We first met Emily Langtiw when she joined us for EFLI NYC, our spring break residential program in New York City that focuses on the intersections of design and sustainability. Emily currently lives in Chicago, and is a rising junior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she studies advertising.
Emily has also recently partnered with EFLI on Instagram for our campaign “5 Days, 5 Ways,” showcasing how to re-use and re-cycle the same article of clothing for 5 days in a row. Follow along on that journey here!
We have been consistently impressed with Emily’s commitment to sustainable and ethical fashion, and love following her journey on her blog, Seashorties, where she documents her commitment to learning all that she can about sustainable fashion, ethical living, and more! Read on to get to know more about this amazing young leader.
Hi! I’m so glad to speak with you today.
And we are so happy to be speaking with you! Can you tell us how you first heard about EFLI?
I found the application for the EFLI NYC program in the ethical index network, an online resource for people who are invested in developing ethical and sustainable practices in their businesses and lives. The program seemed like a fabulous opportunity to me, and it was!
What were your biggest takeaways from your experience in EFLI NYC?
I learned that clothes can be “designed to be re-designed,” an idea that I know Eileen Fisher is always working on. This is so interesting to me, because most people think of clothes as a single-use item, meant to be worn for a specific event or season. But when you designing to redesign, pieces can have more than one life, be used for more than one season, and have more than one purpose.
This combats textile waste at all stages of the creation of an article of clothing, and stretches the boundaries of fashion in really exciting ways. Fashion is an art form, and we are so far from understanding an article of clothing as a piece of art when most of our clothing is meant to be used for a single purpose, and then thrown away.
What first sparked your interest in sustainable fashion?
In high school I became a brand ambassador for a philanthropic fashion company, and I liked the idea of using fashion as a means of promoting good causes.
Once I became a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I founded and directed the Brands Give Back Sustainable Fashion Show. In total, we raised over $700 for the Rainforest Alliance. We are no longer producing events, as there is another sustainable fashion show on campus that promotes student designers, but our members have joined forces to participate in Sustainable Fashion Chicago!
Was the experience of producing these fashion shows the inspiration behind starting your blog, Seashorties?
Yes! I started writing Seashorties in December 2017, a few months before I joined EFLI NYC. The name of the blog describes me: I love the ocean, and I am really short! I started writing it because, through my experiences in high school and my research, I realized that I could promote sustainable fashion as a way to help spread awareness about conservation efforts from individuals, organizations, and brands that are already doing the work to change our impact on the natural world.
I also write the blog because I want to always remain accountable for being a conscious consumer myself.
That’s really great. So why is sustainable fashion so important?
Most consumers only care about clothes being cute and cheap, and not about the environmental and human impact that goes into making those clothes. This lack of attention to the process behind the clothes hanging in our closets is really problematic, as it contributes to climate change and the ongoing exploitation of workers.
It’s interesting to me that people think taking sustainability into account when they buy clothing isn’t important, and that we can continue to treat people and the planet poorly, and these choices won't matter in the long run. But we are seeing already how the choices we make are catching up to us through the effects of climate change, and our changing world.
I’ve learned that committing to only buying sustainable and ethical fashion is a way to stand up for what I believe is right. I think it’s really important to know who makes our clothes, where the fibers for the clothes were sourced from, and how well the workers who made my clothes were treated. I don’t want to participate in subjugating people or the earth because an item of clothing is cute and cheap—I want to feel good about what I wear, and to know that my actions are not causing suffering.
How do you think a commitment to sustainability in the fashion world is connected to leadership?
The fashion industry is still run by men, even though most buyers are women, and most fashion is aimed at female consumers. I think that women designers like Eileen Fisher and Stella McCartney are advocating for values that a lot of women believe in— they are actively building efforts to offset the industry’s contribution to climate change, ending exploitation of factory workers (most of whom are women), and offering consumers smarter, better choices for their money. We need to see more leadership like that. And I want to see more women take control of the industry so that more companies will reflect the values that I think women care about.
On a personal level, I see my blog as a way for me to be a leader in creating awareness about sustainability and ethical choices. On Seashorties I write a lot about the fact that you can always make a choice in what you consume, and, although it takes a lot of time to find resources to share with people interested in living sustainably, I take pride in the work that I do to spread awareness in my online community.
What do you say to people to think they can’t afford sustainable fashion?
The money issue is a big deal, because it’s hard to work around the elitism in many high end sustainable brands. But it’s not impossible!
It’s true that, for most sustainable fashion brands, we pay more for clothing in order to offset the costs of paying workers a higher wage, and for ethically sourced fabrics. While most people talk about buying higher quality clothing less frequently, I think instead it’s helpful to remember that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to mean high end fashion! It can also mean shopping at vintage and second hand stores, upcycling your own clothes, or participating in clothing swaps.
I love getting hand me downs from my aunts and sisters, because even though the clothing may not be completely new, it’s new to me. And if you can reclaim, or redesign a piece of clothing into something that you can love again, that, to me, is what fashion is all about. You can also rent dresses online, borrow from your friends, and easily find apps where you can sell and buy your clothes online.
What’s inspiring you right now?
I’ve been traveling a lot this summer, and that inspires me to open up my mind to more designers, brands, and styles. I also spend a lot of time in nature, with my friends and without my phone, hiking, canoeing, and wandering around. Our decisions right now are going to determine if we can preserve the beauty of the natural world, and I want to be sure that I am doing all I can to protect our beautiful earth!
Thank you, Emily! Keep up the amazing work!