Do you really want to know about the clothes on your back? Goods of Conscience can tell you the entire story of your garment from seeds to shirtsleeves. And the entire story is good. So good, in fact, that it’s no surprise that the line was founded by a priest, Father Andrew O’Connor, whose creations link farmers and weavers in Guatemala, and pattern makers and sewers in the Guatemalan community in the Bronx, with philosophical dressers everywhere.
Start with an heirloom variety of cotton grown on a family farm near Guatemala’s Pacific coast, which after spinning moves into the hands of traditional Quiche weavers on the shores of stunning Lake Atitlan in central Guatemala, and then to the workbenches of skilled sewers in the Bronx. Along the way, add heritage, living wages, dignity and creativity and you end up with Goods of Conscience, a line of clothing for men and women.
What started Father Andrew off on his unique combination of Seventh Avenue and virtue? A visit to the church on Lake Atitlan where Father Stan Rother was murdered by a right wing death squad in 1981. During his thirteen years of service there, Rother translated the New Testament and the daily mass into Tzutuhil, the language of his parishioners, opened a medical clinic called El Hospitalito, and thoroughly addressed the needs of his flock. “Being there, in the place where one man did so much good, sealed my intuition that it is possible to be at home in the flesh of an American.”
With advice from Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigina, a museum devoted to the preservation of the complex and layered tradition of Mayan clothing, and to monitoring programs which involve weavers and creators working within that tradition, Father Andrew began to explore the notion of linking Guatemalans in Guatemala and Guatemalans in New York. Their first products were albs, a liturgical garment made of white linen, and a bit of common ground between them: “My New York community and the community of Atitlan both use them.”
When Goods of Conscience reached the semifinals of Columbia University’s Global Social Venture Competition...and lost because of too small a market potential, taking on fashion was clearly the next step. His Upper West Side parishioners provided savvy advice. One experienced fashion maven accurately said, “Don’t do too much -- keep the line simple. And avoid retail because they will starve you of cash and penalize you for simple infractions.”
Oddly enough, it was Father Andrew’s spiritual advisor who gave the best fashion advice of all: read the organic growth of the company, and accept what you see. “So I see the business for what it really is: a vertically integrated line of socially conscious apparel that is developing a long term market for slow fashion,” O’Connor says confidently. When Cameron Diaz modeled Goods of Conscience shorts in the June 2009 issue of Vogue, with a special call-out from editor Anna Wintour, O’Connor’s “what it really is” was officially approved by the fashion world.
But ask O’Connor what drives him, and the approval of the fashion world doesn’t even enter the picture. He defines success as “staying in business without having to raise funds in a way that would compromise our core mission.” This is no doubt a concern generated by the business demands of opening new workshops in additional communities in Guatemala. Spiritual questions, though, continue to be top of mind, as Father O’Connor frequently examines the idea that “contemporary post-industrial culture is a nomadic, restless one, floating over the more solid memory of being well-rooted farmers.”
Can a handwoven shirt help us heal the divided soul of modern man? Get online and buy something from www.goodsofconscience.org. Unless you are trying on something better, in which case Father Andrew would like to know about it.
For information and purchasing, visit www.goodsofconscience.com without delay. Father Andrew’s onsite blog also makes for good reading.
If you want to know where your clothes come from and how they are made – and like what you learn – you need Goods of Conscience.