The thing about New Year's resolutions is, the trend has gotten slightly out of control.
As we all broadcast our lives on social media, it's apparently no longer OK to go for the classics such as "quit smoking" and "get fit". The number of inspirational posts and online tools helping you come up with creative and original New Year's resolutions, as well as the gadgets and techniques for sticking by them beyond January is simply astonishing. The trick is quite simple, though. Only the habits that you find meaningful will stick. We thought we might share one of ours, for those of you who have promised themselves they would become more mindful consumers of fashion.
The First Steps
We first decided to stop buying fast fashion almost two years ago, and to be fair, it was not even a New Year's resolution. It was more of a random epiphany that comes from learning something new about the world, in this case, reading a powerful article about the fast fashion supply chain.
Happy to have found something that resonated with us on a personal level (we had been in the fashion business for several years already, and were very conscious of product quality issues and people's unhealthy Black Friday habits), we immediately decided this was a change we were eager to make: no more outfits for a single occasion, no more single-use, throwaway tees when going on holiday, and no more buying a pile of stuff just because it's on sale. Sounds pretty easy, right?
The first thing we did after reading the article was a full audit of our wardrobe. This was a bit of a shocker: among other things, we found winter sweaters that were made of, well, mostly non-recyclable plastic, and garments that had been made in countries with consistent problems like below-minimum wages, child labour, and (!) slavery. And the best-known fast fashion brands were not the sole culprit: regardless of the brand or price of the garment (designer items included), the labels kept telling us the same sad story of negligence and human suffering.
But surely this must be paranoia, you say. Companies must have knowledge and control of how their garments are made. Sadly, that is not the case. Even large companies sometimes don't work with manufacturers directly, and rely on local brokers to assign their orders to different factories, resulting in a traceability mess beyond their control. And, by virtue of simple logic, if a t-shirt costs £10 including all taxes, store operating expenses, marketing, over 5000 miles of container shipping, labour, and raw materials, how much do you think the seamstress or the cotton farmer gets to keep?
The wardrobe audit was a real eye-opener, and we recommend it to anyone as the crucial first step in shopping and dressing more responsibly. There are several great resources out there with information on the sustainability and transparency of operations of individual brands, including our favourite Project Just, which provides comprehensive reports and recommendations by product category.
Now that we had educated ourselves about what we had been wearing, it was time to act, or rather refrain from acting on our impulses to buy anything that looks cute. We were only going to buy garments from natural fabrics or blends with low synthetic content, that have been made in Europe adhering to environmental and labour standards. Simple enough. At least in theory, until you need some new clothes.
We started carefully reading the composition and origin labels on every piece of clothing we were about to buy, and seriously considering every purchase. And just like that, the process of shopping on the high street lost all its charm.
In addition to the baffled looks of shop assistants when you turn the garment inside out, the assurances that the quality is really good, so why does it matter where it was made?, and efforts to find simple information on the origin worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself, we also encountered a bigger problem. It turns out, in some product categories, finding a garment that has been produced responsibly is next to impossible. All kinds of activewear and technical clothing fall into this category. For most part, it is simply not being produced outside of Asia anymore. An eco-conscious, responsible sailor? Though luck.
Rules of Engagement
Soon we were faced with the reality of every fashion consumer today: we either had to significantly limit the brands and styles of clothing that we wore, make something for ourselves, or allow for a compromise solution. We ended up doing a bit of all three. First, we did reduce the volume of clothes we owned, buying the necessary minimum that we needed to renew, and gradually decommissioning (either by donating or recycling) what we had already accumulated. This was particularly useful when moving to our new London home. Second, we stopped buying garments that we could make ourselves. Finally, we set out some ground rules for buying clothes.
So, if you are looking to become a more conscious and responsible fashion shopper this year, here is the scoop:
- Educate yourself about what you are buying and wearing. Knowledge is the first step towards making better choices.
- Avoid unnecessary and impulsive purchases. Window shopping can be a great pastime, but it is also addictive, and leads to real, unnecessary shopping of doubtful origin.
- Read the labels carefully. Don't buy anything made in countries where you wouldn't be comfortable going yourself.
- Before making a purchase, consider any sustainable and responsible alternatives available.
- If you've bought something cheaply or on sale, this does not give you permission to throw it away after a single wear. On the contrary, it's now your responsibility it doesn't end up in a landfill. Wear it conscientiously.
- Don't throw textiles away. Donate your old clothes or recycle them.
- Build a capsule wardrobe of pieces you really wear. Great resources on this can be found here and here.