As I’ve become more conscious of my impact on the environment – and the plants, animals and humans with whom I share it – I’ve been led to confront a part of my life which is not only a necessary element of it, but that also brings me a lot of joy and contributes to my definition and presentation of myself: my wardrobe.
This week (24th – 30th April) marks Fashion Revolution Week, and coincides with the 4th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It’s a good time to reflect on the environmental and humanitarian consequences of the fashion industry, and to think about how we can effect change. It can be daunting – dressing ethically has a reputation for being unaffordable – so don’t be disappointed or put off trying if you find you’re unable to switch to a fully fair wardrobe overnight. Educating yourself is a great place to start, and can serve as the first step towards being able to let go of fast fashion.
I remember the news of the Rana Plaza factory collapse unfolding. I watched in horror as the death toll rose from under 100, to hundreds, to 1,138. Over 1000 garment workers were crushed to death while manufacturing clothing for Monsoon Accessorize, Mango and Primark among others. Concerns had already been raised about cracks in the building; just the day before the collapse, workers had been evacuated. But despite this, workers returned on the 24th, amid threats that their pay would be docked if they didn’t show up.
At that time, I had recently completed an internship at an online ethical fashion platform, and had already started to distance myself from my favourite stores like H&M, Primark and New Look. I shopped exclusively at charity shops for a while, but quickly found it difficult to find things that made me feel good about my appearance, so fast fashion weaseled its way back into my wardrobe. I tried to shop in places which I saw as main offenders (Primark and Zara, for example) as rarely as possible, but looking back I think I was in denial about the practices of the other brands I was buying from, most of whom were owned by parent companies of the aforementioned worst offenders. By the end of last year, I’d decided to cut fast fashion out completely, and resolved to buy less clothing, and only from ethical brands.
Fast fashion is a very alluring industry, making it difficult to avoid. With new lines dropping every week, there are 52 seasons instead of 4 in a year, and there’s always something else for us to feel like we should have. This greed-fueled model leads to us never quite feeling satisfied, and buying way more than we need or even really want. The more we buy, the more we increase the demand for readily available and cheaply priced clothing, and sadly we often don’t seem to spare a thought for the people who are making it, and what effect their employment in the garment industry is having on their health.
It’s heart-wrenching and rage-inducing at times, especially as a feminist, to see women whose voices are going unheard when they try to fight for their rights.
Watching The True Cost was revelatory in the way that watching Cowspiracy was for me when I started to think about going vegan. It documents the terrible struggles of people trapped in the garment industry – from the violence (sometimes even resulting in death) they encounter if they so much as attempt to unionise, through to the strain it places on their family lives and the ill-effects of the toxic chemicals and dyes which lead to skin conditions and cancers. It’s heart-wrenching and rage-inducing at times, especially as a feminist, to see women whose voices are going unheard when they try to fight for their rights. When we buy into fast fashion, this is what we fund.
I really believe that we have the power to effect change and improve the lives of fellow humans who are leading miserable existences to meet the demand of our insatiable appetite for new, cheap clothes. Buying only ethically made clothing can be expensive, but it needn’t be. If you take some time to look at your wardrobe as it is now, and assess your fashion habits and needs, you’ll likely see that you can simply buy less, making more conscious choices when the time comes to do so. Buying second-hand is also a great way to reduce the cost – vintage stores, charity shops (Traid and Trinity Hospice are favourites of mine), eBay and depop are all good resources.
There are events taking place this week all over the world to mark Fashion Revolution Week, from clothes swaps to screenings. Whatever you do, I urge you not to ignore this cause, and instead to start by educating yourself and contributing to change however you can.
| Watch The True Cost for free on Netflix