Laura Francois is a social impact designer and activist who is on a mission to make fashion more sustainable.
Laura speaks at events, creates installations and engages fashion labels to communicate and create effective change that can reduce the fashion industry’s environmental impact.
Scientists have been sounding the alarm about the impending climate crisis facing the world for years, and in 2019, it seems people are finally taking notice. We’re seeing more brands, businesses and bloggers talking about and taking steps towards sustainability and reducing their environmental impact. But sometimes, we could all use a little help from an expert to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.
Our Get It Gal, Laura Francois, is just the gal for the job. The entrepreneur, artist, consultant and – above all – activist has made it her mission to work towards a more sustainable future, especially in the fashion industry.
“I am more of a systems thinker or analyser than someone who is working in fashion,” she explained, “I do a lot of work in circular economy design and waste regeneration, so fashion is just one of the industries I touch upon.”
Aside from her role as Country Coordinator for global ethical and sustainability movement Fashion Revolution, she also helps companies change their design and processes to create products that are easily recyclable for future collections. In short, she guides them to close the fashion loop.
Where it started
Her passion for sustainable fashion was sparked by two experiences – thrift shopping for unique and interesting pieces that she found to be longer-lasting in her hometown of Montreal, Canada, and living next to a garment factory as a graduate student in New Delhi, India.
“These [garment] businesses were mostly owned by men, but the clothes were made by women for women. It was all so interesting,” she shared. Watching the female garment workers come and go next to her dormitory every day piqued a curiosity that drove Laura to do a lot of research, in hope of learning as much as she could about the industry and its secrets.
She eventually made the decision to move from Montreal to Asia in order to have better access to the factories and businesses that are powerhouses of fashion manufacturing. “I had done my undergraduate studies in Singapore, and coming back [also] had to do with an emotional attachment to the region,” she explained.
Laura expected that being so near the major clothes manufacturing powerhouses like Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, India and China would influence how Singaporeans view the fast fashion industry. But she quickly realised it was not the case.
“In North America, we feel like the production is so far away. We can’t really grasp what it would look like or what [the conditions] would be like. The interesting thing is, in Singapore, the thought is the same,” she pointed out. And that’s not the only belief we have in common.
Both societies tend to view sustainability as a lifestyle only the rich can afford – organic cotton t-shirts, recycled plastic-based shoes, and upcycled denim jeans do not come cheap. Laura confessed that she herself can’t afford most of these “solutions”.
“A lot of solutions are an inconvenience to people and won’t appeal to the mass market,” Laura lamented, “We have to design solutions that are human-centric.”
Sustainability as a lifestyle
The kind of sustainability Laura espouses involves a mindset of conscious and minimal consumption, which is a lifestyle option that can be adopted whatever your income level.
“The most sustainable thing you can do is not buy anything,” she declared, “You can buy something that is not sustainable or even ethical at its creation, if you are going to wear that a million times more than a sustainable and ethically made alternative. It is still wasteful to buy an ethically made piece of clothing if you don’t use it fully.”
She added, “If someone sells you a [sustainability] starter kit, it is completely flawed, as the most sustainable thing you can do is to look at what you have at home and use all of that stuff.”
Laura is a believer in create awareness about living a sustainable lifestyle. However, she doesn’t want you to just get woke. “Woke is the worst word of 2019. It is all about awareness building,” she protested, “Learning about a problem and doing something about it are two very different things.”
Laura has formulated clear steps to help curb the urge to go on a shopping spree at fast fashion stores. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Step 1: Do you need it?
- Step 2: Can I borrow a similar piece from family and friends?
- Step 3: Can you rent a piece? From brands like Style Theory?
- Step 4: Can I thrift or buy it second hand?
- Step 5: I have no choice but to buy it, but can I promise to use this for more than a year?
Pretty simple, right? The questions are incredibly intuitive and will help you avoid buying things you don’t need, which makes a very big difference.
“You are stopping the water waste for the cotton and dye, the carbon footprint and CO2 from the factory. All of that gets cut out for one t-shirt,” she explained, “You save the planet a lot of resources.”
Laura shares her knowledge and expertise through panel discussions, supporting local businesses (hint hint: Style Theory) and art installations. A recent project she worked on is an installation in Cambodia with environmental artist Von Wong.
“We essentially did an art installation inside of an abandoned garment factory,” she said, “It’s not the art installation itself that I am proud of, but rather the fact that two years after unveiling the project, I am still working with that factory.”
The original garment factory had suddenly shut down, leaving its workers unpaid and tons of fabric to waste. Over the last two years, Laura has been obsessed with the story of the factory. She is actively working to highlight the stories of the women affected by the closure of the factory while upcycling the abandoned fabric and creating a co-working space in the factory.
Laura’s work surrounding the factory represents her tenacity to effect change. “I am proud that I am extremely stubborn and resilient — the fact that I persist until I get to the bottom of what I am working on,” she reflected.
What steps have you taken to live more sustainably in 2019? Share your tips and tricks in the comment section.
Feels like we know you now: