Updated: Sep 19
“Fashion can be a universal player in protecting the planet.”
As slow-fashion, mindful living enthusiasts, many of us fully know and understand the difficulties, inconveniences, and sacrifices experienced when embracing a more eco-conscious life.
Our mission, in addition to providing unique original art/art apparel, is to educate, empower, and energize our community at-small and at-large on evolving to a more sustainable mindset and lifestyle.
I, like many of us, love fashion and style-- we love expressing ourselves through our apparel, accessories, art, makeup etc.
Fashion is a colossal industry and has been significant ever since humans began clothing and adorning our bodies with the elements. Of course as humanity has evolved and grown in number so has our excess. Fashion is undoubtedly a key contributor in global waste and pollution.
As influential as the Fashion industry is, it’s time we use this influence for the benefit and protection of humanity and our environment(s).
This week's corresponding MILF Monday post revolves around what companies can do and what some have been/are doing to repair the fashion industry's relationship with garment workers, consumers, and the environment. In a separate article, I will also touch on the "phenomenon" of greenwashing as some brands aim to appear sustainable while doing the absolute bare minimum and/or being deceitful.
As mentioned in previous articles and will continue to be uttered, fashion companies have an immense opportunity to help transform the fashion industry for the better. As an eco-conscious Art and Slow-fashion lifestyle brand, it is beyond reassuring to see other artists and designers thriving and evolving in the space of sustainability and mindfulness.
Capitalism, our current landscape of it specifically, has a gnarly and nasty reputation and reality of operating within a "dog eat dog world"mode. I, and many others, believe in there being a healthier system of checks and balances to help ensure little to no exploitation of garment workers is occurring, that production/use of materials and chemicals are considered prior to the creation process along with their disposability in the safest, least harmful way possible, and that consumers are educated and made aware of the responsibility and power they(we) hold in keeping capitalism, companies, and ourselves accountable.
Oh and please keep in mind, that any observations made in this article, past, and future articles are not made to blindly vilify society's current solutions as there may truly be nothing better in place right now. Our observations are to highlight, learn, and educate others on what is and what could potentially be while keeping in mind the reality of the current state of the fashion industry and other production industries altogether.
So, what can fashion companies do to mindfully drive change throughout the industry?
How can you identify a company that's authentically doing the work and setting the tone?
Let's get into our general overview, shall we?.
Eventually, we will have articles to further expand and discuss each subsection below. Once they're available, the corresponding articles will be linked back to their sections here.
Fair wages and treatment of garment workers
It has been horrifically uncovered and established over decades that many, one too many, garment workers in the fashion space especially, fast trashion (couldn't resist) are:
- Paid ridiculously low, unlivable wages
- Working 10-12hrs + a day in crappy conditions for said low wages
- Being physically and mentally abused in the workplace
Unchecked capitalism, mass/overproduction, overconsumption, sketchy textiles and chemicals and apathy are five major ingredients to a quite literally unsustainable recipe for human and ecological disaster...pie.
It is not enough to only consider the materials being used in apparel and accessories. True Eco-conscious and/or mindful companies are hell-bent on ensuring garment workers, artisans, and the like are working in mentally, emotionally, and physically safe conditions. Swapping out all the polyester for organic cotton or recycled nylon doesn't automatically promise that humans, more often than not women, are being paid a livable salary or being valued as key contributors to a business' bottom line.
As we rightfully so condemn slavery and ignorances of the past, we should fight to ensure our products are not made with the stink of modern-day slavery. Unfortunately, we know this is way more prevalent today than others would like to admit.
The 2013 Bangladesh Rana Plaza collapse, along with countless other factory tragedies, was one of many that forced the world to pay attention. In about ninety seconds, 1,134 humans perished with roughly 2,500 others being injured and maimed due to avoidable structural failures that were brought to management's attention by the workers. When profit and a cute fit outweigh human life, these are the grotesque realities in which we live. Sadly, the world's attention span seems to get shorter and shorter as the years go by so these plights get buried and or ignored by the masses.
As heartbreaking as it is or can be to dive into this topic, we empathetically look forward to shedding more light on this issue.
How to spot a fashion company that's doing right by its workers and artisans?
This can be a difficult toss up because humans "be" lying. Brand transparency is one of the biggest ways a company can build trust with their community. Is the brand working with vendors who pay their workers a livable wage? Are the items so cheap and inexpensive you wonder, "Who is getting paid to make a shitty blouse for $10???". Are garment workers receiving adequate breaks and lunches, or are they being pressured to work and toil every second of their shifts to meet quotas?
