• Ambika Dhir

I'm Setting Myself a Challenge, and You Should Too

I'm sat here watching the interview by Naomi Campbell of Vivienne Westwood on YouTube. It's not what I expected: it's less fashion, more activism. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised, Westwood's brand is built upon creating a discussion relevant to current affairs. Westwood's choice to root the brand in punk culture was not just a fashion statement, but was a direct response to the horror that was the Vietnam war. Yet Westwood has continued to evolve her brand, citing herself as not only a designer but also an activist, and her activist eye has now fallen onto climate change.

It's a topic we all know too well. From Bolsonaro's blatant disregard for the Amazon rainforest to Greta Thunberg's speech at the UN Climate Summit, climate change is something that has been on my radar more often than not recently. The recent news stories we see of ever more common natural disasters and dire statistics on how long the human race has left on Earth has meant that I have started to reflect a lot more on my own carbon footprint and how I add to this problem.

What seems like a pretty picture on the face of it, actually shows the extent of the smoke from the bushfires in Sydney and New South Wales in Australia: a clear example of global warming.

Perhaps the first we need to start with calling it global warming, rather than climate change. After all, climate change was a term coined by political adviser Frank Luntz to replace the much scarier sounding term 'global warming'. A change sounds okay, warming does not. Currently, the apparel and footwear industries together account for more than 8% of global climate impact. This is most directly attributable to 'fast fashion'. Fast fashion is the term for retailers that take relatively inexpensive designs and produce them in usually factory conditions in a very quick turnaround time (for a more in depth explanation on it, check out this article). For context, many of the high-street bands that we know and love, are fast fashion retailers. These include, but aren't limited to Zara, Mango, Topshop, Pretty Little Thing, Primark and many, many more. What is so wrong with that, you ask? On a first glance, it looks as though these retailers are simply making catwalk trends affordable and accessible to the masses. This is of course correct, but when there is such a chasm between designer prices and high-street prices for relatively similar designs, we should be asking ourselves: why?

The answer lies in most in one factor: quality. Quality covers the design aspect, the production of the garment and the materials the garment is made from. Fast fashion relies on low production costs, which means both the material needs to be cheap and so does the labour that's creating the garment. It takes only 10-15 days for a garment to go from design to product for fast fashion retailer Zara. Designer pieces on the other hand, tend not to be made in sweatshops, and the materials tend (I say this tentatively, as designer does not automatically equate to quality) to be of a higher quality, that will in turn last for longer and through more wears without the garment becoming misshapen or damaged. What we as consumers do not see behind the glossy doors of high street shops and their curated websites, is the process behind the production of each mass-produced garment: the sourcing of materials, the extensive toxic chemical use and the dismal work conditions that workers in LEDCs are often subjected to. 

The fast fashion industry thrives on consumerism. As the world got richer, society became ever-so consumerist. The introduction and implementation of social media into our daily lives only worsened this problem. Now, I'm not saying this from a pedestal. I am very much a player in this consumerist game. Zara, one of my favourite stores, releases new products twice a week to its stores and online: this equates to over 10,000 products being released per year. With new products constantly being released, it's hard not to constantly want what's 'new' and 'better'. In comparison, the luxury industry is still relatively based around the traditional model of 2-4 collections per year: designers take time to create a capsule collection, before making various adaptations of designs until they perfect their garment. It's a process that takes months. We as a society tend to constantly be on the look out for the next 'best thing', and the fast fashion industry plays on this weakness and lives up to it. The fact that garments are affordable means that we are much more inclined to purchase them without regard to how much we will wear them, or how we will look after them. Ask yourself: if you had brought a pair of sunglasses for £5 versus buying a pair of sunglasses for £500, which would you be more inclined to look after and use for a long time? Cheaper items are most dispensable to us as they didn't shock our pockets enough.

What I'm trying to say, is that fast fashion is based upon our consumerist desires. The constant release of new clothing means that we are going through an alarming rate of materials, both natural and synthetic, to make these clothes. How much land does it take to render these materials? How much of that land was rainforest? How many of the chemicals used in garment production end up leaking into our soils and waterways? How much water goes into making one pair of jeans? According to Stephen Leahy, it's 7600 litres. Think about shipping: if stores are receiving new styles each week, how much pollution that does equate to in both aviation and shipping terms?

Past just being bad for our bank accounts, the fast fashion industry is horrific for the environment. It's time that I became more conscious on what I'm buying into.

So what have I been doing to reduce my own footprint? Firstly, I started with shopping at resell places more often. Sites like eBay and Depop can be a goldmine when it comes to finding clothes for a fraction of the price, and by buying unloved clothes, we're essentially recycling and making sure that we get the most wear out of the clothing. I recently managed to score this wool coat by Zara for £15 on eBay: it goes to show that a little bit of looking around can really go a long way!

Charity shops are another great way of reducing our carbon footprint, whilst also contributing to important causes. The trick to thrifting is to go in without any ideas of what you want, and to have an open mind. My top tips for charity shopping is to look past what you first see when you pick up a garment: if you're a crafty type, DIY can often go a long way with charity hauls! Charity shopping is often a lot about luck on the day: you'll hardly ever find something if you go in looking for something very specific but if you choose your charity shop right, with a bit of patience you'll usually be able to find something. Try to choose charity shops in trendy areas for clothes that are more current: if you're in London, try Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Dalston and Teddington. If you're in Sydney, try Newtown, Paddington and Glebe. Charity shops really encourage us to look away from trends and think about what suits you and your own personal style, so remember that when looking around!

Whilst I've been trying to shop conciously, I've decided it's time for something more drastic. For anyone that knows me, they'll undoubtedly say that there is no need for me to have new clothes. I have perfectly reasonable ones in my wardrobe already. So I'm setting myself a challenge: from January until May 2020, I won't be buying any clothes at all. Not from the high-street, not online or from any resell shops. It's something that I think is necessary for me to kick my consumerist habit, and to encourage me to look into my own wardrobe and get creative with outfits again. It'll be a challenge where I'll be able to tap back into my own personal style and look at what I have, and how I can make it work. So, expect to see a lot of re-wearing of pieces on the blog now: it's time for a change, and I'm ready to make it. Are you?


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