Sustainability Is Not Sexy Because it Lacks Diversity
#EthicalHour is a Twitter chat that happens on Mondays (8 pm BST) and I enjoy participating as I get a glimpse of people's thoughts about the industry. A lot of brands interact in the chat, which is also a great way for me to get to know them. At least every other week, someone will start a conversation about how to make sustainability sexy, cool or more attractive to the mainstream.
How do you get people to convert?
The answers are usually the same. Focus on the quality of your product. Share your story...sustainability comes last. This is all true, I don't care that you are solving an environmental problem, if your products are ugly, I won't buy them!
Are we (ethical fashion brands and consumers) suffering due to the wording? Can we come up with something like Normcore or Shabby Chic to describe our style? Perhaps no other paragraph (talking about the word sustainability) can summarize it better than this:
The few conversations that I've had about ethical fashion with my friends go like this:
Friend: "Love what you do, but I could never do it" The reasons are one or more of:
a) I like owning piles of clothes so I need them to be cheap
b) I cannot be a minimalist because repeating outfits is boring (once again, she needs to be able to buy clothes cheaply)
c) Shopping is my only addiction, why are you ruining my one dirty habit?
d) Going to the mall is easier (and therapeutical, apparently).
Me: ...Yeah, life is hard. *rolls eyes until I can see the back of my skull*
I don't spend time trying to convert people. I think you should arrive to those conclusions on your own. I just point them towards Netflix and recommend that they watch the True Cost. If that won't do it, my silly little blog won't do it either. I've worked in sustainability for a while and I know that you cannot force people to do anything, even when the consequences are right in their backyard.
Still, that doesn't prevent me from getting frustrated with what I want to do with this blog. When I first started, I just thought that if I show women that there are options, they would be interested right?
Sometimes I think I should give up because my online persona isn't trendy enough. I'm not your vegan, spiritual, yoga-addicted millennial who loves to take photos of herself wrapped in white blankets while sipping a gigantic cup of chai. No. I don't have a farro salad recipe to give to you. I don't DIY ANYTHING - I still go to my mom to mend my clothes. Yes, I'd rather buy something new to decorate my apartment instead of spending an ungodly amount of hours searching through second-hand stores and flea markets. None of that sounds fun to me. I don't want to spend a Saturday afternoon painting mason jars and making my own candles. Even when I lived in Vancouver, I didn't compost. I only recycled. The only DIY project I ever did while living there was to make my own beer.
This is the kind of stuff people expect from someone who gives a shit about people and the environment.
To make things worse, I'm not a fashionista.
I don't follow NYFW and the others. I know some model names, but I don't even follow them on Instagram. I don't follow ANY fashion/Hollywood celebrity, except for Emma Watson because she promotes sustainable fashion and is working with the UN on gender issues. But, do I love her for her acting work? Not really, I can't even remember watching Harry Potter.
If I know any luxury brand is because I am surrounded by people who buy that stuff. If it wasn't for them, the red sole of a pair of Louboutins would mean squat to me. Once in a while I check out Refinery29's website and that's about it. I don't read Vogue, or any other fashion magazine (not even at a salon, I always carry a book in my purse).
As a shitty fashionista, I've gone through some fugly fashion style periods - basically all of my undergrad. I only started caring about my appearance when I started grad school, and the reason was a very superficial one. I was living in the suburbs, commuting 3 hours every day, my stipend qualified as a working poor wage and my days were 12-15 hours long. I could not be broke, surrounded by ugliness AND also look frumpy. Dressing up was my way of keeping my dignity, a thing that is usually gone by the time you finish grad school....
So yeah, I get it why a woman would want a nice closet even though everything else in her life screams I AM ONE PAYCHECK AWAY FROM BEING BROKE. I used to buy fast fashion clothes. All crap. They would fall apart or pill by the end of the season. It wasn't until one winter, where I spent 200$ on something like 5 pairs of shoes that did not make it through the year that I realized I was better off spending those 200$ on ONE pair.
I learned how to budget for that. I learned how to avoid temptations and I read all I could find about capsule wardrobes and building a functional closet that was also stylish enough for me.
To recap: I am not a shining example of conscious living and I am not an envy-inducing fashionista. I do a very bad job at advertising FOMO and targeting your insecurities to make you go shopping. I also do a shitty job pretending that I am one with Gaia.
So who am I and why on earth did I decide to do a blog on ethical fashion?
- Buying from ethical brands is important to me because I cannot bear the idea that someone out there is working 18 hours stitching the same sleeve and they cannot afford the basics to live. How can I turn a blind eye on what is basically modern slavery? And all of that misery for what, for a 5$ shirt that will be delivered to a store in 2 days so I can wear it and toss it after 3 times? Or for an expensive bag that I wear to show off my status? (Yeah, luxury brands are no better, they can also exploit workers)
- I have this vision that one day there will be no such thing as "sustainable fashion". It will just be fashion. We would know who made our clothes and no one would be exploited. I do not want to support a business that can only exist in a massive scale because it tramples human and labor rights, especially if that business is non-essential to life. Yes, fashion is art, fashion is political, fashion is a reflection of our times...but at the end of the day, it's just CLOTHES.
- I think that I can be a part of that vision by blogging. Ethical fashion is relatively new. People need to be convinced that it is worth their time and money. I hope I can achieve this by showing you the options, finding good deals for you and sparking your curiosity about the big picture - how did we get here and how can we be better?
- A part of me thinks that the fact that I am not your typical hippie or fashion addict can be part of my "charm". There's got to be plenty of us happily not giving a shit about being trendy (just enough so we look presentable) but still like to do some shopping, right? No one really types "fashion website for the woman that is tired of bullshit and just wants some pointers and some outfit inspiration so she can work her closet plus some suggestions of ethical brands because I don't want to exploit others, but can you recommend me stuff that is not taken out of a Coachella weekend please?"
That's essentially what this blog is about.
I don't think that buying sustainable fashion should imply that you must also fit into a certain "type". This is why we can't reach the mainstream - we are terrifying them with "if you dress like this, then you must live this way". I can't relate to any die-hard crowd, whether they are environmentalists or fashionistas.
Is it possible to be ordinary and still stand out in the sea of blogs? (Or to be more accurate, is it possible to be super-normal-me and still stand out?)