Monday 9 November 2020

My Slow Fashion Journey: From Addict to Activist

The transition to slow fashion is a journey that the entire fashion industry and us as citizens needs to take is a gradual one, yet so vital. While it’s important that we as citizens do our best to slow down our own consumption of clothes and to source them from ethical and sustainable avenues, that’s not always possible and is so dependent on a person’s privilege. As much as we should try our best individually to make our choices more ethical and sustainable, we have to hold brands to account for their exploitative practices. Complete system change is required to bring justice to workers and the planet, and shaming ourselves and others is not the way to change, naming and shaming the brands is!

I always find it useful and super interesting to find out about how people discovered slow fashion and how they made differences in their lifestyles and approach to brands. It’s important to remember that even the people who are now the most outspoken advocates of ethical and sustainable fashion at one point bought fast fashion, and probably bought a lot of it. There’s a starting point for everyone, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about wherever we are along our slow fashion journey. These things take time, persistence, frustration and resilience. Fast fashion marketing is manipulative and seemingly ethical and inclusive brands can let us down. It’s complicated.  


So, how did my slow fashion journey begin?

My A Level years were a huge time of learning for me, particularly outside of the curriculum. I learned a lot about feminism, mostly through the books I was able to borrow from my local library and my college library, and I increasingly looked into the need for intersectionality within this movement. I also learned a lot about sustainability, veganism (through my vegan friends I met at college), and eventually the effects of fast fashion. I started looking into the issue after hearing about some ethical issues within the fast fashion industry from a friend (love you Liz). I starting looking into NGOs like Fashion Revolution, and through them finding out about events like Rana Plaza and how systemic worker and environmental exploitation is within the industry. 


I went into college starting my A Levels and buying fast fashion enthusiastically – H&M was my favourite place to get my clothes! – and I left with completed exams and a determination to buy as little as possible, and when I did for those garments to be either secondhand or made sustainably and ethically (or at least to buy the most sustainable and ethical option available to me).


It was that summer between A levels and starting uni that I became more confident in my style. I got my dungarees, a couple of wildly patterned t-shirts and a few other items (all secondhand), and felt a lot happier in the clothes that I was wearing. I’d always loved clothes and putting outfits together, but there was a different kind of satisfaction knowing that less harm was created through the clothes I was now wearing (and indeed, do still wear).


Since then, I’ve done a lot more research into workers’ rights and the environment, have actively sought out stories from garment workers themselves, and was even able to write about the Rana Plaza disaster for a university essay. I am also currently doing a project on migrant workers in Boohoo's Leicester factories as part of one of my final year modules. Slow fashion is now at the centre of my activism. It encompasses so many different areas and issues – from colonialism, feminism, environmental conservation, labour rights, and more. With the pandemic, the increasing number of fast fashion scandals (notably #PayUp), as well as having more spare time as a result of finishing my second year of uni and being unable to continue my usual customer service job, I used the opportunity to ramp up my activism and research in the area. Before and at the beginning of the pandemic, I had kind of lost my way with my blog. I hadn’t written a post that wasn’t a Monthly Wrap Up for a several months, and to be frank, was burned out from my degree and other projects. Writing about these issues, on my blog and elsewhere, helped me get my writing mojo back as well as help give me a new sense of purpose and improve my mental health when it had been in a bit of a dire state. 


Although I do consider myself to be a subscriber of slow fashion, and for most of my clothes consumption to be generally sustainable and ethical, I am still not perfect, and that is important to highlight. M&S is always my backup if I can’t find something secondhand, or need something new and either can’t find it ethically or the ethical option is unaffordable for me. It’s not a perfect brand, but it’s certainly the best on the high street for sustainability and workers’ rights (Good On You is a great place to check these areas), and shopping better wear possible even if not perfect is always better than not thinking about wear your garment comes from at all. Middle grounds are what movements towards ethical and sustainable consumption need more of, so that it doesn’t just become the domain the most elite. 


I have probably gone as far as the average individual is able – more if you take into account my level of privilege – and wider changes need to be made societally and within the fashion industry to bring justice to workers and those buying the clothes they make. If you want to find out more about the fast fashion industry and how to separate yourself from it, I recommend looking through my Fast Fashion 101 Resource Document as well as looking into organisations like Remake and Remember Who Made Them. Please sign Remake's latest #PayUp petition to demand that brands pay their workers during the pandemic.

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