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Fashion and sustainability….

I haven’t written about sustainable fashion and my pledge to shop better in almost a year.

It’s a pledge I’m standing by despite it throwing up challenges; let’s be honest I couldn’t stop shopping forever, I was always going to need some new clothes at some point.

So, for those of you who are new to this blog, here’s the background.

Last year I read How to break up with fast fashion which made me address my somewhat problematic relationship with clothes; more specifically my attempt to buy ALL the clothes. Off the back of that I decided to go an entire without buying anything.

In the end I went 16 months without buying anything.

My shopping ban wasn’t just about getting my bulging wardrobe and depleted bank account under control. You see, reading How to break up fast fashion, I was struck by the huge problems there are in the fashion industry, problems I’d been blissfully unaware of while trying to buy all the clothes.

It’s an industry that thrives on over consumption, meaning there are huge amounts of clothes simply going to waste.

Every single second 2,625 kilograms of clothing becomes waste, it’s either burned or sent to landfill; we don’t even deal with it here in the UK, in fact we dump huge amounts of our discarded crap in West Africa. Mountains upon mountains of clothing sat rotting, mile after mile of polyester taking an incredibly slow two hundred years to decompose….but hey, what does it matter? It isn’t on our doorstep.

In that book, I kept wondering why, in the climate debate, no one at any point had mentioned fashion. We’re all well versed in oil, aviation, diesel cars changing our habits around transport etc yet the fashion industry barely gets a mention despite it being the world’s second largest polluter.

And then we get to human rights. 

Many of these brands that are worth billions don’t pay their workers a living wage. Garment workers across the world are exploited, working in dangerous conditions, with no rights….but hey, what does it matter? It’s not us and we’ve just managed to buy a brand-new dress for a fiver.

You see, it’s easy to ignore the problems with the fashion industry. I’ve been there, done it and bought the t-shirt. It’s easy to ignore a problem when you can’t see it.

This book not only made me question my own bad habits with splurging, it made me want to change how I shop permanently. Afterall, there’s no point completing a yearlong self-imposed shopping ban, learning about the ethics (or lack thereof) and green credentials of the industry to then go back to business-as-usual buying from the same brands that refuse to make meaningful changes to their business model for the sake of the environment or their workers.

You know what’s harder than completing a shopping ban? Finding brands that are sustainable and ethical.

I thought it’d be a simple case of avoiding Boo Hoo (never bought anything from them anyway) and Primark, which is my idea of hell on earth, so job done.

People seem to be under the misguided impression that cheap fashion brands are the worst offenders when it comes to sustainability and ethics. There are barely any high street retailers tick one box never mind both. 

Higher end retailers, are woefully bad, scoring low on the transparency index. Expense does not mean people are earning anywhere near a living wage.

Many will have sustainability pledges online, most of it is green washing, not a single brand is open to the concept of simply producing fewer clothes.

Many have pledges around slavery, many also didn’t pay garment workers during the pandemic. 

I write this after spending HOURS researching new jeans.

I hate looking for jeans. I think they are the hardest item of clothing to find. Period. 

So, throw in ethics and sustainability and you’ve got a minefield. 

I’ve put off looking some for most of this year but we’re at the point where mine are nearly worn though on the knees and arse, I can’t put it off much longer, they are for me and essential.

I’m aware there are a lot of problems with denim production, believe me I’m aware, I’ve done all the reading. The way I see it is, if I spend more and they last for years, if I take care of them and repair them when needed then it’s okay to buy. Part of being sustainable includes mending and wearing the shit you already own, in fact that’s the easiest part of sustainable fashion, hence why current cheaply bought jeans are falling apart.

I had hoped to be able to actually try some jeans in town, knowing they were a perfect fit before handing over my hard-earned cash, it wasn’t to be. Despite everything I’ve learnt about the fashion industry in the past two years, I still naively assumed that buying on the high street would be easy, I assumed paying more for a pair of Levi’s would be my best bet. I was wrong.

There’s an excellent website I use called Good on you, it scores brands and retailers on their environmental impact, labour conditions and animal welfare. It started off so well for Levi’s 

“Levi’s brand aims to make 80 percent of its products using Water<Less™ technique. It has also set a 25% reduction target for greenhouse gas emissions .

