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Devon Lach has just launched Prynne, a marketplace for women who don’t want to choose between style and sustainability. In today’s interview, we discuss how there are inclusivity gaps in the fast-fashion world and how she sets The Prynne Standard, a series of morals for brands that the online retailer commissions to ensure Prynne is 100% ethical and true to the customer. It’s important for Devon that customers know where and how their clothes are made – sustainable fashion needs to be a partnership between consumer and producer.

2020 has been one great big exposé for the fast-fashion industry and the damage it causes. Garment workers across the globe are being exploited, bulk-production and stock-waste are booming, and garments are being sold for a fraction of a price they take to produce. Alongside environmental damage, there is a stigma around sustainable fashion in that it can’t be considered as ‘fashionable’ as fast-fashion because it’s ethically made. Or it’s too expensive. Or that it’s ‘uncool’ to try and be kind to the planet. Women can’t care for the planet and dress nice, apparently.

This is where Prynne enters to answer the prayers of fashionable eco-queens across the world, showcasing some of the most on-point, affordable fashion collectives which all adhere to the Prynne Standard. The new marketplace prides itself on being honest to the customer about garment production and how it can easily be more ethical if the industry makes some systematic changes.

Devon, I read that you founded Prynne after discovering how little the mainstream, fast-fashion industry catered to women who support fashion and sustainability and don’t want to give up one for the other. Can you pinpoint the turning point for you as an individual that kickstarted this mission toward sustainable inclusivity?
For me, there wasn’t a single moment so much as a slow build. Fashion was an empowering part of my life because it let me get past my shy exterior and always gave me a talking point in social situations I may have otherwise felt awkward in. As a photographer, I always loved the artistic aspects of fashion photography, but I struggled with the disconnect between the industry and my personal values, and that struggle ultimately fueled the creative narrative of Prynne.
Your vision for this evolved definition of fashion started back in university when you started a feminist fashion magazine. Do you feel that Prynne is the ‘big sister’ of your magazine? How has it evolved since 2018 in terms of entering into the realm of sustainable fashion?
Absolutely; the idea started when I was in graduate school, as a feminist fashion magazine, and almost immediately, it became clear that you can’t untangle feminist fashion from sustainable fashion. I ended up with an inclusive eco-feminist fashion magazine, which is quite a mouthful, but every aspect felt essential.
Since then, it’s evolved a lot, mostly refining the aesthetic and creating a full brand identity, something I didn’t have when I initially started. The values of Prynne have stayed true throughout, but as we’ve grown, I’ve been able to hire writers and bring in more voices. Prynne’s marketplace continues to build on that by bringing together the design perspectives of amazing, mostly womxn-owned brands.
What inspired you to make the leap from a written magazine to e-commerce a few years later? Was it a jump into the unknown or was this always the plan for yourself and Prynne?
For a long time, I just focused on the magazine – it was a creative side project, and the intention wasn’t to turn it into a monetary venture. Honestly, the jump happened because I felt a void in the market as a consumer. I saw people around me willfully ignore the issues in the fashion industry because they were overwhelmed by the amount of research required. I had become the go-to reference for my close friends and even had a number of people reach out to me on Instagram to ask for sustainable fashion suggestions. In the midst of this, I was talking to amazing brands for the magazine, so it felt like a natural progression.

All of the brands you stock are asked to be transparent in their methods and comply with The Prynne Standard, did you intentionally choose these brands based on their morals? What was your thought process behind shortlisting potential brands?
All the brands I chose for a combination of their morals and aesthetic. I simultaneously developed a qualifications list for The Prynne Standard and evaluated each brand on the list before reaching out to them. It was also very important to me to prioritize Black, Indigenous, people of colour and Womxn-owned brands.
Transparency is key in getting the customer to trust you, how compliant are the brands you work alongside with The Prynne Standard?
I totally agree; without transparency, it’s impossible to move away from a world of exploitative fast-fashion. All of the brands in our marketplace meet The Prynne Standard through sustainable, ethical and inclusive practices. We’ve included icons on each product page to help customers understand the specific actions each brand is taking towards sustainability. I want sustainable fashion to feel approachable and understandable, not intimidating.
The key to a more eco-friendly, limited waste garment production cycle is the made-to-order method rather than producing in bulk, but we as a society want things now or we don’t want it at all. It’s almost a competition to see whose Amazon parcel will arrive first. Do you feel we are conditioned by society to be almost ‘anti’ slow fashion due to this desire for urgency? Has society of today almost created the facilities to turn a blind eye to exploitation in the fast-fashion industry?
I do feel we live in an immediate gratification world that is in many ways counteractive to a slow fashion model. On top of that, there are so many emotional issues facing our world that it’s often easier for people to ignore than confront. Over the past year, with the pandemic and the global protests, more people are starting to realize where you spend your money makes an impact. It will definitely take some metal retraining, but I hope through transparency about the process, people will adjust their expectation of instant gratification – in reality, it’s a false need.

