I come from a family with a background in fashion. My grandmother earned her living as a seamstress in one of the most important design houses in Spain after the Civil War. From her I learned the importance of buying clothes as little investments where quality and longevity were key.
But this mindset was diluted when faster consumption became trending and I ended up believing that my purchasing power grew in synchrony with my wardrobe. In case you are wondering, I was wrong. Buying a lot didn’t make me wealthier. In fact, if anything, it made me poorer. I felt disconnected with my clothes both in terms of value and values. The former being that my clothes meant nothing to me as a result of a “buy cheap wear once” attitude and the latter being that my clothes were not aligned anymore with my principles. They didn’t portray any longer who I was and who I wanted to be.
If you think of all the people involved in the making process of any garment, for these people to make a living wage out of it, the price needs to be consistent. It’s not fashion or business, it’s common sense. Now, if you think how the final cost has been cut down, I can assure you it’s not the brand the one paying the difference.
The price needs to be consistent. It’s not fashion or business, it’s common sense.
Even though the problem might seem bigger than us, the reality is that each buying choice counts and every purchase is a vote where you are telling the industry how you advocate for things to be done. Actually, 80% of the impact in fashion comes from the consumer. Big responsibility, isn’t’ it?
If you are reading this post, it might be the case that you want to take some steps to become a more conscious consumer but don’t know where to start. Here are a few small actions you can take in order to make a big impact.
1. Be curious. Learn.
If you have a Netflix account (or £3.5 to rent it on Youtube) I strongly recommend you to watch ‘The True Cost’, a life-changing documentary directed by Andrew Morgan.
Another option, this time completely free even though it requires a bit more of time, is the online Fashion and Sustainability course recently launched by the London College of Fashion.
And read. There are plenty of online resources you can access anytime for free. The Fashion Revolution website might be a good place to start, with lots of links to reports and organisations.
2. Give organic cotton a go
Cotton is one of the thirstiest threads out there. It can take 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt. Some of its nightmare stories include the Aral Sea disaster in Central Asia, which dried completely and became a toxic desert after the course of two rivers that led to it was altered to irrigate cotton fields in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Moving from normal to organic cotton implies a reduction of 71% of water usage and 98% less water pollution in the finishing process.
However, if you decide to buy organic make sure it’s certified. It’s easier than it seems to stamp the word “organic” on anything, and in a time when sustainability is becoming the norm, many brands are taking advantage of it by selling normal cotton as organic one (hence producing cheap and obtaining a higher benefit out of it).
3. It’s ok to not cover everything.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the Head of Sustainability at Ecoalf -an amazing Spanish brand that is disrupting the concept of upcycling- who told me that you cannot pretend to be amazing at every single aspect of the supply chain. Sustainability is a huge term and brands need to have a clear goal in their business strategy: knowing what they want to do great and making sure they are not doing the rest of the things wrong. Some brands will be doing great in terms of social impact, whilst others might be pursuing an environmental objective, or embracing sustainability through animal welfare policies.
Research the brand, be aware of your own set of values, and try to avoid greenwashing. Start building your own directory of brands: pin their stores or the retail spaces where they are sold on your phone map, keep their business cards, or use an app like Ethical Time (currently under development).
4. Put an end to the stigma: sustainability is affordable
I wish I could do my shopping at Whole Foods Market and wear a total look signed by Stella McCartney every day of my life. Turns out I can’t. Turns out that this doesn’t mean I cannot keep up with a sustainable lifestyle.
Transparent fair production comes with a higher price. True. However, the sustainable fashion industry has plenty of options, where materials, design, location of production, and size of the brand – among other things- play its part.
Independent designers and sustainable brands are many times unable to own a physical space, which means they tend to showcase their products in fairs and sample sales that are an amazing opportunity to a) get to know more brands and b) find bargains.
Finally, vintage, charity, and second-hand shops and fairs are another option to buy sustainable clothing without breaking the bank. Actually, buying second hand is the most sustainable way of shopping, since it doesn’t imply producing more and more.
5. Relove, repair and recycle. Make your clothes last.
The day I proudly wear something new for the first time, no one seems to care but the day I wear that bag my mum bought in a market in Morocco 30 years ago, or that suede jacket my dad wore to the only concert The Beatles performed in Madrid back in 1965, or that pair of earrings my grandma handed down to me…never fails, everybody compliments and asks where did I get it from.
Don’t bin a plain shirt simply because you got bored of it, don’t bin a blouse because it’s stained. There will be always new patches, thread, and buttons to embellish garments, make them unique, and give them a second opportunity. Loved clothes not only last, but also speak for themselves. There’s always a story behind a garment so why not preserve it?
Written by Maria Jose Contreras.