You can’t do everything but you can try to do something

Climate breakdown, the plastic problem, dirty fashion. It’s all out there this week.

Did you see Stacey Dooley’s eye-opening documentary, Fashion’s Dirty Secrets on Monday night? Did you read about the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change yesterday?

It’s depressing, to say the least.

If you watched Stacey Dooley’s documentary with mixed emotions and a sense that it’s down to you to make the change, you’re not alone. At the end of the programme, I felt like the onus was squarely on me, fellow consumers and a bunch of fashion hungry bloggers.

I was both delighted that such an important topic was being aired during a primetime BBC 1 slot but also disappointed that the conclusion and suggested solutions were so simplistic. I get that it was just an hour, not a series, and applaud that it has raised the profile of something so important to the masses. But the simplicity of the message to buy less reflects the knotty complexities of cleaning up such a dirty industry.

Buy Less: Starting Point?

I totally agree that consumers should buy less. That the haul should be kicked into the noughties. That we need to replace quantity with quality. But this is just one piece of a huge and messy puzzle. Fashion is flawed from seed to catwalk; from shop floor to wardrobe. At every stage there’s a moral and environmental nightmare to stumble across.

Buying less won’t magic away all of the problems in the fashion industry.

It won’t ensure that clothes are made in a safe environment. It won’t mean that clothes are only made from sustainable fabrics. It won’t meaningfully reduce water and pesticide use. It won’t lead to toxic chemicals and dyes being abandoned. It won’t make companies clean up their production processes or change their seductive marketing strategies. It won’t force multinationals to put planet and people ahead of profit and accountability to shareholders.

What will buying less, on it’s own, achieve?

Maybe it’s the catalyst for meaningful change. A small part at the very least. And that’s better than nothing.

Maybe it’s a flash in the pan trend that will be forgotten in time for £10 novelty polyester Christmas jumpers and January bargains.

I’d really love to know what the response from the huge corporations that dominate our high streets and wardrobes would be to a sudden and dramatic fall in consumption. What if we all only bought 10 or maybe even no new items next year?

What would happen?

It’s Not Just Us

Tansy Hoskin’s book Stitched Up is an insightful read about everything that’s wrong with the fashion industry. She’s been vocal on Twitter about the programme’s position that consumers have the power. She’s always maintained that changing our shopping habits alone won’t do much. I have to hand it to Tansy.

Grasping at (Paper) Straws

So, in the face of such complexity what can we do?

The best I’ve come up with is to engage with the issues. To educate myself. To stop buying from the high street. To support ethical brands. To choose organic or recycled fabrics. To buy less. To talk to friends and family about my choices. To talk frankly to my children about the choices I’m making and choosing ethical for them where possible. To participate in fund raising, Fashion Revolution Week, petitions, campaigns and local events. To try and be part of a new movement of rejecting hauls and fast fashion. By buying second hand, vintage, swapping, mending, donating, re-selling, recycling. And never, ever binning. To write to my MP. To write about sustainability and ethical issues in this blog. To hopefully encourage and inspire others to think about the issues out there. To try and be an atomic part of the change.

We All Need You

And I believe that you can help too. Not just by buying less but by choosing better. Not just choosing stuff you love but stuff made from sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, tencel, recycled nylon or hemp. By rejecting cheap cotton and polyester. Not just by rejecting new clothes but by understanding that choosing some new clothes from ethical brands supports a whole network of people trying to do business differently. Not just donating to charity shops but by participating in the circular economy and buying from charity shops. Not just by sitting back and being horrified by a documentary which makes you feel both powerless and responsible but by using that horror to read and learn and engage and act.

Resources

Here are the resources I’ve found most useful since starting the blog. Maybe you’ll find them useful too.

  • Fashion Revolution. The perfect starting place for anyone wanting to know more about the problems with fashion industry and the simple actions that can be taken to make a stand. There is a huge amount of info on their website. Download their latest Zine for FREE. It’s a concise A – Z of sustainable fashion and is full of additional resources too.
  • Books
    • Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics – Safia Minney
    • To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World – Lucy Siegle
    • Stitched Up – Tansy E. Hoskins
    • Slave to Fashion – Safia Minney
  • Films
    • True Cost Movie
    • River Blue
  • Blogs
  • Ethical Lifestyle / Business Magazines
    • Ethical Consumer Magazine
      Ethos
      Om Nom

    Ethical fashion brands

    And remember…

    Trying to do the best thing isn’t a destination you reach in one fell swoop. It’s a journey. An adventure. A quest of exploration. A hunger for knowledge. And the drive to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

    Agreed, it’s not as simple as buying ethically or buying less. We can’t shop our way out of this. But I can’t help but think that buying less and choosing clothes from ethical brands are two small yet meaningful pieces of the puzzle. That and huge global legislation to force change in the business.

    Fashion should be fun. It should be harmless. But right now it’s an ugly monster hurting our planet and our people. And it’s out of control.

    You can’t do everything. There is no simple solution, but you can try to do something. We can all try.

    Please try.


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