Complex Made Simple

Shocking: The woman that turned ocean plastics into awesome fabrics

Words by: Alana Sorokin, Founder of Joseph & Alexander (J & A), with excerpts from an interview with AMEinfo

Every person reading this has used a plastic bottle, many of whom likely used one in the past day or week. Do you know how many plastic bottles are actually purchased by humans every minute? One million. Per minute. That equates to almost one and a half billion per day. And that is plastic bottles alone. What is more staggering, is that 91% of all plastic is not recycled, and most of it ends up in the ocean or landfill. For most, these insights are enough to send shock waves through us. Because for almost every one of us, plastic, in recent decades, has become a staple of convenience and a daily part of our modern lifestyles. For me, plastic has become the staple of my brand.

“It is estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enter our oceans each year,” Sorokin told AMEinfo. “Not only does it affect the marine life but ultimately will have an impact on human health and food. Up to 80% of marine litter is from plastic, and it has been reported that global plastic pollution costs around $13 billion a year.”

While eco-friendly fashion has never held particularly glamorous connotations, some of the best designers of a new generation are stitching sustainability into everything they do. With widespread claims of fashion royalty such as Burberry making controversial environmental decisions (pointing to reports that the brand burned $35.3 million worth of old stock), the subject of sustainability has also been kicking up a storm on the high-street. “Fast fashion” retailers such as Zara have demonstrated an awakening, responding to consumer pressure to address unethical standards in the industry’s everyday practices. Many major brands like Adidas and The H&M Group (H&M, COS, & Other Stories, etc) are bearing the flag for ethical operations.

(Alana Sorokin, Founder of Joseph & Alexander)

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“Looking on the homefront, I have based my entire business model on the recycled use of ocean plastics in garment creation. While each plastic water bottle takes 400 years to decompose – that is the lifetime of four generations – consumption shows no signs of slowing. So at the very least, for what people are putting in, I’m taking a fraction out. These moves, I’d say, are “commercial with a conscience”. In fact, we are increasingly seeing that sustainable production and environmentally conscious choices, all along the supply chain, have emerged as a priority for brands globally. One day, the ethical decisions may at their very foundation, mean survival.”

Regarding the manufacturing process, Sorokin said: “There is quite a drawn-out process to how the shorts are made. To provide you with a snapshot, around 10 – 11 bottles are collected, then chopped into flakes, melted into pellets, extruded into yarn, spun into fabric and then transformed into J&A shorts. It truly is an extraordinary and feel-good process.”

Data from NOAA and Woods Hole Sea Grant

Talking about keeping her items competitively priced, despite a costlier production process, Sorokin said: “Speaking on behalf of our brand, I found it hard to price our shorts. Yet, I didn’t compromise on quality or materials. In fact, it took me 6 months alone to get the shorts right – what was important was the quality and message behind the design.”

J & A donates 10% of its annual profits to the plastic Oceans UK Foundation.

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Our role as consumers has also matured to a degree that unless we begin to critically question what we buy into as a population, brands turning a blind eye to the irreversible environmental degradation they cause will never be compelled to change their ways. When conceptualizing the lasting message of my own childrenswear brand, I knew I wanted to create a talking point between parents and their kids. With printed designs that reflect environmental issues, it compels the next generation to question the status quo, discuss the hard topics, and address the small changes. Think global, act local.

Sorokin wanted to deliver a certain message with her fashion line, one intended to open up conversation between children and their parents: “Personally, I find that all children are blessed with a creative mind and what engages them is when they can touch, feel, see or be apart of a topic, which is what inspired me to create the shorts line. When you wear a pair of J&A shorts, it can motivate parents to open up a conversation about plastic: ‘Hey, did you know the shorts you are wearing are made from plastic in the ocean?'”

The rabbit hole of sustainability and inciting meaningful, powerful change of consumer habits is not one easily grappled with. Yet one thing is clear, the ever-growing demand for plastic is unlikely to be abated soon. Globally, we will have to manage the increasing risk of plastics in our environment and the harmful consequences that lie therein. In the case of Joseph & Alexander, it’s about finding ways to do our bit for Mother Earth as she reaches her tipping point, and educate our youngest consumers that the fundamentals of consumer change lie in their little hands.

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