Whilst a large and complicated topic, for customers, pairing sustainability and fashion can actually be rather simple, as put by environmental activist and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood; “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.”
Consumer culture is in part to blame for our throwaway mentality, we are able to purchase clothing at a highly reduced price, in part due to globalisation and market competition. With the UK’s fashion industry total contribution to the economy via both indirect support for supply chain industries and induced spending of wages estimated at over £46 billion and increasing in 2009. It would appear therefore that we as customers can act with power if we act together. To solve some of the sustainability issues of the fashions industry; we must seek transparency (allowing us to make informed decisions), zero waste amongst and at the end of the supply chain, pollution prevention and increased corporate social and environmental social responsibility.
Whether or not you really care about your clothes, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they have a wider impact. So, where do they come from and what impact do they have exactly? It can all get a little bit confusing, especially as the big brands try to shift markets, H&M being a good example, their “Conscious” collection stream launched in 2014, the range at time of writing has 119 items available online, so are we to assume that the 2,100+ other items they offer are “Unconscious”? Where do they place the differentiation and have they done so correctly?
The fashion industry has a variety of impacts both socially and environmentally. Ideally we would consider the working conditions and rights of the workers, as well as the animal rights practices, the materials used and the efficiency of their usage as well as their origins, the transportation, packaging and water and energy footprint amongst other considerations. So that we may make informed decisions about the products we dress in rather than merely a surface aesthetic evaluation. Why? One reason being pesticides used in growing textiles are estimated to annually cause 20,000 deaths worldwide – in 2011 it was estimated that only 0.7% of global cotton production was organic meaning there is clearly room for improvement.
There is a large window for change and we have to support it. Like you I don’t want to have to consider all of the above when shopping, for the time being however here are some easier ways to pair sustainability and fashion:
- The best practice is to buy less and with more thought
- And then to prioritise second hand and vintage
- Do some research to check if the label’s practices are sustainable
- Take a look at the label – is it organic, natural, recycled fibres?
- Ask yourself again, do you really need it?
- Treat your clothes well, make them last, wash them less and at a low temperature
- And when you think it may be time for you to part – swap them, sell them, DIY them, donate them – just don’t waste them!
Not only in our purchasing choices and habits do we have control but in the impact of the garments themselves. With some reports estimating that 26% of their climate impact lies with the customer, from washing and drying to their end use of the product. I therefore believe that brands have a responsibility to engage their customers in sustainability as we as citizens have a responsibility to ask sustainability of our products.
Until there is a ‘fairtrade’ equivalent for our garments (although I’m not suggesting that this is the be-all and end-all), we will have to be diligent to make informed decisions. To begin your commitment now you can sign the slow fashion pledge at: www.slowfashioned.org. Or if you would like to find out more about fashion activism to create a more ethical business landscape then go to; http://www.fashionrevolution.org.