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Turns out, you CAN love fashion and be environmentally conscious

Photography By RIISE
Published 10.06.21

Remember Isla Fisher’s character Becky, aka “The Girl in The Green Scarf” from Confessions of a Shopaholic?

The one who was glued to shopfront window displays, excited by the sight of colourful cashmere, drawn to the new collection section but oblivious to the impacts of her penchant for shopping. Well, that was once me (fortunately, minus the crippling debt).

It’s understandable that we have all at some point been sucked into a vortex of “buy as many garments as possible, as quickly as possible”, when companies are producing up to 52 “micro-seasons” per year. Ever since the noughties, the spring/summer and fall/winter seasons have gradually been made redundant. We’re deliberately set up to be “off trend” as soon as we make a purchase, which leads to an insatiable appetite for the latest style or newest silhouette. But our whims come at a cost. An environmental cost so great my shopping habits could no longer bear the temptation.

What changed? Knowledge. It’s easy to buy a cheap cotton T-shirt when you don’t know it took almost 3000 litres of water to make, or a pair of jeans that you didn’t know exposed workers in developing countries to harmful chemicals for the sake of short lived “trends”. The truth is, the fashion industry produces 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions every year. Green Scarf Girl clearly didn’t put these facts at the top of her shopping list, but I would like to add them to mine.

This shift in my consciousness didn’t take place overnight. In reality, I’m still juggling my passion for fashion with my immense environmental concern. For me, fashion outwardly reflects my personality. Everything I wear encompasses a story I want to tell and an identity I want to share. My awareness was raised when I was assigned as an intern to write an article about up-and-coming sustainable brands at a small fashion publication, and down the rabbit hole I went. The more information I found, the more I wanted to know.

There were two main driving forces for change. One came packaged in an Amazon Prime subscription and the other through The ‘Gram. The True Cost is a documentary that notably scares you shitless. It looks at the impact of fast fashion on people and the planet, it pulls back the curtain on an unseen part of the world and asks us to consider, who pays the price for our clothing?

I came across sustainable fashion journalist Clare Press on Instagram after I started looking for formidable voices to follow in the industry. Press was the first ever sustainability editor for Vogue and is the founder of podcast and publication The Wardrobe Crisis. I turn to Press when I’m looking for answers and need reassurance that my two loves (fashion and the environment) can in fact co-exist.

I’ve learnt that fashion isn’t just about shopping for yourself. There’s still a whole industry to explore and enjoy: the designers, the art, the runway shows. We just need to be mindful of slowing our consumption down and aligning with brands that mirror our values. No one said sustainable has to be boring. If you would like to start reducing your consumption, check out what has helped me. Oh, and please pass these tips on to Green Scarf Girl while you’re at it.

Four ways to reduce consumption if you’re a fashion nut like me

1. Wear something at least 30 times

As my eye locks in on a garment I absolutely “must” have, I ask myself, “will I wear this at least 30 times?” There’s an online movement called #30wears created by EcoAge founder and sustainable fashion pioneer, Livia Firth. It aims to save you money and support a better fashion system entirely.

2. Follow brands and people who align with your values

Social media can deeply influence our opinion, outlook and in this case, our fashion choices. I’m one to be easily tempted, so instead of wading through garments from fast-fashion brands and those that support it, I unfollowed them. Now I fill my feed with sustainable brands and voices that will fulfill my values. Like ESSE, CAES, Maggie Marilyn, and changemakers such as Livia Firth, Clare Press, Jemma Finch and Dominique Drakeford.

3. Contribute to a circular economy

As special events trickle in, I get the urge to splurge, but I don’t want to purchase something for it to then sit in the back of my wardrobe or be discarded entirely and end up in landfill. Renting allows me to find a fun new outfit for the event (one I probably couldn’t afford brand new, I might add) and then return it the next day. I have also been scrolling through tons of second-hand stores, like Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal, Hawkeye Vintage and Depop. Instead of going into shops or sites that promote fast fashion, you can spend hours (and hours) scrolling through sites that contribute to a more circular economy.

4. Tell the brand’s story

Whenever I wear something from a sustainable brand and someone says, “that dress is absolutely gorgeous”, I always respond with the story behind the brand. Explaining why the garment is so special makes it feel even more fabulous every time I wear it. I’ve found it also encourages others to jump on board.

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