Meet Virtue + Vice: a new comer to the ethical fashion industry, looking to influence consumers shopping trends through their 100% conscious production cycle. Founder, Melanie DiSalvo, stumbled into her leisure line after years of working in the fashion industry in Asia. When she first started looking for jobs, she couldn’t believe how greenwashed so many self-proclaimed “conscious” brands really were. “That inspired me to make something different and educate customers on how their clothes are really made”.
See below a Q + A with the lovely Melanie DiSalvo, founder of Virtue + Vice.
Why is educating consumers through Virtue + Vice such a passion of yours?
I think that in general people have no idea how their clothes are made, even in the fashion industry, most people don’t really know how everything gets done. And because of that, there is A LOT of misinformation.
Recently quite a few of my friends have become vegetarian after watching documentaries on the meat industry. I want to do that for the fashion industry. This is how your clothes are made. These are the direct implications, these are the lasting environmental impacts from that $5 t-shirt, here is how we can do better, buy these alternatives instead. And then the next step is that with that knowledge, people will start to ask brands the right kinds of questions and see through greenwashing.
Tell me how you went about sourcing each part of your production cycle.
At first, I only wanted 100% organic cotton. There is a loophole in labeling that things can be called organic cotton as long as there is some organic cotton in them, it doesn’t have to be 100%. So, I started out with the goal of my first season to be 100% organic and start spreading the word about organic cotton, GMO seeds, the farming industry etc. But, what I found is that it’s pretty hard to get organic certification especially when you’re a small family owned farm. Lot’s of times these people are doing everything right, farming sustainably, not using chemicals, but they just can’t afford the certification. That is when I got into khadi.
Khadi cotton is sourced from small local farmers, handspun into yarn, and then hand woven into fabric. The cotton farming processes uses minimal water and the spinning and weaving uses no electricity or water. I also have GOTS certified organic cotton in my line. But, along the way I learned and changed my approach. The buttons I use are hand carved coconut shells, so they are biodegradable and give jobs to local workers. The tags on the garments are recycled hand pressed paper made by local women. Every component has a story and was purposely chosen.
I can’t get over how soft the material is! Tell me more about the ethical materials used in all Virtue + Vice pieces.
The KAT tanks and LANEY wrap skirts are made of a modal/cupro blend. Modal is a synthetic fiber made of birch trees, and cupro is made out of cotton waste. This fabric is meant to replace rayon, polyester, and silk in my line.
Rayon has a horrible environmental footprint, polyester is essentially plastic that will never biodegrade, and silk is harvested by killing the worms or using genetically modified worms that were developed to die as soon as they hatch (virtue + vice is also cruelty free).
Everything else is 100% cotton. I use a pretty high staple length cotton. With cotton the longer the cotton fibers (staple length) the softer the fabric will be.
What inspires your designs?
Going on vacation, especially to tropical destinations inspires my designs. I want my clothes to be special “vacation clothes” that you can wear every day. Pieces that are light, flowy, fun, and easy to wear with basics.
Tell me about the Good Samaritan Children Home in Gujarat you are partnered with.
Personally, I have a lot of issues with volunteer tourism and the westerner complex of “saving” people in third world countries. Most of the studies now are showing these types of things do more harm than good. Look at TOMS for example. The people I am involved with are as carefully researched as my clothes. So basically here’s the situation. The orphanage has been running for over 15 years and they are about to lose their home because they are being evicted. There is a plot of land close by that is 30,000USD, if they buy it they can secure the future of the orphanage and not have to worry. They are great to work with because they are extremely self-sufficient, the kids go to school, the older children who “graduated” now work and send money back to help take care of the younger kids. But, to buy land is out of their budget, so that’s where I am trying to help.
What's Your Reaction?
I am a social entrepreneur. That means I use business as a catalyst for social goodness. I am deeply passionate about sustainable travel, zero waste living, ethical fashion and social good. I currently run North India's first zero waste guesthouse, Hara House, and am the Content Director at Causeartist.