In an industry defined by ultra-commercial media titans, a unique independent podcast stands the test of time and is a force for good. Sustainability advocate and media executive Charles Beckwith started American Fashion Podcast in 2014 as a way of helping the fashion industry "talk to itself about sustainability," as he puts it, in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster.
With over 175 episodes published to date, the series now sees over 20,000 downloads per week and is followed by people at all levels of the industry, according to series co-host Cathy Schepis, a former fashion executive at Kate Spade and Anne Klein who now consults on management and merchandising for a variety of brands.
The show's typically genteel progressive message is backed up with an occasional hardball push when a guest isn't being transparent. In a recent interview for the Los Angeles mini-series, Beckwith had noticed the guests' website said they used 100% sustainable textiles, which he pressed them on in the interview, knowing that no materials currently used by the fashion industry are 100% sustainable. The host has a strong dislike for the "fakeness" of the industry. He also called out one of H&M's sustainability executives for "driving a race to the bottom" during a Global Fashion Agenda Q&A in the posh NeueHouse business club, in front of a group of about 50 top industry leaders. "I know people need to make money, but I think lying to your customers is not a sustainable way to do that," he says.
"We run it like a community radio station for the fashion business, and it has that kind of impact, not just in communication about sustainable fashion but also helping people feel like they are part of something that they can help change," says Beckwith.
This seems to be true, as evidenced by reviews of the show posted on the American Fashion iTunes page like, "This podcast is exactly what I was looking for. The more I’ve learned, the more I realize how important sustainable fashion is. The podcast hosts and guests provide the information and resources for me to turn my conviction into actions. I have learned so much and I’m only a few episodes in!" and "This podcast touches on the essence of fashion in our country. Where it is, what it is doing, where it is going. Any person who is into fashion absolutely MUST listen in. The commentators on the show are intelligently opinionated, experienced in the industry, and passionate - they cut right to business too, which I prefer."
The series is the cornerstone of a lifestyle business podcast network, MouthMedia Network, co-founded by Charles Beckwith, Rob Sanchez, Pavan Bahl, and Marc Raco, which launched with the acquisition of American Fashion and its spin-off sister series Fashion Is Your Business in 2016, and now boasts 15 shows in lifestyle verticals beyond just fashion and beauty, such as travel and real estate. The shows are free for listeners, and the company's revenue comes from hosting curated live events for industry leaders. MouthMedia Network's high production value was recognized by German audio giant Sennheiser, which is a major sponsor of the company's programming and events.
Asked about the future for American Fashion Podcast, Beckwith says, "well, we're at year four and still helping people, so I don't think we'll slow down. I recorded a mini-series from Los Angeles last fall that is just coming out now, and I hope to do more stuff like that. I would like to travel with the show more, out to San Francisco and Portland, down to Central and South America, and above all out into the American heartland, so we're looking for partners that line up with the locally sustainable ethos of the series who can help us do that. More and more people are listening to the show each month, which I think is a very good thing."
American Fashion Podcast is available through the show's website, as well as on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and many other platforms.