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Kate Black is the real deal. One does not become an expert in ethical fashion and sustainable living without devotion, honesty, and genuine concern for the world we live in.

Kate created the blog magnifeco.com, the digital source for eco-fashion and sustainable living, nearly a decade ago and remains at the helm to this day. She is also an author, a teacher, a speaker, a consultant, the host of a podcast series and the founder of EcoSessions®, a monthly event series which takes place in Montreal, Berlin, London, New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto, and focuses on change, wellness, and eco-consciousness.

Her book Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty is an absolute must-read. Now, I won’t lie to you, it’s not for the faint of heart. You’re about to read some real truth. I thought I was pretty versed in the subject matter and yet I was shocked at how little I actually knew about what matters. For example, there is no real regulation regarding what companies can allege when it comes to the origins of the ingredients found in their products and fast fashion is harmful both environmentally and in regards to labour conditions.

This book took me on an emotional rollercoaster. I felt despair for the state of the environment, anger at big-name brands for putting profits way above the health of people, and shame at my non-discerning spending habits. Guess that was the downward part of the ride… After the initial shock wore off, I became elated. After all, Kate Black was giving me the greatest tool: knowledge. I felt empowered. Not only did I know what I was up against, I knew that people were out there fighting the green fight, for all the right reasons. The truth is that as a consumer, it’s possible to make informed choices that are beneficial to more than just yourself.

In person, Kate radiates positivity and optimism. It’s not hard to understand why her work has inspired so many people to make the switch to ethical fashion and sustainable living. Speaking with Melissa Harvey, founder of Zorah Biocosmétiques and panellist at Montreal’s last EcoSession, she told me how much she enjoyed Kate’s book and how proud she is of Kate’s efforts with EcoSessions. “There is so much misinformation in the industry; Kate fosters green businesses and allows them to properly inform consumers. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a trend, it’s a lifestyle we should all adopt for the well-being of our society and our planet. To support green and eco-conscious companies is to build a better world! She has my full admiration!”

INTERVIEWED

What is your professional background and what prompted you to start Magnifeco ? 

I have a background in digital marketing and online publishing. I worked at the Toronto Star for a decade in the nineties, and later for digital agencies—helping brands tell their stories. I lived in Europe for many years, and could continue to work in my field, and then in 2007 I moved to Tokyo (following love) and without the language skills to continue to work in my field, I needed to start something that married my skills and passion. I can’t imagine that there was much of a dialogue for ethical fashion and clean beauty at the time!

Vanity Fair had a few green issues, and Vogue was about to have a green issue (2008), so the conversation was around. I thought a “daily eco-fashion find” (which is how Magnifeco.com started, the conversations would grow.

The amount of research in your books is impressive. How much time goes into the entire process?

I started the book in July of 2014 and finished it in January of 2015. Then it went into edits and came out in October 2015.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I wish I had a typical day. I just moved to Boston but still work in New York [I record my weekly podcast live in Brooklyn on Mondays and teach part time at FIT], so often I am commuting. And because I am just launching EcoSessions—the monthly global event series, across six cities, I am often travelling to one of the EcoSessions cities.

You’re raising awareness and bringing attention to harmful practices that not only companies have routinely profited from for years, but that customers are being exposed to or are participating in, unbeknownst to most of them. Have you ever encountered any resistance to some of your blog posts? The truth can hurt!

At both Magnifeco and EcoSessions, we are very careful to raise awareness and launch discussions around issues, without tying them to specific brands or companies for two reasons: we don’t have the resources or research teams that many NGO’s do; and brands make changes to their supply chains often. So rather than point fingers or “name shame” I think it’s important for consumers to understand where issues or concerns lie in the supply chain, so they can seek out brands that are transparent or brands that they trust.

I attended an EcoSession about green beauty and I was really excited to see successful, local companies that have stuck to their commitment to provide clean, products. How did these sessions come about and what do you look for in guest speakers?

I launched Magnifeco.com in 2008. And after 5 years of writing daily stories about brands and designers who were doing things differently I realized the industry needed two things to push it forward: there needed to be more sharing and collaboration between makers, and consumers needed opportunities to hear the stories and see the products. So I created EcoSessions to meet both of these needs. We bring together leaders around a topic or theme [most who have never met] and then ask them to share their stories as a way to activate conscious consumerism. For each theme, we pick panellists who have great stories and great products.

There are so many misconceptions about ethical fashion and clean beauty. I think a lot of people assume that it will be less effective, more expensive, inconvenient, and time consuming. Going all in seems like a daunting task. What do you say about those misgivings?

Ethical products usually do cost more. That’s the truth. Natural ingredients cost more than synthetics. Fairly paid labour costs more than child or slave labour. The cost is a reflection of the ethics. And when it comes to ease of purchase, convenience and effectiveness, those are changing all the time. Whole Foods has helped everyone find better personal care products, and in some locations, great basics. I think as you shift your focus, it becomes easier to find what you are looking for. For example, if you are really interested in supporting local, you’ll notice “made in Montreal” shops and craft fairs. If chemicals are your worry, you’ll notice organic beauty shops and natural living trade shows. The movement is gaining momentum and making it easier to shop your values every day.

10 years after you started Magnifeco, has your outlook changed, are you happy with how ethical fashion and clean beauty have evolved over the years? 

I didn’t realize how imperative this movement would be. Let’s look at fashion, for example. The industry is producing 150 billion garments per year [double what it was 10 years ago], mostly from virgin materials, and a lot of the time without any oversight for the environment or social implications. Our grandmothers had about 9 items of clothing in their closets, we are buying about 65, per year. It’s up to consumers to change the paradigm of consumption and I’m still interested in creating opportunities [through my blog, my book, my podcast and EcoSessions] to increase conscious consumerism.

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Can you tell me two easy things that readers can immediately do, once they’ve finished reading these words, to help them kick-start their switch toward a cleaner, more ethical lifestyle?

My mother-in-law has a saying, which always made us giggle because it seemed so obscure: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. But it applies here. Change is difficult, for anything, including trying and switching to new products. I suggest starting small. For example, skin is our largest organ, so if you want to reduce your chemical burden, switch to a more natural or organic body soap or body lotion. Same with clothing, maybe start with organic cotton underwear and go from there!

To learn more, please visit :

Magnifeco.com, where ethics meets aesthetics. The digital source for eco-fashion and sustainable living. Follow Magnifeco on Twitter and Instagram.

EcoSessions®, connecting designers, industry and citizens to discuss change. Follow EcoSession on Twitter and Instagram.

Catch the Magnifeco Radio podcast series on the Heritage Radio Network or iTunes.

Lead image and sketch courtesy of Elizabeth Stillwell of The Note Passer, photos of Kate courtesy of Romp Photography

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March 9, 2017