Many conscious companies know that being transparent with who creates their product, their workers' quality of life, and the workers' working conditions can be and is extremely crucial in showing others that, yes, we can respect our fellow humans for their skilled labour by paying them enough as they work in ideal building conditions that are up to code while overall making a profit.
Look for brands who have a thorough sustainability statement that includes the human aspect of production. Some brands may also have special certificates and qualifications that speak to their relationships with vendors, manufacturers, and any human labour being used. I know it can be a tall order especially with the prevalence of greenwashing. Even mindful brands have to use our better judgment to trust manufacturers are being honest with how they treat and pay garment workers.
Another immediate hallmark of a mindful fashion company will be its library of textiles that are sourced and used for apparel and accessories.
But first, what's a textile?
The definition of textile is any material made of interlacing fibers, including carpet and geotextiles. Any woven or knitted fabric is a textile.
Textiles are essentially the different types of fabrics and materials that we interact with on a daily basis. Packaging, apparel, home decor, construction/home improvement tools, medical supplies, and more all use a variety of textiles specific to their respective industries.
Historically, humanity has relied on natural and organic fibers like wool, (one of my faves), silk (another fave), cotton, linen, hemp, and etc. for apparel and accessories. Many of these textiles are typically more ideal in regards to biodegradability and/or breathability. This isn't to say the natural shorties don't come with their own list of cons. More often than not, however, eco-conscious brands prioritize using natural and/or organic fibers and textiles for their products.
Why do textiles matter, specifically for apparel and accessories?
Well for starters, we know skin is our largest organ- absorbing most if not all of the things it is exposed to and taking the brunt of said exposures. Certain textiles, natural and synthetic, with or without chemicals, have been known to cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, and other bodily anomalies due to the nature of their textile properties or added chemicals.
We've been teasing since last December and are excited for our upcoming blog series, "The Ultimate Mean Girls: Meet The Plastics". This series will initially focus on synthetic textiles and the pros and cons of their usage and application in our everyday world. We'll also get into the natural fabrics along with their benefits and lesser-known dark sides. What we can say ahead of the series is that one of the most significant aspects of synthetic fabrics is the fact they're made from plastic and don't decompose back to organic matter which we've learned can and do have major repercussions for humans, nature, and the environment.
Spoiler Alert Reminder: Humans are a part of, not apart from, nature so yes these things that may be "out of sight, out of mind" affect us as well.
How to spot a brand that's walking that textile talk?
Personally, as a consumer, one of the biggest turn offs and red flags when I shop or browse online is the absence of adequate fiber content details on a product listing. Nothing makes me leave a site quicker than seeing "Stretch" as the only fabric description. When doing my sporadiK monthly or weekly research of established and smaller, slow and fast fashion brands, I will always clutch my proverbial pearls if there is little to no clear statement on an item's fabric details.
As a conscious consumer, I want to know whether something is polyester, nylon, or a wool/acrylic blend at least!
As a conscious brand, I want to know what I'm buying so my community and supporters know what they're buying so they can further make the best informed decision possible.
Companies who are cognizant of AND care about the role synthetic fibers play in plastic pollution and production will consider a few other routes to take. They might completely avoid using/manufacturing anything that's synthetic or they might consider using recycled synthetic fibers vs virgin fibers. We won't get too deep into the Virgin vs Recycled Synthetic Versus match just yet, but the consensus seems to be that synthetic is synthetic, and we should probably avoid their usage in clothes to a greater extent.
I encourage any and all macro and micro fashion brands, whether new or established, to do the research and develop a genuine interest and understanding of the fabrics being used or planning to be used for apparel/accessories production.
Reassess your brand's values and make a decision from there.
Overproduction & Overconsumption
Closets, Landfills, and a PLETHORA of fashion warehouses all have a particular thing in common.
WAY too many clothes and accessories taking up unnecessary space.
"Fashion industry produces on average 150 billion garments every year, roughly enough for 20 items for each person in the world, that 30% of unsold clothing starts to equal a huge volume of wasted materials."
Source: Good Maker Tales
Overproduction is a result of imbalanced capitalism and gluttonous profit goals. Overconsumption is a result of imbalanced consumer spending habits and damn good marketing.
