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Bhoomki Believer: Kate Black

Posted on August 25 2014

We’re so proud to introduce you to this month’s Bhoomki Believer, Kate Black, indefatigable friend and supporter of ethical fashion, and and encyclopedia of all things related to sustainable style.

Kate founded Magnifeco.com, a digital source for eco-fashion and sustainable living. She has more followers on Twitter than any other eco-evangelist of note. Last check: 34.1K followers!

Kate has lived in some of the greenest cities in the world (Amsterdam, Basel, Tokyo, Vancouver and Zurich). She has written over 1,000 articles about eco-designers and ethical fashion, with a decidedly global perspective.

We caught up with Kate recently to discuss EcoSessions, her curated global speakers series that brings together thought leaders in ethical fashion, her new book project, and her recent move to Brooklyn. I'm so glad she's here. - Swati xx

Follow Kate: twitter.com/magnifeco

Where did you grow up? What brought you to Brooklyn?

I’m from Toronto (Canada) and I’m here for a musician. I caught the travel bug in my mid-twenties and shortly after fell in love with a musician who caught it from me. We set up home in Toronto and when his music took a hiatus, we sold everything and moved to Whistler BC to live a season as ski bums (well, snowboard really). So much fun! Then, at the end of the season we headed to Europe and ended up settling down in Barcelona for a year. One thing led to another, and we ended up back in Vancouver, then back to Toronto where he got hired by an American theatre company with shows around the world. His work led us to then live in: Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Basel, Tokyo, Zurich and then Tokyo (again). We immigrated to Boston shortly after the earthquake,  tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011 and then to Brooklyn last summer. In expat terms I’m considered a ‘trailing spouse’. But it’s always a been a new adventure, and one that led to Magnifeco.com

Tell us about your background.

I have a background in digital marketing and publishing. I worked for the two largest newspapers in Canada then transitioned to digital agencies. I LOVE the internet and communicating new ideas through the digital medium. Blogging, social media, vlogging - I love how big the planet is, and how easy it is to feel alone in your personal surroundings (like when I would first arrive in a new city) but through the internet you can find tribes of people who are just like you, think like you, and are passionate about the things you are. I started Magnifeco.com while I was living in Tokyo. “Green” fashion seemed to be really taking hold; Vanity Fair had their green Issue, Vogue had their green issue, Estethica was happening in London, the Greenshows were happening in New York, but there wasn’t a bridge to link all the news and gorgeous designs together. Through social media and the blog I met so many great people, doing great things. That’s how I met Swati (owner and designer of Bhoomki). First though Twitter, then we did a story on her beautiful Stargazer collection of dresses she made out of antique saris and when I moved to America, and we finally met in person, it felt like we had know each other for ages.

Left: Swati Argade, Kate Black, and Maxine Bedat

What is EcoSessions? What is your most memorable panel to date?

I am passionate about role of internet in connecting people but for real ideas to spark - people need to meet face-to-face. So in 2013, I started EcoSessions as a chance for designers, industry and consumers to come together and share stories. I think we all love TED talks for their focus on triumph through adversity, and the same is so true in ethical fashion and sustainability. There are countless stories of designers who have tried to work with a new fibre, or tried a new technique and it flopped, but they are still trying and the perseverance story is inspiring, whether you are a fellow designer, a service provider or a customer.

EcoSessions started in Boston, we’ve had several in New York and then last month there was a big one at FIT (300 attendees) as well as the first international one in Berlin.

EcoSessions work with city ambassadors who can help organize and spread the news of the event. They are such a great way to strengthen the local ethical and sustainable community, so I’m hoping we can launch in more cities over the next 12 months.

My favorite? Each one has special moments, there seems to be a “let’s be real” moment of complete candidness, which is important, I think. For example, Swati was on a panel in New York with Zady and another ethical retailer, talking about, of course, ‘ethical retailing.’ There was a very candid conversation about pricing, and why ethical fashion is often higher priced. It was great to hear the transparency of cost revealed and discussed between leaders in the field. 

In how many countries have you lived?  What is the favorite city in which you've lived and why? Where do you want to go where you haven't yet?