In 2012, Greenpeace named and shamed Levi’s for connections to dangerous water pollution in Mexico in their ‘Toxic Threads’ report. Levi’s has since pledged to reduce the hazardous chemicals used to dye and treat its clothing”

And then I got to Labour conditions….

“Almost none of its supply chain is certified by labour standards which ensure worker health and safety, and Levi’s has made little progress towards ensuring the payment of a living wage for its workers across the supply chain”.

FFS! A company that made 394.98 million U.S. dollars in 2019 can surely do more to ensure the people making the damn jeans can afford to eat.

Ensuring garment workers are on a living wage would not hit consumer pockets, in fact it’d add 24p to cotton t-shirt. 

This stuff really isn’t rocket science, multi-million-pound brands have a social responsibility to their employees and to the environment as well. 

After hours of internet trawling, I have manged to find some jeans that tick all boxes but here’s the thing, it should not be that hard.

In Glasgow, world leaders are meeting for COP26, this week I’ve had a reporter in Cumbria for two days reporting on floods once again, we must do more to avoid a climate catastrophe part of that conversation has to be about social justice too.

I’ve taken a relatively frivolous topic here – fashion – but the same challenges will and do apply to bigger steps we’re going to have to take when it comes to tackling climate change.

I can afford to shop sustainably, buying something that ticks boxes is more expensive. I also have the time and inclination to research and ask questions before buying. I also don’t have children that simply won’t stop growing and need new clothes every 2.4 seconds. I am in a privileged position, despite my complaining, I have found shopping differently very easy.

Others who aren’t in the same position as me will not find it as easy. 

Sustainable fashion, like sustainable food shopping, how we insulate homes, and electric vehicles, needs to be accessible, affordable and convenient for everyone.

The majority of us accept there is more we can do when it comes to climate change, but the policy and legislation is needed too.

Brands can and must do more. They need to be held accountable for the statements and commitments they make about their environmental impact. The fashion industry emits more CO2 per year than shipping an aviation combined – as an industry it is a huge polluter yet one that seems to be missing from the climate debate.

We can let our purse do the talking, we can ask questions, we can put pressure on brands, but the same pressure needs to come from above too.

80 billion garments are bought around the world every year. It’s obscene, it’s a waste and it’s unsustainable and that needs tackling.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

10 thoughts on “Fashion and sustainability…. Leave a comment

  1. What a brilliant, informative post. Its amazing how little the garment workers are paid and the conditions are awful. It make smy blood boil at the big corporate companies that could afford to pay more but don’t. Sustainably fashion is definitely something we all need to be more aware of.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, and thank you for reading. It’s been an interesting learning curve, I had no idea how bad for the environment the fashion industry is or I didn’t want to know (probably more accurate)

      Liked by 4 people

  2. Fabulous article, Sarah. Thank you. I ve really avoided the whole clothes thing. I am calmed by what is greenwash and click to buy. I m going to be better, read the book and begin again. I want to wax lyrical about your writing, commitment to ethics, mutual dissing of Rooney’s new novel, and a lot besides, but I must get up and out… you’re always a good way to start the day. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I really enjoyed reading your article. I’ve been trying to live a much better lower carbon footprint life now for the past couple of years, but one thing that I could definitely improve on is sustainable fashion. I do love clothes, but I will wear the crap out of something until it’s time to kiss it goodbye. For example, the hoodie I’m wearing now as I write this is 9 years old – LOL. A lot of my clothes are like this. I’m loving the sound of the site ‘Good On You,’ but afraid to read about some of the horrors I might read on there from brands I may have bought in the past. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for reading, there are some things that I wear to death, others I’d buy on a whim and soon forget about. It is an eye opener of a website. The best thing most of us can do is shop our own wardrobes and ignore the constant bombardment that tells us to buy more and more 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post. I haven’t read the exact book as you but I have read a lot on the subject. I was studying textiles and fashion but was becoming increasingly disheartened by the horrors of the industry and began working to align my beliefs with my practices and doing a lot of research. Have you read anything by Safia Minney
    ? (a total legend in ethical fashion) also Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas is fascinating. Congratulations on your 16 months too! I mostly buy second hand now cause yes, it is SO hard to buy ethically new – although the Good on You App is very helpful 👍

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, I do not miss being on the fashion treadmill of constantly looking for the next must have dress or whatever ha, ha, ha. It’s made me much more comfortable with my actual style. It’s been an interesting 2 years since dumping the high street with A LOT of research

      Liked by 3 people

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