It is estimated 1 in 6 people around the world are working in some part of the fashion industry to produce approximately 80 billion garments annually that we, the consumer or the investor, purchase.
What do I mean by a consumer and an investor? A consumer is the marketing industry’s word for the individual. For me the word ‘consume’ has connotations of mindlessly gorging on something, never to see a return of it again. In my mind, there’s a direct link between the word ‘consumer’ and fast fashion practices that enable us to access fashion cheaply, at the expense of human livelihoods and our environment.
On the other hand, an investor is one who is mindfully choosing the ways in which they spend their money realising that their input creates an output for others and themselves. This aligns with slow fashion practices that consider both the ethical and environmental impacts of our fashion choices.
The founder of Zara, Amancio Ortega, is the 6th richest person in the world, currently valued at $70 billion dollars. On the other end of the fashion production line there are millions of people that have to leave their families and children in exchange for a starting wage of $0.33/day to work for long hours in conditions that deny basic human rights and health. This includes millions of children working in factories.
We all play a role in the fashion industry. Unless you’re the nudist type, getting dressed is something you do every day. Think about what you are wearing right now. When choosing this outfit, what questions played a role in the purchase? Did you ask yourself what material it’s made from or how long it will last? Is the price fair for how much work went into it? Or was it just that you needed something new for an event, to feel good or to be on trend? As a recovering shopaholic I can say that for a long time the latter were my predominant thoughts.
Transitioning from a fast fashion/consumer mindset to a slow fashion/investor mindset is not about upheaving your whole life and throwing out all of your clothes and only buying from ethical brands. It is about changing the questions we ask ourselves when we are shopping. It’s about realising that in our purchases we hold the power to either invest in companies that abuse and contribute to the existing problems or companies that aim to support our planet and the people on it.
Here are 4 simple ways we can all start to make the transition from “consumer” to “investor” when it comes to what we wear.
1: Buy from both local and overseas manufacturers:
Buying local has been promoted as a solution to ending fast fashion, and it is a part of the solution, but the doors of global trade have already been opened and a lot of people rely on our purchases for their financial security. Mass manufacturing of cheap products have stripped away many skills overseas. If we shut the doors on buying from other countries we are ignoring the devastation that has already been created. Continue to source fair trade products that have been made internationally as well as purchase local products.
2: Hold companies accountable:
Ask companies about their supply chains in shops and on online platforms. You may actually find that it’s quite difficult to follow a brand’s production lines. When you do find a brand that’s completely transparent and tells you what’s going on, they are a keeper! An example of practices to watch out for are where a company with reportedly good conditions in their factories sells a clothing order to a cheaper factory to produce it for them. The structure means the brand isn’t associated with a factory that might have unethical practices yet they are still producing the garments. We have to be asking meaningful questions. You can find out more about some of the best and worst in terms of workers’ rights and supply chain transparency here.
3: Buy fewer items of higher quality:
Cheap prices and clever marketing make us constantly feel like we need to keep up with the latest trend. The fashion industry now has a turnover of 52 seasons in a 4-season environment — that’s a micro-trend every week designed to make you feel out of date extremely quickly, thus perpetuating the cycle. Some shops literally throw out ‘outdated’ styles. Making the choice to consciously shop empowers you to find your own style, rather than constantly trying to keep up with the styles prescribed for you.
Sometimes we buy fast fashion because it’s the affordable option and that’s a valid reason. There are other affordable options you can also throw in the mix. Have fun exploring your local secondhand store or op-shop. This keeps prices low and helps reduce your impact on the environment. You could also keep an eye on secondhand clothing on eBay or Facebook Buy, Swap and Sell groups dedicated to your favourite brand.
You might even find that while an overflowing wardrobe can have us saying “I have nothing to wear”, when you own fewer items it takes the stress out of the equation — you know exactly what’s in your wardrobe. Investing is about treating yo’self; treat yourself to that jumper that is a little more expensive or took a bit longer to find second hand but will actually keep you warm and last a lot longer than the jumpers you have to keep replacing.
4: Most importantly BE KIND to yourself:
Great! You’ve taken the first step — read an article and done some research about the negative impact fast fashion has on us and others. The intention of never again buying anything that is unethically made crosses your mind. I love this dream, but sometimes we forget that to undo old habits takes time. And our day to day lives don’t make it easy. You will feel dread and dismay as you realise all the shops around you vastly rely on fast fashion practices. And you may even buy from these shops again. By patient and realistic with yourself, rather than punishing yourself and giving up on it altogether. It’ll take effort and time, but slowly you will enjoy seeking out quality garments and feel good about the positive impact you are making.
If you’re interested in learning more about fast fashion Australian Ethical put out a report on the effects last year. The Good On You app also makes checking a brand for its impact on people, animals and the planet very easy!