Fashion Friday: Interview with Kestrel Jenkins of Conscious Chatter
Kestrel Jenkins, founder and host of the Conscious Chatter Podcast, is a firm believer that what we wear really matters. As a gifted storyteller, Kestrel uses her creativity and knowledge of the fashion industry to ignite meaningful conversations on sustainability and ethical fashion. The deep connection Kestrel makes between the clothing she owns and the stories she wants her style to convey are both inspiring and has the listener anticipating each episode. With her own style once compared to a Hybrid Ferrari, today’s conversation will leave you eager to visit your local consignment shop or peruse your grandmother’s vintage treasures. Here is our interview with style expert and creative soul, Kestrel Jenkins.
You are truly a leading lady in the world of sustainable and ethical fashion, helping to spark meaningful conversations in an area many of us are still very new to. Can you share with us briefly about your background in sustainable fashion and why this is a passion of yours?
Thank you for the kind words – I feel like there’s always so much more to learn in this industry, which makes it extra exciting for someone like me who loves to ask questions. I initially found my path into this realm after graduating from college with degrees in International Journalism and Global Studies. After my studies, I knew I wanted to do something connected to fair trade, but that was about it. I moved home for a bit to try to figure out my next steps, and while there, my mom received a catalog from a clothing company called Fair Indigo. My mom looked up at me and said, “Kes – what about fashion?” She knew I was a fashion freak from a young age, and this was a brilliant suggestion. Once she planted the seed, I researched the web for companies and opportunities in the space. I eventually discovered People Tree, the pioneer in Fair Trade fashion. I was determined to get an internship with their team, so I emailed them every week to check in about it. Eventually, their PR Manager at the time gave me an interview and I headed to London for 6 months. To me, fashion has always been my creative expression and something that feeds my soul. Working in the world of fair trade and sustainability actually meant something to me.
Last year you launched an amazing platform to encourage dialogue about the garment industry through your podcast Conscious Chatter! Where did the idea for Conscious Chatter originate and what are some of the reasons that motivated you to use this as a conversation tool?
Conscious Chatter started in the spring of 2016, and the idea was actually spawned from a conversation with a good friend of mine, Matt Hickey of Be Kind Vibes. At the time, Matt had been searching for a podcast about sustainable fashion and wasn’t finding anything. He said, “Kes – why don’t you bring the conversations you’re blogging about to the audio space?” I initially was like, “Cool idea, but I have no idea how to start a podcast.” Turns out, once Matt planted the seed, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I started researching how to start a podcast, and a month or so later, I recorded my first episode, with my mom interviewing me.
With your experience in the fashion industry and the time you have spent researching and advocating for change, have you seen meaningful progress in our society to embrace more thoughtful purchases?
It’s actually a bit unbelievable to me how much the industry and consumer interest has evolved since I came into this conversation. About a decade ago, when I was interning with People Tree in London, the conversation was extremely minimal in the U.S. I remember that the free newspaper you would get in the tube stations actually had an “eco-fashion item” listed, and I was so impressed by this. When I returned to the U.S., it was difficult to share what I had been doing with People Tree – I got a lot of blank stares and confused looks. However, articles are released on the regular, and publications are taking note to the conversation. It’s more easily accessible than it was, and far more people are talking about it. I used to know every single brand that had any socially conscious angle to their approach, and now I can’t keep up with them. This is a powerful realization for me.
Each year Dressember uses the influence of fashion to advocate and raise awareness to the issue of human trafficking. In your experience, can you speak to the connection that clothing production often has with human trafficking?
Human trafficking and the garment industry are closely intertwined. Fast fashion has been able to thrive because of the extremely cheap, unregulated labor that the brands employ to manufacture their clothing. “Apparel is one of the top industries plagued by human trafficking,” according to a report by LexisNexis and STOP THE TRAFFIK which investigates the link between cotton and human trafficking. It starts with the farming and goes all the way through the cut & sew of the garments.
Why is the mission of Dressember important to you personally?
The mission of Dressember is directly connected to the work I do – bringing conversations about how what we wear really does matter to the forefront. I believe in wearing clothing that reflects who I am and what I want to say to the world – from the visual elements of it all the way back to the stories behind how it was made.
For many, the thought of changing the way we spend our money, especially on clothing, can seem overwhelming. What advice can you give to someone who wants to make the transition to more conscious consumerism?
Absolutely, it can feel overwhelming. For me, over time, it has become this fun challenge to find pieces I believe in. But, a great place to start is thrifting. Shopping secondhand can be really fun if you go into it with an open mind. Also, prices aren’t typically super beyond reach, and you can find unique pieces for yourself.
Fashion is clearly an integral part of your life – how would you describe your own personal style?
It is literally constantly changing and evolving, but I love color and print and unexpected compositions. A friend once said that my style is like a hybrid Ferrari, and I’d say he was pretty on-point in defining my aesthetic.
Your Podcast Tagline, “Where what we wear matters” is such a thoughtful point. Why do you believe what we choose to buy and wear matters?
First of all, what you wear is a reflection of what you want to say to the world – and maybe just what you want to say to the world on one specific day or on a specific occasion. Our clothes undeniably make an impact on how we are perceived, and often, how we feel about ourselves on any given day. For me, it goes deeper beyond that first impression. What I wear says more about what I believe in – wearing clothing that has a powerful story behind it allows me to share something more than just my personal style.
Lastly, I saw that you started a project called Left Edit – can you tell us briefly about it?
Left Edit is a project I’ve started with my cofounder Holly Olson. It came about as a response to the need for more collaboration in the sustainable fashion space, and a need for more style-driven content and options. We are working hard to bring more accessible options to everyday people, in what we like to call “a collaborative approach to the future of fashion.” More soon!
"Wearing clothing that has a powerful story behind it allows me to share something more than just my personal style." - Kestrel Jenkins
Thank you to Kestrel for taking the time to educate and bring awareness about the importance of conscious consumerism. If you're interested in hearing more of Kestrel's fascinating conversations, check out her website linked below.
*photos courtesy of Drew McGill Photography
About the Author
Michaela Judge is a military veteran and Southern transplant. As a Public Relations specialist by day, she is overjoyed to use her love of writing to help fight for freedom and justice through Dressember! Her favorite moments are spent with her husband, Phil, and daughter, Ellie, adventuring in Charleston, South Carolina, and spreading hospitality .