Conscious Life & Style https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com Mindful Media for Thoughtful Living Mon, 03 Jan 2022 19:46:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.2 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/cropped-cropped-cropped-Conscious-Life-Style-Favicon-1-32x32.webp Conscious Life & Style https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com 32 32 18 New Year’s Resolutions to Help You Welcome 2022 in Conscious Style https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-resolutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-fashion-resolutions https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-resolutions/#respond Thu, 23 Dec 2021 22:07:34 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=18942 This list of sustainable fashion new year's resolutions is here to help us continue to heal our relationship with fashion, create meaningful connections with our wardrobe, and advocate for a fairer fashion future.

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Just like that, another year is drawing to a close. For me, the end of a year always feels like a time for reflection, celebration, and intention setting as we all make space to welcome a new chapter.

Whether you believe in New Year’s resolutions or not, it is always a good idea to start a new year with a sense of intention, because it helps you stay committed to yourself and the movements that you care about.

So, in the spirit of looking back on the year past, and setting intentions for the year to come, we thought we’d share a few ideas to keep in the back of your head as you enter another year of your conscious style journey.

These resolutions are not about prescribing how your 2022 slow fashion journey should look. Rather, this list illustrates that slow fashion looks different for everyone, which is something we should celebrate.

1.    Do a closet audit

The start of a new year is the perfect time to deep dive into your closet, reorganize, and take stock of the clothing you already have by doing a closet audit. This can also help you rediscover pieces that may have been tucked away for a while. While you are reorganizing your closet, try to arrange it seasonally, so that when you come back the next season, it really feels like you are discovering something new. Doing a closet audit will also help you be more intentional in your purchases since you have a clearer idea of what you have and what you may still want to add to your wardrobe. You can use this very helpful guide, created by Alyssa Beltempo, to help you get started with your closet audit.

Closet Audit for a conscious style

2.    Try a ‘no new clothes’ challenge

Challenge yourself to not buy anything new for a set amount of time. Some people do it for a year, but it could also be shorter. By removing yourself from the endless cycle of consumption that defines the fast fashion industry, you can take a step back and heal your relationship with fashion while redefining what “enough” means to you, getting creative with what you already have, and saving time and money!

Woman in fashion - no new clothes challenge

3.    Shop your closet

You know how the saying goes: The most sustainable garments are the ones you already own. Challenge yourself to get creative and make new outfit combinations using clothing you already own. This also helps you gain a deeper understanding of your personal style. To get started, you can channel sustainable wardrobe stylist, Alyssa Beltempo’s, ethos of ‘more creativity, less consumption’ and check out her YouTube channel for inspiration on how you can incorporate this into your own life. You can even try using an app, like Whering or the Stylebook, to help you create new looks from your old wardrobe.

Women shopping her closet for a conscious style

4.    Keep wearing (and loving) your old fast fashion pieces

Actively working through your eco-guilt by continuing to wear – and love! – the fast fashion pieces you bought in the past is an important step in your slow fashion journey. Everybody has old fast fashion pieces in their closet. Getting rid of them creates unnecessary waste and perpetuates the idea that slow fashion has to look a specific way. The best thing you can do is keep them, find ways to love them, wear them, mend them, and make them last as long as you possibly can.

Women wearing her old fast fashion pieces for a conscious style
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5.    Become a proud outfit repeater

Despite what social media will have us believe, there is so much joy in outfit repeating! Normalizing outfit repeating is so important for changing the mentality that we always need to be wearing something new. So, repeat the outfits that make you feel good and wear them with pride. This doesn’t mean that you have to wear the same outfit every day, but maybe you can play around with different ways of styling your garments and accessories. If you want to find some inspiration, follow the hashtags #proudoutfitrepeater#rewearthat, and #reweardontcare.

A proud outfit repeater for a conscious style

6.    Normalize borrowing clothing from friends and family

If you are going to an event or have been eyeing that dress in your friend’s closet every time they wear it, why not ask if you can borrow it for a little bit? You can even offer to return the favor and ask them if there is anything in your wardrobe that they have been eyeing. You’re saving money, keeping impulse buys at bay, and it really does give you the same rush as trying on a brand-new garment.

Friends and family swapping clothing for a conscious style

7.    Swap before you shop

Clothing swaps are a form of circular fashion because they allow us to extend the lifespans of clothing that is already in circulation while satisfying our desire for novelty. Swapping allows you to switch up your wardrobe, without buying anything new, and it’s usually very cost-effective. If you are looking for a few tips for attending a clothing swap, or for how to host a swap of your own, check out this article. If you’d like to give online swapping a try, take a look at Swap Society (US), Nuw (UK), or The Fashion Pulpit (Singapore).

Swapping fashion pieces for a conscious style

8.    Shop secondhand

If you are looking to add some new-to-you pieces to your wardrobe, consider shopping secondhand. Buying secondhand clothing, instead of new pieces, extends the lifespan of that garment and saves it from going to waste, which is an important aspect of circular fashion. Have a browse through your local secondhand markets, thrift stores, or consignment shops.  If you’d prefer to browse online, there are loads of online secondhand stores where you can shop – and sell – preloved fashion.

Women thrifting for a conscious style

9.    Give rental a try

Special occasions often lead to impulse buys that are worn once or twice and then end up collecting dust in the back of the closet or going to waste. If you are looking for an outfit for a special occasion or event, and nothing in your wardrobe is inspiring you, you can give clothing rental a try. Generally, peer-to-peer rental platforms are more sustainable models. A few platforms to look into include ByRotation, Tulerie, and Wardrobe.

Women trying on rental for a sustainable style

10. Learn to mend and repair

Whether you are into visible or invisible mending, learning to mend and repair are slow fashion skills that allow us to define ourselves as more than just consumers and help us wear our loved clothes for longer. If you want to learn to mend, there are some insightful channels on YouTube with tutorials that go right back to the basics, such as The Essentials Club and Repair What You Wear. Another useful resource is The Fixing Fashion Academy by Fixing Fashion, which is a free, open-source platform with tutorials on how to repair and upcycle clothes. Or, if you don’t have the time to learn, you can consider making use of a local, small mending or tailoring business that can repair your clothes for you.

Women mending and repairing pieces

11. Start a DIY project

This could be anything from beading a necklace or learning how to use natural dyes, to figuring out how to crochet or making a scrunchie. Working with your hands is not only a great way to practice mindfulness, but it also brings you closer to the process of making and fosters a greater sense of appreciation for the effort and energy that goes into making the clothes and accessories that we wear. When you pour love and care into making something of your own, it starts to undo the culture of disposability that we have all been encouraged to take on.

Sewing kit

12. Learn how to take care of your clothing, sustainably

Caring for your clothes properly will make them last longer, which is such a win! Firstly, take the time to read the care labels on your clothing to make sure that you are properly taking care of them. But also, learn how to adjust your clothing care routine so that it is as sustainable as possible. This includes washing your clothes less, at lower temperatures, and trying to use eco-friendly detergents. If you are feeling a little bit lost about where to start, check out this Conscious Life & Style guide on how to take care of your clothes sustainably.

Taking care of clothes sustainably

13. Unsubscribe from fast fashion newsletters and unfollow accounts

This one should only take a few minutes to act on, but it is such an important step on your journey of hopping off the hamster wheel of fast fashion and overconsumption. We are constantly being bombarded with adverts and marketing campaigns that are trying their very best to convince us to buy more and more, at every turn – even in our email inboxes and social media. So, take some time to reassess the accounts you follow and go through your email inbox, and click unsubscribe on all those newsletters and promotional content that does not align with your values.

Women on phone

14. Follow the ethos of ‘fewer better things’

If you are shopping less, by prioritizing practices like swapping, borrowing, mending, and getting creative with what you already have, it means that you can choose to save up and invest in conscious fashion brands that are leading by example and showing us what a more just future of fashion could look like. If you are looking for inspiration on brands to support and invest in, take a look at Conscious Fashion Collective’s directory of brands and Conscious Life & Style’s ultimate ethical brand list.

15. Invest in BIPOC-owned businesses

We should all be making a conscious effort to invest in, celebrate, and support BIPOC-owned businesses. Investing in BIPOC-owned businesses supports the dreams, joy, and livelihoods of these business owners and everyone involved in their supply chain, and is one simple way of extending your activism offline. Check out this Conscious Life & Style list of over 100 Black-owned, sustainable, and ethical fashion home, and beauty brands. You can also take a look at this Conscious Fashion Collective list of sustainable and ethical BIPOC-owned brands.

BIPOC-owned businesses for a sustainable style

16. Become a fashion activist

Learning about ways to extend your slow fashion advocacy beyond just the clothes you wear is a powerful step, because it allows you to participate in collective action and larger reform in the fashion industry. Signing a petition, emailing a brand, posting on social media, or getting involved in a support advocacy group are a few great ways to extend your impact and become a fashion activist. If you want to learn more about how to start your journey as a fashion activist, check out this article.

Fashion Activists

17. Support or join a grassroots organization

Working towards a more just, sustainable, and inclusive fashion industry means that we need to support organizations who are doing amazing work, on the ground, to create systemic change. A few nonprofits advocating for a better fashion future include Remake, The OR Foundation, Fashion Revolution, and Fibershed. If you have the capacity, you can look into ways to support the work of these organizations in financial and non-financial ways.

18. Continue to educate yourself

Life is one continuous learning journey, and this applies to the slow fashion space too. The issues – and solutions – in the fashion industry are complex and nuanced, so there is always something to learn or something we can dive deeper into. Continuing to educate yourself will make you feel more committed to your slow fashion journey and allow you to share your learnings with others too. If you are unsure about where to start, check out this compilation of free educational resources to learn about sustainable fashion – it includes everything from courses and podcasts, to YouTube channels, and newsletters.

Women sitting on books

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The hope is that, in 2022, we will all continue to collectively heal our relationship with fashion, work on creating more meaningful connections with our clothes, support organizations and brands that are using fashion as a force for good, and advocate for a fashion future that is premised on justice, inclusivity, and intersectional sustainability.

Wishing you a gentle end to the year and a new year that starts with ease and in conscious style!

About the Author

Stella Hertantyo is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and is currently completing her PGDip in Sustainable Development to accompany her undergraduate in Multimedia journalism. She is a slow-living enthusiast and a lover of low-impact fashion.

She is passionate about encouraging an approach to sustainability that is inclusive, accessible, and fun as we try to figure out how to create a more sustainable and just world, together.

When Stella is not in front of her laptop doing uni work, you’ll probably find her reading, writing, illustrating, or baking/cooking. A dip in the ocean, or a walk in the mountains, are the two things that bring her the most peace.

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The Joy of Clothing Swaps (and How to Organize Your Own) https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/clothing-swaps-how-to-host/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clothing-swaps-how-to-host https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/clothing-swaps-how-to-host/#respond Thu, 25 Nov 2021 11:34:00 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=18414 Learn what clothing swaps are all about and how they can help us participate in slow fashion. Plus get tips for participating in and hosting a clothes swap!

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In a world that champions consumption, and in a fashion industry that thrives on overproduction, we need to find ways to wear and love the clothes that already exist, more than ever before. Clothing swaps allow us to do just that.

I remember the first clothing swap I ever attended as if it was yesterday. I couldn’t believe that I had found a way to add new-to-me clothes — which were all filled with stories — to my wardrobe without having to buy anything new. And, it was entirely free.

My first encounter at a clothing swap was an early reminder that slow fashion doesn’t have to be expensive or inaccessible, and there are so many different ways to be a part of this movement. Ever since then, I have firmly believed that clothing swaps are a vital part of the future of fashion.

