This week is an important week in the ethical fashion world – Fashion Revolution Week!
You’ve probably heard of Fash Rev, now in its fourth year. The media talks about it (see here and here), and if you’re a regular reader around here you’ll know that I’ve mentioned it a few times too (see here and here). You probably know that Fash Rev marks the anniversary of the collapse of a garment factory in Bangaldesh, killing over 1000 people who were making clothes for big fast fashion brands we have probably all shopped from. We know Fash Rev calls for the fashion industry to become more transparent, to pay its workers a fair, living wage and to have a positive impact on the planet and its people.
But what if you know all this, yet you’re struggling to commit to living a more ethical lifestyle because it feels hard? I’ve been there.
Today’s style of consumerism is so fast and so convenient, that switching back to a slower style of shopping can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be.
I like to think of shopping responsibly and sustainably like an exercise regime – you don’t have to change everything all at once. In fact, if you try to, you will probably burn out and fall off the wagon. Instead, start by making a few changes and build up more intensity over time.
Here’s six tips on how and where to start:
Repair, don’t replace
When my nanna moved out of her home a few years ago, we all pitched in to help pack up. We found – amongst other things – socks that nanna had carefully darned over the years; cracked dishes that she had repaired with glue; and teatowels with small tears, resewn.
It really made me reflect on the disposable culture in which I’ve been raised – at the time, I had never repaired anything (not even a button on a shirt!). As a millennial, the status quo for me when something breaks is to throw it in the trash and rush out to buy a new one, especially when the item is readily available, affordable and not particularly precious – like a pair of socks or teatowel.
That day at my nanna’s taught me a valuable lesson: ask a different question. Instead of asking, how easy it is to replace this item? ask, how easy is it to repair?
Get creative and curious! If the piece of clothing is relatively easy to fix and otherwise functional, learn how to bring it back to life! I’ve made a little repair kit with a needle, thread, glue and pliers and used it to repair jewellery, clothing, shoes and bags. I’ve even darned a pair of socks! I’ve also made friends with my local tailor and cobbler for repairs that fall out of my skill set. And I now value these repaired pieces so much more for having spent a little bit of time fixing them, rather than sending them off to landfill.
Introduce fair trade alternatives
When you absolutely must replace something, use the opportunity to make a sustainable switch. Making progressive substitutions with ethical alternatives is more manageable than trying to overhaul your entire lifestyle at once. This approach also offers natural starting points. Running out of pairs of respectable underwear? Make your next purchase an ethical choice. Starting a new job and need a blouse? Search for a fairly made one. Simple!
Check the tags of everything you buy
If you’re trying to eat more healthfully, you check the packaging of your food, right? You check the saturated fat content, the sugar content, the grams of protein per serve. You learn about ingredients and the meaning of terms like ‘organic’ and ‘local’. You absorb this information and use it to inform better choices that help you reach your goals.
Why not try doing the same for the other items that you consume? Start checking the labels of everything you buy. Discover their origins. Learn about the materials your clothes are made of and how to care for them (and I mean really care for them).
Alone, checking the tags of everything you buy isn’t a change in lifestyle – more an exercise in mindfulness and incidental education. Try it and observe how other changes in your lifestyle start to naturally follow.
Ask your favourite brands #WhoMadeMyClothes?
Don’t want to give up buying your favourite brand but also don’t want to buy clothing that might be made using child and/or slave labour? Then tell ’em that! Encourage your favourite brands to take steps to safeguarde against child workers and slavery in their supply chains by asking them who made the clothes they sell. By asking brands to give you information, you are helping keep those brands accountable to transparency, and to monitoring their supply chains to ensure minimum standards are being met (because their profits might be affected if they aren’t!)
Commit to ‘all ethical’ in just one category
If the idea of buying ethically-made clothes overwhelms you, then try reducing the scope. Instead, choose just one category. For example, make sure every T-Shirt you buy is made fairly, or try buying only Fairtrade-certified cotton underwear. Over time, add new categories or expand existing ones.
Make #30Wears your minimum standard
The #30Wears concept is a simple one: when you’re buying something new, ask yourself if you would wear it a minimum of 30 times. If the answer is ‘no’, reconsider whether you need to buy it. The campaign was promoted by eco-fashion activist Livia Firth as a way to counter the “throwaway fashion” trend – minimising harm to the environment by slowing down the amount of waste going to landfill, and reducing the pressure for brands to produce new clothing at breakneck speed, using unsustainable practices that harm the people who make our clothes.
The butterfly effect is that small changes in a complex system can equal big change. So start small but start today.