Fashion Sustainability Experts Share Their Slow Fashion Eureka Moment
6 months ago | Features|
Everybody’s pathway to sustainability looks different. Perhaps you watched a documentary or heard about the Rana Plaza collapse. Maybe your wallet begged you to slow down on all that online shopping.
For me, it took a while. I waded through the allure of fast fashion and ultimately dealt with a lot of cognitive dissonance, feeling that my values and actions weren’t aligned.
Knowing that everyone has a different journey, I asked these slow fashion experts about what made slow fashion click with them. Here are editors, influencers, makers, models and supply chain managers on what their own eureka moment looked like.
Two events, in 2013 and 2014, changed the course of my work life. The first was globally significant – the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh saw 1138 people lose their lives. I remember watching the news as the death toll climbed and realising that, as a fashion journalist, I was part of the broken, unethical system that resulted in this happening. I knew I had to make a change, and start using my voice to advocate for a different kind of fashion industry.
The second event was a private moment. I'd interviewed UN officer Simone Cipriani for a magazine. We talked about his work at the Ethical Fashion Initiative and what gave him purpose. I distinctly remember telling him that I felt my own work-life lacked that very thing.
"What can I do?" I said. "I'm just a writer. I write about clothes."
"WRITE A BOOK!" Simone boomed (he's an enthusiastic Italian). He took the time to encourage me, and I took the time to write the thing – educating myself about sustainability along the way.
Fast forward and my Wardrobe Crisis podcast, based on that book, is in its 5th series. I also co-host, with Simone, the UN's Ethical Fashion Podcast. I still have many questions about the fashion industry, but none about my purpose. I know exactly what I'm here to do.
Back in 2018, I quit my job as a creative producer to become a full-time fashion blogger/content creator. And when I say fashion, I mean FASHUN! I was obsessed with trend watching, all my blog posts were about how to wear trends or must-have items of each season. My closet quickly became filled with items from Mango, Topshop, ASOS and Storets. Items that I honestly purchased just to post on my IG or blog and never even looked at again. After nearly a year of this I just got tired of it. Tired of trying to keep up with what was in or out. Tired of having a closet full of clothes that were cheap and ill fitting. Tired of spending all my money on new outfits.
But the real eureka moment happened while I was preparing taxes for my first year as a full-time blogger. Whatever small amount of money I made that year, I had spent more than triple that in clothing (which, to my surprise couldn’t be written off as a business expense)! That’s when I decided to quit fast fashion and began learning about the slow fashion movement and ethics/sustainability within the industry.
When I became vegan for the first time, I very clearly understood my social responsibility, and this led me to consider the fashion I loved. [Though pescatarian] at first, [it was] when I lived with my Swedish family and realised my discomfort with eating moose should extend to all animal eating and wearing.
I had always wanted to 'do good’, but it wasn’t until then that I realised my actions were so tied to how the world is. I opened my eyes to other previously 'invisible choices' I made, and that’s how I ended up watching The True Cost.
I quickly went from a leather-wearing fast-fashion obsessive to someone genuinely passionate about fashion, but in a very different, more considered way.
In 2018, I embraced the notion of slow fashion when I moved to the Netherlands for a year. Unable to bring my whole wardrobe, I carefully selected pieces that I could wear all year round and weigh no more than 30 kg along with the rest of my stuff. Whilst living there I changed the way I shopped, I no longer bought clothes online but found an abundance of thrift and secondhand stores. I become addicted to finding that forever investment piece. Moving forward, I purchase clothes with the intention of wearing it on a regular basis and being able to thrift flip it in the future.
I would say my sustainable fashion ‘aha!’ moment was during my time at uni. Learning to sew, learning about costing, fabrics, trims and everything that is involved when making a range really made me think about pieces that sell for $5. I kept asking myself how on earth can everyone involved down the supply chain be paid fairly, or even make a living out of this.
I know how much work goes into making clothes; when I first started Lois Hazel, I would do all our production and be completely exhausted by the end of a range. So, to think people were doing this seven days a week without earning enough to pay rent or have a warm meal completely baffled me. It really just didn’t and still doesn’t make sense that this type of life is fair especially when others are benefiting off it. Why are we ignoring the people who pretty much make this industry possible and think it’s ok for them to suffer so that we can have a good deal?
For me, I suppose, there was no a-ha! moment, per sé, but more a gradual realisation I needed to act. I’ve always loved fashion and style, but for a very long time I knew the fashion industry was full of excess. Imagine flying your collections around from London to Milan to USA to Dubai to Hong Kong, the GHG emissions, the painstaking sets, the gift bags… I knew it wasn’t sustainable.
In 2014, on the verge of breaking up with my boyfriend at the time, I was looking at opportunities in the UK since we might be asked to move. Being a practicing environmental engineer, I thought this could be my chance at transferring my skills to fashion – I knew manufacturing, sustainability best practice, resource efficiency, compliance drivers, and holistic problem-solving.
I picked four environmental and social fashion justice personalities I knew and tweeted them. One of them, Lucy Siegle (my idol!) – asked me to tell her about my dreams and ambitions. She who wrote the 2010 book, 'To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing the World?’ which pretty much sums up all the concerning thoughts I had about fashion. She emailed me back with tips and feedback, and the rest was history. I quit my corporate career in 2017 and have never looked back.
I’m a recovering fast fashion addict and someone who has always loved spending any extra money I had on new pieces of clothing. In 2018 I watched The True Cost documentary and was shocked at the behind-the-scenes of the fashion industry and the way in which garment workers were being mistreated and exploited. I knew I had the opportunity and privilege to change what I was spending my money on and ever since have spent a lot of time learning and educating myself as my passion for conscious fashion has grown.
The first paper I had to write in college was about sustainability issues in the industry I wanted to work in. I have always known I wanted to work in the fashion industry, but this was the first time I had to think about the environmental and ethical impacts of the industry. I watched The True Cost as research for my paper and have never been able to look at clothing the same. I had a fashion blog that focused almost entirely on fast fashion at the time and after writing this paper I felt like I had a responsibility to use my platform to educate and advocate for change.
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