Recently Summer from Tortoise and Lady Grey posted the topic “Why we must also buy new” and it really got me thinking about slow fashion. I started the journey towards a more ethical wardrobe 2 years ago and in that time I have definitely curtailed my shopping habits. But I still love a good bargain and some weeks my other half suspects I’m having an affair with the postman. Until Summer’s post gave me an opportunity to really reflect on it, I realised I was still feeling a little guilty at my continued consumerism, however ethical.
However, as Summer said:
“…it is important that we all commit to supporting sustainable fashion labels that have sustainably produced new garments”
Those of us passionate about ethical fashion have to create the demand for ethical brands. Simple economics means that no demand will lead to no supply. As ethical shoppers are increasingly encouraged to favour upcycling, recycling and second-hand purchasing we will end up with less, not more, choice. At the end of the day brands with an ethical ethos still need to make a profit. That may be a distasteful fact to some, but it’s the reality. Staff need to be paid, marketing needs to be high quality and higher (fair) prices need to be paid for raw materials. For an ethical brand to return profits and continue trading we must support them with our dollars and pounds. Only then will they have the capital to compete against the larger, established brands.
Purchasing from ethical brands creates jobs in positive, safe conditions TODAY. Sure, we want all major brands to be responsible for their workforces, outsourced or not. And we want to implement a global commitment to a living wage. But these things take time. But today, by making a positive purchase, I can create demand for weaving from a woman in rural India with 6 children to feed. Or demand for the cotton safely produced by a farmer sending his son to medical school. I still want a world where the word “ethical” doesn’t even need to come before “fashion” or “shopping” anymore, but in the meantime there are so many people we can help right away by buying their products.
Money talks. And nothing talks to the big fashion companies like the profits of ethical retailers. Already brands such as H&M are cottoning on (no pun intended!) to the idea that at least a portion of their target market wants ethical products. ASOS stocks ethical lines. Even Nike, once (maybe still) the big bad wolf, have launch a massive PR drive about their use of recycled materials. And celebrities such as Emma Watson and Livia Firth choose to raise the profile of ethical brands. Continuing to grow the profits of these alternative retailers will worry the big players – but this won’t happen until they start to threaten established market shares. Then the bigger retailers will sit up and listen – their shareholders will insist on it.
Increased demand will lead to increased availability. Without money behind them ethical retailers can’t afford fancy, glamorous marketing or retail space in key shopping geographies. This keeps them out of the reach of millions of potential customers. As they say, out of sight out of mind. Even in my commitment to ethical purchasing sometimes it would be so easy to simply walk the 100 steps from my house to Gap. I long for the day when I can head into London with my girlfriends and cherry pick my way around my favourite ethical retailers on Bond St. I’m a normal girl who likes normal things and yet this oh-so-very-normal activity is completely unavailable to me.
Proof that ethical is not ugly. Proof that we’re not all wearing tie-dye and baggy hemp trousers. Proof that ethical can be unique OR completely on trend. Proof that it’s just like regular shopping, only better! That’s what we need to get out into the world. Those who follow fashion don’t want to know about upcycling or thrifting. They want style and glamour. Open a fashion magazine and absorb the advertisements offering a “lifestyle” not a watch, or an “experience” not a new store. For ethical brands to compete they have to offer the same. And the good news is that we are the foot soldiers who can start this – we can blog, tweet and instagram our ethical fashion in exactly the same way as bloggers and socialites promote their Gucci and Prada. Not as ethical fashion, but simply “fashion”.
And so for these reasons, for now, I will continue to “buy slow like it’s fast” and even suggest that you do the same.
Have you changed your shopping habits as a result of increasing awareness? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter.