Impact and Conscious Fashion with Sarah Spellings of The Cut

Designers in our community face the ongoing challenge of not only crafting a brand narrative through their channels but spreading that message to the masses. That's where individuals like fashion writer Sarah Spellings come in to help tell those stories effectively. And today, we have the pleasure of flipping the switch and telling Sarah's story.

As a leading reporter at The Cut, Sarah's work for the publication primarily explores the intricacies of fashion and culture. Sarah has also taken her storytelling abilities one step further by engaging her readers in important discussions like sustainable fashion — a pillar that has come to distinguish her as an inspiring modern voice in journalism. While these topics can sometimes get lost in a sea of marketing buzzwords and false promises, we chatted with Sarah about some of her discoveries in reporting on sustainable fashion along with her tips for designers looking to build authentic relationships with journalists in this day and age. Check out more from our conversation with Sarah who kindly stopped by The Square and also showed us some of her go-to work essentials.

Hi Sarah. Thanks for chatting with us! To start things off, if you had a chance to write a story about your favorite fashion item as a child what would the headline be?

My name is Sarah Spellings, and I'm a fashion writer at New York magazine's The Cut. I was always very interested in fashion. When I was a kid, I had a houndstooth skirt suit (that sounds very pretentious doesn't it?) that I adored. It was meant for really special occasions like Easter and Christmas, but I'd wear it on a regular day to the playground to play in the sand. I loved it. I have an adult, pantsuit version now. Maybe the headline is "A Tale of Two Houndstooth Suits." Eh, I probably need to workshop that a bit.

How has your relationship with fashion evolved as a result of your profession?

I think working in fashion has refined my relationship to it. I can be surrounded by all the beautiful things all the time, which allows me to think about what I actually want to wear to express myself. I know I can appreciate a trend or a style without having to engage with it and put it on my own body. And thankfully I'm not super jaded, so I still have days where I look at a really beautiful show or get to meet an incredible designer that I admire and feel like a whimsical kid.

Tell us about life at The Cut and how this particular role has shaped your identity as a writer. Would you say there was a particular story you worked on that was a turning point for you?

The Cut is an awesome place to be a fashion writer because you're also surrounded by people who aren't writing about fashion, but who are stylish. That environment puts me in the mind of a consumer rather than the capital F fashion person. You can really play with how you cover fashion. I wouldn't say there's an article that was a turning point, because ideally, I'd like to constantly evolve. But the article I’m most proud of is my essay on how it felt to give up fast fashion after a year. It was a personal essay — which I don’t frequently write — so it was a challenge. But I think the story resonated with people who are looking at their clothing habits.

What has been one of your biggest discoveries about fashion's relationship with the environment? In your opinion, what needs to be reported more when it comes to this pressing issue?

There's a tendency to dismiss fashion because it's seen as frivolous or excessive or only for some people. And it can be, but everyone engages with fashion in some way by wearing clothes. And so why shouldn't it be at the forefront of conversations about sustainability the way food is? It's a part of a larger problem.

One thing I always try to keep in mind is that there's no silver bullet. There are lots of ways to be more sustainable based on what your values are (i.e., I don't think using vegan leather is automatically the most sustainable choice). But I'm always cheered when I see a brand doing a sincere effort. I think that's key for me — sincerity. "We're doing this because it's the right thing to do," not, "We're doing this because it's trendy." If a brand has one sustainable option out of their whole offering, it makes me wonder whether or not they're just paying lip service. But that being said, the best thing to do is always buy less. That's the elephant in the room when writing about sustainable fashion. And if you're going to buy, buy something that you'll really wear over and over and is made well and/or consciously.

Another really important thing to remember is that right now, sustainable fashion is not accessible to a lot of people. It's expensive, the space is very white, and it's often not size-inclusive. Of course, there are exceptions, but the blame shouldn't be on the consumer, it should be on the brands. And it's up to writers and storytellers to make sure that brands are making real change.

Who are a few sustainable designers that you think are relevant and modern examples of brands who are fostering real change in the industry?

For brands, I'm a big fan of Veja, Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, Kowtow and in general brands who have been quietly doing the sustainable thing for a long time. No company is perfect, but they're great examples. I admire brands who put sustainability first, because it's the right thing to do, and who show receipts. What is it made of? Who makes it? Under what conditions? Those are the important questions.

Brand Assembly is a community dedicated to providing resources for emerging designers. As an established fashion writer, what are your tips for our community when it comes to building authentic relationships with journalists?

Be honest — Sometimes I feel like people are scared to say something they're not doing well. But if you're looking to do something, but haven't gotten there yet, say that. I won't hold it against you if you aren't there yet! Baby steps are important, too.

A real connection is always better — I love to meet people after we've worked together once or twice to put a face to the name.

Please don't pitch me on Instagram — My email is very easy to find, and if you DM me on Instagram asking for my email, all I've learned is that you didn't google me first.

how do you hope to push the boundaries of what you can do as a conscious storyteller?

As with any journalist, I hope to tell stories that impact people, or stories that people remember. I hope to show people that what we wear matters — to the planet and ourselves.


Photos by Phoebe Cheong for Brand Assembly