Brittany Sierra, owner of the Portland, Oregon based fashion marketing company Laptops and Smalltalk, curated an entire day of programming during Design Week Portland dedicated to discussing sustainability in this notoriously wasteful industry. Utilizing panel discussions from industry experts — eco-friendly fashion bloggers, designers, and educators — guests were part of the ongoing quest to balance style with minimizing their carbon footprint. I sat down with her as she was planning the event to discuss her goals and intentions.

Tell me a little bit about your business Laptops and Smalltalk, and its involvement with this event.

Laptops and Smalltalk is essentially an online platform and offline network for emerging independent designers, retailers, brands, and pretty much anyone who is interested in fashion and wants to learn how to build and grow their business. Through Laptops, I do a lot of workshops and events, which is why the Sustainable Fashion Forum makes more sense coming from that platform. It’s geared toward providing information and informing people on different topics.
It's funny how this event came about: I went to an eco-fashion show, and they had a speaker quoting stats about the effects the fashion industry has on our environment and different communities around the world. I'd heard some of those before, but for some reason they resonated with me more that time. I started doing research, and found there were a lot of different definitions for sustainable fashion — there are no real guidelines to be considered sustainable or eco-friendly. I wanted to have a conversation that brought the community together to look at the industry, and then chat about what it really is, and what people here in town are doing.

Can you describe what sustainable fashion is?

That's really hard. You know, there are some people who are well-educated and versed in sustainable fashion. I’m not one of them, which is ironic. But I'm putting on this event from the standpoint of the consumer. In the research I've done and the conversations I've had, there are so many variables. Some people think that sustainable means local, slow production, versus mass-produced. Others will say that doesn’t count, unless you're using dead stock fabrics or organic cottons. I'm still trying to figure out for myself what the definition is, and what I believe based on these conversations.

It feels like now that we have so much information available to us we’re supposed to be experts on everything all of the time. I like the idea of acknowledging there isn't an exact definition.

It could be completely different based on the designer, and that’s so interesting. It's hard for me to really give a true answer, and that’s part of what the forum is about — coming together to educate each other and create a dialogue about what it means to us as a community here in Portland. It’s so important to discuss what we can do as a community to be better.

Tell me about the panel: who’s coming, and why did you invite them?

Our panel last year was made up entirely of designers, so they all had similar perspectives. This year, I wanted to have more of a conversation with people coming from different parts of the fashion industry. The first panel of the day is from the consumer's point of view, and features Portland fashion bloggers who have chosen to make sustainable and eco fashion their lifestyle and mantra, and to try to be friendly to the environment in all aspects.

What do you want the people who are attending to get out of it?

The main goal is education, for all of us. I want people to be informed, to see new ways they can buy things, and new ways of living — without feeling judged.

It seems as if the issue of sustainability and ethical design are far reaching for industries beyond fashion.

Nearly every brand you look at is having a conversation about sustainability. That's another thing about this forum I want to talk about; brands and companies are now using sustainability as a marketing tool because it's so popular. And that’s the problem with not having a clear definition of sustainability. It’s going to be a long process of trying to figure out exactly what it means, and how we define it — not just as a marketing tool, but as part of your ethos.