Fashion & Sustainability: my mindful manifesto

Cotton Harvest by Kimberly Vardeman, vi Flickr

Sustainability can seem like such a huge subject, that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and wonder what on earth you can do that will possibly make a difference. The more you read, however, the more you’ll start to work out which aspects really speak to you and where you’d like to focus your efforts. For me, the key issue is improving our connection to our clothes so that we stop treating garments as disposable.

As someone who grew up at a time when shops got new collections only twice a year, and most people had to save up to buy something they wanted, I have a very different view of how the fashion industry could be. Also, I learnt to sew in school and so know a lot of what goes into making a garment. This means that one fact stood out for me from a Greenpeace article on fast fashion:

“Americans […] buy twice as many items of clothing as they did twenty years ago. In 1991, the average American bought 34 items of clothing each year. By 2007, they were buying 67 items every year. That’s a new piece of clothing every four to five days!”

I thought I bought a lot of things I don’t need, but that’s far more than even I expected… and I bet the figure is even higher now! You may think that clothes becoming more available and affordable can only be a good thing, but encouraging us to buy more means that we no longer think about our purchases properly, and we get sucked into a cycle of spending more than we (and the planet) can afford. I recently watched The True Cost and this quote from Livia Firth really hit home:

“From the consumer point of view, is it really democratic to buy a t-shirt for $5, a pair of jeans for $20, or are they taking us for a ride? Because they are making us believe that we are rich and wealthy because we can buy a lot. But, in fact, they’re making us poorer and the only person who is becoming richer is the owner of the fast fashion brand.”

I am concerned about the overconsumption of clothing (in the UK and the US) and would like people to be more mindful about clothes shopping – knowing how garments are made so that they fully appreciate them, and valuing clothes rather than thinking of them as disposable. My vision of a better world is one where everyone (brands and consumers) knows and appreciates the skill and resources that have gone into making a garment, meaning that they truly value everything in their wardrobe.

Through this blog and my social media accounts, I would like to effect change in shopping habits and a better understanding of where clothes come from. I remember laughing at a line from the Blackadder The Third episode Amy and Amiability, where Edmund Blackadder tells the Prince of Wales, “I am one of these people who are quite happy to wear cotton, but have no idea how it works.” Sadly, it’s  funny because it’s true. How many people actually know how cotton is grown, processed, made into cloth and stitched into t-shirts?

So, I plan to write more about the sustainability issues that interest me, using my storytelling skills to create accessible content that helps explain these complicated concepts. I am committed to never making an impulse purchase of my own again (advance planning is key!), being more mindful in my shopping habits, and encouraging this in others. I hope that you’ll join me on this journey.

This post forms part of my coursework on the free Fashion and Sustainability online course over at FutureLearn. If you’re interested in finding out more about sustainability within the fashion industry, I thoroughly recommend signing up. Image via Kimberly Vardeman‘s Flickr photostream.

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