Do you remember the scene in Sex and the City when Carry and her friends go through her closet before her move? While Carrie is dancing in various outfits, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte hold sticky notes saying “keep” or “toss”. It seems so natural: Carrie moves to a new home and, of course, she needs to get rid of some things. Similar to this scene, “tossing” has become a theme in the fashion world. Buy cheaply, wear it for one seasons and then toss it – easy!
I chose to write about this topic now because last week felt like a clash of two worlds for me. It is “fashion month” – the time when the fashion industry is on its pilgrimage from New York, to London, Milan and Paris for the fashion weeks. While the fashion gurus celebrated the current runway trends, I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a few days to meet local weavers to work on sustainable accessories and home decor items for Pelagona.
I spent my days learning more about hand-weaving, the production process of natural indigo and other natural dyes. At the same time, my Instagram was flooded with influencers talking us into the next “it”-bag – obviously it is the Bottega Veneta clutch this year. (I wonder how much capital the company invested in the campaign to finally keep up with the the likes of Dior.) Of course, this only lasts for one season. The next “it bag” is just around the corner. And what happens to the outdated items? If they are lucky, they can rest in peace in the closets, maybe the are sold off. But in the worst but probably most likely case, they will be thrown away. According to fashion journalist Dana Thomas, a piece of garment is worn only seven times (in China only three times), before it is thrown away.
But the fashion circus keeps going. While I talked to the Thai weavers about how we can turn their traditional fabrics into modern high quality products, influencers such as Leonie Hanne and Negin Mirsalehi advertised their own collections with Amazon and Express. On Hanne’s profile, she advertised the price tags which come with the items: “Only EUR 99 for a blazer!”. Such a bargain! Does anybody question how this “bargain” was produced? Who made it, under which conditions? Obviously nobody does. This is not limited to influencers. (On a side note: this post is not meant as bashing certain people, the afore-mentioned influencers just illustrate two of the many campaigns.) It also reminded me when H&M dropped their designer collection with Giambattista Valli earlier this year. They perfectly created a hype and talked consumers into buying items before the short deadline. “Hurry, it will be selling fast!”
Unfortunately, all these campaigns have become a normal occurrence and they are being celebrated throughout the internet. But what I found really surreal was the fashion news coverage this morning. At last night’s Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan the very same people who advertise fast fashion lines celebrated sustainability in the fashion industry.
Events such as the Green Carpet Fashion Awards are important to raise awareness. Unfortunately, they lose credibility if their guests put on a sustainably produced garment for one night. These celebrities and influencers built their fame on promoting fast fashion – no matter in which price range. They always tell us to keep buying more, better, cuter things we all “cannot live without”.
Sustainable fashion is a topic, but it is still far from becoming mainstream. It is cool to talk about it and maybe have one collection or item which is (partly) sustainable. But the major junk of business in the industry is still created on the backs of people who do not have a choice and who are treated like modern slaves.
But enough of the blaming. What can we as consumers do? Actually, we can do a lot. And it does not mean to become a saint.
First of all, stop following influencers and media whose only mission is to make you buy more. Secondly, just buy less. When you buy something new, think about how versatile the item is. How often would you wear it? Would you wear it for longer than just a season? Is it just trendy this season? And do you really need to follow this trend? Thirdly, invest in brands which sell more than just a story – in those who really work on making their supply chains more ethical and sustainable. You may think now “But I don’t want to look like a hippie”. You do not need to. There are so many cool labels out there which are far from the usual batik cotton top paired with Birkenstock. And lastly, go through your closet and assess what you actually have. How can you re-wear these items? Can you style them differently? Can you have them altered?
Never forget that in the end, it is the consumer’s choice. We can decide what we buy – no matter how many campaigns are thrown at us. If we stop buying and, hence, decrease, demand, the industry will have to change. It’s all on us. Have a great week ahead!