Is Sustainable Fashion Finally Mainstream?

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Ever since the most mainstream fast fashion documentary to date, Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, was released earlier this month on the BBC, I have received more messages than ever before from friends, family, and followers about ethical fashion. This monumental documentary, alongside my never-ending social media posts about the problems within the fashion industry, have led to dozens of people asking what they can do about it.

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One one hand, this is amazing news because it means that the public is being made aware of what the industry has known for decades, but on the other hand, I am shocked at how little awareness there is to start with on what is one of the world’s most highly polluting and modern slavery supporting industries. Which has got me thinking, is sustainable fashion now a mainstream issue, finally? What is it about the time we’re in that is making people sit up and take note? And what on earth can we do to make this conversation even louder?

Sustainability has, without a doubt, entered the mainstream. ELLE just released their sustainability issue, being seen with a plastic straw is on a level with striking a small child and the Zero Waste Week hashtag just passed four million impressions before the week in question has even begun. But, as with all movements that reach the mainstream – body positivity and feminism come to mind – the message shifts. It becomes performative and the most difficult-to-swallow tenets are swept aside. Why? Because the path of least resistance is always the most appealing.
— Sophie Benson (www.sophiebenson.com)
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Like any true fanatic, I have several Google alerts set up for my obsessions, like ‘fast fashion’, ‘sustainable fashion’ and ‘ethical fashion’ so I can keep up with the latest news. And over the past year, I have noticed the updates ramping up in speed and volume. Here are just a few headlines I’ve seen lately, all from popular, mainstream media outlets:

Taking it offline, progress has been made in traditional media too. Fashion giant Elle magazine released an entire issue dedicated to sustainability earlier this year, and everyone’s favourite celebrities, even the new royal style icon Meghan Markle, are wearing ethical fashion brands on the red carpets. Prime time TV slots are dedicated to documentaries about toxic cotton production and plastic pollution in the oceans, and the ultra-conservative UK Government is officially investigating the impact of fast fashion. Fashion Revolution, the biggest global movement campaigning for a fairer, safer and cleaner fashion industry, now has activist groups all over the world, and the high street’s biggest offenders like Mango, H&M and Zara, are selling ‘sustainable’ diffusion lines alongside their main collections.

But is this enough?

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Outfit details

Scarf: Tartan Blanket Co (gifted)
Jacket: Rino & Pelle // Rosy Penguin
Trousers: Stella McCartney
Earrings: Jay Frazer Ceramics // Scottish Design Exchange
Top: New Look (4 years old, don’t @ me…)

Photos by Alice Cruickshank

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An optimist would see all of this as an incredible improvement from the early 2000’s throwaway culture. We pay for plastic bags now, we say no to straws now, we wear organic cotton now! This is great, there is no denying it. But sadly, I can be a typical fashion industry pessimist, and although I grasp to the hope that the growing attention around ethical fashion and eco-friendly living is more than just a trend, I can help but feel frustrated at the lack of facts, the lack of science, and the lack of authentic passion for making the industry a better place, beyond simply getting Instagram likes for jumping on a #bandwagon.

Of course, we are all full of contradictions, and it is impossible to live an 100% ethical life, but we are living in a paradox almost worse than just flaunting our consumerism and owning it. We wear faux fur jackets (made from 100% plastic) to protest animal cruelty whilst tucking into a bacon sandwich, we go on an ‘accidental’ Primark haul, but of course we are using reusable tote bags, feeling smug by saying we brought our own at the till. I am just as bad; ethical fashion bloggers like me are constantly buying new clothing, and even though it is usually from ethical fashion brands; we are using it’s status as organic/fairtrade/second hand/artisan-made/vintage to avoid the guilt of shopping for things we really don’t need, but ‘need’ to create new content for our growing Instagram, and it needs to be fashionable.

This blogger-related guilt does sometimes torture me, the same way that ‘failing’ as a vegan does each time I eat cheese, in my pursuit to practice what I preach (although I do try not to preach too much, because believe me, I know how hard it is to make the ‘right’ decisions). That’s why I was absolutely thrilled to see mega-influencer Vix Meldrew open up about the problem of blogger’s constantly buying new clothing to fill up their social media feeds, and her own guilt about promoting fast fashion brands. Vix started a new Instagram account, @slow.styling, which she calls ‘The Antithesis of Fast Fashion’, in order to share outfits posted by unconventional style influencers, who dare to repeat their outfits (including little old me!) but isn’t it sad that it’s now seen as ‘brave’ to be an outfit repeater in the modern blogosphere?

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Capitalist sustainability, as it currently exists, is a paradox. You don’t consume and produce your way to a healthier planet. They’re driving us off a cliff and selling us plasters
— Sophie Benson (www.sophiebenson.com)

So, my pressing question is, how can we take this conversation further, beyond just a flippant tweet about how shocking it all is, beyond investing in the hot new reusable coffee cups and stainless steel straws, and beyond a water-cooler chat at work about the documentary on TV last night? It can be a complex issue to tackle, but here are 3 quick ways to help spread the word about and get involved in the ethical fashion movement- ways that DON’T include consuming more THINGS:

  1. Ask your favourite brands (or your least favourite brands!) #whomademyclothes - a truly ethical brand should be fully transparent about their supply chain, and confident in the knowledge that the people within it are treated- and paid- fairly. t doesn't have to be a letter or even an email - a simple tweet will do! Visit fashionrevolution.org for some easy guidelines to get you started.

  2. Next time you go shopping for something new to wear (and there is no crime in that, we all like to feel and look good!), don’t settle for anything less than something you really love. It’s not even about asking yourself ‘do I really need this?’ because, lets be honest, no one NEEDS new clothes, but ask yourself ‘do I really LOVE this?’ before splashing the cash. It helps you not only consume less and buy better quality clothing, but lets you build a wardrobe that you are honestly really proud of.

  3. Talk to people, in actual real life. You never know where that conversation will take you, what people are willing to listen to and learn from, honestly. Just don’t be a preachy vegan, promise?

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