Rocking Sustainable Fashion
Story by Karen Tinsley
Photography Chris Edwards
When Elaine Weeks and husband Chris Edwards embarked on a 165-day trip around the world last year, there was more to their mission than visiting exotic lands.
As a supporter and promoter of sustainable fashion (a term describing processes, products and people striving to achieve a carbon-neutral fashion industry), Elaine realized this trip of a lifetime presented an exciting opportunity.
To raise awareness and inspire others, she envisioned staging fashion photo shoots against iconic backdrops in every country they visited: the United States, England, France, Turkey, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam and Canada.
“I’ve always loved fashion, but I was raised to live frugally. Reduce, reuse and recycle was the norm in our house long before it became a thing,” Elaine shares. “My father grew up during the Depression, and like so many who endured the rations and shortages of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, Dad taught us to think very carefully about waste, which made me more mindful of the environment.”
Because her late father Bert Weeks (Windsor’s 28th mayor from 1975 to 1982) also firmly believed that green spaces could enhance Windsor’s quality of life, Elaine witnessed his tireless work protecting Windsor’s riverfront from development.
Mayor Weeks spearheaded the formation of many of those green spaces including Ganatchio Trail, Lake-view Park Marina, Coventry Gardens as well as several other waterfront parks. At the foot of Parent Avenue, a cascading water fountain and reflecting pool, flowers, plants and pathways comprise Bert Weeks Memorial Gardens, a fitting and enduring tribute.
So it’s no surprise that Elaine is continuing her father’s long legacy in the city of Windsor.
In January 1990, she helped organize and lead a peaceful protest against Styrofoam packaging used by the McDonald’s restaurant chain.
She recalls, “We chose the McDonald’s Huron Church Road location (a stone’s throw from one of the world’s busiest border crossings). I was almost 9 months pregnant and it was freezing, but the protest fired up media attention, gained traction and led to victory: those Styrofoam ‘clamshell’ sandwich containers were no more!”
Today, Elaine is raising awareness of “fast fashion” and doing her part to slow it down.
She explains, “The whole idea of fast fashion is quick, affordable access to knock-offs of higher-end catwalk and runway styles; for many people, the initial small cash outlay to wear the latest trendy top means it’s no big deal to toss it when the next new trend comes along. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s so harmful to the earth.”
Indeed, fashion has a massive carbon footprint.
According to CBC News, the fashion industry is one of the largest global consumers of water. It’s used throughout the washing, manufacturing, dyeing and finishing processes. Just to put that into perspective, a whopping 7,000 litres are involved in producing one single pair of blue jeans!
CBC News also reports that every second of every day, from one end of the planet to the other, one truck of textile waste is dumped at a landfill or incinerated.
Also of concern are the garment factories in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and other developing countries. Poor working conditions (long hours, no health and safety standards and being paid less than a living wage) foster a workplace rife with exploitation (of women and children in particular.)
“One of the best ways to reduce our fashion footprint and dress with less impact on the planet is buying and wearing ‘pre-loved’ (secondhand) clothing. Pre-loved clothing already exists, so there’s no need to manufacture it again; therefore no further toxic chemicals, greenhouse gases or pesticides. When you buy pre-loved pieces, you’re prolonging or preventing them from ending up in a landfill,” Elaine suggests.
An early adopter of finding fabulous, affordable fashion treasures at thrift and secondhand stores, Elaine recalls, “When I was a student, I just didn’t have the funds, plus I have always disliked shopping in malls. I like designer labels, but I have never bought them brand new.”
For a five-and-a-half-month sojourn across several continents and climates, Elaine brought only two small suitcases, which were primarily packed with thrift store clothing and accessories.
“From a boat on the Mekong River (where I celebrated my 66th birthday) to New York City’s Times Square, the average cost of each featured outfit in the photo shoots was just $20. Thrifted dresses, pants, tops, skirts, sweaters, shoes and even jewelry are a definite win/win: better for the planet, easier on your pocketbook.
With Chris as photographer/videographer, Elaine shared her thrifted travel style on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
“I was only able to pack one pair of high heels, so observant followers may have noticed them in almost every photo or video,” she laughs.
In Thailand, standing at the foot of the stairway leading to the Goddess of Mercy (aka the White Buddha), we see Elaine in a thrifted $9 ANTISTAR ‘LBD’ (Little Black Dress), $5 shawl from a Bali artisan and $6 MIA heels (also thrifted).
Striking a pose in Istanbul, Turkey on the cobblestone streets leading from the ancient Galata Tower, the willowy locks of an inexpensive blonde wig cascade over Elaine’s thrifted Caution to the Wind dress ($10), $2 dollar store gloves and a $4 red beret straight from the sidewalks of Paris.
The old town of Hoian, Vietnam (a UNESCO heritage site) provides a colourful contrast to Elaine’s ever-versatile black thrifted LBD and $6 MIA heels. Once again, the $4 Paris beret and $2 dollar store gloves provide pretty pops of primary colour. Sporting a popsicle pink Columbia puffy coat and Calvin Klein leggings ($15 and $10 respectively, pre-loved) at Times Square in the Big Apple, Elaine cuts a striking figure.
With “La Dame de Fer” (The Iron Lady) rising majestically behind her, Elaine’s $10 Fashion Nova dress (paired once again with her pre-loved MIA heels) evokes the classic Paris cachet of Coco Chanel, who said, “Fashion is in the sky, in the street. It has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
Now home and happy to reflect on and share her most recent adventure, Elaine says, “One funny thing that surprised me was that people all over the world were quite nonchalant when they came upon a popup fashion shoot.” But on a more serious note, “Fashion should not cost the earth, and by being mindful and careful of what I buy, I can save money and make a difference.”
Once a champion track and field athlete, Elaine is also passionate about health, fitness and aging well.
“Age really is just a number. By showcasing pre-loved clothing as an affordable, sustainable fashion alternative, I hope other people are inspired to become fit, stay fit and look great into their ‘60’s and beyond!”
Elaine and Chris have authored and published nine books about the history of the Windsor/Detroit area. Co-owners of Walkerville Publishing, Elaine’s writing and editing skills complement Chris’ publishing and digital design expertise. Well-known for stewarding, preserving and documenting Windsor’s robust local history, they have also collaborated with fellow local historians on 20 books, as well as numerous authors who self-publish their work. Chris and Elaine’s newest work, “A River Runs Between Us” will be available in 2024. Visit walkerville.com to find out more.