The Ethical Fashion Roundup #16 | 2020 Reflections

The year everything, and nothing, changed

If you enjoy my free content, you can donate the cost of a virtual coffee ☕

Buy me a Ko-Fi

Collage by @labyrinthofcollages

In fashion and every other global system, the pandemic well and truly pulled the rug, upending everything we thought we knew, exposing cracks we thought we fixed decades ago. But amidst the chaos, change is in the air for 2021.

Financial breakdown for retailers; PPE shortages; Covid outbreaks at warehouses; cancelled orders for garment workers; labour rights scandals at UK factories; racial reckonings in sustainable fashion; influencers being toppled from their thrones; the rise and rise of thrifting… these are just a tiny handful of the headlines we’ve seen in 2020. When I started writing several years ago, finding breaking news, reputable sources, speakers for events and even readers was a struggle. Sustainability was niche and quiet and rarely reached the boardroom agenda. Now, in a truly unprecedented way, sustainable fashion has finally reached the mainstream conversation, for better or worse.

Everything, and nothing, has changed. The problems fashion has faced this year are nothing new but simply harder to ignore. The solutions are the same ones campaigners have been shouting about since day one. While consumer habits have been transformed and eco trends have taken off, other areas like workers rights have mostly stagnated. “This year has brought about neither the end of sustainability nor its overwhelming triumph. Instead, the path toward a more environmentally and socially just fashion industry has morphed and shifted, revealing new areas of both gain and loss,” says Whitney Buack in Fashionista. In another piece, she reminds us that ultimately, it’s time to stop looking to brands to save us. True change, Whitney says, will come from citizens, not CEOs.

Too preoccupied with coinciding crises, 2020 wasn’t the year of transformation it was promised to be. So, can we go beyond empty promises and truly shift the fashion system next year? “The global apparel industry is broken and only urgent, drastic surgery can fix it. I am not talking about another initiative or another public relations exercise. I am talking about deep, systemic change to be agreed by all involved—by brands, by suppliers, governments, unions and NGOs”, Mostafiz Uddin pleads in his glance inside the lopsided nature of the industry. “Words are all well and good but, sadly for garment workers, they don't put food on the table.”

Alongside using our power as individuals and as communities to demand and enact change, the most important thing in our toolkit for 2021 is going to be hope. Like so many in the UK right now, I’ve been sitting at home, watching the news, and feeling hopeless. But somewhere hidden within that feeling is a slither of delicious, dangerous hope. Hope for not just a return to the world, but for a better world. And I am going to cling to that as long as I possibly can.

“The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

- Arundhati Roy in War Talk


Loads of important reads to catch up on - bookmark for later

Podcast lineup

Fill your ears with fashion

  • We’ve been busy over at Common Threads with new cover art and three new episodes. It was a joy to be joined by Audrey Migot-Adholla to talk through ethics in the jewellery industry and Uzma Bozai for a festive deep dive into sequins and sparkle. We rounded off the year with a bumper solo episode covering six pervasive ethical fashion myths, like “made in the UK = more ethical” and “boycotting fast fashion means not supporting jobs for garment workers.” Stay tuned for more excellent guests coming in 2021.

  • Clare Press has been passing the mic over at Wardrobe Crisis and the new episodes are so, damn, good. Start here: Aja Barber interviews Kalkidan Legesse and Aditi Meyer interview Alok Vaid-Menon.

  • Some interesting listening: this episode of Tara Stewarts’s Dirty Laundry podcast featuring model Nyome Nicholas-Williams.

  • Remember Who Made Them has a bonus episode with an insightful reflection on the impact of Covid-19 and consumer activism on the fashion industry with Elizabeth Cline, Andrew Tillet Saks and two garment workers in Myanmar: Tin Tin Wei and Thuzar Kyi.

  • Manufactured is a podcast about fashion manufacturing and sustainability - I enjoyed the episode with Tara St. James and with Nurul Muktadir Bappy.


When is the last time you saw anything on sale for less than 10 pence? Maybe a Freddo when you were 5 years old? Hold my beer, said Pretty Little Thing. Fortunately, as these Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales loomed, a more powerful storm was brewing over on Twitter, where Aja Barber’s hashtag #IQuitFastFashionBecause spread like wildfire. Head over to The Flock to read my article on how the hashtag could help empower tomorrow’s shoppers, featuring bucketloads of inspiration from real-life fashion activists.

The mainstream media has also been talking about fast fashion a lot recently, but largely in relation to retail job losses as lockdown restrictions continue to batter the UK high street, and even historic household names like Topshop fall into administration. Many of these headlines fail to recognise the true victims of the crumbling fashion economy, so I wrote a deep dive into the real women impacted by Arcadia’s collapse for feminist publication Women On Top. If you’re in need of some lighter reading instead, my latest article for Eco-Age spotlights the creative new way that small, sustainable indie brands are staying afloat.

Sustainable fashion *action* of the month

Make a fashion resolution!

A post shared by Fashion Revolution Scotland (@fash_rev_scotland)

I took a grand total of 48 hours away from my email inbox over Christmas (progress!), and when I finally gave in, my Promotions tab was full to the brim with Boxing Day discounts. I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to unsubscribe from brand newsletters that use what I call “fast fashion language” (even sustainable brands do this) or send sales emails far too frequently, but they still sneak through the net if you’re not careful. In the dreich winter and barrage of bad news, I have been known to turn to retail therapy, but this year I’m making a new resolution. Less spending, less screens, less sponcon; more community, more reflection, more impact. It’s time to embrace the role of consumer activist, not just ethical consumer.

All of this year’s constructive conversation about systemic change can sometimes make you feel powerless as an individual. But remember, small actions still matter. The dawn of 2021 is an excellent opportunity to consider the small, but still important, changes you can make in your own fashion habits. Lauren Bravo has the blueprint to help get you started.

If you want a little more inspiration for making your own fashion resolutions, join us for the first Fashion Revolution Scotland virtual stitch & bitch of 2021. We’ll be mending and making while chatting about what we can all do better in 2021 to make a difference. It will be hosted by my fellow volunteer Louise Kelly who didn’t buy any clothes for the whole of 2019; she has some seriously good advice if you’d like to try a similar detox. Register for the Zoom call here.

Thank you so much for reading! You can catch up on past issues here.

Paid subscriptions to this newsletter are currently on hold, so these monthly emails will now include a link to my Ko-Fi page. If you like, you can buy me a virtual coffee to support my work. I’m aiming to relaunch the more in-depth issues of The Ethical Fashion Roundup in the new year on a biweekly basis so keep your eyes peeled.

Happy Hogmanay and see you in 2021!
Ruth x