Staying relevant in the fashion industry, while maintaining my ethics, was something that I grappled with a lot. As issues of sustainability and ethics became more important in my life, I began to question if “staying relevant” was really an issue at all. Was this just an insecurity that I developed after 15 years of advertising telling me I wasn’t good enough if I didn’t have the latest trend? I realized the questions I was having were actually masking an even deeper truth. I was unsure about who I was, and fast fashion only perpetuated that confusion.
"I was unsure about who I was, and fast fashion only perpetuated that confusion."
Beginning as a teenager, as most of us deal with issues of identity, I questioned who I was and how I wanted to present that person to the world. One year I felt goth and the next year hippie. As fast as I could throw out one identity (and the clothes that went along with it), I was replacing it with a new one. Stores like Hot Topic, Wet Seal, and Forever 21 provided trendy clothes at dirt cheap prices, and fueled my search with lots of wear and waste. Although I am thankful for these years of exploration, they lasted way too long, and far beyond my years of teenage angst.
Throughout college, and into my career as a model, this confusion didn’t go away. With newer, more trendy stores like H&M and Zara, I never wanted to stop and think about my own personal style… the one that reflected who I am deep inside. I wanted to keep up with the trends and remained prey to the constant “Hot and Not” lists that advertisers and fast fashion CEOs count on. It wasn’t until graduating college, going vegan, and investigating the vast environmental issues facing us, that I started to even question who made my clothes.
A film premiere in New York of the documentary called True Cost was the catalyst for my journey. Released after the Rana Plaza disaster on April 24, 2013, it highlights the astonishing inequality that garment workers are subjected to across the globe. It shows the horror of the 1,134 people who were killed and the over 2,500 that were injured in Dhaka, Bangladesh when the complex collapsed. Despite earning my degree in Biology, the massive affect of the clothing we wear on the environment hadn't occurred to me. True Cost demonstrates how and why the fashion industry is one of the largest polluter on Earth, perhaps less damaging than the oil industry alone.** Fast fashion being the main culprit. This film was not only an eye-opener but it also marked a huge turning point in my life.
I knew something had to change and that my mindless consumption of fast fashion had to stop. My true identity, no longer a question of outward appearance but something deep within, was finally able to take shape. Limiting my purchases to consciously manufactured pieces and consuming only that which I truly need, each item of clothing that I would own from that day forward needed to truly reflect the person that I am. My clothing also needed to last, which meant I had to be comfortable with that identity for a long period of time.
For the first time I was forced to really ask myself, "Who am I?" and "How will I present this person to the World?". Although it was difficult at first, with practice and time I have been able to curate a wardrobe I feel confident in wearing over and over again. I have pieces that are sustainable and ethically made that all fit together. I have formed a unique capsule collection of clothing that confidently reflects my true self.
"Limiting my purchases to consciously manufactured pieces and consuming only that which I truly need, each item of clothing that I would own from that day forward needed to truly reflect the person that I am."
I now know that the clothing choices I make have a huge impact. “80 billion pieces of clothing are bought each year, and on average we only wear 20% of the clothes in our closet. The average American also throws away 82 pounds of textiles each year, adding to 11 million tons of textile waste in the U.S. alone." Giving up fast fashion therefore reduces huge amounts of toxic waste in landfills. Without much effort on the part of consumers, buying less and choosing well, also reduces the degradation of Earth’s waterways and ecosystems.
Climate change is real. We are using up the Earth’s resources at a rate that compares to no other time in history. In order to sustain life in the way that humans are living now, we would need SEVEN planet Earths. The little things that we, as individuals, do everyday all add up to combat climate change. Ask the question, “Who made my Clothes?”, and stop supporting brands that exploit their labor. Investigate the environmental affects that our clothing has. Fashion Revolution and one of my favorite brands, Zady, both have vast amounts of information on their websites available for free. If you haven't seen the movie, True Cost is available for viewing via their website, Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. I cannot recommend it enough.
Giving up fast fashion has not only been an inspiring and fun journey for me with my clothes, but also helped me find confidence in how I present myself to the world. Never underestimate the power of small, daily actions that all add up to be a huge reduction in our carbon footprint. Not only will you be supporting our fellow humans and the planet, but you may even find out more about yourself.
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“Take two very simple actions that we perform every single day: getting dressed and eating. Now start a journey backwards – to where your food and your clothes come from. At the other end, you will rarely find happy people, treated with dignity and respect. Human beings working at the bottom of any supply chain are often treated like slaves, without reference to our common humanity. So ‘fashion’ – i.e. what we wear every single day, has huge relevance and huge consequences on human, social and environmental capital.” - Liva Firth, Eco Age
** Update: We actually have no credible sources that can accurately demonstrate just how big of a polluter the fashion industry is. Check out my fellow blogger Alden Wicker's piece for Racked explaining the difficulty to quantify fashion's impact here: "We Have No Idea How Bad Fashion Actually Is for the Environment".