What are Clothing Swaps?

In its simplest form, a clothing swap is a gathering of people who get together to exchange clothing that they no longer wear for something from someone else’s wardrobe.

Clothing swaps are a form of circular fashion because they allow us to extend the lifespans of clothing that is already in circulation.

They are a way of working with what we already have while satisfying our desire for novelty.

Why we should all try to swap before we shop

Swapping allows us to understand fashion as something much more than financial exchanges, which makes it a powerful substitute to our current capitalist fashion system.

Each season in life comes with different changes. Whether it be size fluctuations or an evolving sense of personal style, swaps allow you to add garments to your wardrobe that suit your current life season, while avoiding having to engage with the endless consumption cycles of the fashion industry.

It’s usually very cost affordable too – some swaps are free and others charge a small entry or maintenance fee. This makes swapping a financially inclusive way for people to participate in slow fashion.

Women swapping clothes

Plus, if you are swapping more and shopping less, it allows you to save up and invest in a slow fashion brand that you truly believe in.

It is also a way to responsibly rehome clothing that you no longer wear. When we donate clothing, only a small percentage of it gets resold and the rest often becomes a part of the unjust global trade in secondhand clothes – making our waste the burden of those living in countries in the Global South. But when it comes to swaps, the clothing you no longer wear will more often than not find a new home with someone else.

Beyond the clothes, clothing swaps are beautiful spaces for community building, because you get to connect with like-minded people in the slow fashion community.

If you want to hear more about why clothing swaps are such an important part of the future of fashion, check out this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast with Nicole Robertson of Swap Society.

Tips for Attending a Clothing Swap

If you’ve ever been curious about attending a clothing swap, my advice is to just do it! Here are a few tips that I have found helpful when attending clothing swaps:

Make sure the garments you bring are in good condition: If you wouldn’t feel comfortable gifting it to a friend, then you probably shouldn’t be bringing it to a swap shop. Be mindful about what you bring. Swap shops are not just a place to discard clothing items that are beyond wear. So, don’t bring items that are dirty or damaged.

Be patient: People are continuously arriving and bringing new items, so you may have to wait a little while till you spot something you love. Take your time, spark a conversation with a fellow swapper, and allow yourself to relax into the feeling of community and slow fashion joy!

Make peace with letting go: You may not walk away with as many items as you brought to the swap. Instead of feeling frustrated that you are walking away with less than you arrived with, allow yourself to feel excited that the clothing you no longer wear has found a new home and that you have a new piece or two to incorporate into your wardrobe – sounds like a win to me!

Remind yourself to be a conscious consumer: Just because you are swapping instead of buying new, doesn’t mean you need to add clothing to your wardrobe just for the sake of it. Make sure you ask yourself a few intentional questions, such as: When you are swapping, apply all the usual questions of a conscious consumer: Does this go with the other items in my wardrobe? Is it my size? How many wears do I think I’ll get out of it? 

The Limits of Clothing Swaps

While clothing swaps do make slow fashion more financially and socially inclusive, they still have their limits.

Based on research conducted at a clothing swap event, The Ecologist found that not everybody who brought clothing to the swap went home with something new. This indicates that sizing, style, and taste do affect the experience you will have at a swap shop.

Man carrying clothes in a box

They also noticed that there were very few men who participated, meaning that they were unable to return home with something. In general, men tend to wear their clothes longer and are less trend-focused, so there is not much incentive for swapping.

Similarly, plus-sized people may find it more difficult to participate in clothing swaps, because the fashion industry caters to straight-sized people. So, when they find clothing that fits them, they tend to hang onto it for longer.

Personal style also plays a role. If you are open to experimenting, clothing swaps are great for trying out new styles. But, if you have a very specific style and only wear certain colors and silhouettes, it may be trickier to find something you love at a clothing swap that is open to the public.

While it is difficult to find an entirely inclusive solution, perhaps hosting clothing swaps that are focussed on specific groups that cater to underrepresented clothing types – such as menswear and plus-sized clothing – could be a way to create spaces that cater to people who typically struggle to find clothing at a more general swap shop.

What If I Can’t Find a Clothing Swap Near Me?

One of the downsides of in-person swap shops is that they are limited to the community that can access them. Luckily, technology is progressing and online clothing swaps are becoming increasingly popular. Here are a few online swapping platforms for you to check out:

Another option, if there are no swaps near you, is to try organizing one of your own!

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Tips for Organizing a Clothing Swap of Your Own

There are no rules when it comes to hosting clothing swaps – you can let your creative, slow fashion juices run free. But, if you need a little bit of guidance, here are a few tips:

Decide on what type of swap you want to host: There are various kinds of clothing swaps you could host. Think about who you’d want to invite. Are you limiting it to friends and family? Is it going to be open to the public? Also, consider if you’d like there to be a specific theme to the swap – is it a swap for plus-sized people? Or perhaps seasonal clothing? The options are endless, but it’s a good idea to decide on the purpose behind the swap so that people that join in know what to expect.

Find a location: Depending on the type of swap you are hosting, there are many different places you could consider. If it’s an intimate swap for family and friends, hosting it at your house would be a perfect option. If it’s going to be open to the public, look into public spaces, such as parks, community halls, religious spaces, or university campuses. If you are hosting it in a public space, it would be a good idea to check if you need permission to host an event. Another idea may be to partner with a local business – such as an artisan space or café – with a similar ethos. This could be a win-win because it brings them foot traffic and allows you to host it in a public space.

Decide on the rules of your swap: This is all about the finer details. Think about how many items people are allowed to bring, and what kind of items they should be. You should also consider whether you are going to charge an entry fee. The more affordable it is to participate in, the more inclusive and accessible the space becomes. But, you could consider charging a small entry fee and donating it to a charitable organization. If you do choose to do this, get in contact with the organization beforehand and make sure you communicate this with the attendees too.

Find a place to advertise it: Now it’s time to let the world know! This also depends on the type of swap you are hosting, but you could consider making a poster to be shared on social media, posting in your neighborhood WhatsApp group, dropping off flyers at local businesses, or getting in touch with a local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group. Whatever avenue you choose, make sure you announce the swap a few weeks in advance, so that people can save the date.

Organize your swapping system: The swapping system is basically how you are going to manage the exchanging of clothes in a fair and organized way. One of the easiest ways to do this is to hand out buttons, in exchange for the clothing people bring, which is used as a kind of swapping currency – one button per item of clothing. Once they have browsed around and found something they like, they can “pay” with one of the buttons.

Set up your space: At the very least, you will need rails or tables to display the clothing on and a place that people can try clothes on. It may also be useful to include a mirror so that people can see what they look like in the clothes. It’s also useful to have some volunteers as extra help to sort, hang up, and pack up.

Personalize the event: This is optional, but there are various ways you can personalize your event. Think about setting up a mending station, so that people can also bring clothes that they want to mend. Or, consider printing educational posters, with facts about the fashion industry, to put up around the space.

Figure out a plan for leftover clothes: Invariably, at the end of the swap, there will be clothes leftover and to avoid these going to waste, you should have a plan for what to do with them. You could consider keeping them for the next swap you host or getting in touch with a local organization or textile recycler that may have a use for the clothes.

If you want a more extensive guide on how to host a clothing swap, check out this guide by Fashion Revolution.

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Swapping encourages us to shift the relationship that we have with our clothes and learn to lean into the beauty of preloved. All in all, removing yourself from the endless fast fashion cycle is an important step in slowing down your consumption habits and to prioritize longevity and care.

About the Author

Stella Hertantyo is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and is currently completing her PGDip in Sustainable Development to accompany her undergraduate in Multimedia journalism. She is a slow-living enthusiast and a lover of low-impact fashion.

She is passionate about encouraging an approach to sustainability that is inclusive, accessible, and fun as we try to figure out how to create a more sustainable and just world, together.

When Stella is not in front of her laptop doing uni work, you’ll probably find her reading, writing, illustrating, or baking/cooking. A dip in the ocean, or a walk in the mountains, are the two things that bring her the most peace.

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Labels for Change: Can Sustainable Fashion Certifications Help Solve Our Fashion Crisis? https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-clothing-certifications/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-fashion-clothing-certifications https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-clothing-certifications/#respond Fri, 19 Nov 2021 06:05:50 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=18011 Sustainable clothing and ethical fashion certifications can encourage better business practices and simplify research for consumers, but they have important limitations.

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As a slow fashion enthusiast and conscious consumer, I try to be as mindful as I can about investing in products from businesses that are trying their best to tread lighter on the earth and treat the people involved in their supply chains with care and respect.

There are a growing number of sustainable and ethical brands available to us, which is only good news for the future of fashion. But, understanding the nuances of a brand, what they believe in, and how this influences their business practices, can be a very time-consuming — and sometimes confusing — process.

This is where sustainable fashion certifications can be really useful. Sustainable fashion certifications simplify the research process by communicating certain aspects of a brand’s commitment to more mindful business practices.

These certifications have become increasingly popular as consumers have become more aware of the fashion industry’s fault lines.

And, it seems like there is a growing demand for certified products. A study done by Nielsen in 2015 found that, in a survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, 66% were willing to pay more for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. This is an increase from 55% in 2014 and 50% in 2013.

So, what are sustainable fashion certifications?

Sustainable fashion certifications are acknowledgments of a brand’s commitment to various sustainable and ethical business practices.

There are different categories of certifications, depending on the criteria that they measure. Types of certifications include: holistic, environmental, animal rights, workers’ rights and human rights, and social certifications.

What these different categories show us is that some certifications focus on the entire company or supply chain, whereas others certify a specific product or just one ingredient.

There are also several different sustainability certification organizations. To be certified, a brand has to opt into the process, meaning that it is always voluntary. The certification process looks different for each certification. Some certifications use a third party to verify the process, and others rely entirely on self-reporting from the brand.

Being awarded a certification means that a brand has met those criteria by adopting various best practices within their business.

As it stands, there is no single, all-encompassing certification that is used across the industry. This is, in part, because there is no industry-wide consensus on what exactly defines a sustainable and ethical fashion brand.

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A few common sustainable fashion certifications

Here are just a few common certifications that you may have come across:

Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) – The Better Cotton Initiative is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world and aims to make global cotton production better for the people that produce it while protecting and restoring the environment, and improving the future of the cotton industry through the encouragement of ethical cotton sourcing.

B Corp – B Corp is a third-party certification that takes a holistic approach to certification and certifies entire companies, by assessing a company’s commitment to doing good across several different categories, such as: workers, customers, suppliers, community, and environment. 

Fair Trade Certified logo

Fair Trade USA – This certification focuses on the advocacy of worker rights and ethical labor, through the prioritization of worker safety and fair pay. As their website states, “A choice for Fair Trade Certified™ goods is a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment.”

Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) logo

Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) – GOTS is a global standard for brands that are committed to sourcing organic fibers. It includes ecological and social criteria and is backed by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain. The standard covers the entire supply chain from the harvesting of the raw materials, environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labeling.

OEKO-TEX logo

Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX – There are six different certifications issued by OEKO-TEX, but the most common one in the fashion industry is the Standard 100, which signifies that the textiles used in a garment are free of toxic dyes and chemicals that can be harmful to humans.

If you are looking for a cheat sheet of certifications and brands that are committed to them, check out this article by Fashionista.

The value of greater transparency and creating new best practices

Sustainable fashion certifications can be an important part of encouraging people to consume more mindfully because they communicate to the consumer what the brand’s values are and what they are committed to when it comes to sustainability and ethics.

They allow people to make more informed decisions when they are investing in a garment and choosing which brands they want to support.

