The Woman That Changed My Mind | Sustainable Fashion
London felt alive. Everywhere I looked, something was going on. Londoners are pretty easy to spot; you can tell the tourists from the locals. They walk with purpose, striding past the rest of us with a few occasional sighs of annoyance. It is funny! I felt myself speed up and attempted to adopt the faster pace.
It all felt different, new to me: the shop facades, the street signs, the bus stops, Tube station signs, the buildings and everything in between. Then there were the people. I revered Londoners. As the city changed around me, so did the Londoners. I was struck by the different styles and clothing that seemed to match the vibes of each area. Shoreditch to St Paul’s to the heart of Theatreland (aka. the West End), each area felt like a different world.
To no surprise, I changed a bit whilst I was there. It happened in London. That’s where I first came across the term “ethical fashion” on a sunny Saturday morning wandering around the city.
I was starting to feel like an imposter when I found the Zara in Covent Garden. Zara was, and still is, a comfort zone for me. Like Uniqlo, it’s one of those chain shops that exist in most towns with a similar layout. Whenever I feel unsafe or out of sorts, I know I can go and be reminded of trips to the one in my hometown with my Mum and little sister. I don’t even need to buy anything, but it settles me. I know the rules: how I’m supposed to move around the shops, how to browse each rack either in an intent or casual fashion, how many clothes I can take into a dressing room (in non-covid times) and what the aim is — to find and buy clothes that will suit me.
At 18, knowing no one in London, it also felt like a lifeline. This was my chance, an opportunity to fit in.
I’d started working in a professional firm. My M&S haul of tops had seen me through the first few weeks, but I admired my older, poised colleagues who exuded confidence in their well-selected, sleek, casual attire. I wanted to be a Londoner, and the fastest way to do that was to dress my way to success.
My trip was a success: I found a beautiful top — a striped-blue shirt with an embroidered flower pattern on the left shoulder. I knew that I’d fit in at work the following week. Buoyed up by the Zara bag sitting in my backpack, I ventured back out to the streets of Covent Garden and ended up in the Strand.
I must have blinked three times max then ever so suddenly, I was confronted with reality. It started slowly with the realisation that it seemed like a lot of traffic. I clutched my bag close, remembering my landlady’s warnings of muggings and crowded areas. She’d thought I was an easy target, and in hindsight, I was.
Then I saw the group. They were holding up a banner and pressing the traffic lights. Whenever they saw the green man, they walked into the road and held up the banner: ‘No Fashion On A Dead Planet’.
I didn’t get it.
Clothes were a measure of identity!
I felt like the banner was shouting at me. It told me that my clothes were a signal of planetary destruction.
I must have looked as taken aback as I felt because this woman locked eyes with me, walked over with the kindest smile and offered me a flyer. I asked her what the banner meant, and she explained to be why they promoted ethical fashion. She was generous with her knowledge, and I remember being struck by how much water goes into making a t-shirt. It takes 2,700 litres of water to produce one t-shirt — the equivalent of a person drinking water for 900 days! (video made by the World Wildlife Fund and National Geographic)
The facts were fast and furious, and she could tell that I was getting overwhelmed.
“Change is a process,” she said. Those words stuck with me. She invited me to join their group & gave me the full low down; they met every week or to discuss how they could affect change — I could find them on Facebook.
But as I stood there, on the corner of the semi-circular street, I started to feel guilty about the Zara bag tossed onto the top of my bag. No longer was it a symbol of confidence, of taking charge of my destiny. It symbolised fast fashion — yet another way humans were destroying the planet and causing climate change.
I didn’t attend the group. I often wish I had. However, my journey has been a long but necessary one & I have learnt so much to date. In discovering that where I put my money is an espousal of both my identity and values, I’ve started to realise that it’s the cumulative effect of smaller decisions that has the most significant outcome.
The reality is that each fashion purchase we make is the latest in a series of choices. Once I started to consider how everyone I knew was making similar choices, it became easier to imagine the combined impact of our wardrobes. Trends suggest that more clothes are being purchased each year. An independent report found that the global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, equating to 4% of the global total (WRAP).
In the last few years, I’ve adopted a holistic view to my wardrobe. I aim for pieces that will last and work well when paired with others. For every item I contemplate buying, I think:
- Where will I wear it?
- How long will it last?
- What else in my wardrobe can I wear it with?
I have started contemplating where I choose to buy my clothing from more in the last few months. I now look into whether they are a company that match my values and whether they are a company with a reputation for producing good quality pieces. I’ve started to realise that buying more expensive clothes, mindfully, could be more budget-friendly in the long run.
One of my favourite tops in my wardrobe is a lacy white top I’ve had for four years. It’s versatile: suitable on its own for drinks with friends; paired with a blazer, works perfectly for work events, and paired with a skirt makes the perfect beach outfit. Although it’s lacy, it felt sturdy when I picked it up, and the slight discolouration from one of my washing mishaps has only added to its charm.
Whilst these things may seem basic and common-sense to some, I’ve found that they’ve been helpful to me whilst trying to be more mindful in what I’m buying. By picking clothes that I apply my checklist to, I buy items that I’ll grow to love and often can remember the story behind their purchase.
But still, the average life cycle of clothes is 3.3 years before it is discarded or passed on (WRAP). We’ve all been there — that perfect top that lost its shape, those jeans that started to fall apart. Purchasing less and ethically is one thing, but learning how to keep clothing looking good can also help to lengthen the lifespan of our clothes and reduce our impact.
The ethical fashion movement can seem overwhelming. Buying a jumper when you need it from the high street is what we’re used to — I have fond memories of going shopping with my Mum, sister, and friends throughout my teen years. Deciding to put more thought into what I buy and the value I’ll get from it for years to come is the first step I took in my journey to improving my relationship with fashion.
So far, it seems to be working. My sister is noticeably less scathing of my outfit picks…
Anna, Community & Social intern @ YAYZY