Being a sustainable consumer of fashion is not easy.
First, you have to work out what you’re concerned about – is it animal welfare, human rights, chemical use, landfill, or one of a thousand other critical areas?
Next, you have to think about how you’re going to be sustainable. Buy less, or buy the same but ‘eco’, or buy nothing, or recycle everything, or…?
Then, you have to find the places where you will be able to take part in fashion sustainably – the brands and shops who have sustainability woven into what they do.
Finally, you have to spend significant amounts of time thinking about your purchases before it’s in your hands. You might ask yourself…
- Do I need this?
- Do I want it?
- Do I have something like it already?
- Will I wear it 30 times?
- Will it make me happy?
- What’s the cost-per-wear?
…all before you’ve even bought anything.
Eventually, when you do decide to buy (or make, or re-craft) a piece of clothing, you also have to care for it and maintain it to make sure that it lasts for a long time – another facet of sustainability.
START WITH A STORY
I can absolutely see why being an unsustainable consumer of fashion is a lot easier.
It’s quicker, it’s simpler, and it’s a bit more fun as well (because you haven’t got to ask yourself any of those awkward questions). In the short-term, it’s also cheaper.
And I’m not going to blast someone for being an unsustainable consumer of fashion because, as I said here, no-one likes being told off and everyone is at a different stage in the complex journey of understanding, comprehending and caring about things like environmental impact.
The role of people who are sustainable consumers of fashion is to tell their story, authentically, and individually, so that we can learn from each other.
For Fashion Revolution Week, I’d like to tell the story of my clothes as part of their #haulternative campaign.
ME AND CLOTHES
I’ve never thought that clothes were just things you put on in the morning. My mum’s favourite thing to say to me as I ran to get ready for a day out was “It’s not a fashion show”. But every day really is.
When I was in my teens and early 20s I dressed in a way that made it clear I was the hero (or anti-hero) of that fashion show. Our lives are one long journey of finding our identities and this was a time for me in which I did that through clothing.
As I’ve got older, my feelings on clothing as a way to express oneself, and to tell a story about who you are, hasn’t changed. But I think as people age, their stories become subtler.
We go from having a life story which is all about the high-impact special effects to one which is about deep characterisation, recurring themes, and the finer nuances of emotion and language.
SUBTLETY IN DRESS
The story of my clothes, in this way, has become subtler. I am more interested now in that depth of character which clothing can have, the layers of consideration which have gone into the garment, the ways in which one piece can be perceived in many different ways.
Importantly, that’s not about aesthetic. My aesthetic tastes in clothing have changed significantly, partly because the person and story I am expressing through that aesthetic has changed (and become, maybe, a little bit subtler). But you can have a wild, colourful aesthetic that’s as considered and characterful as one which is neutral and minimalist.
The story of sustainability and clothing is one of these subtle elements.
SUSTAINABILITY AND STORY
It wasn’t a particular day where I woke up and wanted to be more sustainable in how I consumed fashion. It was more a build up of reading and research, and most importantly a strong intuition about who I wanted to be and the story I wanted to tell with my clothing.
There is not a single story where one character manages to avoid interacting with anyone. Even a novel which is from an individual viewpoint or features a single protagonist, like The Catcher in the Rye, is made incredible by the implied or actual interactions the character has with other people.
When you buy a piece of clothing, your story becomes entwined with the stories of countless others: other people who’ve bought the same item, the designer, the retailer, the brand, the people who made the garment, marketed the garment, washed it, the magazine writer who featured it, the photographer who shot it.
All of their stories, and yours, converge on a single garment.
The choice to become a more sustainable consumer was a choice about whose stories I wanted to be part of and the story I wanted to be able to tell about and with my clothing.
MAKE FOR 2016
So over the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume fashion in more sustainable ways. I’ve always been a big second-hand shopper and a swapper, so that was easy.
But this year, because I really enjoy finding ways to fulfil my own and others’ potential, I decided to bite the bullet and quit shopping for clothes.
The alternative path that I’m taking is to make the clothes I want. I love dressmaking and so this path is a way to fulfil more of those potential skills.
But it’s hard. Really hard. I find clothes beautiful and fascinating, and want to consume them. Dressmaking is time-consuming, mistake-heavy, not really any less expensive than buying, and just difficult.
But the process is also making me realise the difference between desiring and owning, and how you can value something without needing to possess it. It’s improving my skills and my reverence towards clothing has only increased
The stories of my clothing have become more interesting (saying “Oh, this? I made it” cannot be beaten) and I’m interlacing my story with other, different customers, like the incredible women in America who share their hand-made garments on Instagram and pattern companies who are genuinely interested in how their product comes to life.
WHAT I’VE MADE
I’m averaging about a garment a month so far in 2016. I’ve made more toiles (practice garments) and drafted more original patterns than I’ve ever done before, and I love it. Here are some of the items I’ve created.
A long-sleeved mock wrap top based on a Vogue pattern and made from fabric from Leeds Market.
A cropped swing top in grey wool from a second hand shop, plus lining from Leeds Market, made from a tweaked 1970s pattern (from a charity shop).
This vest, of which I am so proud, made from a perfect Merchant and Mills pattern using environmentally-friendly material.
These are really small and subtle stories about my clothes, but they form part of a much bigger story about who I want to be and how I want to represent myself to the world – even if the rest of the world is only faintly aware of these things.
I urge you to take some time this week and look at the stories Fashion Revolution and other groups like them are telling about clothing. You are on a journey of discovering your identity and you have an opportunity to make that journey into a story of epic proportions. The key is to first find out what paths you can take.
Read more about Fashion Revolution on their website or follow the hashtags #fashrev and #whomademyclothes.
THE ETHICAL WRITERS COALITION
I’m very excited to be a new member of the Ethical Writers Coalition, a group of writers and bloggers dedicated to furthering the cause of ethical living. Many of the members have written great posts for Fashion Revolution Week, so take a look at the links below.
- Sustaining Life: Fashion Revolution Day 2016
- The Peahen: Interview with Indelust Founder
- Green or Die: Be Part of the Fashion Revolution
- Sotela: We Choose to be American Made
- Ecocult: How to Make Your Wardrobe Sustainable
- Stylewise: Three Years of Fashion Revolution
- Kamea World: Boost Life Satisfaction Through Your Fashion Choices
- Terumah: Fashion Revolution 2016 Dress Rental
- Leotie Lovely: Fashion Revolution
- My Kind Closet: My Fashion Revolution Haulternative
Thanks for reading.