So if you have made it until here, and read all the facts on the environmental and human impacts of fast fashion, you might be wondering what you can do.
Is it fine if I just stop buying on fast fashion retailers?
Unfortunately, no. While fast fashion is to blame for many of the problems in the fashion industry, these companies are not the only ones to carry blame. Higher price tags don’t necessarily correlate with higher pays to factory workers, and with higher sustainability standards. In their 2019 report on the state of pay in the fashion industry, Clean Clothes, a global campaigning organisation focused on improving conditions for garment workers globally, ranked 19 out of the 20 companies they surveyed the lowest possible grade. Among these there were some fast fashion companies, yes, but other names on the list were Hugo Boss, Adidas and Levi Strauss & Co.
At trace collective we believe that transparency is a fundamental accountability tool, and here the picture looks even more stark for high-end brands. The 2019 Fashion Revolution Transparency Index shows an astonishing amount of luxury brands at the very bottom of their list – among them Versace, Valentino, Chanel, Carolina Herrera, Armani and Michael Kors.
Transparency is a fundamental tool to push the industry to reduce their human and environmental costs – living wage salaries and sustainable sourcing should not be nice-to-haves in the 21st century, and certainly not in an industry worth 1.3 trillion in retail sales globally, per year.
However, transparency is not all. Opening up on supply chains and responsibility practices needs to be matched with clear positive steps to improve this. H&M for instance, ranks as 5th most transparent, but this doesn't mean that they’re doing much well. Six years after having committed to pay all workers a living wage back in 2013, today not a single worker in their supply chain is making a living wage. Additionally, since 2013 they have burned 12 tonnes PER YEAR of clothing (sadly a common practice in the industry). Only last year they ended up sitting with $4.3 billion in unsold clothes.
So let’s remind ourselves that while a necessary step, transparency is not the end of the journey, and that the fact that a brand is opening up about their practices doesn’t mean that these practices are in any way OK. Another brand that does well in the transparency index is Burberry, who destroyed 36.8 million USD of its own merchandise in 2017, something they admitted in their annual report was standard practice in order to preserve its reputation and exclusivity. Being transparent is great, but if your practices are terrible, publicly acknowledging it without taking very clear steps to change is simply not enough.
Well, all this is very complicated. Are we all meant to go around naked or in rags? What can we do to change things?
Great question. First of all, you are reading this, and you have gotten to end of a series of difficult blog posts. Being curious about our impact is the first step to creating change. Here are a few suggestions to take it further:
Don’t buy fast fashion. We’re sure that came across throughout the three previous posts, but just in case we want to reiterate it. It’s our choice as consumers to decide what is it that we are buying into, and our purchase is our vote. We wear the stories of those who made our clothes, and nobody wants to wear stories of oppression.
Ask companies #whomademyclothes, demanding transparency in supply chains by leveraging our collective power on social media.
Don't be green-washed. Don't buy just because a brand uses terms such as Green, Eco, Conscious or Sustainable to describe some of their products. Ask the hard questions, hopefully our previous articles have given you tools to ask. And, if you are not convinced, take your money elsewhere. There are so many incredible businesses that you can support!
When buying new, think fabrics: what is this piece made with? This is something that is luckily compulsory for brands to disclose. Is it organic cotton, or are you paying for an insane amount of pesticides that harmed our soil and possibly workers’ health? Is it synthetic? That’s just wearing petrol, and you probably don’t want that near your skin. Don't pay for putting more damaging stuff out in the world.
Buy second hand clothes, or rent. Yes, we know, revolutionary. But this is the future, trust us. It’s in our plans at Trace Collective to make this very easy for you soon (surprise coming!) but in the meantime, find your local vintage store or, even better, charity shop, and go take a look.
How you take care of your clothes matters, a lot. Wash less, use a GuppyFriend washing bag, and learn how to mend and love your clothes. As Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, put it, “Respecting the clothes we own reinforces the fact that we should respect the people who make them."
When you really need something new, shop in highly ethical and sustainable brands. Stay Wild Swim (who make amazing swimwear from recycled plastics from the ocean) have put together this brilliant directory.
And last but not least, start the conversation! Share this article with your friends and family, and if you have comments or questions, put them below in our comments section.
At trace collective we deeply believe that our dollar is our vote (or pound, or euro). There is so much change that we can achieve collectively by being more mindful with where we put our money. And there is so much gratification that comes from aligning our purchases with our values. We hope you can take the first steps with us!
Thank you for reading until here! This is the last post of our #fastfashion series, the others can be found here (introduction), here (fast fashion and ethics) and here (fast fashion and environment). As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.