Throughout the last years, new online personalities started emerging on social media platforms whose thoughts were valued based on their reviews and opinions. We as viewers consulted their content for entertainment or advice and eventually found ourselves in the spiral of endless materialism that was being pushed. We wanted to possess when we saw people possessing and spend when they were spending since it seemed to be the new normal. It wasn't difficult to do so anyway when we could find dresses for 10 dollars and shirts for 5. Luckily in the course of the last few years, the questions of sustainability, western consumerism, and the real cost of what we were wearing were brought to the public consciousness. The verdict is simple: Owning too many clothing pieces isn't "cute" anymore, it's destructive. Since we are going through a global pandemic, we have plenty of time in our hands to contemplate. Now, out of all times is the best time to sit and think about this material-based routine we have created that profits big companies that continue to pollute the environment and disrespect human rights.
In the last 20 years, our relationship with clothes changed drastically. Clothes became cheaper, more easily accessible with a big variety of options to choose from. The brands' goal is to produce clothing that is trendy as fast as possible and change them with new ones each week. Everybody could get dressed like their favorite celebrity for very cheap. Fashion Nova, for example is a brand that serves as a cheap alternative for "Insta-Baddie, Kardashian-like style" where they copy, -to put it lightly- exactly what celebrities are wearing and manufacture similar items for horrible quality with fabrics that are chemically dangerous. What's the deal with that? Some might think. Well, once you start thinking about the way that they were produced, the workforce behind it, the materials used in those clothes you get answers which are not very pleasant. Brands like Zara, Topshop, Bershka, Primark, Mango, and basically 80% of the brands that you can think of have their factories in developing countries like India. This industry is without any doubts, an industry that needs a lot of labor. They make people work in sweatshops where there is no security, no fair trade, no protection whatsoever. On top of that, the amount of "salary" that they are being paid are as low as 50 cents a day. Not very humanitarian is it? These facts were once neglected but with the disastrous incident of the collapsing of the Rana Plaza where 1134 people died because of factory owners' neglect on providing a secure environment for their workers, we started to ask ourselves if the cheap prices are worth the endless suffering of others.
Photo credit: Tomas Munita for New York Times
Of course, it's not worth it. The obvious answer. The system doesn't look out for its workers.
As more people came to their senses about the true value of these brands, more concerns came along and people started asking questions, as we all should. Who is making my clothes? What kind of procedure are brands following with their manufacturers? How much are they paying the workers? Which materials are they using? These are difficult questions to answer for brands considering the fact that they often violate basic human rights with horrible wages, usage of bad chemicals that result in cancer, and mental retardation. However, H&M came up with a "conscious collection" that supports sustainability that stirred up doubts since they weren't transparent enough with their collection. They didn't specify what was being recycled, how it was being recycled, and the procedure of the recycling. Their fashion editorials had the same theme with green plants, green fonts, green everything and we all know what green-washing is.
“H&M are not being clear or specific enough in explaining how the clothes in the Conscious collection are more ‘sustainable’ than other products they sell.” — Bente Øverli, Deputy Director of Norway’s Consumer Authority
The Ecological Impact Of Fast Fashion
When we fly, use disposable plastic objects or drive a car we know that we are creating some type of pollution but when it comes to clothes, the effects are hard to measure since there isn't a concrete contamination. The clothing pieces can be cheap but it comes with a price for the environment. The fashion industry is the second biggest industry in the world to create pollution right after the petrol industry. More than 60% of fabric fibers are synthetic which are not recyclable and they don't decay in landfills. The effects are very visible in India for example, where most of the sweatshops are located. The amount of toxic contamination is so high that villages surrounding those lands are effected with cancers and mental retardation. It's estimated that Cotton production plays a bit part of the problem Cotton production is not how it used to be. The seeds of the cottons are modified to fit into a new need, a staggering need that everything has to be fast. When the cottons don't grow as fast as they should, companies make genetically modified seeds to intensify the profit. We are very cautious about what we put into our body when it comes to food but we hardly think about our clothing pieces and question if the cotton is organic or not. These pesticides and genetic modifications that are layering the cotton and are very dangerous for the skin, resulting in cancer, skin irritation, and spots. The companies that organize these modifications are the same companies that sell the right medicine for these treatments. As a result, when poor farmers get sick because of the toxic chemicals that they are being exposed to, they are going to profit the same companies that poisoned them in the first place. They profit in every given scenario. That's also how brutally fucked up capitalism is.