Certifications are also useful signifiers for people who may not have the time to do their own, in-depth, supply chain research before they buy from a brand, but do care about supporting a brand with mindful business practices.

Person looking at sustainability certification on clothing

Beyond consumption habits, sustainable fashion certifications facilitate the development of more sustainable and ethical business practices. As the fault lines of the fashion industry become more widely known, the pressure on brands to rethink their business practices increases. Certifications create avenues for businesses to respond to these pressures by making firm commitments to doing good in various ways.

It’s not only a positive communication tool for conscious consumers, but committing to sustainability can also pay off for companies. Certifications can be seen as a beneficial marketing tool for differentiating between brands and gaining consumer trust in a brand’s products.

Hopefully, as more businesses become certified, it can encourage other businesses to want to do the same. This contributes to the creation of new, aspirational best practices in the fashion industry.

Does that mean that all certified brands are sustainable and ethical?

This article on sustainable fashion certifications, by Fashionista, lists many big brands as being certified for different criteria around ethics and sustainability. This left me wondering: Even if they are certified, can big brands really be considered sustainable and ethical?

The simple answer is no.

Here’s the thing about certifications: they are a way to account for various aspects of how things are produced, but these aspects are often fragmented and neglect other elements of the brand’s business practices.

For example, certifications do not have control over the volume of garments that the brand is producing. While certifications address specific issues, they do not challenge the fact that overproduction and overconsumption are at the core of fashion’s waste crisis.

Protecting and advocating for garment worker rights is also a huge part of sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. As Liana Foxvog, Campaigns Director for the advocacy non-profit, International Labor Rights Forum, told Vogue: “There isn’t any certification in the garment industry that ensures that workers receive a living wage and their freedom of association and collective bargaining rights respected.”

Clothing production

On the flip side, just because a brand isn’t certified, that does not mean that they are not a trustworthy slow fashion brand. The certification process often inherently excludes smaller brands. Getting certified can often be a long, time-consuming, and costly process, which many smaller brands do not have the capacity for.

So, certifications are just one signifier of a brand that is making an effort to tread lightly and with more care.

A small brand that is trying its best to minimize its impact and care for the people in its supply chain is invariably going to be more sustainable than a big brand that is overproducing and using exploitative labor practices.

Are sustainable fashion certifications helping to solve our fashion crisis?

Sustainable fashion certifications do make it easier to tell which brands are making an effort to address their impact. But, working towards a just fashion future is not as simple as that.

As much as certifications can be a positive marketing tool to convey the good work that the brand is doing, there are many cases where they are also used as greenwashing. Many of the techniques you can use to identify if a brand is greenwashing can be used to identify if a brand is using certification to greenwash too.

For example, the Better Cotton Initiative has recently been exposed for being a smokescreen for many unsustainable and unethical practices, such as their lack of transparency around labor practices and alleged use of forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, as well as their continued use of genetically modified cotton and pesticide use.

Regardless of what certifications they have, fast fashion brands can never be ethical or sustainable. The sheer volume of production and the unethical labor practices inhibits this.

While these certifications do play a role in holding brands accountable, pushing them to do better, and allowing conscious consumers to make more informed choices, it is still a solution that focuses on making “better” consumption choices, rather than challenging our role as consumers.

This plays on the idea that the fashion crisis will be solved through more conscious consumption. It is problematic to frame sustainability as a consumer choice and allow consumers’ wallets to carry the burden of systems change, instead of focussing on the fact that the pace at which we are consuming is unsustainable.

The truth is, sustainable fashion certifications will not solve our fashion crisis. No one solution ever will. It will take a complex tapestry of innovations, solutions, and initiatives to weave together a more just future of fashion.

Sustainable fashion certification on clothing

Could a standardized system be beneficial for the future of fashion?

Sustainability in the fashion industry is a complex topic and comes with a variety of different interpretations. Add to this the layer of confusion that comes with having a growing number of certifications, each with its own sustainability claims.

The success of certifications as a pathway to a just fashion future still relies on the consumer having the privilege of time to research and understand the certification, as well as the sustainability literacy to engage with the issue.

The fragmentation of issues within the sustainable and ethical fashion world can leave people feeling confused about which certifications to trust. This creates a fashion landscape that becomes difficult to navigate for the everyday consumer who just wants to make a purchase.

This need to simplify and include more people into the slow fashion community makes a standardized system seem like a positive way forward. There have been people and organizations advocating for moving towards a standardized system that is enforceable and can be applied across the fashion industry.

As always, getting companies on board, who are not willing to reveal their environmental and social impacts, will be one of the biggest hurdles. This is why enforceable regulation and other reforms in the fashion industry will be needed, in addition, for a standardized system to be truly effective.

___

There is no easy way to ensure that a fashion brand is entirely sustainable and ethical, but sustainable fashion certifications encourage fashion brands to work towards making a positive impact and addressing issues in their business practices.

And, as consumers, they encourage us to make informed decisions and support fashion brands that reflect our personal values.

That said, while certifications are effective as guidelines, they have their limitations and are not the be-all and end-all of a more just fashion system.

About the Author

Stella Hertantyo is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and is currently completing her PGDip in Sustainable Development to accompany her undergraduate in Multimedia journalism. She is a slow-living enthusiast and a lover of low-impact fashion.

She is passionate about encouraging an approach to sustainability that is inclusive, accessible, and fun as we try to figure out how to create a more sustainable and just world, together.

When Stella is not in front of her laptop doing uni work, you’ll probably find her reading, writing, illustrating, or baking/cooking. A dip in the ocean, or a walk in the mountains, are the two things that bring her the most peace.

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What you need to know about Ethical Fashion Certifications - Conscious Life and Style
Benefits & Limitation of Ethical Fashion Certifications - Conscious Life and Style

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Can Digitizing Fashion Help Clean Up the Industry? And What is Digital Fashion Anyway? https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/digital-fashion-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-fashion-sustainable https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/digital-fashion-sustainable/#respond Thu, 04 Nov 2021 08:48:32 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=17595 Digital fashion is promoted as a solution for more sustainable fashion. Others argue it's a mere distraction from the real issues. Let's evaluate.

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ICYMI, fashion NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are the talk of the town. From the Fortnite x Balenciaga collection to the first digital fashion magazine cover on Vogue Singapore, to the “Baby Birkin” NFT of an animated baby growing in an Hermès Birkin bag. Most recently, a sold-out collection of NFT Karl Lagerfield figurines at the 3D Tech Festival 2021. 

Are you still with me? 

If you, like me, find it hard to follow the latest metaverse inventions, allow me to catch you up to speed. According to an article published on Fashion United, “NFTs are nothing more than JPEG files. These non-fungible tokens are, in a sense, digital certificates of authenticity that are usually secured via blockchain technology and are thus tamper-proof. NFTs come from the art and gaming sectors.” 

Digital garments v.s. Fashion NFTs

Before we proceed, it is important to make a caveat that digital fashion extends into different forms: digital garments and NFTs. 

The former can be replicated and is applied to a wearer’s image with software programmes like Photoshop. Whilst NFTs have unique tokens which have their ID registered to one block on the blockchain. 

To get further clarification on the distinction between NFTs and digitally coded garments, London-based Digital Designer Jariel Ann Tan explains:

“Digital garments can take many forms. Like AR (augmented reality), you can hover a phone over someone’s body and the system tracks the body and puts the garment on top. Or it can be done with CGI (computer-generated imagery), which is made in post-production: you take a picture of the body, scan it, and you put the garments over, on the computer. 

But with NFTs, it is not necessarily a medium, it is more of an outcome. So you can list however the garment takes the form (for example, AR) as NFTs, and you can sell your creations on the Metaverse.” 

Ashwini Deshpande, Head of 3D and Design Production at Republique explains that NFTs “are a whole market of their own, fueled by the desire to invest and own prestigious original copies of artworks.” While digital garments are “all about dressing your online persona in order to be able to express yourself. The two overlap to form fashion NFT’s.” 

Whether in response to a global pandemic that greatly reduced travel or a pivot in skills and pique in interests coming from designers and artists during the lockdown, digitalisation of fashion has taken centre stage, now more than ever. 

With questions around whether fashion companies should start hiring chief officers of the metaverse, the integration of digital fashion into mainstream consumption has definitely taken shape.

Conversations around digital fashion have evolved to become more than zero-waste pattern cutting processes and debates around Lil Miquela, the OG digital influencer. 

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The risk of over-simplification: The digital fashion dissonance

The fashion industry has never been more “sustainability-focused” than it has become now. With major fashion corporations announcing climate neutrality commitments and rapid adoption of technological advancements, marketers have begun to brand digital fashion as an alternative to (over)producing and consuming in the physical world. 

As a wearer of clothes who finds the tangible connection with clothing more appealing than the fanfare of digital outfits or the possibility of living entirely within the metaverse, I am skeptical. I am hesitant to grant digital fashion a status beyond a novel distraction from the real problem: overproduction.

Climate and culture journalist, Whitney Bauck tweets, ‘I’m here to yell about digital fashion again, this time for @vogueaustralia, and I will not stop until we as an industry stop publishing oversimplified “digital fashion = most sustainable!” takes.’ 

In a rebuttal to self-serving claims that digital fashion takes up less carbon footprint than physical production processes, Bauck cautions in the article that: “NFTs in particular can have a shockingly large carbon footprint” because of blockchain systems. 

Bauck continues that NFTs “rely on technology that processes large amounts of data, which in turn needs powerful computers that ultimately rely on electricity from fossil fuels. According to one estimate, creating an average NFT is equivalent to driving ‘500 miles in a typical American gasoline-powered car’”. 

Tan echoes these misgivings, noting that, “Although digital fashion is celebrated as a pathway to sustainability, or the next frontier of sustainable fashion—since there are no issues of water consumption and practically all physical waste is eliminated—it leaves behind a big ecological trail: Carbon emissions. To list something online on the Metaverse, takes up so much energy.” 

Additionally, we should be taking note of the difference between the ecological impact of garment collections designed digitally from scratch versus digital garments that were first made/sampled physically and then replicated digitally with 3D software by 3D artists

Companies may be able to take advantage of the novelty around digital fashion in marketing strategies to push for more sales of physical or digital clothing.

For Deshpande, there are significant efforts in driving home the sustainability agenda when it comes to digitally designing garments from scratch. The difference in this is that the conversations around digital fashion have to be distributed throughout the entire fashion supply chain and system. 

To not just focus on the hype of a digital outcome, but to pour research effort into expanding the potential of aiding custom on-demand garment manufacture. “[This] is an exciting prospect for sustainable fashion as it would reduce overconsumption and wastage drastically,” says Deshpande. 

Building a new system: Digital fashion as a force of resistance

My knowledge of what goes into the making of digital fashion is limited and has its shortcomings. It would be unfair of me to comment on digital fashion—as a design practice, and as wearable art, without speaking to digital fashion designers like Deshpande and Xiaoling Jin.

For Deshpande, designing digitally means that she has more scope for experimentation because it is a faster process to drape, cut, etc. and doesn’t produce waste. She prefers designing digitally because the flexibility of designing digitally “[breaks] all the barriers and restrictions that came with traditional fashion design and the use of physical fabric.” 

For London-based Humanwear and Digital Designer Xiaoling Jin, her digital design journey was greatly pushed by the pandemic. When it became impossible to return to studios to create physical samples and garment collections, Jin made a necessary pivot: designing digital collections. 

Jin also points towards her experience of having more design freedom. “​​Designing digitally [gives me] more freedom to create more stuff without [the] restriction of the space, material, structure. [W]hile physically designing needs to consider more about these parts, physical fashion has its beauty about the texture, touch…”

Touch. What is clothing without the element of touch? 

