The Ethical Fashion Roundup #17 | The Great Consumer Shift

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“If you feel like you’re not allowed to participate in the conversation because of the way you shop, then we’re losing a lot of people that would otherwise be involved in fixing problems.” - Elizabeth Cline

Ten years ago, the phrase eco-guilt was not only an unknown term, perhaps even an unknown feeling, but would also probably be voted ‘least likely to appear in Vogue’. This week, Vogue published an article called Don’t Let Eco-Guilt Stop You From Taking Action, and it feels pretty refreshing to see the mainstream narrative finally shift from: “You’re a terrible consumer and the only way to absolved your sins is to buy better stuff!” to “It’s ok to feel bad, but it’s not all on you, and it’s not all about consumption.” In other words, it’s okay to be an imperfectly ethical consumer.

Fashion Revolution’s latest research into consumer perceptions of sustainable fashion shows that overwhelmingly, people want to buy clothing that doesn’t harm people or the planet. Their Consumer Survey Report highlights some interesting findings:

  • 45% of people say it’s important that clothing is made without using child labour

  • 62% of people wear clothing for at least a few years

  • 80% of people think sustainability certifications are important for brands

  • 74% of people think brands should disclose their suppliers

  • 79% of people say that the law should require brands to respect human rights

This report and others like it show that the appetite for ethically-made, environmentally-conscious and long-lasting products remains strong. Despite all the bad news, it seems like a real shift is happening for shoppers, accelerated by our new lockdown lifestyles. TLDR: The intentions are there, we just need brands to translate this powerful mandate into meaningful action beyond the buzzwords.

It’s relevant to note here that a few ultra-fast fashion giants aside, the majority of the fashion industry is struggling to survive. The UK has seen the biggest fall in UK retail sales since 1995. Globally, fashion’s profits are expected to drop by 93%. Household names like Topshop have crumbled into administration, putting the entire supply chain at risk. But don’t let these headlines (nor the inevitable “Shop for Britain” messaging we’ll get from the Tories again once high streets eventually reopen) make you feel like boycotting fast fashion is bad for the economy. Do you know what’s really bad for the economy? A dead planet. Do you know what’s really bad for workers? Exploitation and abuse. Fashion needs transformation, not rescue.

Newsflash

Lots to catch up on - bookmark for later. I’ve found the Pocket app pretty handy for saving articles and listening to them as audio transcripts when my brain is too tired to read.

Podcast lineup

Fill your ears with something other than pop punk from your pre-teen years

  • Common Threads is back for 2021, and our first episode of the year features Bel Jacobs, the fashion editor-turned-fashion activist and co-founder of Fashion Act Now. Tomorrow we’ll have a new one on the feed all about repair with two very special guests. We’ve also created a Ko-Fi page, so if you’d like to support our ad-free podcast financially you can (thank you!)

  • I haven’t actually listened to any ethical fashion podcast episodes this month (sorry), but I have been enjoying How To Save A Planet, which is arguably the most entertaining way to learn about the climate crisis. Their latest episode ‘Recycling! Is it BS?’ is excellent. It includes a very helpful explanation of why downcycling (eg. turning a plastic bottle into a fleece jacket, something fashion brands love to use as proof of circularity) doesn’t actually close the loop, it simply prevents the loop altogether because that recycled PET fleece cannot later be turned into another fleece or another plastic bottle.

  • If like me you’re feeling a little worse for wear and just need some chatty people to soundtrack your day, You’re Wrong About is truly unbeatable. Plus you get to learn about cool shit that you’re probably wrong about, like Y2K, Stepford Wives, QAnon, the Stanford Prison Experiment and Marie Antoinette.

  • FYI: Sancho’s co-founder Kalkidan Legesse has started a new podcast about race, sustainability and intersectional environmentalism called Well Now You Know.

Got anything for the wash?

A post shared by Ruth MacGilp (@ruthmacgilp__)

If you’ve been in this space for a while, you’ll probably know that washing your clothes has an impact on the environment, and that all of us should probably do it a little less. Beyond the vast carbon footprint of cleaning and caring for clothes (11% or 186 million tonnes), we’ve also got the overwhelming level of microplastics leaching from our laundry baskets into the oceans, with polyester fibres recently found in the Arctic.

However, one thing that’s missing from this conversation is brands, and to some extent governments. In my latest article for Eco-Age, I investigate who is really accountable for rethinking the laundry cycle, plus what you can do at home to make a difference. Self quote incoming…

“In this utopia of a fully circular fashion system, where every garment is reused, recycled, resold or rented, we need to get back to basics. Remember that with each new owner or end-use, the quality of a garment quickly degrades, and fast fashion products are clearly not built to last. If you welcome the new year with one simple resolution, let it be this: quality over quantity. Only then will our washing habits truly make a difference.”

Sustainable fashion *action* of the month

Make ‘greentrolling’ part of your healthy morning routine!!

Venetia La Manna recently shared a thread of the latest fast fashion greenwashing antics and it reminded me just how pervasive and constant this problem really is. Luckily, there is something you can do to channel your frustration. Greentrolling is a term coined by Mary Annaïse Heglar in the climate newsletter Hot Take (also celebrated in another brilliant newsletter HEATED) to describe dragging oil companies like Exxon on Twitter, calling them out for their greenwashing and lies à la AOC and Greta.

“It’s like a gateway drug into more climate activism. Even if you feel like you can't do anything else to fight climate change, you can definitely talk shit to Shell.”

I reckon we could all bring a bit of Heglar’s energy to the fashion industry too, holding brands accountable for their actions with a little more rage and relentlessness. It’s something activists like Mayisha Begum from @ohsoethical do really well, and a reminder that sometimes collective ‘cancel culture’ can be channelled into something productive, like making executives at Missguided get a little sweaty about their social media sentiment analysis.


Thanks for reading! You can catch up on past issues here, and if you like, you can buy me a virtual coffee to support my work.

Ruth x

PS. Trump is gone and you’re allowed to feel joy. Biden has taken significant climate action already and you’re allowed to feel relief. Also, I have not yet tired of Bernie chair memes, nor his upcycled mittens and outfit repeating.