The interview was published online by Femme.ee in December 2017.
Outi, how do you define yourself?
I prefer to call myself a “recycle fashion professional” since my area of expertise is in various fields within the business (custom work, marketing, retail, media) and I do not have a degree in fashion design. This is why I invented the title “trashionista” for myself. It gives me space to do many things. My story, in short, is that I studied to become a seamstress in 1996–2000. In 1998 I had the privilege of visiting a few sportswear factories in China. This was a life-changing experience for me, which lead to my current path, to work for eco and recycle fashion. In 2007 I started my blog, OutsaPop Trashion, which was the first blog in the world focused on trendy and fashionable DIY and recycle fashion. In 2012 I started writing in Finnish for my current blog, Outi Les Pyy.”
Sustainable may not be ethical, vegan or similar. How would you comment on that?
It all comes down to terminology. I have noticed that even many people who work in this business daily do not know all of the terminology, or it means different things to them. This is a big problem within the (fashion) industry, and this is why it is so important that a brand should explain their full manifesto on their website. And nothing fluffy, or general (like just talking about sustainability or recycling in general), but very specific things. Not just about design, but production methods, partners, logistics, materials and so on. This way the consumer would better understand that making clothes is a multilevel and complex process, with many different choices, and causes and effects. Online shops should also have detailed explanations on the product description on the supply process, materials, assembly, and care instructions. The fashion PR people also need to educate themselves better. If brands do not do this, the consumer will always confuse vegan, ecological and ethical. It will keep being a mess.
Can you give an example (or more examples) of how an unexpected creative solution has raised the recycle fashion business to a new level?
Goodwill has a pretty amazing logistical system in America to collect and re-sell second hand. The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University are currently developing a new kind of cellulose-based fibre called IONCELL, which is similar to viscose and Tencel, but made from recycled materials and more ecological in the process. Pure Waste Textiles – they use pre-consumer waste to make new fabric and knits with no water used. I have heard about a company in Finland that is developing a method to recycle old clothes into new fibres, even ones with elastane in them. This has been regarded as a myth and impossibility in the business. I am really looking forward to them making this happen. And finally, the MEM that is Paula Malleus’s collection and production method, based on using only second-hand/post-consumer waste. The MIPS (material input per service) numbers for this collection are negative, which makes it the most ecological clothing collection in the world.
Is running a recycle business community-based? How can you get people who have never had any interest in recycle fashion to buy recycle fashion?
I think it could and should be community-based, because a brand needs to explain their actions more than just with ads. They could make it more about the community through open-source initiatives and educational content. This would be a responsible act from the brand. But not just about recycling, it should be about the whole lifecycle of a garment, how to take care of it better and so on. Currently clothing care instructions just focus on the washing temperature, when they also could include other means of taking care of the garment (eco laundry detergents, airing, steaming, mending instructions). Wardrobe maintenance and eco laundry are my theme for this year as brands do not talk about it. I would also love to write a book on eco laundry.
There is an understanding that ethical design is mainly for a privileged audience as they can afford to pay for that type of design. What do you think about that?
The concept of cheap or high prices is very subjective. At the moment clothes cost only 1/5 of what they cost in the 1980s. The consumer needs to understand that this is too little, and that someone will get hurt along the process line because of this. But fast fashion also has a high price, if you compare the physical cost and usage time of a garment. Would you rather buy five pairs of jeans in the next three years that cost €80 each, or one good pair that will cost €250 but last you longer than three years? The more expensive option is cheaper economically if the quality of the garment is good and it has a warranty. If you want to be a sustainable or responsible brand, you should have a warranty for your product and do anything possible to make the lifespan of the garment longer. If the price also goes up, that is OK in my opinion. And to explain this to your customer, do an explainer video for Facebook and your website, tell them about ecological wardrobe maintenance and be transparent about your business and price structure. Especially if the brand calls itself sustainable.
What do recycling, fashion and recycle fashion mean to you?
It is a responsibility that I cannot escape, nor do I want to. For me it is a lifestyle, and a choice. But it should not be optional, but built in, mandatory.
What kinds of challenges, obstacles and victories have you had on your path as a recycle fashion professional, and an eco and DIY blogger?
Livelihood is always a challenge. How do you make enough money to survive and carry on doing what you feel is right? Also keeping yourself mentally sane and having a positive attitude is a challenge. When you read as much about the industry as I do, there are days when it is really hard to be positive. This is why I have to ration my work, so I do not burn out. The biggest obstacle is that I have to concentrate on just explaining the terminology and business, more than actual action dialog. But I have to do it so people understand why I have come to certain conclusions. It is frustrating sometimes. Additionally, to be taken seriously is an obstacle. My dialogue is with the consumer mostly, so I have to work hard to also earn respect from other professionals working in the business.