In the aforementioned article, Bauck points towards a living question: “if fashion is no longer tied to physical needs like protection from the elements or constrained by physical realities like gravity, what might it become?” 

As a wearer of clothing that is physically and emotionally connected with the clothing I choose to wear and hold onto, digital fashion garments still feel like a stretch too far right now. 

Digital outfits, often one’s first gateway into experiencing the realm of digital fashion, remain to be financially unattainable and not accessible to an average clothing wearer. It may be oversimplistic to say that digital outfits and fashion NFTs could democratise fashion in terms of cost, when these are items that aren’t practical or necessary for the real world. 

In this 28-minute video created by Youtuber Safiya Nygaard, which has garnered 2.8 million views on the date of writing, Nygaard tries on digital clothing from different digital fashion brands available in the market. 

Price points of the digital garments range from what you would expect to see on fast-fashion sites, to full looks in the range of the thousands. The responses she received on her looks, without revealing that the outfits are photoshopped onto her image, were varied in enthusiasm and scepticism. 

Nygaard concluded in the video that she is still “pro digital fashion”, as she “like[s] the idea that virtual fashion can be untethered from reality, and can be purely about imagination and fantasy.” 

I can’t help but think that digital outfits can be useful for content creators and internet influencers providing an alternative to buying new fashion items to keep up with creating the types of content they are known for. 

Get acquainted with The Metaverse or reclaim agency in The Real World?

If we are speaking of cleaning up the fashion industry; digital fashion, at best, is a stop-gap solution to the systemic issue of waste in the fashion industry, and at worst, another source of producing-for-profit and mere strategy of deflection and marketing for brands, adding to the environmental impact of making and wearing clothing. 

Fashion, Culture and Beauty Writer Laura Pitcher rightly points out that, “[t]he sustainable opportunities created through digitalizing the fashion industry should not make us shy away from the same level of critique as the current fast-fashion model, to ensure the future pathway puts people and the environment first.” 

For Jin, her work is rooted within working against the current system that rewards rapid turnover of clothing production. “As a digital designer, the system that I am proposing is a silent rebellion against the fast fashion culture. I am creating a personalized service via a digital space where garments can be designed and visualized online using digital tools. Garments are only produced on demand after a purchase order thereby reducing unnecessary fashion waste.”

There is no denying that digital fashion—the forms we know of now—are birthed from the frustration of resource inefficiency, inaccurate data projection and the reality of the current state of fashion. 

Aimed at providing an alternative to physically producing clothing, digital fashion is innovative and creative problem-solving. It captures what the fashion industry has needed for the longest time: cross-industry collaboration for new ideas and ways of execution. 

Where do we go from here? To critically humanise digital spheres, which means to be accountable in addressing the ethical and legal challenges of digital fashion, are we more prepared for its impending scale and reach and rate of assimilation into our lives?

Ultimately, we have to criticise the existing structures of power: who belongs to the handful that would benefit most from this tech-driven disillusionment?

What does it say about the state of fashion, and the state of the world, if life in the metaverse becomes more desirable and sought after? 

About the Author: Xingyun Shen

Seeking to address the importance of intersectionality when analysing fashion sustainability, Xingyun is the Country Coordinator of Fashion Revolution Singapore and runs @noordinaryprotest as a platform to call for a shift in mindset. She reimagines a more equitable fashion industry through her work, which centres the planet and its people at the core of its intentions and operations. She currently works with The Fashion Pulpit, Singapore’s first clothing swap retail space, on research and education projects to promote greater sustainable fashion literacy and re-introduce new ways of speaking about our clothes.

You May Also Want to Check Out:

What is Sustainable Fashion and Why Does it Matter?

Why Fast Fashion is a Feminist Issue

How to Get Started with Fashion Activism

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How to Let Go of Eco Guilt at The Beginning of Your Slow Fashion Journey https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/eco-guilt-slow-fashion-journey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eco-guilt-slow-fashion-journey https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/eco-guilt-slow-fashion-journey/#respond Fri, 29 Oct 2021 04:17:57 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=17375 Feeling guilty about previous fashion decisions? Go easy on yourself and check out these tips for developing a healthier approach to your conscious style journey.

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A few years ago, after watching The True Cost and learning more about the truth of the fashion industry, I made an earnest commitment to beginning my slow fashion journey. At the time — like most people who have recently decided that they want to take a more conscious approach to their style — the majority of my closet was fast fashion. There were both impulse purchases and some very well-worn garments.

Woman staring at overfilled closet feeling guilty

Whenever I opened my closet and looked at my clothing, I had a constant and unshakeable feeling of guilt.

This guilt stuck around every time I got dressed, every time I was out and someone asked me where I got my shirt, and every time I got a compliment about something I was wearing.

I felt guilty that I was wearing clothes made in an industry rife with suffering. I felt guilty knowing that I had worshipped these brands a few years before. I felt guilty that I was not wearing my values – my past decisions made me feel ashamed.

What is eco-guilt and sustainability shaming?

Now, I can look back and acknowledge that those feelings of shame and guilt are called ‘eco-guilt’.

Eco-guilt is the feeling of guilt, shame, remorse, or regret that you experience when you feel you haven’t made the most ethical or sustainable choice possible.

This article by The Kit explains that eco-guilt is very common among “ethical” consumers because they tend to shoulder the blame for systemic issues such as environmental degradation and unjust labor practices. They try to contribute to the solution by making lifestyle changes, but end up feeling guilty when they make a purchase that is less than perfect.

Often, this eco-guilt stems from a fear of being called out for not doing “enough”, which is known as ‘sustainability shaming’. 

Sustainability shaming prioritizes perfection over progress. It is fueled by social media and the illusion of perfectly sustainable lifestyles, and it refers to the act of criticizing or shunning an individual for making a lifestyle choice that may not be the epitome of sustainability.

But, there are many reasons why someone may not be able to make the “perfect” choice when it comes to slow fashion. This could have to do with financial access, health conditions, where they live, lack of sizing, and the list goes on.

Woman with huge pile of clothes behind her with eco guilt

Sustainability shaming creates an exclusive movement

Not everybody has the privilege of choosing the most sustainable and ethical alternative, every time they purchase something, but that does not mean they should be excluded from the slow fashion movement.

Slow fashion is about a lot more than just changing where you buy.

It is much more about redefining your relationship with your clothes, avoiding overconsumption, and learning skills that allow you to make the clothes you have last for much longer.

The act of shaming people for their consumption choices – or past consumption choices – is inherently divisive and creates an exclusive movement, in a space where we need as many people to show up as possible in all of their imperfect ways.

Instead of shaming, we should always be aware of our privileges and celebrate the different ways people can show up, which will make others more likely to make shifts in their own lives too.

So, what should you do when you begin your slow fashion journey and feel the feelings of eco-guilt creeping in when you look at your closet full of imperfect choices? First and foremost, resist the urge to do a closet purge.

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Resist the urge to do a closet purge

In a Who Are You Wearing? podcast episode with Aja Barber (as well as in her episode on the Conscious Style Podcast), Aja mentions that she is always suspicious of people who start their slow fashion journey with a closet devoid of fast fashion pieces, because up until a few decades ago, everyone was shopping from those brands. 

Women clearing out closet

How is it possible to have no imperfect purchases? Well, it probably involved an almighty closet purge.

At the beginning of my journey, there was a point where I considered doing a closet purge – it felt like an opportunity to get rid of the eco-guilt all in one go. But I had to stop and realize that this out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new mindset is fueling fashion’s waste crisis.

Clothing purges are disposability culture disguised as conscious consumption.

People are getting rid of pieces that are still perfectly wearable, just because it is as convenient to replace those with new items. Even if all the pieces they are replaced with are from ethical and sustainable brands, this is still perpetuating the systemic issue of overconsumption and waste.

The bottom line is: the most sustainable garments are the ones you already own. So, love them to bits and make them last.

Aside from avoiding unnecessary wastage, actively working through your eco-guilt by continuing to wear – and love! – the fast fashion pieces you bought in the past is an important step in your slow fashion journey because it is an embodied acknowledgment that slow fashion does not look the same for everybody. Everyone should be welcome in the movement, regardless of how many pieces they own from sustainable and ethical brands.

Turning eco-guilt into positive action

Elizabeth Cline, activist and sustainable fashion author says it best, in this article by The Kit: “We should expect less of ourselves in terms of where we shop, and ask more of ourselves as citizens. There’s so much we could be doing outside of our lives as consumers.”

This is an exercise in redirecting your energy – endless guilt about past fashion choices doesn’t change anything, but doing something different might just.

Hands stacked together

 Here are a few ideas for how to turn your eco-guilt into positive action:

  • Continue to educate yourself: A continuous learning journey will deepen your commitment to the causes you believe in, within the slow fashion community, and will allow you to better understand the systems at play as well as your role in them. This Conscious Life & Style article shares a whole lot of free resources – from courses to podcasts and newsletters – where you can learn about sustainable fashion.
  • Learn a new skill that allows you to define yourself beyond your identity as a consumer: A lot of eco-guilt comes from us perceiving our purchases as “wrong”. But, slow fashion is about a lot more than consumption. So, try learning a new skill like how to repair your clothing or a few ways to make your clothes last longer.
  • Sign a petition or join a grassroots organization: Learning about ways to extend your slow fashion advocacy beyond just the clothes you wear is a powerful step in letting go of misplaced eco-guilt, because it allows you to participate in collective action and larger reform in the fashion industry. Signing a petition, joining a grassroots organization, or getting involved in a campaign such as the #PayUp Campaign are great first steps to extend your impact and become a fashion activist.

We can give ourselves grace by accepting that these systemic issues are not our fault, but we can also take responsibility and do what we can within the system.

Learn the joy of outfit repeating

As I’ve mentioned, truly sustainable fashion is about getting creative with what you already have. This means focussing on developing your personal style. One way to develop your style is through outfit repeating and resisting the urge to buy new things.

Outfit repeating allows you to discover what pieces you cherish most in your wardrobe, which pieces are most versatile, and allows you to learn how many different ways you can creatively wear one piece of clothing.

As soon as you dictate what you wear, you dismantle trends and consumption cycles – it doesn’t get much more sustainable than that.

Here are just a few joy-filled, proud outfit repeaters to follow on Instagram if you are looking for some inspiration for how to style the clothes you already have in different ways:

So, it’s time to get creative and challenge yourself to fall in love with what you already have. You can let the eco-guilt overwhelm you, or you can lean into it, acknowledge it is there, accept that you can’t change what happened in the past, and choose to do better now that you know better.

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How to Let Go of Eco Guilt at The Beginning of Your Slow Fashion Journey - Conscious Life and Style
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About the Author

Stella Hertantyo is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and is currently completing her PGDip in Sustainable Development to accompany her undergraduate in Multimedia journalism. She is a slow-living enthusiast and a lover of low-impact fashion.

She is passionate about encouraging an approach to sustainability that is inclusive, accessible, and fun as we try to figure out how to create a more sustainable and just world, together.

When Stella is not in front of her laptop doing uni work, you’ll probably find her reading, writing, illustrating, or baking/cooking. A dip in the ocean, or a walk in the mountains, are the two things that bring her the most peace.

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The Truth About What Happens to Our Donated Clothes https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/what-happens-to-donated-clothes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-happens-to-donated-clothes https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/what-happens-to-donated-clothes/#respond Wed, 27 Oct 2021 20:58:29 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=17392 Ever wondered what happens to those clothes we give "away"? Here's what you should know and how you can be part of the solution.

