Everyone is talking about sustainable fashion these days. It’s becoming the trend of the season, much like the internet vegan takeover from a couple of years ago - remember that?! We all wanted to be plant based, and kale was our divine dowsing rod.
So what does it really mean to be sustainable in an industry that’s known for quantity over quality. Is it just a buzzword for the aesthetics? Can we afford it? And most of all, do we get a seat at the table? It’s no secret that the mainstream fashion industry we know and admire has consistently excluded people of color from the conversation. Whether its luxury fashion houses or fast fashion empires, it’s rare to see representation, where those of our own are calling the big shots. In fact, most of them are working tirelessly, in less than favorable conditions to produce what we are wearing now. The thing is, sustainability is deep rooted within our rich black and brown cultures. Being resourceful with money, materials and the network within our communities, are some of the inherently sustainable values we involuntarily follow in our daily lives. So when it comes to fashion, it should be second nature to adapt a more conscious approach.
We can all agree that we deserve to take care of our bodies and our appearance. However, looking good can come at a big price. What if I told you that you can look and feel your best while saving our planet and your wallet? Variety is at the heart of sustainable fashion, so let’s take a look at some of the many options you can choose from.
SHOP YOUR CLOSET
Before we start allocating a budget for this retail therapy session, shop your closet! Yes, the most sustainable item of clothing is the one you already own. Put on a movie or your favorite Youtube drama channel and give your closet a good sort through… trust me, you will be surprised. Many of us have gotten so used to constantly buying the new “it” thing that we forget what we already own. So a wardrobe audit, like we call it in the styling world, is a great way to start. I’ve done this many times for myself, friends and clients, and there is always a moment of falling back in love with a piece that was buried at the back of your closet for aeons.
DO THE KONMARI
Once you’ve identified what you own, and made your keep, give away, swap, up-cycle or donate piles, you can now narrow down what you really want. I’m not going to tell you to stop buying new clothes. In fact, the sustainable fashion movement would rather have a collective of people making small, conscious changes in their consumption, than for them to do it perfectly all at once. Also, that’s unrealistic and short lived. Now, you can take out your cash or plastic and get ready to do some ethical monetary damage.
My first option when it comes to shopping has always been thrifting. With lockdowns in many parts of the world, the in-person experience can be replaced with online vintage and secondhand reselling platforms. When you buy these clothes, you are giving them a chance at a new life. Otherwise, they will end up in a landfill or worse, in a fire or floating away in our oceans and streams. All of these options have large negative impacts on the environment and since our generation is trying to “do better”, how we shop can be a reflection of that. If you would rather have customized vintage items, there is a rise in WOC businesses that specialize in this!
HELLO, SLOW FASHION
On the other hand, you can buy brand new. Look into supporting small, local designers. When it comes to local fashion designers, be it young creatives or families that make traditional handmade clothes, they mostly follow a slow business model. This means they are more likely to produce a handful of one-of-a-kind items in a pace that is the entire opposite of mass production. Many but not all of these entrepreneurs have persevered against the financial obstacles that COVID-19 presented to them. So if you were to buy their clothes, not only are you helping them out in dire times, you are also guaranteed to stand out with their unique pieces. Meanwhile, fast fashion brands are trying to save face by introducing “sustainable” collections. However, one cannot claim to be sustainable if their plan is to continue producing massive amounts in a very short period of time.
INVEST IN SUSTAINABILITY
Another way to buy new clothes is to shop from sustainable brands. Yes, many of them can be rather costly, but let’s take a look into why that is. Most of these brands focus on one or more of the following; ethically sourced raw materials, fair workforce conditions and wages, more environmentally friendly dying, cutting and production techniques, and lastly, small scale design. This ethical, slow fashion business model costs a lot to operate effectively, so you know you’re getting your money’s worth. By looking at it as an investment, the pieces you will buy are going to be closet staples that last you a lifetime!
There’s so much more to discover in the sustainable fashion world. Many initiatives are popping up everyday, all of them focusing on different angles, raising awareness and helping you to make better, guilt-free choices. There’s a reason for this concentration over the past 10 or so years. Fast fashion is relatively cheap, unfortunately this translates to cheap materials, labour and quality. When something is so low in value, someone is definitely getting cheated along the way and with many of us cooped up at home for the past couple of months, our priorities have shifted. Shopping has been pushed down to the bottom of the list, and unknowingly we are being weaned off of this addiction that was forced on to us by clever marketing. So why not take this time of consciousness to reflect and restructure the way we consume fashion!