The Show Notes:
Hello and welcome to Everyday Ethical: A podcast about all of the small ways we can be more sustainable without the pressure to be perfect.
I’m your host Bethany Austin I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty free cleaning.
In today’s episode we’re going to be talking about something that’s been quite a buzzword recently: Ethical fashion. Since clothes are so a huge part of day-to-day life for most people, the thought of having to change the way that we shop can feel massively overwhelming. Trust me, I’ve been there. So I want to talk to you about why it’s important that we think about where our clothes are coming from in terms of protecting planet and, most important, other people. And I’m going to discuss how we can make small, manageable steps to more sustainable shopping habits, too.
Let’s dive in.
As always on Everyday Ethical, I’m going to talk about my own relationship with this aspect of ethical living to kick things off. And, as you might remember from my first teaser episode of this podcast, I have had QUITE the relationship with clothes over the years. I have gone from literally the least ethical shopper in the world to someone who is, well, almost there. I’m like…95% ethical when it comes to clothing haha.
To put everything into perspective we need to go back a few years, to when I was a 16-year-old fashion blogger. Yep, that’s right a full on OOTD, “look at all of the stuff I bought in H&M today, guys” fashion blogger. I haven’t always been interested in my impact on the planet…clearly! So, yeah, I was a fashion blogger, but I was also working as a waitress – not in a cocktail bar – but in an Italian restaurant. I was earning a massive £3.79 per hour originally – did somebody say “baller”? – and I was also still at school so I was only working about 10 hours per week. You do the math on what my monthly income was because all I can tell you is that it wasn’t a lot! But I really wanted to be like all of the big fashion bloggers that I saw on Insta and on my Bloglovin feed, who just seemed to have an ever replenshing wardrobe.
So, to feed this need I had for a constant stream of new clothes, I needed to buy items that were as cheap as possible. And lots of them. That meant that I would often spent my rare days off scouring sale rails of highstreet shops in the hopes of finding something, ANYTHING, that was mildly on trend and would look good in an Instagram photo.
Hmmhmm, as I admitted in my teaser episode, that meant buying clothes even if I knew I wouldn’t wear them ever again or if they were literally the wrong size, just so that I could get that juicy juicy content.
Anyway, eventually I stopped being a fashion blogger, but the bad habits I’d picked up continued. UNTIL one day I saw people tweeting about “Fashion Revolution Week”. I’d never heard of it before, but in one of the tweets under that hashtag someone had recommended watching “The True Cost”. Truth be told, I was trying to avoid doing uni work and it was easy to get hold of on Netflix, so I just watched it there and then. And that’s when my relationship with clothes changed. Right after watching it.
It really is a great documentary and I would massive recommend watching it if you do want to learn even more about the fashion industry after you finish listening to this podcast.
So, basically, within a few days I then read up a tonne on fast fashion – don’t worry if you don’t know what that term means, we’ll get to it! – and I knew that I had to change the way I was shopping if I wanted to feel comfortable with what I was supporting with my money.
Slowly but surely I started phasing out high street shops in various ways which we’ll go into later, until, now, I’m almost completely free of it. I only buy, like, undies, gym clothes and shoes on the high street from time to time because they’re things that I deffo don’t want to use second hand personally. But yes, almost completely ethical you could say.
So there you have it, that’s my own journey with more sustainable clothes shopping and it has been one hellll of a journey where I have learnt a hellll of a lot.
Luckily for you guys, I’m going to save you all of the months of mistakes and learning curves – although I’m sure you’ll still have a few of those – and tell you everything I know so far about fast fashion and how you can avoid supporting it.
It makes sense to start with thee basics right? What the F is fast fashion? Well, according to our good ol’ friend Merriam-Webster, it is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.”
So we’re talking your Boohoos, your Primarks, your Fashion Novas, your Topshops – and even a lot of higher end brands, too. All of these companies that seem to have new stock constantly and are massively “trend” focused as opposed to quality focused. Because who needs a red snakeskin PVC bodycon dress to be high quality when it’s going to be out of style in a month, right? And yes that is something I actually just saw on one of these websites.
In terms of fast fashion, it’s even been said that the classic “Spring/Summer” and “Autumn/Winter” clothing seasons have been replaced by 52 “micro-seasons”. That means that every week is a new season, with new clothes to come with it.
Now, there’s a bit of contention here that I think it’s important to point out. So, shop owners will tell you that by providing fast fashion, they are simply fulfilling the growing demand of consumers for “NEW NEW NEW”. But others argue that the shops themselves are creating the demand by making people feel like they need “NEW NEW NEW” constantly. They say it’s a system created to make you feel like an untrendy loser unless you buy this new T-shirt. Thinking about it, I’d probably say that it’s a mix of the two and that each one drives the other. I think consumers want more, the shops capitalise off that, realise it makes them money and play on this consuming desire to the extreme.
