The label of Zady's new alpaca sweater reads: “Based in the Andes. Washed and spun in Peru. Knit in the USA. Hand wash if you can. Dry clean if you must." It’s a refreshing change from “Made in China” and an unusual conversation starter. When inevitably asked about that chic, pill-free pullover, you’ll say you’ve stopped wearing cashmere (unless it’s vintage!) because cashmere goats overgraze, resulting in the desertification of fragile places like Mongolia, where over 90 percent of the country is at risk of becoming desert.
Or you could just say, “Alpaca is so in right now” and point to Zady’s The New Standard to learn more about the destructive process of making the clothes we never knew—or didn’t want to admit—we all wear.
Either way, Zady is the start of a brazenly different—and seriously appealing—conversation about the next frontier of fashion. Only time will tell if co-founder Maxine Bédat becomes the Alice Waters of the field-to-garment movement, but Zady walks the walk and talks the talk, unlike most companies that, as Rank a Brand has found, feign an eco-conscience and send toxic trends down the runway. As you won’t see solutions in Vogue’s 615-page September issue or in The New York Times’ coverage of Paris Fashion Week, a forward thinking millennial like Bédat believes righting the wrongs of the fashion world is her calling.
Before setting off on trips to Los Angeles, Austin, and Rio de Janeiro, the South African entrepreneur sat down with T+L to pull back the curtain on a ruinous-yet-reversible global business, and share some easy tips on being a mindful shopper at home—and at her favorite bazaars around the globe.
How does Zady's new private label take inspiration from travel? How is it different?
We started by connecting people with products from around the world and then we realized it isn’t just one dot on the map. Clothing that we wear travels to many different points, and when it’s about the story, it has to be a good story. We were uncovering all this shocking information about the fashion industry, the second highest contributor to pollution in drinking water, which is one of the main issues tied to poverty. Polyester is the primary fiber in over 50 percent of our clothes, and microfibers from polyester have been showing up in the ocean, on the shores, in the fish we eat. That was how we arrived at doing this collection.
So, polyester ain’t great. What else?
One of the biggest issues in apparel is just how much of it is made. The average American buys 70 pieces of clothing every year, and 20 years ago it was only 40 pieces. There’s so much misinformation in the fast fashion-driven industry that we needed to hire a full-time researcher who could make sure that we weren’t just saying things, that we could back it up.
The Essential Collection is the new standard, it’s what the system of clothing should be as we think about the future. We don’t think about clothing right now, we think about what does 2050 look like? What is all of our clothing going to look like then? The products we create are timeless. Our designers are Italian and are particularly good at knowing the difference between fashion and style, and more importantly, between trend and style. So that’s what we’re focused on, creating something that excites and is beautiful and is that go-to piece in the long term. And as we’ve gotten more synthetic clothing that doesn’t biodegrade and is toxic to wear on our skin—our largest organ—we are focused on the ecology of the material.
How can we shop in a way that protects the communities that produce our clothing?
We need to move from a mentality of disposable fashion to thinking about what we’re buying. Really love the clothing. Look at what the materials are and be aware of what that means. If you see something that looks beautiful on you and really love it, then get it. Don’t get the other stuff because that has really been the problem. If we just bought the cashmere that we loved and it was meant to last forever, then it would be a more sustainable system and there wouldn’t be desertification. I think the big issue is with China and more with Vietnam and Bangladesh, where there is just no government regulation protecting people and the environment. We have the EPA. They don’t have people employed in those bodies of government to make sure the rivers are clean. So that’s why 90% of the dye in the developing world is dumped directly into the local villages.
My strategy for finding unique products is to visit markets and start asking questions, then I find where a product is known to come from and I go take a visit. It's the most in depth and exciting traveling you can do, because you learn so much about a people and their culture by how their products get made. Traveling where you’re actually working with people is the best kind. It’s what I want travel to be; where it’s not just staying at a hotel but rather interacting and seeing people’s lives, which is why I think we travel to begin with. We go to see the whole thing.
Any responsible tour companies you can recommend?
G Adventures is a great agency that focuses on getting a real local experience.
What are some of your favorite bazaars around the world?
In Johannesburg, there is a big beautiful Sunday market called The African Craft Market of Rosebank and it manages to get artisanal work from across Africa. I got these small hand-carved beaded elephant tables from the market. A Kenyan who made them was the guy who sold them to us. In New York, I really love the food, especially Gansevoort Market. And to dream a little, I love to go into ABC Carpet and Home. I visited the Panjshanbe Market in Khujand, Tajikistan. It’s very off the beaten track, no tourists. I was doing the Bootstrap project, so we partnered with the National Business Women’s Association of Tajikistan. There are amazing craft traditions from being a part of the Silk Road. You can get machine-made suzanis, but you'll have to ask around for the traditional hand sewn versions. The Feria de San Telmo in Buenos Aires has great antique markets where you can see the history of the place.
Lastly, what are your must-have travel items?