I have lived in Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and now the U.S. - so seven. I have so many favourites, it’s really hard to narrow it down. Each one ingrained some new habit with me that enhanced my life for example Amsterdam is such a bike city and bike culture (rain or shine) is so prevalent, that I’ve had a bike in every city ever since. In both Germany and Switzerland you can get the most gorgeous eco products (home to Lavera and Dr. Hauschka) and it marked the first time I really started to think about this idea of ‘eco’ or ‘ethical’ applying to my personal care products. I’ve been so fortunate to live in some of the greenest places. Including Tokyo.

I think I’m done moving for now. But last year, between Boston and Brooklyn we were supposed to move to Sao Paulo, which would have been amazing. And I’m so in love with Beijing, I wish I’d lived there too. Next trip will be somewhere in the global south… either to Brazil or South Africa.

Right: Kate is wearing Bhoomki's Ajara Dress in Denim Ikat, Bhoomki necklaces and Coclico wedges. 

Tell us about your upcoming book.

It’s going to come out late next summer and will be a magnifeco guide to fashion and beauty (the title still hasn’t been determined). An extension of the blog, it will discuss things like ‘Why are H&M and Zara the largest buyers of organic cotton?’ or “Should I boycott Bangladesh?” and hopefully give consumers the tools to buy better. Bhoomki is great because it takes the stress of ‘is it eco?’ out of shopping; customers can shop at ease because they know everything has been vetted to be sustainable, ethical, fairly traded etc. But not everyone has a Bhoomki in their neighborhood, so this book will talk about some of the issues so that people can feel better making the choices they make.

What drew you to ethical fashion?

When I was a child, each year my grandmother made all of us for her four daughters and one granddaughter (me) a Christmas item; usually it was a Christmas dress, or a sweater (and always matching), so I grew up thinking that clothing came from the heart. When I started to hear about the work ethical designers were putting into sourcing and producing, I fell in love with the stories and the results. Its always the stories; the sari dresses that Swati made, or the Love is Mighty shoes (Monisha Raja’s story in May) - weaving biscuit wrappers into textile, or my Freitag bag - Swiss brothers who wanted to do something productive to save truck tarps. There are so many changemakers in this industry the stories go on and on. 

What is your definition of sustainable style?

Sustainable style is buying things that you will keep and wear and wear again. And that will  last. Our (over)consumptive habits of buying and disposing are not sustainable (or even that fashionable). For a fashion editor, I have a really small wardrobe. And I wear a lot of pieces over and over. I got really inspired from the Uniform Project from 2009: Sheena Matheiken wore the same LBD for 365 days to raise money for her charity. Mind you, it was a very versatile dress; you could wear it forward, backward or open like a jacket, but still, the same dress for 365 days. And she looked awesome!

How has Bhoomki enhanced your life?

Swati always surprises me. There’s always a new brand or line that she’s discovered that I haven’t heard of so I love it everytime I walk into the shop. Plus - she has such a good eye. For anyone doesn’t think ethical fashion IS fashion, then they haven’t been to Bhoomki. The store tagline says it perfectly “ethically fashioned’  - it’s the most beautiful shop on the street. 

Who are your favorite Bhoomki designers and why?

I love all the local designers you carry! I am a huge fan of Tara St. James of Study NY. Yes, it’s because she’s Canadian, and because she’s been recreating her story for the last 5 years. That twist dress - awesome! I love Shannon South and the beautiful bags she can make out of recycled or remnant leather. Natalie Frigo’s jewellery is always on my covet list. And of course, Swati - her Bhoomki dresses are so flattering on so many figures.

In addition to Magnifeco, the book and EcoSessions, what other projects are you working on?

I’m dedicated to raising consumer awareness on how to buy better so I speak on panels and at events around the city. And as a solo-preneur I love sharing what I’ve learned and helping other small businesses. I did a workshop at FIT last year on ‘how to tell your sustainable story’, and it was really well received so I’ve started a small consulting practise to advise on marketing (especially effective uses of social media)  and brand strategies.

When you’re not writing, how do you unwind?

I love the beach! I love the people watching and listening to the random, happy conversations that are just a blanket away so I try to get to Rockaway or Brighton as often as I can. I also love how many free fitness classes you can do in this city! Yoga in Bryant Park is a favourite!

 

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