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It’s no secret that the fashion industry has a serious waste problem.

As more clothes are produced and consumed, more waste is created. But, how often do you think about where all that waste ends up?

The truth is, the fashion waste produced due to overproduction and overconsumption is what fuels the global secondhand clothing trade – a fashion supply chain with serious impacts on people and the planet.

In the slow fashion community, we often celebrate the joy and importance of choosing to buy preloved. This article from Eco-Age takes that conversation one step further by diving into the politics and business of the global trade in secondhand clothing and the story of what happens to our donated clothes.

Why are we always encouraged to donate our old clothes?

At some point in our lives, many of us will encounter the message that donating our old clothes – regardless of whether they are brand new and we’re simply bored of the style or whether they have been worn to pieces – is a win-win act of goodwill. This is underpinned by the fact that we’re led to believe that donating our clothing keeps it out of landfills by providing clothing for those in need.

While there are charities that use clothing donations for good and not all take-back programs are greenwashing circularity, most of the time clothing donations do not really end up being used for charitable purposes. 

What is actually at play here is another ploy by the capitalist fashion system which needs us to keep buying with little thought for the consequences of this endless cycle of consumption and disposal. 

We can’t buy new clothing if our closets are full. So, fast fashion teaches us to donate the old and buy the new, because it comes at no cost to us since clothing is artificially cheap and does not reflect its true social and ecological cost.

This push to donate clothes is perpetuated by the clothing deficit myth that maintains that there is a lack of clothing in the Global South and an excess in the Global North. But the reality is that there is too much clothing in the world. 

Where do donated clothes go?

To put it simply, the secondhand clothing economy has always been for profit, and it was born out of the need to create an outlet for the excess clothing produced by and consumed in the Global North.

Myth: the global secondhand clothing trade is charity. The global secondhand clothing trade is recycling.

Fact: the global secondhand clothing trade is a supply chain. It is an expansive for-profit business that represents the primary source of clothing for over half of the global population.
A graphic from OR Foundation’s Instagram page

Donated clothing is sorted and the best quality items are selected to be sold in stores in the Global North – think of the vintage and charity stores where you may shop preloved.

In the US, 10 to 20% of donated clothing will be sold somewhere in the US and another 10 to 20% might be down-cycled into rags or insulation. 

This is why shopping secondhand is encouraged in the slow fashion community because it is a way to recirculate clothing that may otherwise become waste.

The majority of donated clothing, which is not deemed “acceptable” for consumers in countries in the Global North, ends up in different corners of the globe – most often in countries in the Global South. 

And, this is big business. Before the clothing ends up in its final destination, all the donated clothing has to be sorted, graded for quality, and then exported. This often occurs through several different entities which are often in different countries.

As the book Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and SecondHand Clothes explains, UK-based secondhand clothing organizations such as Choice Textiles, Oxfam Wastesaver, the Salvation Army, and the YMCA, and their US counterparts like Goodwill and Planet Aid, have highly organized corporate business models, and the people donating their clothes to these organizations are largely unaware of this.

Secondhand clothes that were intended for charity pass through complex global networks of charitable and commercial exchange that link people in the Global North to people in the Global South by turning waste into a commodity and shifting the burden away from those who create it.

‘Away’ is a place: The secondhand industry in the Global South

In the Global South, secondhand markets are flooded with used clothing. Secondhand clothing is a major clothing source in African countries with 70% of global donations ending up in Africa. The primary source of these clothes is the US, Canada, and the UK.

Secondhand clothing has a multitude of different names in different countries. In Zambia used clothing is salaula, a Bemba word meaning ‘selecting from a pile in the manner of rummaging’. 

In Lagos, Nigeria, it is called kafa ulaya, ‘the clothes of the dead whites’. In Zimbabwe, the term mupedzanhamo, ‘where all problems end’, is used. In Accra, Ghana, it is known as Obroni Wawu, dead white man’s clothes’. These names tell a story on their own.

Most of the exported secondhand clothing is sold in shipping containers, each containing approximately 550 to 600 45 kg (99 lb) bales. Importers in the Global South purchase a container with a mix of different bales. They have to accept a mixed packing list of different categories of 45 kg (99 lb) clothing bales in container shipments. They have no say in which items they would prefer to receive.

The imported clothing ends up in sprawling secondhand markets such as the Owino Market in Kampala, Uganda and the Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana

These markets are filled with clothing vendors, upcyclers, dyers, tailors, menders, and importers. Alive with commotion, music, and chatter, the markets are a whole ecosystem of people using innovative and creative methods to save waste (waste that was not created by them in the first place) from being sent to landfills. 

These markets are thriving examples of circular textile economies and we should all be taking notes. While there is so much to learn from these markets, it is not all rosy.

Waste colonialism and the impacts of the global secondhand trade

The secondhand industry is a supply chain and it runs according to the same colonial values as the rest of the extractive fashion industry. It is the outlet necessary for fast fashion to thrive. 

This power imbalance and exploitative system that upholds the notion that countries in the Global South are dumping grounds for waste created in the Global North, causing them to shoulder the burden and the consequences of a problem they did not create, is known as waste colonialism.

In the case of Kantamanto Market in Accra, Ghana, about 15 million garments enter the market every week, in a country of 30 million people. The sheer volume of waste has devastating ecological and social impacts.

As Liz Ricketts of The OR Foundation wrote in a letter to the fashion industry: “In Kantamanto, 30,000 people work six days a week to sell, repair, clean, and upcycle the Global North’s clothing waste. This should be applauded, but it should not be romanticized. These 30,000 people take on a level of risk that is unjust.” 

In Kantamanto, many retailers take out loans with 35% interest rates to purchase bales of clothing that they have no guarantee about what they will be filled with, and only 20% of the retailers can make a profit.

And while a significant amount of clothing is repurposed by this circular ecosystem, 40% of the clothing that enters Kantamanto leaves the market as waste. This clothing waste is dumped in sprawling landfills of donated clothing and textile waste which emit damaging toxins.

If it does not end up in a landfill, it clogs the gutter systems (which causes flooding) or pollutes the seas in endless strands of clothing that washes up on beaches and gets caught in fisherman’s nets.

It’s not a pretty picture.

On top of these impacts, the influx of this vast quantity of secondhand clothes also impacts the local textile industries in the countries where the waste ends up.

Bobby Kolade and Nikissi Serumaga, of the Vintage or Violence podcast based in Uganda, say that secondhand clothing accounts for 81% of all clothing purchases in the country and this has crushed the local textile industry as well as the ability for job creation in those spaces.

What can we do to be a part of the solution?

This is one of those complex systems that has no simple solutions.

We need to give ourselves grace with the understanding that as individuals, we cannot carry the burden of these exploitative systems, but there are actions we can take to ensure we are part of a different fashion narrative.  

The bottom line is that we need to produce and consume less. 

As Liz Ricketts shared in a ‘Wardrobe Crisis’ podcast episode with Clare Press, one of the most radical things we can do in this system of over-consumption and greed is to work on healing our own relationship with fashion and move away from defining ourselves as ‘consumers’. 

Liz shares that a great way to start this process is to try a ‘no buy year’.

During that time, we can try to teach ourselves a new skill, such as mending, natural dyeing, sewing, knitting, or hosting a clothing swap. This will allow us to see that we can exist (happily) with less and redefine yourself as someone capable of creatively engaging with your style, beyond just buying.

If you are going to donate your clothing, do your research and donate responsibly.

The key to responsible donations is to ensure that you are donating items that you can envision someone using and to donate them to an organization or charity that is specifically requesting those items. Also make sure that you wash your clothing and mend anything that needs a little extra love before donating.

Clothing pile on chair - The Truth About What Happens to Donated Clothes

Here are a few useful resources to help you donate more responsibly:

Still curious? Here is a list of resources where you can learn more:

There is still so much to learn, so here are a few great places to continue your learning journey:

This article was not written to shame you for not knowing any better!

We are all learning together and this story helps us better understand the complexity of the fashion system that we are all a part of.

(Cover/preview image is from The OR Foundation.)

About the Author

Stella Hertantyo is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and is currently completing her PGDip in Sustainable Development to accompany her undergraduate in Multimedia journalism. She is a slow-living enthusiast and a lover of low-impact fashion.

She is passionate about encouraging an approach to sustainability that is inclusive, accessible, and fun as we try to figure out how to create a more sustainable and just world, together.

When Stella is not in front of her laptop doing uni work, you’ll probably find her reading, writing, illustrating, or baking/cooking. A dip in the ocean, or a walk in the mountains, are the two things that bring her the most peace.

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Are Your Clothes Toxic? Here’s How You Can Find Out. https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/toxic-clothes-sustainability-certification/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=toxic-clothes-sustainability-certification https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/toxic-clothes-sustainability-certification/#respond Fri, 08 Oct 2021 03:18:03 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=16934 Inside the sustainability certification that can help you assess a product's safety, sustainability, and social responsibility.

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It’s no secret that our food, beauty products, and household items from air fresheners to cleaners can contain proven or potentially hazardous ingredients. 

But what about our clothing: are there harmful chemicals in the clothes that we wear every single day? Research suggests so.

From flame retardants to stain-resistant coatings, there are thousands of chemicals used throughout the various stages of the apparel supply chain.

According to the Danish EPA, It takes 10 to 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemicals to produce fabric. 

And yes, that includes natural fabrics. In fact, a 2004 study found that a cotton textile can contain over 20% synthetic chemicals by weight.

While the exact number of chemicals used in the textile industry isn’t clear (some estimates put it as high as 8,000), this much is clear: the textile industry is a major user of toxic chemicals and a significant contributor to global freshwater pollution.

The Impact of Toxic Chemicals in Textiles

While not all chemicals used are necessarily toxic or harmful, the Swedish Chemical Agency found that 10% of the 2,400 textile-related substances studied were a “potential hazard to human health” and 5% were considered a hazard to the environment.

The agency also warned that the textile industry does not have a complete overview of the hazardous substances that may be in their products. In other words: brands may not even know if their products contain toxic chemicals. Which may be the most concerning takeaway.

Worker & Consumer Safety

Fibre2Fashion reported that workers in the textile industry are exposed to formaldehyde, highly toxic carcinogenic flame retardants like organophosphorus and organobromine compounds, and antimicrobial agents. 

Long-term exposure to these chemicals can cause symptoms including loss of memory, loss of appetite, disorientation, depression, nausea and vomiting, personality changes, skin, lung, and eye irritation, and higher risks of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Specifically, studies have actually found correlations between oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, thyroid cancer, testicular cancer and nasal cancer and having an occupation in the textile industry. 

Dyes are one of the major sources of toxic chemical exposure. Azo dyes make up over two thirds of all synthetic dyes, many of which “show carcinogenic and mutagenic activity” and can cause allergic reactions. 

Environmental Impacts

The impact that these chemicals have on the environment are just as severe. 

The documentary RiverBlue reported that over in the world’s largest garment producing country, China, about 70% of rivers are polluted.

An investigation by Greenpeace that tested the discharge of two industrial zones in China where a high proportion of textile manufacturers were located found a range of toxic chemicals. These included PFOA (bioaccumulative toxic chemical), chlorinated anilines (used for dyes, suspected carcinogens), nitrobenzene (carcinogenic), and several other hazardous chemicals.

In Bangladesh –  the second largest garment exporter — three rivers in the country’s capital (Dhaka) have been declared biologically dead because of the effluent of nearby garment factories.

And these harmful impacts follow wherever fashion production moves next.

