Through the Sense and Sustainability column, Jess McDonald sheds some light on the complexities of climate change and what it means for the world around us. From lessons on sustainable living to informative insights on emissions and renewable energy, she’ll keep us all up to date on this increasingly hot topic.
This week has been pretty important for the fashion industry. Not only did London Fashion Week debut its first fully online event, but as of the 15th June all ‘non-essential’ shops (i.e. retail outlets) were legally able to open their doors for the first time since the UK entered lockdown in March. Already there have been crowds of people queuing to get that retail rush. But with the massive implications of fast fashion on the environment, is it not time we slowed it down?
Slow Fashion Season 2020 encourages us to do just that. The campaign aims to raise awareness about the part of the consumer in the fashion industry, and the massive impact we can have if we make more sustainable purchases. Participants are asked to make ‘conscious fashion choices’ over a three month period between the 21st June and the 21st September. ‘Conscious choices’ start with buying less, but also involve supporting sustainable, local and small fashion labels. The campaign hopes to attract 25,000 members by the end of this week, so as to further its goal of a more sustainable fashion industry that treats its workers fairly.
To really understand why this campaign is so important, we need to have a conversation about the fashion industry’s ugly side. Fast fashion, the practice of quickly producing new items to match trends, is rampant within big online fashion labels, as well as high street names. The appeal of fast fashion is its combination of a low price and the ability to stay on trend, but this comes with a cost. It is estimated that textile production is accountable for 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, even more than that of international flights, and that’s before you consider the amount of water needed to create garments. The pieces created are usually made of low quality synthetic materials, which quickly fall apart. And where they don’t fall apart, they fall out of fashion just as fast. At the end of a fast fashion item’s short life, it will either find itself in landfill, along with millions of others that have met a similar fate, or incinerated, contributing more harmful gases to the atmosphere.
Fast fashion is also directly linked to global social injustice. Not only is there a distinct lack of representation for POC in the fashion industry, but also endemic issues with appropriation. Additionally, textile workers in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia face long hours in unsafe working conditions, and still many only take home the equivalent of £20 a week. Fast fashion labels constantly seek to increase profits, while sustaining low prices for consumers. Manufacturers have to meet these demands, and so the workers’ conditions continue to decline. This article from the Guardian explains more about the human cost of fast fashion, including how it perpetrates the legacy of colonialism.
Fast fashion cannot by definition be made with sustainability in mind, and as long as we continue to consume, these problems will get worse and worse. By rejecting the brands that carry out these practices, we can direct our resources towards more ethical and environmentally conscious companies, and so demand change across the industry.
So how do you get involved with Slow Fashion Season 2020? Well, first things first, sign up here and follow the campaign on Instagram to get updates on their progress and tips for conscious choices. Then just try to follow the principles as best you can. Here are some ideas for taking that step towards more sustainable fashion:
- Buy local, small, and sustainable: Consider this your opportunity to support a small fashion label local to you. Or do some research online to find brands that exercise sustainable practices and pay their manufacturers fair wages. London is naturally full of exciting new brands, but there might even be somewhere in your hometown (if you’re currently trapped outside London like myself) that you would never have known about had you not taken on this challenge.
- Buy old: So your local charity shop still might not be open, or you may not feel safe enough to go out to any second-hand stores yet. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can shop vintage and pre-loved pieces from the comfort of your own home. Depop and Ebay are obvious first ports of call, but some charity shops like Oxfam also have online outlets for donations and are worth checking out. This is a great, cheap way to jazz up your wardrobe and save clothes from waste at the same time.
- Don’t buy: Sometimes you just need to be brave, grab a needle and thread, and sew up the hole in your favourite pair of jeans before you think about getting new ones. If you’re a bit creative, maybe try to up-cycle clothes you already have, or try out different style combinations. Take some time to look through your wardrobe and value the clothes you already have, because it has taken a lot to get them to you. Break the habit of buying for the sake of buying and really think about what you want and how it’s going to get to you.
It might take time to adjust, and we’re all going to make mistakes, but I believe the Slow Fashion Season campaign is a fantastic opportunity to take some time to shift our perceptions on clothing. This isn’t a blanket ban on buying, but an exercise in mindful consumption that could make a real difference to the fashion industry. So sign up, take the challenge, and wear the change you want to see in the word.
Jess McDonald is a second year student at QMUL, studying history. Aside from her reflections on the climate crisis, she also has a hidden love for Hollywood’s Golden Age of cinema.