Bold, sustainable fashion

We seriously need to change the way we think about fashion!

Let’s face it, the fashion world is f**ked. Our sense of value is completely distorted. We treat clothes like they’re disposable. Something to enjoy for a short period of time, only then to be thrown away. A Domino’s pizza costs just about the same amount as a T-shirt. In some shops, like Primark, you can get five or more T-shirts for the price of a pizza. That should be worrying, but we take it for granted. You eat the pizza, it’s good while it lasts, then it’s gone. That’s how people treat fashion these days. You buy it, wear it a bit, and then forget about it. It shouldn’t be that way. Clothes are not fast food. Not something to be enjoyed briefly and then forgotten about. Synthetic fabrics can take hundreds of years to degrade. It takes a lot of water and energy to produce and ship clothing. Excessive amounts of clothing are produced every second.

‘The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.’ - http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/clothing-waste-prevention

The reason fast fashion is often so cheap; cheaper than a restaurant meal or a takeaway, even though it has been shipped or flown thousands of miles, is because it’s produced in countries where people are sometimes made to work for pennies in terrible, unsafe and unacceptable conditions. Just remember the Rana Plaza collapse. MILLIONS of workers are children, too. Most of us have turned a blind eye to all of that. It’s easy to do so. But imagine walking into the kitchen of your local favourite restaurant and seeing kids cooking and cleaning for you, just so their family can live. Innocent children, who are supposed to be enjoying life, not working long hours due to necessity. Imagine seeing an exhausted, frustrated child chopping tomatoes, dehydrated and starved of freedom while preparing your tasty meal. Imagine your own children having to sacrifice what is supposed to be some of the best years of their lives– just so the family can go on living. We’re so privileged in the UK it’s truly difficult to imagine. Anyway, would you still eat there?

So why do we allow it in fashion? It’s effing great that we can get a T-shirt for £4, and when we see it displayed on a flashy rail in a flashy shop, we think, Yes – this is what I want. But the high street hides the moral costs from us. They keep the truth locked away in countries less fortunate than us, so we don’t have to deal with it. Out of sight, out of mind. And we don’t see the piles and piles of waste we create. The council conveniently takes it away for us every week. But that certainly doesn’t make it right. The truth is hard to swallow.

piles of clothing demonstrating waste in fashion industry

(Image credit: https://edgexpo.com/fashion-industry-waste-statistics/)

Here’s what makes sense:

We should only buy clothes we really, really like. Clothes we’d be proud to wear time and time again, for years and years.  We should NOT buy clothes like they’re fast food. We should buy clothes less often than we do. We should buy high quality, long lasting clothes.  Somehow the big, disposable, often low quality high street brands have duped us into thinking fast fashion is a good idea. That quantity is more valuable than quality. But it’s not; it never has been. One epic jacket costing £100+ is better than 3 average to poor jackets costing £35 each. Even better, a second-hand denim jacket from a kilo sale for about £15 will last a lifetime. A premium organic cotton hoodie ethically and sustainably produced costing £70 is better than three dubiously produced hoodies at £25 each. A t-shirt produced in dubious conditions, where people and the planet inevitably suffer, is not worth producing at all. Fashion brands should cease putting profits before people and the planet. FULL STOP.

Of course, there are other ways to look at it. People argue that earning something, anything at all is better than earning nothing at all. That people should be grateful for their jobs that sustain their living. But what if everyone could earn (and benefit in other ways) a lot more if we stopped buying five to ten tops for £4 each and bought one or two that we really liked, at the true value and cost of fashion? Slow, quality fashion.

If it’s horribly cheap, there’s a reason for it. Someone, somewhere, has paid the price so that you don’t have to. Whether it’s the cotton farmer or someone in a factory, or perhaps someone in the UK getting paid below the living wage. The only true winners are the ones at the top. The big brand bosses. Perhaps you think they deserve it, because it takes hard work to be at the top. That’s a discussion for another time.

