CHOOSING SUSTAINABILITY AND SLOW FASHION
Sustainability has become a buzz word within the fashion industry. It is an all-encompassing term that is used to describe anything from ethical production, fair trade, slow fashion, circularity, and thrifting to environmental and energy conservation. Due to the broad range of categories, there are numerous ways to support sustainable initiatives, and no better time to do so.
Consumers are re-evaluating their spending habits in search of transparency and individuality. According to Retail Me Not and Euromonitor’s 2019 reports, sustainability and social missions are quickly becoming a core focus for consumers. While this may be a core focus for consumers, it has not become standard. Why is it that slow fashion and ethical production are the exceptions rather than the norm?
Is it because the idea of shifting one’s lifestyle is too overwhelming a task or is it because enough people have not reached the point where their personal values become more important than a new top?
To gain a bit of insight as to why consumers have chosen to transform their habits, we have reached out to conscious insiders, asking them about the turning points which led them to a more sustainable way of life. We have chosen to highlight two of the insiders we spoke with, Deloitte Sustainability Analyst, Irene Giacchetto and Piggypeg’s Founder Monika Was.
Here’s what we learned!
BEING PART OF AN ECOSYSTEM
Fashion is its own ecosystem with a vast network known as the supply chain. It is comprised of farmers, suppliers, designers, manufacturers, all the way through to logistics agents, sales teams, and finally consumers. This ecosystem is one which is ripe for change. Luckily, there are individuals like Irene and Monika who are saying goodbye to the broken model.
“I have chosen to follow sustainability because I strongly believe that it is the only way possible to shape the future economy and society. Both companies and human beings need to re-learn how to coexist with the ecosystem to enhance its natural resources instead of exploiting them. It is extremely difficult to challenge the status quo and rooted socio-economic systems, but it is the only way to combat inequalities and climate change. Slow fashion is one branch of this movement, which I personally love. The material innovations that are coming out are just incredible!!” Irene
Breaking down the supply chain opens up avenues across each milestone, allowing the industry to focus on the protection and replenishment of natural resources, improvement of working conditions, and to put a stop to overproduction. Slow fashion does just that. It also helps to educate consumers, highlighting the differences between the well-known fast fashion model and the model of the future.
Education is an important call out for Monika, who notes that “it has become common knowledge that the fashion industry is one of the largest drivers of pollution on the planet. As people become more and more exposed to the damage made by these big industries, they begin to fight against it. Education is the key to change. The more people who start to make conscious decisions, the less negative impact on the environment. It doesn’t matter where we begin our education, whether it is beauty, fashion, or XYZ – at some point, we get to the same level of being conscious consumers.”
Many people within the industry have experienced a wakeup call. For those who work within sourcing, product development, and design this moment often takes place in a factory halfway around the world. The reality hits in a wave that feels like it will never end. While each experience differs and is often deeply personal, it typically begins with seeing the poverty leading up to a factory, followed by an overall lack of standards from labour, safety, and cleanliness. It is something that has led countless individuals to stop and think that something is fundamentally wrong with our industry.
This notion is also being felt by consumers, who have begun to demand that brands be more transparent about their production process and company values. Through choosing Fair Trade or locally produced garments, shoppers feel confident that they are making a positive contribution to communities, often made up of indigenous groups, who otherwise would not have the ability to earn fair wages. Workers are able to grow their skillsets, to establish resources necessary to continue their craft and to support themselves and their families.
Transparency and social empowerment are values supported by Irene, who stated, “I love the concept of enhancing the art and creativity of fashion by using sustainable and innovative business models, which are respectful of the planet, as well as empowering marginalized people.”
Social empowerment, whether it comes in the form of Fair Trade, handcrafted, locally produced, or even the sourcing of organic raw materials typically requires certifications which come at a cost. For small and medium businesses who are starting out or are simply tight on cash, proving social values and sustainable initiatives without a certification can be a challenge. In order to get around this, brands need to be creative, relying on authentic transparency often displayed through social media to communicate they still manufacture in responsible, certified factories.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
Have you ever asked yourself why your morning cup of coffee costs more than some t-shirts? This is a sad reality that stems from an industry based on consumption, selling the notion that you need a new outfit for every occasion. Why re-wear something that you have been seen or photographed in when you can buy a new shirt for less than a cup of coffee?
In the age of consumerism, it is counterintuitive and unrealistic to say that you are going to stop shopping altogether.
The time has come to reinvent the way in which we think about fashion and the way we shop.
In order to do this, you need to be honest with yourself, start small and aim for balance. Monika is a great example of someone who is making the shift to slow, sustainable fashion at her own pace. She looks for timeless pieces which will last far beyond a single season, paying close attention to quality and material. This doesn’t mean that she avoids well-known brands, in fact, Monika states,
“I normally buy vintage or second hand at thrift stores, charity shops, and e-commerce platforms. I mainly support local Polish designers and brands. The price is higher but it comes with the quality and values behind. Also, let’s be honest, I do purchase from fast-fashion or big-name brands from time to time; however, it's a very conscious choice then as I am aware I make my contribution this way. Therefore, it needs to be a timeless piece I know I´ll be wearing for years and which brings me closer to completing my ideal capsule wardrobe.”
Becoming an educated consumer allows Monika to make responsible choices, placing quality above quantity and supporting brands which share her values.
SUM IT UP
To sum it up, the most important thing is to start somewhere. It doesn't matter what your trigger is - environment, social cause, quality over quantity - just give it a go and learn how to do it better step by step. What this industry needs are imperfect actions and changes made by many people rather than perfection by few.
Author: Danielle Mazurek, Maja Paluchiewicz
Graphics: Ada Waleska