How the Fashion Revolution is holding itself back
Fast Fashion is not ethical or sustainable for our planet. It's often the case that somewhere on the supply chain, someone is suffering from poor physical or mental health, a part of the world is no longer green and the essential supplies for certain communities are now limited as a direct result of this multi-trillion dollar industry.
We’ve known this for years. And I’m sure you wouldn't mind being included in the collective conscious that “this is not ok”.
Of course it's not ok.
Yet, the chains responsible for the horror stories still exist on every high street. They still have queues bursting through the aisles. We’re even still witnesses to the mistreatment of staff on the shop floors.
We’ve all overheard a shop assistant being criticised for not wearing heels, make up, or the latest season that they have to pay for with their own wages; or for being too slow, not asking us if we want to sign up to their shop’s credit card schemes (despite us being in too much of a rush to reply anyway), and - overheard in 2017 - being told to lose weight.
But that’s retail, right? The shop assistants know what they're getting into.
Actually, when you really think about it, the “that’s retail” excuse is utter madness.
The clothes we buy give us a level of happiness - why shouldn't that be the experience the whole way through the chain?
I’m sure many of you have had these same thoughts at some point.
The trouble is, “Good Fashion” is harder to find.
I’ve been living a “Fashion conscious” life for the last year - trying to buy either upcycled clothes or materials that serve the planet and the people living on it in the best possible way.
But I’m a twenty-something founder of a start up, living off part-time a freelancers wage and pouring everything I have left post-bills into my new business. Shopping consciously is far more challenging to do than to write about.
One of the obvious challenges from my last statement is that I don't have the money. Sure, I can afford charity and second hand shops, but they're not hygienically practical for things things like socks, lingerie and bikinis.
And with that comes the next challenge: lack of knowledge. I'm not a scientist or a designer. I can't tell you that the jumper I'm wearing right now will not play a part in killing our planet, if I were to ever throw it away. But, I can tell you my socks are made of naturally-sourced Bamboo.
I only know this because I ran out of socks before Christmas and found myself googling “best socks for the planet” for over an hour to add on my Christmas list (always the wild one of the family).
For the record, Bamboo socks are nicer on the feet and, according to several sources, very eco-friendly material.
However, over the last few weeks, I’ve heard arguments against Bamboo socks. Some have said that I’m getting rid of habitats for Pandas, others have said that I’m harming factory workers and the environment with the chemicals used to put my socks together.
None of these people are scientists or textile experts, they just have their own sources, like I have mine.
If you live in a city, you may have seen the question “Who made your clothes?” painted on posters or walls, dotted all over the place - or perhaps it’s somewhere across social media.
That question has been coined by “Fashion Revolution”, a global movement encouraging people to embody a more ethical and sustainable way of dressing. This week, they’ve encouraged collectives in cities across the world to host events raising the awareness of their cause.
It’s important to raise awareness of the “fashion problem”. We should be knocking on the doors of gigantic fashion houses, asking them to look us in the face and promise our clothes haven’t killed or greatly injured any human being or a part of the planet.
This week is undeniably important for that.
But after spending over a year trying to follow the ethical and sustainable fashion industry closely, I fear that whilst it’s empowering us to consider change, it’s not really helping us to make it.
Sure, signing a petition and sending a selfie to a fashion brand sparks a small ripple in the water, when part of a bigger cause. But the real difference can be made by supporting the fashion labels who are ethical and sustainable - and sharing that with the fashion moguls, if you really want to make a statement.
A successful business follows customer trends, after all.
Let’s not forget that big brands like H&M started doing a lot more for the cause around the same time that the “fashion conscious” conversations started bubbling through to the mainstream.
It should be easier to find out which socks I should buy, where to get a dress for a friend’s wedding that doesn’t require a week’s paycheck and what material is best for swimwear. Yet, it seems that the space is filled with documentaries, books and podcasts reminding us of the terrible things my evil clothes have already done.
I don’t want to come across as critical of the conscious fashion industry. They’ve done wonders and made enormous changes - my own business has played a part in shouting about the “why” too.
But once this week is over, the posters are down and the graffiti’s been tagged over with a fresh cause, I ask those in that space to be more open to everyone. Be forgiving if we’re misinformed about Bamboo, be mindful that this area of fashion is new to the majority, and balance the guilt we have for our current wardrobe with a solution for the future.
Stop telling us why we need a revolution, and start telling us how to dress for one.
Live in Brighton? Join us for a free panel event tomorrow at ONCA Gallery, sharing practical advice on how to dress sustainably. I'll be hosting - and I'll be getting this Bamboo question answered, once and for all.