Learning about the fast fashion industry and climate change can be quite overwhelming. The bad, the good, there is a lot of information out there. How much do we really know and what can we do about it? Here is what I learned about sustainability and our fashion industry.
If you had asked me 2 years ago how much I think I know about the fashion industry and sustainability I would have thought I knew a lot. The more I looked into it for my job at ASHIFT the more the feeling of being overwhelmed and almost hopeless set in. I thought to myself, how are we ever gonna change this? What can we do? Can we actually change things? Today I would like to talk about the biggest lessons I learned about sustainability since writing for ASHIFT. Maybe you will be able to relate and feel a little less alone.
1. IT CAN BE A LOT TO TAKE IN
Do you know that feeling when you think you know a lot only to find out that you actually don’t know enough at all? This is how I felt when I started writing for ASHIFT. I thought I was already doing my part, like I already knew the jist of everything. I kind of did but there were so many facets of the fashion industry and sustainability I never looked at before. Details I had missed. It is easy to miss them. It almost feels like they are meant to be missed. Once you take a closer look at all these things though it starts to become overwhelming. Like there is just an immense amount of information that you still need to learn about as fast as possible. It is important to remember that you have just started your journey and it is okay not to know everything. Trying is the most important step and celebrating your personal accomplishments – big or small – is already amazing.
2. SUSTAINABILITY IS MORE THAN JUST MATERIALS
Since writing for ASHIFT I have researched the working conditions of garment workers all over the world quite thoroughly. Too often these working conditions are inhumane and not being controlled enough. When researching more about fast fashion brands and the industry as a whole I have learned that every single big brand we probably (used to) shop at happily are a part of the issue. After all most brands don’t know much about their own supply chains and cheap labour is what makes sure they make a ton of money.
Unfortunately, it seems like these violations of human rights happen so regularly that each individual case drowns in the massive ocean of similar news. In the age of information, information can be deafening and desensitising, yet this is exactly what we cannot allow. The fact is, human rights are being violated in the fashion industry the moment you are reading this. However, if we all focus on one thing, together as a collective it is possible to hold corporations and manufacturers accountable. From writing emails, tweets or posting Instagram stories to telling a friend and most importantly letting your wallet speak for what you believe in! Check out Fashion Revolution’s Take Action page and Remake’s amazing #PayUp initiative which accomplished a lot during the pandemic thanks to people like you and me.
3. GREENWASHING AS A KEY ISSUE
Transparency does not equal integrity. Many brands pride themselves with being transparent. Transparency is great and important, but is it enough? When H&M scored 73% in Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index 2020 the renowned brand boasted about it in an instagram post saying ‘H&M is the world’s most transparent brand’. However, Sustainable Fashion Matterz pointed out in an article how this was a manipulative form of greenwashing and afterall 73% would be a C on a test. On top of that, transparency is not always the best indicator of a good brand. While a brand can say many things that sound amazing we should remember that actions speak louder than words. We wrote an article on how to catch greenwashing that you can check out here.
4. OVERCONSUMPTION & SHOPPING CONSCIOUSLY
During my time at ASHIFT we asked ourselves and you if sustainable fashion is affordable for all and generally got the response that it is not and more so a privilege. Of course not everyone can afford a 300€ sweater. However, while you could say you are getting your money’s worth when purchasing 10 new tops for summer is that really so? Asking yourself if you are really gonna get a good use out of something is important. If you take a close look at our biggest issues regarding the climate crisis fossil fuels are the biggest issue. What comes after that? Our general overconsumption and throw-away-culture. May that be the cool car, the newest fashion trend, overconsuming meat and dairy products or using a lot of plastic packaging. That of course does not mean we caused the current climate crisis, because we definitely did not and of course packaging is something that should be regulated by the government. These are just smaller steps in the grand scheme of things that we can achieve faster on an individual level.
The most sustainable option is to simply buy things that are vintage or bought with an intention. Garments that you know you really need, that you can combine with other clothes you have, that you will wear often but also take good care of. Especially pieces made from natural materials like cotton, TENCEL™ and linen. They are usually biodegradable (if buttons and the thread are made from natural materials as well!). If possible opt for organic options but I know that is not possible for everyone and sometimes organic isn’t even organic.
Buying less and learning how to combine your pieces and taking good care of them so they last as long as possible is definitely the way to go. Sometimes decluttering your wardrobe can help too.
5. TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A CHANGE
Thanks to social media it has gotten easier to connect with like-minded people and organize activist activities. We can sign petitions, share stories and posts, retweet and even @-mention politicians and corporations. We can make hashtags trend and get international attention. Especially younger generations on Tik Tok, Twitter and even Instagram have impressed me when it comes to climate activism. It is amazing to see so many people engaging with each other and more information being available thanks to the internet.
With all the available information it often feels almost hopeless to strive for something better. I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel small and insignificant when it comes to this stuff. Especially when seeing headlines like “100 companies are responsible for over 71% of emissions”. While this is true and our biggest problem when it comes to climate change it can also make things seem way out of our control as individuals. They are not out of our control and it is definitely not too late!
The most important lesson I learned while writing about sustainability is that we have many opportunities to fight for our climate, garment workers, animals and future generations together. We can take smaller steps like buying less, taking a bicycle to work, using less single-use plastic and changing our diets or bigger steps like holding political leaders accountable and demanding more for our future by voting, advocating for change and through activism. As a collective we will always hold power. We just need to realize it.
What have your biggest lessons been so far? Let us know! We would love to hear about your story, recommendations and inspirations.