A recent report by Water Witness International found that garment factories are dyeing Africa’s rivers and have “turned them as alkaline as bleach.” (One river tested in Tanzania tested a pH of 12, which is the same pH level as bleach). 

The impacts of these toxic chemicals are strongest in textile production areas and pose a serious threat to textile workers and their communities. 

But the impact doesn’t end there. 

Wearers of clothing (i.e. every single one of us) are also impacted. Our skin is our largest organ, as the clean beauty industry often reminds us. But it’s not just skincare products that get absorbed — contaminants from textiles can be transferred to our skin.

And new research is showing that indoor textiles, from carpeting to clothing, are a potentially larger source of PFAS exposure than previously thought. PFAS are toxic forever chemicals linked to health problems like cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, liver disease, and thyroid disease.

In short: the toxicity of our clothing should not be underestimated.

[Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by OEKO-TEX®. As always, we only partner with brands and companies we truly believe in and that we think you’ll find value in! All information above was gathered through independent research and was not provided by OEKO-TEX®.]

So What Can We Do?

The textile supply chain is global and complex, and every country has its own set of regulations on chemical use — and levels of enforcement.

Not to mention, it’s challenging to know which brands you can trust in a sea of buzzwords, eco collections, and clever taglines.

So what’s a concerned and conscious consumer to do?

Prioritizing natural fibers is often the next step people take and it’s certainly a great move in the right direction. 

But while it would be nice if we could assume that all clothing and other textiles made from natural fibers like cotton or linen were free of hazardous chemicals, it isn’t so simple, unfortunately!

Even garments made with organically grown fibers may not necessarily be free from harmful substances after they’re treated, dyed, and finished.

So, how can we actually tell if our garment has been tested for toxic chemicals? After all, we already established that sometimes brands don’t know that there are hazardous substances on the clothes they’re selling.

Certainly, government regulations on toxic chemicals are essential and important to advocate for. (REACH, a regulation from the European Union, goes further than virtually any other chemical regulation that exists currently.)

In the meantime though, how can we have more assurances for the clothes we are buying now?

Well, this is something that credible certifications can help us out with! Trusted and independent (i.e. a non brand-funded organization) can be an added verification or first step to identifying if a product is safer and more sustainable.They can also help us tell if an item is as sustainable as it is marketed to be. 

There are a number of different certifications related to fashion and textiles, which makes it confusing to know which ones are credible. But OEKO-TEX®, founded nearly 30 years ago, is a leading reputable and independent international textile certification body that tests for harmful substances.

OEKO-TEX®’s STANDARD 100 label has been around since the company’s beginning decades ago. Textiles with this label were thoroughly tested — including not just the fabrics but the components like buttons — for harmful substances to ensure the item is not toxic to human health.

Another important label to know is MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX®, which is more comprehensive and signals that a product is tested for safety, sustainability, and fair working conditions for the people who produced it.

About the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® Label

This label from OEKO-TEX® ensures that an article not only is tested for harmful substances, but also that the garment or other textile product was made in environmentally friendly facilities, produced in safe, socially responsible workplaces, and that the product was made in a traceable supply chain. 

A label verifying for product safety, transparency, social responsibility and environmental friendliness is a big task so let’s break down how exactly the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label process works.

MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX certification process

Consumer and Product Health

The MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label tests for harmful substances in accordance with STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® (textiles) or LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX® labels.

In the by OEKO-TEX® certifying process, the item is tested for both regulated and non-regulated harmful substances to ensure that they meet the criteria set by OEKO-TEX®. 

The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® criteria are the same globally no matter where an item is produced. STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® meets or exceeds the legal requirements in the production country. This criteria catalog is updated at least once per year to take the latest scientific knowledge or legal requirements into account.

Pretty impressive!

Unlike a fabric certification, STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® considers every element of a garment or other textile item. Each component and ingredient is tested — including the threads, buttons, linings, zippers, prints, and coatings — before an item can carry the STANDARD 100 label.

The tests are conducted by independent OEKO-TEX® testing and research institutes located . These institutes are also the ones that determine if a certificate can be issued to an article.

If you see a product that says it’s been certified by OEKO-TEX® but you want to verify it,  you can always enter the label number to confirm. We’ll talk more about that tool later!

Environmentally and Socially Responsible Production

As outlined above, the use of hazardous substances not only impacts consumer health, but has a large impact on textile workers and a direct impact on the surrounding environment too. 

So, using safe substances in textile production is already a major benefit for people and the planet, but there are other considerations for the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label as well to vet for environmental friendliness and social responsibility.

Environmental specifics include:

  • Sustainable management of wastewater, such as setting limit values for wastewater and reduction in water usage
  • Responsibly handling emissions, such as making efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of production
  • Protection of resources, such as using renewable energy and best available technology
  • Proper waste management, such as recycling textile waste

Social responsibility specifics include:

  • Reasonable working hours and fair wages
  • Worker safety, such as building safety, protective equipment, and fire prevention
  • Health protection, which tests working conditions for issues like dust, heat, and noise
  • Prohibition of forced labor or child labor

These criteria are vetted to ensure that brand claims are actually verified through independent testing and auditing. 

Transparency and Traceability

Potentially the most exciting aspect of the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label is the level of transparency.  

It’s far from easy for an individual outside of the industry to understand complex information about apparel supply chains. Even those in the industry may not fully understand it!

There are many approaches and no singular “silver bullet solution” to more transparent supply chains or to identifying responsible supply chains as a consumer. But simple-to-use tools like OEKO-TEX®’s label check tool can be an important resource to get started. 

Essentially, this label check tool allows you to trace the supply chains of products with the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® certification.

Here’s exactly how it works:

1) Go to oeko-tex.com and enter in the number found on the product’s tag. OR Scan the QR code on the product’s tag.

MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX Label Check Tool

2) You can then check out the supply chain of the product using the map feature. For more details, you can click on the icons to learn about each step of the supply chain of the product. 

MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX Supply Chain Map

What’s different about this supply chain tracking feature than information you might find on a brand’s website is that it’s easy to understand and it’s been independently verified by a trusted certifying body, making it more credible information.

It’s certainly exciting to see a transparent label for fashion that considers health & safety, sustainability, and social responsibility that can help us cut through the noise — and sort through the greenwashing! 

Which brands would you like to see carry products with MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® labels? 

Learn more about how to take steps toward sustainability.

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5 Simple Ways to Kickstart Your Sustainable Style https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-tips/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-fashion-tips https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/sustainable-fashion-tips/#respond Thu, 07 Oct 2021 04:19:17 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=16910 Your sustainable fashion journey is ever-evolving. There is no quick fix, only slow solutions. Give yourself room to grow and have fun by applying these 5 sustainable fashion tips.

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By JeLisa Marshall 

Are you ready to clean up your style? Is sustainability something you explore online but aren’t sure if you’d execute in real life? Well, good news. You are on the right track. Awareness is the first step in curating a conscious closet. 

Despite what some social media influencers and fast fashion retailers show and tell, dressing sustainably does not happen overnight. It is an ever-evolving journey. There is no quick fix, only slow solutions. Give yourself room to grow — inside and outside of your closet — and have fun by applying 5 simple ways to kickstart your sustainable style. 

Note: this guide includes affiliate links. All brands were selected independently by our guest writer.

1. Shop Your Closet

Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution said it best, “the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.”

Fashion trends can easily pressure you into buying something new every season and discarding your previous purchases.

In fact, seventeen million tons of textile waste went to landfills in 2018 according to data distributed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Yikes! 

Finding new ways to wear what you currently own not only helps increase the longevity of your clothes, but also creates a signature style. Keep at least one of the following in constant rotation. 

Jeans

If you need to invest in new, check out these sustainable brands: 

Able 

Boyish 

Oliver Logan 

Eco-friendly jeans from Boyish

Tops

If you need to invest in new, check out these sustainable brands: 

Aday 

Kotn 

Organic Basics 

Layering Piece 

If you need to invest in new, check out these sustainable brands: 

Noize 

Outerknown 

Patagonia 

Shoes

If you need to invest in new, check out these sustainable brands: 

Thousand Fell 

Veja (Shop @ Farfetch)

Zou Xou 

Tip: Have clothes with a rip or tear? Don’t throw them away! Loved clothes last. Grab a needle and thread or stop by your local alterations shop for repairs. 

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2. Clothing Swap

What better way to score cool, new threads than to shop within your community? Guaranteed there is someone in your circle with admirable style. Tell them! Then, send out an invite to exchange your favorite looks. 

Family

If there are people in your family that share your taste in fashion, start here. Spend a day trying on and letting go of clothes. 

Friends

The great thing about friends is that they’re similar yet different enough to have clothes you like, but don’t own. If you see something you want, point it out! Ask them if they would be willing to swap clothes every now and then to keep your wardrobes fresh. 

Local Community

Get to know your neighbors – and their closets! Host a community clothing swap. You could organize one each season when people are normally cleaning up. Use a web-based platform such as Eventbrite to plan and promote. 

Global Community

Join a group like COMN or Rehash. These are applications that encourage people to borrow and not buy. Best of all? They’re free! Download today and snag something new to you. 

Tip: Get creative! Bring food and drinks. Share photos on social media. Encourage people to do the same to spread the message and grow the group. 

Global community COMN

3. Thrift Shop

Who doesn’t love a good thrift haul? Some of the coolest clothes can be found secondhand. The search can be time-consuming, however, so make sure you have a few hours to spare before you begin. 

Buffalo Exchange

Buffalo Exchange is a fashion resale retailer that buys, sells and trades clothes, shoes and accessories on-the-spot for cash. You can access a location physically or virtually. Each will have its own unique flair, so you should visit a few for a range of options. 

Goodwill

Goodwill is a non-profit organization that provides career services, job placement and skills training to people in need. The retail stores and donation centers fund the mission. You can shop in-person and online. If you sign up for their mailing list, you’ll be the first to know about their special events and sales. 

Thrilling

Thrilling is an online marketplace that focuses on vintage and secondhand clothes, shoes and accessories. It aims to support diverse, independent boutiques and currently hosts over 400 stores – mostly owned by women and people of color. New items are added daily, so bookmark and check back regularly. 

Women in outfit from Thrilling Online Marketplace

thredUP

thredUP is an online consignment and thrift store. It offers an immersive shopping experience. You can buy pre-loved and upcycled clothes, calculate your fashion footprint and even shop celebrity closets! 

Tip: If you can, browse early in the morning – especially at physical stores. You’ll get first dibs on newly displayed merchandise. 

4. Rental Service 

Headed somewhere special? A rental service may come in handy. You can rent anything from a gown to a handbag or a suit for a fraction of its retail price. 

Armoire

Armoire is an unlimited rental service that offers plans starting at $69 per month. You’ll be able to select from hundreds of high-end brands and receive on-demand styling. And, you can cancel or pause at any time. 

Style Lend

Style Lend is as easy as one, two, three. Step 1: Browse the categories. Step 2: Select your style(s). Step 3: Pay for your rental. You’ll have seven days to enjoy and can return postage free if your selection doesn’t fit. 

Wardrobe

Dubbed by Fashion Week Daily as a “fashion app that just might save the planet,” Wardrobe is a one-stop shop for luxury and archive vintage clothing rental. Just place an order, pick-up locally at a Wardrobe Hub in New York City, or have it delivered anywhere within the U.S. then return. Rentals can be made for 4 days, 10 days, or 20 days. Score!

Tip: Be mindful of the carbon footprint of shipments! Rent on an as-needed basis. 

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5. Subscription Service

Do you need a helping hand with styling your sustainable wardrobe? You’re in luck! These companies are dedicated to the cause. 

