters.
What can the rest of us who work in brands, government, non profits, etc. do to make an impact?
One thing that’s been on my mind lately is unifying the space. Because sustainable fashion is mending, repairing, it is wearing what you have, it’s thrifting, swapping, supporting ethical brands, doing advocacy, lobbying to get a bill passed. And we see some really unproductive conversations sometimes where people wanna put thrifting and sustainable brands in a cage match and see who comes out on top, asking “what’s the best solution ever?” And it doesn’t exist.
There’s no ultimate solution because the reason those solutions are good is because they are fundamentally different. And if we want to hit critical mass, we have to be unified. We have to have conversations where sustainability is all these things and they are all great and we are gonna promote all of them. I think if we can’t do that this will fail to become the critical mass that we need it to be.
As the founder of an impact storytelling initiative, what do you think brands can do better in order to communicate what they are doing well and avoid unintentional green washing?
Don’t exaggerate what you are doing, that definitely falls into greenwashing which is what a lot of fast fashion brands do.
Definitely share what you are doing well. I have heard some brands that are afraid to show what they are doing because they are scared of being turned down for what they are not. But if you don’t share them, in this climate where people have been exploited for decades and consumers are tired of it, people are going to assume you are doing it wrong or not doing it at all.
One thing that works really well is honesty. I know it's scary, but it works. The best examples I’ve seen have been from brands like Nudie Jeans and Noah, they’ll be like ‘we are not a sustainable brand and here is why,’ and they are doing a lot of things better than their peers. People really appreciate that, when brands show their process and limitations, their audience feels they are not being lied to.
If brands want to couple that radical honesty with data, that’s great too. I have seen brands use tools like Green Story, a company that helps brands show with data how many gallons of water they saved for example, against conventional options, in a simple and engaging way.What are some initiatives on the ethical fashion horizon you are excited about?
In terms of fabrics, I am excited about organic cotton and I know it’s not perfect, but at least it's better than where we are at. I am also really excited about fabrics that will eventually scale and replace that. Regenerative cotton is pretty cool because of the connections it has to farming and soil. It helps with food supply and carbon sequestration.
Circularity and slowing down too are things that are really encouraging to me and I love when brands do that. When brands like yours do Made to Order, I don’t think people understand how good that is. It’s undersold because what that means is that a brand isn’t making thousands of shoes hoping to sell them and when they don’t they burn it. It means a more responsible perspective on consumption in general.
Another good solution are brands that are doing lifetime warranties, free repairs, repair instructions. Or having a resale program. I know some guys that started Re-curate, and they are helping brands resell their clothes on their website, bringing that to the mainstream. I’m excited about these initiatives because they are about bringing down consumption or bringing more awareness around consumption. Because we can talk about fabrics all day in fashion and often these get abused when comparing fast fashion to a sustainable brand.
And what I mean by that is that if you have a fast fashion brand and a sustainable brand that are equal in transparency and the fast fashion brand is like ‘we are using recycled fabrics now’ and all of the sudden they seem equal to the general consumer, but they are not. And the big elephant in the room is consumption. That’s the number one reason why fast fashion will never be as good.
Are there any other journalists or entrepreneurs you’d like to highlight who are doing this work?
Aja Barber is a great journalist. And I’m reading her new book now, it is called Consumed.
And then I think people should follow Dr Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, she is the co-host of How to Save a Planet: a podcast that talks about positive actions and solutions. Dr Ayanna is also a marine biologist and she’s the co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think-tank that focuses on coastal cities and climate change, and she co-edited a book called All We Can Save.
Just find what makes sense for you
That is perhaps one of the most important takeaways from Garik’s interview: that each one of us can have an impact on making social and climate changes. We just have to sit with ourselves and think: What am I good at? What brings me joy? How can I use those skills in service of making a difference? And then reach out to people, and support brands that believe in the same things. No need to do everything.
Is there any cause you are passionate about? Any solution for the fashion system that you’d like to share? Any book that could inspire us to do better? Drop us a line on the comments! We could use your passion, skills and knowledge! We are all in this together, after all.