But anyway, if you’ve not really looked into fast fashion before – kinda like me a couple of years ago – you’re probably thinking “But why is this even a problem”. More choice and the ability to buy loads of clothes for a small amount of money kinda feels like a win-win. I get it.
BUT, as one of my favourite quotes by Lucy Siegle, “Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.”
The truth of thee matter is that fast fashion is a hugely damaging industry: It treats the planet and people like crap for the sake of our convenience and wallets.
Firstly, let’s talk about what I think is the most important reason to abandon fast fashion: its mistreatment of the people involved in making our clothes.
Whilst a cheap price tag is brilliant for the person buying an item, those costs have to be made up somewhere. Usually this is through the exploitation of workers and paying them a ridiculously low wages. A lot of garment factories in the UK have closed down and moved abroad so that the companies can avoid the “minimum wage” laws that we have over here. And not only are these workers from other countries being paid tiny amounts, but they’re also working long hours in horrible conditions.
Here are some facts for you. H&M are said to have fired 251 workers due to pregnancy in Cambodia and India – You can only imagine the impact that this would’ve had on those women and their families at a time when they most needed a solid income. It’s also reported that 8,000 workers have collapsed in their factories due to heat and exhaustion between 2010 and 2016 in just cambodia. Topshop have been linked to sweatshops that pay just 44p per hour. And in definitely one of the most horrific stories linked to fast fashion, the Rana Plaza Disaster in 2014 saw1,138 people killed – many of whom were garment factory workers – in a building where a load of prominent companies had their clothing made collapsed. And the worst part? The companies were warned that the building was unsafe but they kept people at work. Because, of course, their profit was more important that people’s lives.
And those that work in fast fashion factories aren’t the only people to suffer, either.
The huge demand for cotton means to make the clothes that we wear means that farmers from countries outside of the UK that have warmer climates, like India for example, use pesticides in order to maintain a high yield of the crop. But these chemicals can take as much as 60% of a farmer’s budget, which means that they often have to take out loans to be able to keep up with the demand for the cotton. According to People Tree who are an incredible slow fashion brand, in Punjab between 1990 and 2007, 40,000 farmers committed suicide because they couldn’t repay these loans.
So, as you can see, the impact on people – innocent people – that fast fashion has is absolutely shocking and reason enough to not support it, if you ask me.
But, on top of that, fashion is also just god awful for our planet.
In fact, it’s the world’s second biggest polluter.
As it stands, polyester is the most popular fabric being used in the textile industry. Like, 90% of Primark is made from the stuff! Which is all fine and dandy until you realise that it’s not biodegradable. That means that when you pop it in the washing machine, tiny particles are released into our water system. These are called “microfibres” or “microplastics” – which is another buzz term you’ve probably heard thrown around recently – and they are polluting rivers and oceans and are even eventually making their way into our food chain. That’s terrifying!
But polyester isn’t the only material that is causing havoc. The water needed to grow the huge amounts of cotton that fast fashion requires to maintain its 52 micro-seasons is also putting pressure on the environment. As you can imagine, it can be particularly problematic in countries that are at risk of drought, many of which are the places where these clothes are being produced. So, here’s a fact for ya, it takes 2720 litres of water to produce one single t-shirt. That’s the equivalent to 3 years of drinking water for you. So, like forget turning the tap off when you brush your teeth, if you want to actually save water, stop buying t-shirts so frequently!
On top of those two environmental factors – because apparently they’re not bad enough – many of the chemicals used to dye clothes are “bioaccumulative” (meaning the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can excrete or metabolise it) and the carbon footprint of these clothes coming from all over the world is huge.
PHEW that was a lot to take in, wasn’t it?
I know, because I was in your position, that getting all of that info can feel massively overwhelming. But don’t worry, we’re now going to go through how you can avoid giving money to companies that promote these practices. And we’re going to do it step by step, so that it doesn’t all feel like one massive leap into the darkness.
And also, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that you have to learn how to weave your own dresses out of hemp. You are going to be able to buy clothes again! This isn’t the end of the road.
There are a tonne of ways that you can avoid buying as much fast fashion, some of which are completely free (wooop woop), some of which are pretty cheap and some of which do require you to fork over your hard earned cash.
Let’s cover the free things that you can do first because, let’s be honest, those are the ones that we all want to know about.
First and foremost, JUST BUY LESS! I know, right? So simple but so damn effective, trust me.
Less buying means less waste and less demand for these damaging clothing stores.