By 2050, it is estimated that the fashion industry will have produced 1/4 of global carbon emission. As a person who claims to love fashion, this bit of information baffles me and makes me feel like I am a part of the problem. We all are, as customers. We have the power to ask questions and interrogate brands concerning their values. You should ask brands why they are not using organic cotton. You should ask how the items are being priced. This is what Stella McCartney encourages us to do too.
Depending on the season, between 20 and 30 percent of my collections contain some sort of eco or sustainable element whether it's an organic fabric or a natural dye and obviously I don't use animal skins of fur of any kind.
Stella McCartney has been an important name in the industry considering that she really is changing the game. She is a firm supporter of sustainability and ethical fashion. She never uses real leather or fur in her collections since according to her it's the biggest problem that the industry has. “The animals it kills, the toxins, the chemicals, the cutting down of rain forests, the food and water and electricity it takes to make a leather bag . . . It’s way more than a synthetic bag. And a fur coat has a much higher impact on the environment than a fake-fur one for many, many reasons."
Unfortunately, the waste and pollution isn' limited with fast fashion, it has a lot to do with fur and leather too. Parallel to fast fashion sweatshops, the workers spend days and nights fabricating belts, coats, shoes, and bags for luxurious brands but that fucked up side of fashion is a talk for another day.
Can We Do Anything About It As Customers?
These tough facts make us feel guilty for sure but it's completely normal if we can't switch our habits in an instant, the key is to educate yourself. It's easy to rant about fast fashion and blame people for buying from Primark or H&M but the truth is there is nothing wrong with buying from these brands if these are the only brands that one can afford. Sustainable fashion or slow fashion as opposed to fast fashion can be very pricey since the brands are applying a fair trade salary and use high-quality materials. Limiting the shopping from these brands, trying to go and buy second hand from vintage shops, taking good care of the clothes that we already own is a good step to begin with. It's a process to change habits.
Copenhagen is currently the fashion sustainability capital in the world. Copenhagen fashion week recently took things further and came up with a three-year sustainability plan including a 50 percent reduction in emissions and a zero-waste target. The guests were seen wearing sustainable pieces of clothing, supporting local and small brands, and promoting a new way of admiring fashion via Scandinavian fashion. This is without a doubt a radical way of thinking.
One of the things that got me more informed about this matter was following the right people on Instagram. Everybody knows how intimidating and fake Instagram can get, I'm not the first to say it. Being conscious of the media you are going to consume is as important as anything else. I tried to choose eco-friendly, sustainable influencers, and brands to make sure that I had visual representations of sustainable style. Hannah Rochell is one of the inspiring people I follow who break the stereotypes surrounding "slow fashion is boring" with her colorful and cheery looks. She is a fashion writer and her blog En Brogue is all about slow, comfortable fashion that gives people plenty of ideas about styling.
Instagram : enbrogue
Another great discovery of mine was an ecological shoe company called All My Eco. Their sneakers are vegan and eco-friendly which are super fashionable. A better alternative to Stan Smith's for sure. To manufacture the sneakers, they use pineapple fiber, recycled plastic bottles, and cork which are sustainable materials. In order to avoid contributing to factory farming and animal cruelty they use a vegan alternative leather.
Instagram : allmyeco
Another very important influencer that I love to follow is Kristen Leo, she is one of the bravely-loud people I know in terms of sustainability, veganism and environmental issues. I've been following her channel for quite some time to inform myself about fast fashion, greenwashing and industry's problems. Click here to go to her channel.
Knowledge is the first step of change. If we ask the right questions to the right people and demand answers, we might have an impact on challenging the industry for the better.