Whenever people ask me about a great sustainable style project, I mention the IOU Project. It brings together so many of the problems of conventional clothing production today and pretty much solves them all, and does it in the most elegant, beautiful way, connecting consumers to their clothes in a way that hasn't been done before. And prices that are competitive with what mall stores charge ($85 for a shirt, $89 - $125 for a dress, $69 for shorts). The best way to show you how it works is to let the IOU Project do it for me:


For each piece of (on-trend, totally classic-cool) clothing on IOU's site that you click on, a unique story is revealed. "Each item tells us a story," IOU's narrative begins. "This one begins in a small village in Tamil Nadu, India." You are then introduced to the man in India who weaves the cloth for a cute plaid shirt, for example. (I want this one for my boyfriend). The weaver has a name: Dhandapani M., and a picture of an older but vital man smiling into the camera identifies him as the human being who makes the creative decision about what plaid to create in what colors. (He knows what he's doing as India is, after all, the source of the real Madras plaids). Dhandapani's father taught him to weave when he was 13, and now he and his wife work together to create fabric for shirts. "I am also a grandpa and when I'm not working I most enjoy playing with my grandson," he says. We learn that he is inspired by the colors of the natural world and that it takes him about two days to weave a new design. 


Next, we learn about how the weaver's hand-created fabric travels to Italy, where another artisan, Maurizio Pastorello, where he works with pattern-makers and sewers to create a high-quality, fashionable shirt from the cloth. And the last part of the cycle ends with the buyer, who is encouraged to send it a picture of themselves wearing the shirt, in order to complete the picture. Many people have, and it's fun to see people styling up the shirts, pants, dresses and jackets in their own ways. 
This project is exciting because it fills in what's missing from the modern production cycles - connections. Understanding where out clothes (and other consumer products) come from, who made them, and how we are involved in those connections, is key to changing the destructive cycle of current clothing production and consumption. Because it's not just about creating more sustainable clothes, but understanding how to do that, and why we care about doing so. Part of the answer is understanding how we affect other human beings, and that comes with connection to them. 

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

The IOU Project connects you to the people who make your clothes
Affordable clothing line makes cute, fresh styles for men and women.