It’s simple to understand, but I know that it’s much more difficult to do. It’s hard to avoid ads for clothes online and the constant pressure to keep up with what’s “in” mean that the desire to buy has never been so strong.
So, one of the things that I found most helpful in terms of buying less was setting myself some rules or boundaries when shopping. And I’d recommend you do the same. At the beginning my rule was “I can’t buy anything the first time that I see it”. So basically no impulse purchases. And to be honest, the desire to buy that thing almost entirely disappeared usually within, like, 20 minutes. So, by just doing that, I massively reduced what I was buying.
Once I’d got to grips with that, my rule changed to “I can’t buy anything unless I donate something else”. That made it way harder to buy things – even if I really wanted it – because it meant getting rid of another much loved piece.
And now my rule is, “I can only buy something if I really need it and I must try to find it from a sustainable source first”. It’s worth noting that that doesn’t mean I completely avoid fast fashion, but that I am trying to do better.
By slowly building up to that final rule, the whole thing has felt less overwhelming.
Can you think of any rules that you could set yourself to make sure you shop less? I would love to hear them so pop them on your Instagram story with #EverydayEthical and tag me @BethanyPaigeAustin (it’ll be linked in the show notes, as always) so that I can see. Or if you’re struggling to think of one, slide into my DMs and I’ll help you out!
Righty, so onto the other free things that you can do to support fast fashion less.
This is something that kind of goes hand in hand with my last point, because, in order to buy less clothing, you need to go through clothing less quickly. That means looking after what you’ve got, okay? Goodbye floordrobe. Goodbye washing delicates in the machine. Goodbye tumble dryers full stop because those are awful for the planet anyway! Also, learn how to do things like sew on a button or re-hem something so that you don’t have to throw something away as soon as it’s a tiny bit damaged.
By doing small things like that, you’ll prolong the life of your clothes, again meaning that you won’t need to shop as often. Win for being sustainable and a win for your wallet!
Now, let’s cover the things that require money but won’t break your bank and, are in fact, really cheap!
One amazing way to avoid supporting fast fashion, whilst still being able to wear trendy clothes is to buy second-hand. Yep, Depop and Ebay are your besties now, my sustainable friend. As we’ve established in this episode, people buy shit they don’t need. And sometimes those things end up being sold online. You get the nice clothes but you don’t support the manufacturer. Great, right?
And, of course, charity shops are another fab option for secondhand shopping, if you’re willing to hunt a bit more and, ya know, actually leave your house. In that case you’re not only avoiding fast fashion, but you’re supporting a good cause too. So you be even smug about it.
Finally, let’s talk about the things that do require a lot more moola on your part. Now, a lot of these steps could be put into the category of “investments” meaning that eventually you’ll make your money back. But I’m not so thick that I think everyone has the money to make the initial investment – myself often included – so I’m not going to go on and on about how these things are cheaper in the long run.
You already know that.
So, let’s talk about supporting slow fashion brands. These are companies that use fair and ethical labour practices, pay a living wage to all of their workers and often use organic cotton, which means their farming methods far less damaging to the planet. Naturally, that means that the cost of the garments is higher than those in high street stores.
That’s one of the reasons that shopping more sustainably requires a huge mindset shift: It means understanding that the work that goes into making a t-shirt is worth far more than £3.
If you can afford to support these brands that are doing SO much good, then please do. Your money is a vote for what you believe in, so spend it wisely.
Finally, in the same vein as looking after your clothes – buy your clothes to last! If you can afford to spend more money of a jacket, shoes or a t-shirt that are high quality then do. It just means less waste, which is incredible in itself, even if you still buy it from a fast fashion retailer.
Oh, and one thing I almost forgot to mention: In terms of making your clothing last, that can also mean not falling into the trend trap. Ya know, learn what you like and what you feel comfortable in and try your best not to be swayed by what’s “in” at the moment. That way your clothes are much more likely to be worn for years, as opposed to months.
Just before I go, I want to point you in the direction of the Fashion Transparency Index which is a document that says how transparent the supply chains of various fashion shops are. It basically works on the assumption that, if a shop is shady about where their clothes are made and how, they’ve probably got something to hide. So, it’s a great way to check if a shop would be considered “fast fashion” before shopping there. I’ll be sure to link it in the show notes.
There you have it, that’s how you can start to reduce your support for fast fashion brands. As always, I’m not suggesting that you implement all of these steps at once – although great if you do – but that, now you’re aware of it, you start making small changes to the way that you shop.
I really hope that you’ve learnt something new in this episode and that it’s made you stop and think about an area of your everyday life in a different light. If it did, please leave me a glowing review on iTunes – it really, really does help me out – and also share the podcast with all of your pals, online and off!
I’ll speak to you guys soon.