Photo via Project Just
Project JUST is a platform that helps consumers navigate the fashion industry, offering in-depth research so the consumer can make informed, responsible choices. Their mission is to transform the fashion industry into a transparent, accountable, and sustainable system, and we’re here for it. Natalie Grillon, the co-founder and CEO, was kind enough to answer a few questions about what they have accomplished, and how they are trying to change the world. Enjoy!
How did you get involved in the fashion industry, and what inspired you to create Project JUST?
Natalie and Shahd were Global Fellows with Acumen , a non-profit, impact investing fund. While both grew up with a love of fashion, each had witnessed the injustices of poverty abroad, and were drawn to careers in civil service and impact.
Natalie was working in international development for a cotton company in Uganda. She saw the immense value in the improved livelihoods of farmers, but was shocked that their story was not communicated to the end shopper. Wouldn’t you want to know your t-shirt was that awesome? It was a sustainable, positive development model, and she wondered how they could better communicate to the shopper that the cotton t-shirt they bought had beautiful effort, work and people behind it. Could they direct more attention and business to these supply chains?
She brought the question to co-founder Shahd, who before Acumen, had co-founded the first all female owned fashion house in Saudi Arabia where the collaborated with women artisans to embroider the clothing with a modern take on traditional designs. She had felt a similar tug to tell the story of these artisans to highlight and preserve this craft.
They traded ideas over a meal: how can we tell the story behind our clothing? Can we empower the farmer, the worker, and the person buying the clothes by connecting them? Can we help an industry, which celebrates identity and beauty, extend that purpose all the way to the garment worker and farmer? They were united in wanting to highlight these beautiful stories to the shoppers.
The more they learned about the practices in the supply chain, the more they realized that, through their purchases, they were supporting practices that didn’t align with their values. So they created the platform to help us all sort through this information and make more informed decisions.
How do you decide which brands make the cut, and receive your coveted “Seal of Approval?” What does your process look like?
The brands are selected and released through guides, which are organized by apparel categories like denim, athleisure or work. The Project JUST team and our expert committee work to extensively research and publish each brand, and then pick the best based on the brand’s style, ethics and sustainability. The guides are designed to help shoppers sift through all the information out there, understand key decision points, and easily and quickly know which brands to shop. (For the full breakdown of their decision process, visit them here.)
What is one major misconception that you’d like people to understand about sustainable fashion?
A few things spring to mind. Buying sustainable fashion isn’t necessarily more expensive than any other clothing purchases. A great place to start is to check out our Seal of Approval guides. There are a range of brands at different price points there. Sustainable fashion is also NOT synonymous with burlap sacks or un-dyed fabric. It can be sexy, desirable and cool. In fact, many great sustainable brands are making covetable items.
Sustainable fashion is not just restricted to purchasing. The bigger picture takes into account buying less and choosing your new items carefully with the intention that you will have them for a long time, reducing washing frequency and water temperature, line drying to reduce energy consumption, caring and repairing your clothes to extend their life, and disposing of them responsibly when you are done with them. (That is, never tossing them in the trash, but instead recycling them either back to the store you bought them from or donating to a clothing recycling service.) We are also excited about new business models such as clothing rental services and leasing schemes.
What is one aspect of your research that has most surprised you, or changed the way you think about the industry?
One area we are constantly surprised about is how little some of these brands actually do know about their supply chain. Many brands we’ve come across contract out their entire supply chain, only designing the item and sending it out to be produced. This means they have no knowledge of the factory where it will be manufactured, where their raw materials come from, or how they were produced.
What is on the horizon for Project JUST?
We have an in depth investigation that we are releasing early September, which we are very excited about. It’s going to bring awareness to an issue we think is prevalent in the fashion industry, and hopefully inspire shoppers to bring about some changes to their shopping habits. We are also looking forward to bringing more great brands to our community through the Seal of Approval, and continuing to highlight brands supply chain practices and pushing for transparency in the industry.