Sustainable Fashion Is What We Want, But How Do We Get It?

We need to teach consumers about sustainable fashion, not just tell them…

It’s December 2018, I’m in my last year at the University of Leeds and I’m nailing down ideas for my final major project. Doing a fashion marketing degree allowed me to explore so many different options for this and in such a creative environment, everyone is full of ideas. Although we are tasked to do in depth trend research beforehand, you already know what the popular choice is going to be.

Sustainability, of course. It’s relevant, important and guaranteed to ensure your hypothetical brand is going to be successful. You can see why we all wanted to cover it, myself included. To put our project brief simply, it was to create an original brand based upon trend research and market this through various channels. But what to do that would stand out? I didn’t want to create another eco-fashion brand that made their collections from factory cut off’s, that’s great but unfortunately not original.

I researched 2019 macro trends and picked three in total for this project, one of these was education. As I started doing my initial research on this, I found not only the perfect USP for my brand (winner) but an interesting issue outside of this project. 

People want to be more sustainable with their clothing choices, but they don’t know how.

They don’t know how? Really? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Or is it just obvious to me? A fashion student with 6 years of education in various aspects of the industry. A study of 1000 British adults found that 53% weren’t aware of the impact fast fashion has on the planet. Some are not even sure what fast fashion is and which brands fall into the category and that’s just 1000 people. It is no wonder they are unsure where to start.

We are a fast paced society. Rushing around, working, looking after children, studying and all the extra hobbies & life admin on top. It’s a struggle for some to find time to watch a little TV sometimes, let alone spend hours of research into sustainable fashion brands.

So, what is the solution? Do we give consumers another small, ethical start-up clothing company they can shop from? Do fast fashion retailers just keep announcing more sustainable clothing collections at slightly higher prices? Do influencers promote an eco-clothing product to convert their fans, just for a sale? I’m not knocking any efforts, but is any of this a long term solution? Are we teaching consumers anything substantial or just forcing it in their face?

An article by Fashionista back in June discussed areas of this subject with Maxine Bédat, the co-founder of Zady, a fashion brand that started 4 years ago on an ethical clothing mission. But then one day, Bédat bounced. The website & Instagram stopped getting updated and there had been no responses to unanswered questions on social media, what gives? They hadn’t struggled financially and she hadn’t given up on her mission, she had instead decided on a different approach.

“We can’t buy ourselves out of the problem”

Maxine Bédat

A quote from Bédat in the article nails it on the head, “we can’t buy ourselves out of the problem”. Starting up another online ethical fashion brand is great, but does it show people what to look for in a high street charity shop? Creating a collection from factory cut off’s helps, but does it teach someone how to up-cycle a garment they already own? This isn’t showing people a long-term solution, it’s giving them a short-term answer.

Consumers want shopping for sustainable fashion to be easy and on a budget. A 2019 report by e-commerce platform Nosto shows that 2,000 US & UK based shoppers who are aware of the impacts of throw away fashion, want to buy sustainable clothing but without the extra cost. An article by Kayleigh Moore over at Forbes covering this report says that although 52% of consumers do want the fashion industry to be more sustainable, only 29% are willing to pay the price.

Another recent study claims that 70% of workers in Britain are “chronically broke” and it doesn’t help with fears surrounding the outcome of Brexit and the impact this will have on people’s wallets. We are being careful with how we spend our money, if it’s cheap and easy then that’s the way to go. Feeding the family and paying the bills becomes a priority over 100% organic cotton t-shirts at £60 a pop, I don’t need any research to back that up.

I don’t believe another online eco-fashion brand consumers can spend money on is the answer.

So, for those of us in and around the fashion industry, the brands, the students, the designers, the bloggers, the writers, the stylists, the academics & the little people like me. We have an awareness of how to be more sustainable with our fashion choices, we have an understanding of best practices. We understand the impact, we have the knowledge and the skills to pass on, we are informed.

So, I ask you to take some time to teach people what you know. If you have a friend who is “unsure” about charity shops, take them to one of your favourties and show them where to find the best garments. If you know someone that doesn’t understand the effects of that £3 t-shirt, make a conversation about it and suggest an alternative. If your partner is buying new clothes a few times a week from fast fashion retailers, just mention the impacts it can have on the planet. If you know how to use a sewing machine, offer to teach your family & friends how to upcycle old clothes into something new.

If people want to make a difference, they will and If they don’t act straight away, don’t worry. By offering your knowledge and skills, you have planted the seed of thought.

I am not perfect, but I am actively working on making my clothing more sustainable, here are some tips:

  • Charity shops – This is an obvious one. Especially in more affluent areas, these can be full of brand names at bargain prices. Whilst we are in Second Hand September, this would be the best time to start, but make sure you try and stick to it.
  • Up-Cycling – Not as hard as you may think. I understand not everyone knows how to use a sewing machine, let alone the luxury of owning one. But there are tonnes of online tutorials, guides & blogs that teach you how to up cycle with other methods & materials, no stitching required.
  • Depop – The number of people that I’ve mentioned to about Depop that haven’t heard of it, surprises me. This little app is what you would get if Instagram & eBay had a baby. An online store for new & used items all marketed with eye catching images. Make sure you get yourself something second hand, there are so many items in great condition. I’ve got half a wardrobe from here and I can tell you, you won’t miss out on your favourite brands.
  • Only buy clothes monthly – I’m only addressing the shopping addicts out there with this one. If you, like me, love to update your wardrobe on the regular then at the very least, take something out and do a swap. Take it to your local charity shop, and then buy something in there to replace it is one way to go about it.

This can seem daunting to those who have only ever shopped on the high street buying fast fashion, but it’s an easier transition than you think and you just take it one step at a time. We need to erase the stigma about all second-hand clothes being gross or tatty looking. Get rid of the idea that you can’t up cycle clothing without a sewing machine. I’m not saying that for the rest of your life, you can only buy from a second-hand shop. But if this post makes you think, makes you open your wardrobe or even come up with a change you can make to your shopping habits, I’ve done my bit.


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