by Violetta Massala
What is the first most pollutive industry in the world? You have probably nailed it – it is indeed the gas and oil industry. But what is the second one? Take a guess. That is the fashion industry. This is the moment where people normally go like ‘ah? what?’. There are many problems linked to the industry, such as environmental issues, linked mainly to suboptimal chemical and recycling processes, societal issues, like low wage pays, child labor and unhealthy working conditions, and lastly, issues of economic nature, such as how the sewing industry and small designers are not managing to compete with mass fast-fashion providers.
There has been so much written and spoken about it – if you are willing to educate yourself a bit more about that, I suggest starting with the ‘True Cost documentary’ (Untold Creative, LLC., 2015). Nevertheless, sadly, it still seems that for many people, other people’s pain is not a good enough reason to stop consuming fast fashion. For others, the consequences of unsustainable choices coming in 10 years from now are not a valuable enough reason to shift towards conscious buying. Everybody knows at least one person who says ‘yeah, who cares’ when the topic is sustainability. If you don’t know anyone like that – either you are lucky to have only conscious people around you, or chances are that that person is you.
So, it’s to this person that I write this article, explaining how fast fashion harms you now, and not in a decade from now. I will also share some tips on how to protect your health and yourself from the possible harm of cheap mass-produced clothing, so if you want to know – just read until the end of the article.
Clothes came into our lives quite early, just when our ancestors lost their natural fur coverage. Like our homes, it includes all kinds of materials to protect us from harmful conditions and substances from the outside world. However, as you will see below, clothes meant to preserve our sensitive skin often do not do this very well.
Fashion is a game, something fun, to express one’s mood and personal style. Moreover, it is also a daily concern, the infamous “what to wear again today,”. So it’s necessary to think about fashion in today’s world. So let’s try to focus on fashion that considers ourselves, our surroundings, and our planet. And maybe together we will find that such fashion can be even more creative and fun than regular fast production from chains.
The concept of sustainability can be traced in fashion on several levels. For example, the emphasis is on balance in any purchase of new clothing. Lower consumption in large multinational chains forces manufacturers to act more responsibly. After wild consumer orgies, customers began to realize the actual price of a T-shirt, which may cost ridiculous money in a shop: unsuitable conditions for workers in Asian, Turkish, and other factories, the environment (and health), endangering chemicals and processes used in production or, last but not least, support for the authoritarian regime (according to one recent Reuters report, Chinese clothing manufacturers for foreign customers are placing orders in North Korea).
The solution can be, for example, the so-called minimalist, or capsule, wardrobe, which can be cleverly assembled according to our needs so that it is entirely sufficient for us for various occasions and for longer.
Sustainability goes hand in hand with a return to the traditions of our grandmothers. Before the era of ready-to-wear clothing, it was unthinkable to buy new clothes every month: it was common to sew. The emphasis was on quality material and suitable workmanship. Returning to manual work is one of the accompanying trends in sustainability in fashion. Instructions on how to knit a sweater or replace socks have grown in popularity on the Internet. Knitting is just cool again.
The emphasis is also on the local work of young designers or custom tailors and sewists: are you awkward or don’t have much time? Think in advance what your wardrobe lacks and have it sewn. You may be surprised, but today you can have quality and beautiful underwear sewn, for which you will not pay any more in the end than you would in your regular boutique. And in addition you will be sure that it will fit you perfectly, and that it was not sewn under unsuitable conditions over half the globe away from you (yes, the carbon footprint of shipping your clothes counts too).
On the Internet, simple instructions on quickly sewing a new skirt from an older men’s second-hand shirt are multiplying like mushrooms after rain, as well as content demonstrating how to use simple tricks to combine the same piece in several different styles for work and dating. Quilting and transforming clothes is called upcycling – and it is far from being used only in fashion and clothing. You can cycle up almost anything – for example, PET bottles or jars (did you know that, for example, used cooking pots can be used to make incredible flower pots?). So-called reuse, when you breathe new life into old things, is simply becoming more and more popular across a variety of industries.
The zero-waste lifestyle, i.e., a waste-free household, is directly linked to sustainability. That movement teaches us not only not to throw anything away, but also to buy (food, cosmetics, and other consumer goods) without packaging and with minimal impact on the environment. Is that rocket science? Not exactly. If you don’t know where to start, maybe just try this: think and be inspired by the habits of our grandmothers.