I noticed on the Prynne site that you are currently featuring a vegan edit alongside a great spectrum of inclusivity in both brand and model selection – I assume these are important values to you as a person. How does it feel to have such an open outlet for your ethical fashion values after working so hard? How has this been received by consumers so far?
Prynne is definitely a reflection of me and my values. I was fairly quiet about the marketplace while I was developing it, so it feels fantastic to see the site live and share it with the world. We officially launched a month ago, and so far, the reception has been really positive. It gives me a lot of hope to connect with so many brands and customers that are aligned with our desire to change the industry.
You emphasise on how important it is to provide the customers with information on the story of their garments before buying. Do you think if people knew more about how their garments were made on fast-fashion websites that they would change their mind?
Absolutely. If fast-fashion companies were required to list their working conditions and environmental impact on each product page, I think a lot of people would consider making different choices. But in addition to knowledge about the harms of the industry, we have to address the fashion cycle itself, thinking long-term instead of seasonally.
What is your opinion on the argument that slow/sustainable small business fashion does not cater to everyone, for example, people with less money or plus-sized people – I have spoken to many people who have contradicted the view that sustainable fashion is the all-inclusive completely accessible way forward. What are your thoughts?
There are definitely issues with inclusivity in the sustainable fashion industry, but in many ways, they echo the issues of the fashion industry on the whole. While building the roster of brands for Prynne, I tried to find a range of price points and specifically looked for size-inclusive brands. There is a lot of work the sustainable fashion industry can do to continue to be more inclusive, and it’s important to continue emphasizing the intersections of all the issues. Prynne’s magazine will continue to be a place to have these discussions.

You wrote that we as a society are at a "critical moment" for our environment and need to make "drastic" changes quickly. Do you think a higher awareness and support for sustainable brands is enough, or do we need to do something more to make people actually invest?
I’m not under the illusion that a sustainable fashion marketplace is going to solve the climate crisis, but a lot of small actions, supporting individuals instead of corporations, can make an impact. Corporations, the largest contributors to carbon emissions, will only start changing their actions when there is a societal imperative, and the way we can make them feel that is through our spending habits.
I as a consumer fully support the mission and ethics of Prynne, what is your creative vision for the company in five years?
I’m happy to hear that! I want Prynne to be the go-to resource for inclusive sustainable fashion – a collaborative hub that brings together brands and creatives. I hope that even people who don’t care about sustainable fashion will come to Prynne for the beautiful clothing and learn about a different approach to fashion along the way.
If you don’t mind, I wanted to ask your opinion on a topic not fully related to Prynne itself – a sort of bonus question. 2020 has been an eye-opening year in the fashion industry – in July, Boohoo was exposed for an exploitation scandal in their warehouses in Leicester, where it's reported female immigrant workers were making garments for less than £3.50 an hour – well below the minimum wage for the lowest age bracket in the United Kingdom. Do you think this exposure and other cases like this one. will make consumers think more, like you said, about how, where and what they are buying? Furthermore, do you think the key to increased awareness is education through social media and positive online materials, or harsh exposure on TV like this instance?
That’s a great question. I believe that community pressure will actually have more of an impact than harsh exposure like the aforementioned case. With so much negativity in the news cycle, it’s easy for people to block it out, so I think people will be more easily influenced by their peers. This lack of transparency from bigger companies is one of the main reasons Prynne collaborates with a lot of smaller brands that personally know all the people that make their clothing.

Erin Graham

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