Profit and Consumer demand are a formidable duo and causes as to why factories and brands feel compelled to create as much product as possible in as little time as possible. This has rendered an awkwardly wasteful yet expected dance between fashion's supply and demand.
All fast fashion and most big fashion companies thrive when their audiences over-consume their overproduced product.
An eco-conscious brand understands that there will always be a need and desire for apparel and accessories, but why not be more mindful? Said awareness has led to a resurgence of and growing interest in "slow"-fashion a.k.a. original fashion before industrialization came through and did its big one. The response to overproduction and overconsumption has also seen many small and larger fashion companies opt for pre-order, made-to-order and/or print-on-demand manufacturing. This means that instead of producing overwhelming amounts of product that are sure to be tossed out at some level of the production and/or selling process, brands prioritize making collections or items in small-batches or use a "made-to-order" model. This also means that consumers are taking a more active approach in their spending habits when it comes to wearing their wardrobe and not just buying all the fast fashion trends.
These particular models ensure that products are made when a customer puts in an order via pre-order or when the item is fully launched, but still made-to-order.
If it's not apparent, I am a fan of these slower production models, because not only is this my business' foundation, but I think it will hopefully help to instill more patience with consumers on a human behavioural level. We could collectively benefit from slowing things down from time to time or finding a balance that doesn't overwhelm our system.
On-demand production seems to be taking off. Slow fashion is becoming more and more prominent. The rise of Thredup and such companies have proven that the customer has a will to be more sustainable in their consumption.
How to tell if a brand is overproducing and promoting overconsumption?
This could be a trickier pillar to assess because there are several factors that affect brands overproducing. Some, perhaps many, mindful companies will share how they operate in terms of items being made-to-order, available through pre-order, small-batch and so-on. In general, we may also recognize items as being in or out of stock and nothing further.
For a good chunk of brands in the streetwear market, acquiring excess inventory is usually due to manufacturers requiring MOQs or Minimum Order Quantities. In hopes of being unbiased, there could be cost-saving circumstances that make sense for obtaining huge amounts of product especially if it's a recurring brand staple, i.e. a logo jumper, or tee. More often than not however, this inventory ends up getting destroyed or donated to discount outlet stores as we've seen with fashion brands across the board.
Brands who overproduce usually have a bunch of product, hundreds, may be thousands, of product listings with no indication of said items being made-to-order or available via pre-order. Just hella product in the warehouse chilling, collecting dust, waiting to be purchased. Think about the labour required to make products that get trashed; it's beyond an unneccesary waste of materials as well as time. The fashion industry's worry of missing out on profit due no available product or there being longer production times are a matter of repositioning all the fastness, instant gratification to which we've become accustomed and in some cases addicted.
Brands that promote overconsumption constantly bombard their buyers with ad after ad, sale after sale, especially in effort to clear old inventory to make way for new styles. Conscious companies will encourage their community to purchase new apparel and accessories only when "necessary"which is relative right? Mindful brands should feel confident in educating consumers with the different ways a wardrobe can be preserved and amplified with what one already owns all the while promoting their products. Nonetheless, this is another one of those awkward dances of wanting to sell product and expand business, but not too much at the expense of genuine human and environmental sustainability.
So What's Up
There are amazing platforms and brands like Good on You that help more mindful consumers assess and get the low-down of how their fav brands hold up when it comes to being a sustainable and/or ethical brand.
Our goal is to absolutely be on that list sooner than later with a "Good", preferably "Great" rating. We will forever applaud the phenomenal people, groups, and brands who have been and are leading the charge— serving as blueprints that the fashion industry can keep the health and safety of humanity and the planet in mind when it comes to being laced in some fly shit.
Until these topics are no longer the breeding ground for the malarkey that they are, I will continue to talk about them until the tides turn in our eco-conscious favour.
As much as and as long as I have loved fashion and nature (since birth or we'll say it's in my DNA) I feel beyond obligated and compelled to be on the frontlines of progress that see these two areas of life working and playing in symbiotic harmony.
Fashion is the perfect universal player to help evolve and/or preserve the fashion industry, humanity, and environment for the better-- at least better than what we've been doing.
I am constantly reminding self and others that things are not perfect, but with enough awareness, action, compassion, and innovation, fashion can be and should be used for good and not evil. It's up to each one of us, consumers and companies, to know or choose which side we're on and how we want to help drive that change.
Thank you for reading. If you found this article informative or have additional thoughts, please feel free to share and/or comment below.