As fast fashion fades, D.C. establishing itself in sustainable goods

clothes The organic and recycled clothes at Tribute in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. (Photo by Ziyi Yuan)

By Ziyi Yuan 

Joelle Firzli was researching a potential cooperating brand, surrounded by natural fiber clothes at her office, which is also her fashion shop named Tribute in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Firzli established Tribute in 2018, and she is working with more than 20 sustainable fashion designers and ethical factories.

She is also a board member in the DC Sustainable Fashion Collective, which is a non-profit fashion organization to educate people in various fields about the importance of sustainable fashion.

The organic and recycled clothes at Tribute in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. (Photo by Ziyi Yuan)

“Sustainable fashion is complicated, but we try our best to achieve this goal. And this is why I call my brand to be responsible and transparent retail,” said Firzli.

Sustainable fashion is a growing trend in the world. And here in Washington, D.C., people like Firzli and Gabrielle Clary are keen on promoting sustainable fashion.

The four main parts in the sustainable fashion market are: organic and recycled textiles, organic dye, ethical factories and textile recycling programs, according to Barbara I Gongini, which is a Nordic brand.

Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world, accounting for about 2 percent of the global GDP. As fashion is still a growing industry, it is crucial to take measures to minimize its negative impact on the environment, according to Barbara I Gongini.

Firzli tends to find organic natural fiber clothes for the store, which are made with organic cotton, linen, silk and wool. Organic cotton is grown using cottonseed stock that is not genetically modified and without the use of synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides, according to Common Objective.

Firzli said a good cloth should be made of one or two whole organic natural fibers, and it could not combine with half natural fibers and half synthetic textiles because it must be hard to recycle.

Joelle Firzli checked email at her store Tribute. (Photo by Ziyi Yuan)

Clothes are made of a variety of materials. Traditional materials, including cotton, linen and leather, are still sourced from plants and animals. But most of the clothes, which account for 65 percent of the total, are made of materials and chemicals derived from fossil fuel-based crude oil, according to Common Objective.

Firzli holds a master’s degree in fashion studies from the Parsons School of Design in New York. But she received a bachelor’s degree in political science and international affairs at Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon.

After Firzli graduated from the university, she worked at Marie Claire Arabia from 2007 to 2010. She went to investigate a Vietnamese clothing factory and a second-hand market because of a fashion report in 2009.

“The workers didn’t wear protective gloves while they operated machines. And the manager didn’t allow us to visit some rooms because they tried to hide something,” said Firzli.

She said the environment of the factory was “bad,” even though the laborers cleaned it up before she arrived there. The workers and children laborers earned low pay with long working hours.

“The administrator at the second-hand market required me to take off my shoes and socks, baring feet to visit it. If not, I couldn’t enter,” said Firzli.

The second-hand market collected innumerable fast-fashion items like Zara and H&M. The goods piled up to be many mountains of clothes and shoes.

These experiences made her move to Vietnam to study sustainable fashion about organic fibers such as hemp and to work with a young designer in Hanoi in 2010.

Clary is one of the board members in the DC Sustainable Fashion Collective. She is a sustainability business researcher in Washington, D.C., and she also works with Firzli to manage Tribute. Clary will be receiving her master’s degree in sustainability management from the Kogod School of Business at American University.

Clary worked in the associate retail department at Forever 21 as an intern for nearly nine months when she was a sophomore. She said the working experience was “unpleasant” because the store was managing excess amounts of merchandise, and its atmosphere was not conducive for the customers to enjoy their shopping experience.

“The resources on the earth can’t afford the consumption of the fast-fashion market, so the fashion market has to be sustainable in the future,” Clary said.

Consumers are paying more and more attention to the material of clothes and environmental protection, and they prefer to buy sustainable fashion clothes.

“I like fashion, but the fast-fashion brands, like Forever 21, are not good for the environment. And fashion trends change so quickly,” said Asha Newsom, a junior studying graphic design and marketing at American University.

Firzli only cooperated with sustainable fashion designers and ethical factories. She would visit each factory in which she was willing to work with them, so she went to China, Vietnam and Africa.

“I will do my best to gain the goal of sustainability in fashion,” said Firzli.