Fashom

Fashom is on a mission to spread body confidence and positivity. Styling services are offered to everyone by real people. Your first session is free. Simply complete a style quiz to get started. 

Frank & Oak

Frank & Oak provided a monthly subscription service but recently changed to a membership-based loyalty program called Style Plan. It offers the same access to stylists, but with more exclusive releases and less of a carbon footprint. 

Le Tote

Wear. Return. Repeat. Le Tote is a rental and subscription service in one! For a monthly fee, you can select your own gently used clothing and accessories to rent. There is no time commitment, so you can cancel or pause as you please. 

wearwell

wearwell is a monthly subscription service offering custom style selections with new (and used) ethical and sustainably made clothing. There is an $8.50 fee, which is applied toward any purchases each month. Returns are free. Start your style quiz to join. 

Tip: Take advantage of flexible membership or try-before-you-buy policies. Being able to cancel or pause anytime can be helpful on the wallet and allow you to discover which option is best. 

Style quiz to start your sustainable wardrobe

These are just a few ways to keep you moving on your sustainable fashion journey. Hopefully, you feel empowered and inspired to try or learn something new! Remember to take it one step at a time. Change is an ongoing process. Before you know it, you’ll have created a style that is good for you, your community, and the planet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

JeLisa Marshall is a fashion industry professional based in Seattle. Her passion for sustainability and style led her to start The Stylist Way (@thestylistway), a style consultancy that empowers people to wear their values.

She also volunteers as a Remake ambassador and loves all things art, nature, and space-related.

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Circular Fashion: What Is It and How Can We Get There? https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/circular-fashion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=circular-fashion https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/circular-fashion/#respond Mon, 06 Sep 2021 15:00:00 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=15979 This post will break down what circular fashion is, the various approaches, some of the greenwashing of circularity, and more.

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Have you heard the term circular fashion?

Maybe you’ve seen fashion brands advertise their “circular collections” or talk about their vision for circularity. Or perhaps you’ve seen words like upcycled, recycled, renewed, and repurposed, and are feeling a bit lost in the sea of confusing terms.

This post will break down what you need to know about circular fashion: what it is, the various approaches to it, some of the greenwashing of circularity going on, and what it will take for the fashion ecosystem to become circular. 

Prefer to listen? Check out the podcast version!

Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app.

Quick Links: Listen on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora, or Google Podcasts.

What is Circular Fashion?

Circular certainly sounds great — but what does it actually mean?

Well circularity is not a new concept.

The earth operates in a circular system. Nature is circular. Everything is reused and repurposed. There is no waste.

And many cultures today still operate within this circular framework like BIPOC communities and low income communities. I’ll be bringing on guests talk about that more, but I wanted to make sure to put that out there before we started getting into the nitty gritty of circular fashion.

For now, I’d like to start with talking about what a circular economy is and then how that relates to fashion.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “in contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources.”

So, what does that look like in practice? Well, Ellen MacArthur Foundation goes on to explain that there are three main principles to a circular economy: 

  1. Design out waste and pollution
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems

Let’s break each of them down.

Scissors and pencils in basket with sketches in the background

The first is to “design out waste and pollution”.

This is about ensuring that during production, there isn’t waste being created and there is no pollution of the air, land, and water along the way.

For fashion, this might be about designing pieces that use existing textiles and/or make use of every scrap of fabric.

[For more on this, check out what is zero waste fashion?

It’s also about producing garments (and accessories and everything else) with eco-minded materials, dyes, and components that don’t pollute the environment. And of course, about using cleaner energy sources and not using fossil fuels.

The second principle is to “keep products and materials in use”. So basically, this is about ensuring things are lasting as long as possible. It’s about repairing, restoring, refurbishing, and as a last resort, recycling them. 

But this is only fully possible if from the very beginning when the product is being designed, the designers are thinking about the full lifecycle of the product to ensure that the product is durable, repairable, recyclable, compostable, et cetera.

In the fashion industry, the most obvious example of keeping materials in use is secondhand fashion. So thrifting, buying vintage, borrowing, sharing, getting hand-me-downs, and so on. 

But we could also extend this principle to mean brands designing higher quality products and having repair programs. It can mean improving sewing literacy so we can mend our clothes, and it could mean encouraging the upcycling and creative use of existing textiles. 

The list goes on and the rest of the post will go into these approaches in much more detail.

For now, let’s get into the third and final principle, which is “regenerate natural systems”.

This is the one that is most often left out of the circular economy discussion, but a truly circular system cannot be reliant on non-renewable resources. And, a circular economy is about not taking more from the earth than you give back.

So this one is about first, stopping the extraction of fossil fuels and prioritizing the transition to renewable energy sources. And secondly, it’s about replenishing and restoring the soil and the earth.

In fashion, this means no more synthetic fabrics, no more plastic fabrics like polyester and nylon derived from fossil fuels. It also means that the production and transport of items is powered by renewable energy sources. There’s still a long way to go on both of these!

It’s also about thinking about ways that fashion can be produced in a regenerative way. The most clear example of this is growing or raising fibers for fashion using regenerative, traditional farming practices.

Fibershed is a great resource to learn more about regenerative fiber systems and I will have guests on the Conscious Style Podcast to talk about this in more detail.

Four Steps to Circular Fashion

Taking all of this into account, here is a breakdown of the various steps that would be required for creating a truly circular fashion system.

  1. Produce and Buy Less
  2. Design Out Waste and With the End in Mind
  3. Extend a Garment’s Life as Long as Possible
  4. Manage a Garment’s “End” of Life

1. Produce and Buy Less.

This is the step that very few brands want to talk about, but it’s absolutely necessary if we ever want to reach a truly circular system.

Right now, we are simply producing too many clothes — and shoes, and bags, and jewelry and everything else.

According to the Ellen MacArthur foundation, over 100 billion garments are being produced annually. 

As the often quoted stat goes, from 2000 to 2014, clothing production roughly doubled, yet people are keeping clothes half as long. 

Fashion brands have gone from releasing new clothes a couple times per year or once per season to launching new styles weekly or even daily. 

Ultra-fast fashion retailer Shein even advertises that they drop at least 1,000 new styles every single day. Some days, the retailer drops over 6,000 new products daily.

There’s no way that this overproduction and over-extraction of resources could ever be circular. Even if we switched to using all renewable sources for fabrics, dyes, etc. we’d be producing faster than those resources could renew.

And given the state of textile recycling technology today and the amount of time and energy textile recycling takes, we also could not possibly recycle all of those clothes.

We can only create a circular system if we are producing less in the first place.

Also, of course, one of the elements of a circular economy is about making durable things that last and can be used continually. Certainly, if a brand is producing hundreds of millions of clothes every year (Zara produces 450 million garments annually), you’re not considering longevity. 

Not only is the clothing not designed to be durable but the only way people are able to buy so many clothes is if they are replacing their existing garments. Our closets are only so big after all. 

Overproduction and overconsumption is very reliant on there being a significant amount of waste. Anytime you are producing trendy garments that come and go within months or sometimes even weeks, you’re not designing with circularity in mind. 

Many experts argue that being a truly circular brand means decoupling sales volume from profitability. In other words, brands will NEED to find other revenue sources outside of new production if they want to actually be circular. 

So, degrowth and reduction in the production of new garments must be the first step to a circular fashion economy!

2. Design Out Waste and With The End in Mind

This is something that the Ellen MacArthur foundation talks about in their approach to a circular economy and it’s a very important element.

We can try to extend the lives of garments and other items (which I’ll touch on in step 3) as long as possible, but it helps if these pieces were designed in a way that made it easy to repair them or keep them.

Woman with measuring tape

So, this means designing for durability: Using quality fabrics, reinforcing the seams so the seams don’t rip, using quality components like zippers and buttons.

It’s also about designing with really great fit so people want to keep wearing that garment. When it’s too loose or tight in the wrong areas, or falling off our shoulders, or is just uncomfortable, people won’t want to keep it. In fact, eighty percent of consumers have reported difficulties finding well-fitting garments.

And this is something that fast fashion is really bad about. I mean these brands are launching hundreds or thousands of new garments every week. There’s no way they are thoroughly testing the fit on every single piece. It’s just not possible.

And beyond designing for durability, designers need to also have the end in mind.

So, for instance using 100% of a fiber instead of a blended fabric to maximize recyclability. 

Or using 100% natural fibers and dyes and components so that the piece is compostable. 

Or maybe designing a handbag or pair of shoes in a way that makes it very easy to repair if something were to happen to it.

3. Extend a Garment’s Life Through Reuse and Repair

As the Ellen MacArthur Foundation explained in their three principles of a circular economy, extending the life cycle of items is a key part of circularity.

There are so many ways to do this with fashion!

Reuse.

This means first and foremost, making the most out of your closet. For plenty of tips on this, listen to episode 7 of the Conscious Style Podcast with Jess Atkins, the co-creator of the wardrobe app, Stylebook.

The most sustainable garment is the one that you already have in your closet. Don’t be afraid to be an outfit repeater and get creative with new outfit combinations with the items that you’ve got!

When you do need something else or you are really wanting a piece, the second most circular or sustainable option is to make the most of what already exists in general. In other words, looking pre-loved. 

For more on secondhand fashion, tune in to episode 10 of the Conscious Style Podcast with Emily Stochl of the Pre-Loved Podcast.

There are a lot of ways to find pre-loved garments! Here are some of the ways:

  • We can swap with friends and family, or maybe look for a swap party happening in our community on a site like meetup.com or on Fashion Revolution’s community event calendar.
  • If we just need a piece for a one-off occasion like prom, a wedding, or a work interview, we can see if we can borrow a piece or use a peer-to-peer rental app like ByRotation (you’ll get to hear from ByRotation’s founder, Eshita in Season 2 of the Conscious Style Podcast!)
  • You can go to local thrift stores or check out online secondhand fashion marketplaces like Poshmark, ThredUP, Depop, and Swap.com.
  • There are also a lot of places to find vintage clothing. You can search in your local area or there are also a bunch of vintage shops selling through Instagram and Etsy.
  • And if you want to splurge on a designer item, there are also consignment stores. So again, you can look locally or go online on a site like Vestiaire Collective or The RealReal.

Repair.

The second R of this step is repair and this is something that has been gaining more and more traction in the sustainable fashion space, which is exciting to see!

Fashion is too often treated as disposable. When there’s a rip, tear, a missing button, a stain… that piece is tossed or “given away”. 

Scissors and thread in a basket for clothing repair or mending

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Many of these issues can be mended or repaired. Either by learning through YouTube tutorials ourselves or by taking the garment to a nearby seamstress. Many Dry Cleaners will also take on a tailoring or mending project.

And something I’m a big advocate of is pushing brands to have repair programs where shoppers can bring back in their products and get them repaired for free or for a very small fee.

4. Manage a Garment’s “End” of Life: Repurpose and Regenerate

There are a couple more R’s I want to talk about and these have to do with the sort of final stage of a garment as it currently is.

I hesitate to say “end-of-life” because that’s a terminology in the linear economy that assumes there is an end. And the point of a circular economy is that there isn’t an end; everything stays in use or gets used as something else.

But, there comes a time when a piece will be beyond repair or perhaps is unwearable or undesirable. In this case, that piece may need to be transformed so that the components or materials stay in use.

One way to do this is to repurpose it. 

Repurposing might mean cutting it up and creating an entirely new item out of it. It might mean using the fabric scraps for creating something small like a scrunchie.

Or, when all other avenues have been exhausted, downcycling that textile to use for something like insulation or couch cushions. This is really a last resort for fabrics that are just totally soiled.

