With London Fashion Week just behind us, all the hype, glitz and glam, pictures of stunning clothes and fabulous celebrities, it is easy to become encompassed by the importance of fashion and the need to follow trends.
Of course, I immediately began to think about kindness in fashion and found that in order to practice it, we must aim to do the opposite – set our own trends.
Behind the luring colours and dazzling designs, poor working conditions, low wages and wide spread environmental damage remain endemic, a fact that we all knew if we’re honest. How else could it be possible to pick up a t-shirt for £1.99 (which subsequently falls apart after a couple of wears)? Consumerism floods us with so many decisions, options and rules that actually, we stop thinking. Vivienne Westwood pointed out that “people are being trained by the media to be perfect consumers of mass manufactured rubbish”.
Driven and informative organisations (The Organic Trade Association, Environmental Justice Foundation, Ethical Fashion Forum etc.) have been striving to raise awareness about the darker side of fashion, highlighting the shocking unkindness in the industry and the unkind acts which precede each careless consumer decision we make.
Looking at the cotton industry alone…
Did you know that although cotton production covers only 1 – 2.5 per cent of agricultural land, growing it uses 22.5 per cent of the world’s insecticides and 10 per cent of the world’s pesticides, causing soil degradation, pollution and harm to workers?
Did you know that a study by the FAO, UNEP and WHO informed that 25 – 77 million agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning each year (symptoms include headaches, vomiting, tremors, lack of coordination, difficulty breathing or respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, seizures and death).
Did you know that in Uzbekistan, the world’s second largest exporter of cotton, the government owned billion pound ‘white gold’ industry has dried the Aral Sea (practically abolishing the local fishing economy and leaving a dried sea bed of pesticides which cause widespread tuberculosis and cancer) and uses 90% hand harvesting methods employing enforced labour, including that of children as young as seven who are taken to work long days in the cotton fields by their teachers?
As I sat, flabbergasted by the magnitude of harm done by the mainstream cotton industry alone (and considering the impact on my social life if I were to stop purchasing new clothes – after a few years anyway) a Kindness Day UK colleague, who had attended ‘Good Fashion Perspectives’ hosted by ‘A Very Good Week’ gave me the low down about how we can bring kindness back into our wardrobes. ‘Ethical fashion’ as described by host Amisha Ghadiali “maximizes the positive benefits on people whilst minimizing the negative effects on the environment” and with her guest speakers suggested the following tips for buying clothes, each one a kind act:
- Buy fair-trade, organic, vintage and/or sustainable clothes
- Take your time when buying clothes – give yourself time to decide if it is really something that you love and will have use for. Setting yourself a quota (i.e. only buying 20 items of clothing a year) may be a great way to achieve this
- Spend more buy less – it is better to save up and invest in a superior quality piece of clothing which will have a much larger lifespan than in poor quality items
- Only wash your clothes when you need to – this is probably much less often than you think
- Don’t support fur
- Try re-cycling, up-cycling and sharing clothes with friends to expand your wardrobe
- Treat cotton as a luxury
- Donate your used clothes (but only those that are worth donating) to a charity shop or clothes bank
- When buying unmarked clothes (i.e. not marked organic, fair-trade etc.) ask about the history of the item: where was the material grown, where was the item made, how far has it travelled, has child labour been used? Let retailers know that you care
The above simple guidelines (and I am sure that you and others can think of many more) will give ‘feeling good about what we wear’ a much deeper and more fulfilling meaning. Think about the real price on the tag on an item of. Of course, as with all environmental rules, we can only follow then as much as is in our means, but each kind act does count.
As a consumer, we drive the industry by the decisions we make with our money and supply will always grow to meet demand. According to the V&A Museum, 100 million shoppers visit Oxford Street alone each year - we have the chance to express the future of fashion. In reality, we are in the driving seat so let’s push for ‘ethical fashion’ to be the biggest hit next season and every one after that. Let’s choose a kinder future for fashion.