Hitchhiker's Guide to Sustainable Fashion
Reader‘s advisory: This is NOT just another article about sustainable fashion you have read the other day in another magazine. Even if you think that you already know what this text is about – you don‘t. Read it till the end and prove me wrong.
4 March, 2019
by MONIKA SMILGYTE
illustrations MARTYNA JAN
In light (or rather dark) of relatively recent phenomenon such as fast-fashion and strong consumerism itself, a new kind of mindset has evolved to oppose them. It is based on the ecological and organic point of view, nicely wrapped in a paper of sustainable fashion. Is it a new wind in the postmodern fashion industry? Or is it just another trend gradually increasing number of people are supposed to follow just because it is something that is in the spotlight at the moment? Apparently, it’s neither of them. For some of you it might sound old fashioned, but to understand some things better it always helps to pull out the boring stuff – definitions and numbers – so hold tight and let the boredom begin!
Don’t panic, I am exaggerating. In a simple way, it’s important to understand the key elements of our topic – eco and sustainable parts of fashion. Shortly, eco stands for the idea of thinking before doing, developing an understanding in trying to preserve something what is being threatened by extinction and how to avoid any more damage to be done for the world we live in. In other words, it’s the concept of being better. Meanwhile, sustainable means doing your best. And it does not matter on which side you stand – the one of a producer or a consumer. Sustainability has been originally “designed” to make everyone equally responsible in the lifecycle of any fashion item. However, it seems that more often we tend to construct sustainability as something starting from our own wardrobes, what is partially true. BUT. We need to see the bigger picture where everyone involved in a lifecycle of any item can be held responsible and where our coats, dresses and cowboy boots move in circles.
Philosophy of sustainable fashion is based on 3 main poles: environment, society (the consumers) and economy (the manufacturer). However, the environment plays the most important role here as it continues to remain intact from the start to the end during the acts of producing and consuming. And I am sorry to show you in the not-the-guys light, but the environment is like Silent Bob who just stands there and watches what the other two are doing. This is where equal responsibility comes into the fore – everyone in the cycle from manufacturer to customer has to think of the best possible way of taking the least and creating the most of value. They both need to be conscious.
Let me illustrate why being responsible is important. For example, what does everyone own in his/ her wardrobe? I bet that everyone at least once in the lifetime owned a nice pair of jeans. Let’s take 1 pair of jeans as a measurement unit – picture it bold or pretentious, blue, black or ripped – it doesn’t change the fact:
The first pair of blue jeans was made by Levi’s in 1873 – 146 years ago!
The peak of jeans sales was reached in 1996 when almost 203 million pairs were sold that year ($35 per one of Levi’s pair).
Nowadays the average person owns approximately 7 pairs of jeans.
The lifecycle of 1 pair of jeans takes up to 10 000 litres of water. That equals:
- 3 months and 2 weeks of a 10-minute shower every morning (it’s 105 times);
- Or almost 14 years of water supply for one person (if a person drinks 2 litres per day).
Under these numbers lurks the core of the textile industry, where a manufacturer is one of the biggest players. Customer-centric philosophy targeted at bigger sales makes manufacturers of fashion one of the most polluting industries right after agriculture. Luckily, we live in a bit more conscious times where any bad, disrespectful and abusive behaviour tends to be shamed massively. Textile companies vastly used to be based on slavery-like working conditions and treating nature like a drainpipe with the only purpose to benefit for the lowest price. Now, such actions would lead to undesirable consequences: getting financial fines and even worse – losing reputation among the customers. So, since committing a crime (or being ignorant) doesn’t pay, the textile industry is slowly but steadily becoming known more like an innovator for sustainable solutions.
But is it only a manufacturer being the guilty party in the game of consumerism? I might sound kitschy, but if there is demand, there will be supply. Also, we are all running this race. Even on the different sides of barricades. So, I am not pointing fingers, but… Actually, I am pointing at you and myself right now – us, the dearest consumers. As no one expects you to stop wearing clothes (please, don’t), what can you do right now to change it? Basically, you have to learn to be style-conscious.
Cambridge dictionary has a definition for fashion-conscious – “someone interested in the latest fashions and in wearing fashionable clothes”, so how being style-conscious should be understood? Let’s say, that fashion itself is more absolute, it creates aesthetical landmarks of beauty. Meanwhile, style, in a manner of speaking, is fashion reimagined on an individual level and personal understanding of it. Being style-conscious is not just having a great taste, but expressing your philosophy of seeing and treating clothes responsibly.
As everyone has to find the best suitable way to change their habits, here is a pool of ideas to fish tips for a style-conscious person:
Make custom clothes as this is more personal and outstanding
Pay for quality instead of quantity
Take care and mend your clothes
Swap, rent or sell “morally” old clothes
Second hand and vintage
Return if it does‘t fit
Think green about fabrics and soaps
Try capsule wardrobe
Some of these tips might sound as your casual practice or it might seem like a genius idea – it all depends on how advanced when being style-conscious you already are. I, personally, prefer capsule wardrobe practice as it sounds futuristic (somehow it reminds me of spaceships). Well, at least it is practical, money and time-saving. Magic comes from matching and mixing, for instance, 2 x pairs of shoes, 2 x shirts 2 x skirts/jeans and 2 x jackets = 16 different looks! Keep it like this and you won’t need a room size closet unless you want it.
If being more serious, consumerism depends on trends as much as future on innovations. The concepts of fashion and style hit the biggest selling points than ever before. Doesn’t it sound controversial or at least strange in the context of the trend of intelligent consuming? It appears, with the power of the Internet of sending an important message social media creates the necessity of looking good as every person in your news feed looks stylish and fashionable. And such aesthetic becomes a norm that is mostly fulfilled by getting new things you don’t really need, in this case.
This is why the world is craving for new solutions which are very welcome and even more needed. Such as the ones launched by the Swedish brand Carlings and their ingenious idea – virtual clothes. I mean, whaaat? And while I am trying to comprehend their concept, they have already sold out their first fashion line and in 2019 spring a second one is coming. Generally speaking, these are virtually created clothes that could be worn in a photo. Most importantly, it’s not possible to see the difference between Carlings clothes and real ones. And if you have a glimpse of doubt, who on Earth would need that, some surveys show that there are people who buy clothes only to wear them once for a picture in social media.
What makes it so legit is that creating virtual reality clothes require minimal resources and the impact for the environment is less harmful. And let’s be honest, we spend our lives as much in the virtual reality as in the real world, so wearing digital clothes is an amazing thing, especially, when many people buy fast fashion clothes only for nice pictures to be uploaded on the webs. I believe, the solution is found as manufacturers are searching for smarter and more planet-friendly ways to fulfil our needs, while our, or consumers’, task becomes implementing the healthiest choices to satisfy our hunger for attention.