It hasn’t been easy to unravel my vision and values for Awl Snap. I’ve always had opinions, and even felt guilt around fashion (specifically fast-fashion) but it’s not until now, a handful of years in, that I’ve been able to put all the pieces together and label what exactly is important to me in my life, and how that reflects into my business.
Since I can remember, I was always intrigued by the footprint each of us leaves behind. Exhibit A below: Me, looking sharp, winning hard, about to accept an award for my awesome recycling slogan for this vintage Earth Day circa 1988.
Fast forward 25 years and I’m still reminded of the footprint when I walk down city sidewalks on trash day, or pass through the “hills” (landfills) of New Jersey, or buy plastic forks for work parties, or throw away the old jar of queso because it’s so moldy gross and I’m too lazy to clean it. (Yeah, I’m not always the perfect Earth Activist. If you’re already judging, please jump ahead to #3 below.)
I’m sure we all struggle with these kind of thoughts to one degree or another. The hard part for me though, is that I found myself feeling like I was contributing to it by being a Maker. And even more so by specifically making products that stick around for a long time and use leather. I struggled with it ethically. I want the durability, the softness, and the comforting smell of leather, but I always questioned the backside of the industry. Where was it really coming from? What did the factories look like? Thanks to internet searches, I had the worst images in my head for what could possibly be going on in these factories especially ones in India. Chemicals toxic to the environment, employees working in horrid factory conditions, all sorts of nasty things happening. You imagine it, and I’d read it. It was quickly eating away at my soul.
And BOOM–my values and career collided head first.
Such a crossroads. Do I keep going with Awl Snap and continue to use materials that have such a tainted history (despite the resourceful origin of leather), or do I shut the business down, and maybe find a new path in something more meaningful like, ugh I don’t even know – farming? working for the EPA? cool-recycling-machine maker?…
After months of introspection and research (both involving serious amounts of wine, of which I did recycle the bottles, thankyouverymuch) I decided that I don’t have to do a complete 180 to feel proud of what I do, and actually make a difference. I just needed to make some pretty serious commitments, and put a ring on it.
And here are those vowels I decided to take for myself and Awl Snap:
1. Use ethically-sourced leathers.
I started digging hard into the suppliers I was using for my leathers. Questioning where the animal skins were from, how they were processed, where they were processed, and what those factories were like-including the people working in them. Some suppliers couldn’t give me the answers I was looking for, which made my gut all tumbly, and so those guys were cut from the lineup. I’ve ended up with just a small handful of suppliers I trusted, who have close relationships with their factories and routinely audit them. Even more so, most of the leathers I use are cows that were raised here in the US as a bi-product of the food industry, and are also tanned here in American tanneries. Win win!
2. Minimize waste as much as humanly possible.
One of the downsides of working with leather is wastage. Depending on the pattern sizes, there can be a fair amount of scrap left over from each animal hide after all cuts are made. Other production factories might throw this scrap away. Instead I try to reuse what I can for inside bag pockets, small wallet items, etc. But on occasion I end up with giant piles of scrap, just begging me to get creative.
3. Take baby steps… and own them.
It’s easy to get lost in all the work that needs to be done to change, so I constantly remind myself that my life and my life’s work is not about overnight change, but instead making even the tiniest steps towards a better future. That means buying one less outfit from Forever 21. (Which is a whole ‘nother blog post.) Or not buying foods that come annoyingly packaged in plastic. Or even just spending more time outside appreciating mama nature, instead of bingeing on HBO (Big Little Lies- soooo good tho, right?)If we all work together to make some shifts- even if they are just teeny tiny ones- our children’s children (‘s puppy dogs) will have a better land to live on. Next time we impulsively put that cute thing in our shopping cart just because, how about we put it back and instead invest in something with more meaning and purpose. Something we may have to save for, or invest in, but nonetheless will have more story for us, and therefore we’ll hold on to for a long long long time.
And if you’re like me, you’ll end up making constant trips to Target to make guilt-ridden returns so you can save up for those expensive handmade shoes you’ve been eying…
Baby steps, my friends… baby steps.