Regardless of the economic, social and political, how about this: We’d be happier with our better-quality clothes. They’d last longer. Look better. Feel better. Fit better. All in all, better things make us happy. Why else do we consume?

And then. . . The production staff would be happier with their higher wages, and the planet would be happier without wasting as many resources like water during production, less waste, and less environmental impact altogether. And who doesn’t like it when more people are happy? And who doesn’t want the planet to thrive?

Some people will say it’s a good thing we have choice. Perhaps that there’s no such thing as too much choice. Choice is a damn good thing indeed. But when people and the planet suffer, do we really have a choice? Should it even be okay to sell a product where people may have been exploited in production?  Should it be okay to produce and consume things at a rate which is destroying the planet quicker than it can recover?

Think about the term, ‘sustainable - able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.’ It literally means that if fashion is not already sustainable, the industry cannot go on as it is. The rate at which we churn these throwaway clothes out cannot be maintained. The whole industry is in some sort of consensus that something needs changing; even the bigger brands are starting to look at sustainability quite seriously. Sustainability is not an option. It is a necessity.

Others will say that if someone willingly works for a certain price; no exploitation has occurred. I feel that argument is flawed: life costs money these days, almost no matter where you are. And if you can’t afford to live, you’ll work. And if you have to work obscene hours just to live, just to feed your family, you will. Even if you’re paid pennies. Survival is hard wired into human nature. But we shouldn’t be forcing people to merely work to ‘survive’ . . .  Especially not kids. We should be encouraging economies that promote a good quality of life for every living creature on earth. Surely? Economies where effort and pride have gone into production. Economies where workers are paid well for their contributions. Economies where people are more important than profits.

Finally, some will argue that it is an issue of affordability. That they’d love to buy high quality clothing, but simply cannot afford it. This is a fair point. There is a place for low cost, affordable clothing, there has to be, there always will be. Everyone needs to be clothed these days, society won’t accept otherwise (ironically, the most sustainable look on the planet is nakedness).  But mass-produced chain brands are not the best place to get affordable clothing. The chain brands have such huge overheads; they mark up the price of their clothing massively. There are kilo sales, charity shops, market stalls, smaller brands with less overheads. And fine, if someone has a strong aversion to those options, perhaps a low-cost chain brand is the only option. It’s good that the industry caters for almost everyone. It’s not good that the industry thrives on the low cost, low quality, high quantity, high mark-up model. It’s not good that so many of us have subscribed to that model when we don’t have to.

sewing machine head

Things get dark and philosophical pretty quickly when you begin to look at the true cost of fashion. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Here are some advantages of switching to a slow fashion model:

  • Slow, high quality fashion can be produced locally. That means more money for your local economy. It means good, skilled jobs for the people you know. It means a higher quality of life for you and those in your community. And it means money is not being siphoned out to tax havens.
  • Buying high quality fashion means you’ll look and feel f**king good about what you’re wearing. Trust me. More time goes into the design, better quality materials are used, better production techniques, and more attention to detail. Overall, more, more, more. But less crap. Less waste. Less exploitation. 
  • It will last longer. You can enjoy it for life. You can value it and feel good about it for life. There’s something very nice about that. Try it. It’s something we get less and less of in our modern, materialist, consumption centric world. 

So, where do we go from here? It’s probably best not to impulse-buy when it comes to fashion. The big brands have nailed their sales and marketing channels to a tee. They can even convince you to buy something you barely want. Something you regret buying later.

Next time you want to buy something, ask yourself – Is the retailer open about where it’s come from? If not, they’ve probably got something to hide. Is some of the production local? If so, that’s very valuable for the local community and economy. Is it too cheap to be true? Do I really like it? Like, do I really, really like it? Is it going to make me feel good when I wear it time and time again, for years and years to come?

Every time we buy fast fashion, we say to the retailer: Thank you, I support what you’re doing, continue the good work. Is that the message we want to continue sending to the industry?

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