And then another approach to handling a garment or other textile at the end of its as-is-life is to compost it and use it to regenerate new life. 

So, right now this isn’t really very common. But the potential here is huge because it doesn’t require expensive recycling technology and it doesn’t require fossil fuel energy or anything like that.

The problem is that almost no clothing right now is 100% compostable because a lot of clothing is made from synthetic fabrics.

And even if the fabric is natural, maybe there were synthetic dyes used, or there’s a small percentage of synthetic fiber blended in to add a stretch, or there’s elastic, or something along those lines.

But creating compostable clothing is very in line with earth’s natural circular systems. This is the direction we should be going!

There will be episodes on all four of these R’s: reuse, repair, repurpose, and regenerate in season two of the Conscious Style Podcast!

Myths of Circular Fashion

Circularity seems to be one of the biggest buzzwords in sustainable fashion today. It’s easy to see why: minimizing waste and maximizing existing resources hits on many sustainability goals.

The problem, though, is that this word is being overused and misused. So this section is dedicated to breaking down some of the myths of circular fashion.

Myth 1: Textile Recycling is the Solution for Circularity

This is one you’ll see a lot from fast fashion brands like H&M that believe that we can recycle our way out of our waste and climate crises. 

As we’ve covered earlier, recycling is a last resort option when none of the other avenues are available. It is not THE solution. Recycling still requires vast amounts of energy and other resources. Plus, most materials will lose quality each time they are recycled.

Myth 2: Buying Clothes Made From Recycled Materials is Circular

This one is similar because it again focuses on just one element of the clothing life cycle. This time it’s focusing on only the initial production.

While it can be useful to use recycled and upcycled materials for clothing, that’s not the end of the story. We also have to talk about how long that clothing is going to be used and what’s going to happen to it when the person is done wearing it.

Circularity is about the entire process; the entire life cycle.

Myth 3: Circularity Means We Can Keep Up Current Production Levels

A lot of brands, particularly at industry ‘sustainability’ conferences, are leading the industry to believe that they can keep up current rates of growth — of profit and production — simply by making it more “circular”.

But recycled materials and resale programs are not enough alone to make the system circular, let alone sustainable.

And this myth might just be the most dangerous of them all. 

One study actually found that people are more likely to use more resources when recycling is an option versus when it is not available to them.

So we really have to be careful with this greenwashing of circularity and recycling.

When fashion brands promote their collections as “circular” in an effort to keep up current rates of production — or even worse, increase them — that totally misses the point!

The biggest potential benefit of circularity is that we reduce new production. So anytime a brand is talking about circularity *without* talking about degrowth and minimizing production of new stuff, that’s greenwashing.

Final Notes About Circular Fashion

As you can see, circular fashion is a complex topic that involves many steps because it considers the ENTIRE life cycle of a piece.

It’s about degrowth or decrease in new production. It’s about considering the entire life cycle of a product during the design and production stage. It’s about extending the life of what has been produced. And it’s about responsible consideration for a piece’s so-called “end” of life.

We cannot just do one of these things. It’s all a circle and we need all of it. We can’t just recycle our way out of this mess. 

And in many ways, these steps are connected. For instance, we can’t get to degrowth if we’re not thinking about extending the life of what’s been produced. 

And the final step of responsibly repurposing or regenerating a piece is going to be very difficult if we don’t have the second step where designers are considering the full life cycle.

Circularity is not about just addressing one piece of the product life cycle — it’s about creating a continual cycle, or well, circle.

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How to Become a Fashion Consumer Activist and Demand a Better Industry https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/how-to-be-a-fashion-activist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-be-a-fashion-activist https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/how-to-be-a-fashion-activist/#respond Fri, 06 Aug 2021 20:28:09 +0000 https://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/?p=15550 Whether you just learned about fashion's harms or are a longtime conscious consumer looking to expand your impact, this article will walk you through how to be a fashion activist.

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Whether you’ve been a conscious consumer for years and are looking to take the next step in your journey or you’ve just learned about fashion’s harms and are ready to take big action right away, this guide will walk you through how to become a fashion activist or consumer activist.

What is Fashion Activism?

Coined by Céline Semaan, co-founder of the Slow Factory Foundation, fashion activism is “the practice of using fashion as a medium for social and environmental change.”  

A common example of fashion activism could be a slogan t-shirt that makes a statement about a social or environmental issue.

What is Consumer Activism?

Consumer activism “is a process by which activists seek to influence the way in which goods or services are produced or delivered.”

One example of consumer activism would be animal activists boycotting brands that test on animals.

What About a Fashion Consumer Activist?

There isn’t necessarily a set definition per se of fashion consumer activism, but that’s what this article will aim to narrow down.

Let’s combine the concepts of consumer activism, which is about influencing brands (and broader industries), with fashion activism, which is about using fashion to drive change. 

Fashion Activism: We are fashion revolution. We are you.

The combination of the two gives us fashion consumer activism.

And this is about pushing the fashion industry to transform for the better, which in the process, can create positive change on social and environmental issues.

For example, we can use fashion consumer activism to demand that governments ensure all fashion brands pay all of the workers throughout their supply chain living wages.

This not only would help transform fashion into a more ethical industry, but would have vast implications on labor relations and human rights around the world.

Another example might be pushing for brands to slow down production and use more environmentally responsible materials (low impact natural fabrics, recycled materials, plant-based dyes and finishes, and so on. 

This would not only create a more sustainable fashion industry, but given fashion’s impact on the planet (the industry is responsible for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions), these shifts would have a big impact on our efforts to minimize future damage from our climate crisis.

How to Get Started With Fashion Activism

When we’re talking about these massive issues, like the climate crisis or modern-day slavery, it can feel overwhelming. 

In a similar vein, solving these issues can feel insurmountable, and words like “activist” can feel intimidating. 

But know that being a fashion activist doesn’t mean that you alone are taking on all of these issues on your shoulders to solve them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

Fashion activism and consumer activism (or any other type of activism) is about being part of a collective for change. Yes, you are only an individual — but you also can be part of a community and part of a broader movement.

This is the most reassuring part about activism. That you do not have to hold the weight of all of these issues on your shoulders. You do not need to be perfect. You do not need to do it all, all of the time. 

We can work together as imperfect humans and imperfect activists to drive change that is bigger than any one of us could do alone.

Now that you’re (hopefully!) feeling encouraged to begin or continue your fashion activism journey, here are some ways to get going.

Start Small

There are so many types of actions that you can take to push for a better fashion industry! This list provides a sampling, but is in no way a comprehensive list. 

Here are some ideas for actions you can take, listed in order from least to most energy- and time-intensive.

1. Sign a Petition 

Time Required: 1 minute

You might be asking if signing a petition really works. And the answer is that it depends. But petitions do have the potential to have a really big impact! 

Just look at the example of Remake’s #PayUp petition launched in early 2020 after brands canceled billions of dollars worth of orders and left garment workers stranded.

Sign a petition: #PayUp Petition

The petition garnered over 250,000 signatures and eventually helped factories and garment workers recover billions of dollars in stolen wages and back-owed payments.

In an effort to continue the momentum from this campaign, Remake has launched the PayUp Fashion petition that you can sign on their site. 

[Listen to my interview with Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake to learn more about the PayUp Fashion campaign.]

2. Email a Brand 

Time Required: 5 minutes

Is there a brand that has pieces you absolutely love the style of but you’re not so sure about their ethics or you’re disappointed by their lack of sustainability efforts?

Don’t be afraid to let them know! Take a couple of minutes to find a few contact emails for the brand and write up an email being honest about your disappointment and how you’d like them to do better.

Fashion Revolution has a template you could use and Attire Media has some great templates too

3. Post on Social Media

Time Required: 5-15 minutes

Social media can be a powerful tool for change. Most fashion brands rely on social media to establish their branding and retain their “cool” factor. 

So, calling brands in over on social media, will certainly get their attention. *Especially when it’s done as part of a bigger movement, which we’ll get to later.

Social media Icons

You could create an Instagram post or an Instagram Story tagging the brand and sharing what practice you are not happy with and where you’d like them to improve. 

You could also comment on a brand’s social media posts on Instagram or elsewhere. The additional benefit of this approach is that it has the potential to be seen by these brand’s customers. It might inspire some of them to start thinking about these sustainability and ethics questions as well.

4. Talk to a friend or family member 

Two girls conversing

Time Required: 30 minutes – 1 hour

We are all influencers in our own right! We can influence those closest to us potentially even more than influencers or thought-leaders can.

While it can be tempting sometimes to place blame or shame people when we are angry at the fashion system, a gentler and more open approach is likely to be more effective — and preserve your relationship with that person!

Figure out what that person cares about (feminism, animal rights…) and try to talk to them about the issues through that lens. 

Or try to inspire them by telling them how you’re learning to love the clothes that you already have in your closet, or why you love thrifting now more than buying new, or how you find sustainable brands on the Good on You app or Remake’s Brand Directory.

If it feels intimidating to talk directly about these issues with your friends or family, you could always recommend an article, book, podcast, or other resource.

5. Host an event 

Time Required: 1-5 hours

Are you in school or part of another community? See if there’s a way that you can reach people near you geographically by hosting an event. 

Host a swap party, screening of a fashion documentary like the True Cost, or mending workshop. The options are really endless!

Explore the intersections of what you enjoy with what might make a difference and what your community might enjoy attending.

Join A Fashion Activist Group

Time Required: Varies

If you’re ready for a bigger commitment, consider joining a fashion activist group. These groups meet regularly and will require more time and energy than some of the one-off steps listed above. 

But the benefits are huge! You’ll be part of a like-minded community that cares about the same issues as you do, you’ll be making a difference, and you’ll have people to support you when you need a bit of encouragement or you’re on the verge of activist burn-out.

Stacking hands together

The program I am personally a part of and that I recommend is Remake’s Ambassador Program.

Remake is an ethical fashion nonprofit on a mission to make fashion a force for good through education, advocacy, and transparency reports on fashion brands.

The Remake Ambassador program is a virtual group open to people all over the world.

When you become an ambassador, you can attend monthly meetings with advocacy updates and educational sessions. You’ll also receive resources for hosting events, get access to the Ambassador Slack channel to communicate with your fellow fashion activists, and get exclusive invites and discounts to special events.

It’s really an incredible group and I can’t recommend it enough to those who have a few hours each month to spare to advocate for a fairer fashion industry!

Support Advocacy Groups

If you don’t have the time to join an ambassador group, don’t sweat it! There are other ways you can amplify the work of advocacy groups. 

1) Follow these groups on social media and take some of the simple actions they post about, such as petitions to sign.

2) Share, repost, or retweet their content to help it reach more people.

3) Tell your friends and family about these groups and maybe they’ll be interested in following them and learning more. Perhaps they will even consider a donation!

4) Donate if you have the means to do so.

Here are some groups worth checking out and supporting!

A Final Reminder

Activism

A fashion activist or consumer activist journey is a long-term commitment — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

So find ways to integrate some simple steps into your life slowly, rather than trying to do it all at once and getting burned out!

And remember that you are not alone.

You are part of a growing group of changemakers that wants to see fashion be a driver for positive change, rather than a system of exploitation and extraction. 

Every little thing that you do matters, because it’s part of a broader movement where each action can have a compounding effect!

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How to Get Started with Fashion Activism - Conscious Life & Style
How to Become a Fashion Consumer Activist - Conscious Life & Style

You May Also Want to Check Out:

What is Ethical Fashion?

Living Wages: What Will it Take for Fashion to Pay Fair?

Free Educational Resources to Learn About Sustainable Fashion

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