Time to break up with fast fashion
The first rule of feminist fashion is that the lives of the humans and animals involved in the production of fashion are more important than everything else. Well, almost everything else… this is actually more of a guideline than an actual rule.
And I suspect that many objections to sustainable, feminist-focused fashion stem from the erroneous belief that this is a strict rule. That if your entire wardrobe isn’t purchased from sustainable brands and trendy second-hand shops then you’re a failure. Might as well not even try because who has the time or money for that kind of wardrobe overhaul? Plus wouldn’t throwing out all my Zara create even more clothing waste?
Obviously this is my personal feminist fashion ethics guide, and I do not wish to be a radical evangelical, but I do believe my formula can help others looking for the first step to take in building their own feminist-informed personal style.
Do not throw out all your clothes!
Yes, some or even most of your wardrobe might be from high street shops and the person who made your clothes was likely a grossly underpaid woman. But throwing out everything won’t help her or you. I don’t believe in punishing yourself for a past mistake, but I do believe in resolving to do better in the future.
Decide to do your best to never buy from a high street shop again. It is so tempting and I’ll admit I wander around Zara or scroll through Asos every so often. To stop myself from buying anything I never look around during a sale and I remind myself that the only people profiting from fast fashion are men who don’t care about the quality of their goods, about the people who make them, or the people who buy them. They only care about how much of your hard-earned money they can take from you in exchange for a top that will fall apart after one wash.
Buy “new” clothes from second-hand shops or from apps like Depop
Even if you’re buying a “blogger’s fav” high street dress. (I promise those dresses are all over Depop). The origin of the dress is not good, but that damage has been done and the next step is to limit the staggering amount of clothing waste. A survey conducted by Barnardo’s in 2015 found that most clothing is only worn seven times before being discarded, and that 33 per cent of women consider an item ‘old’ after wearing it three times. THREE. TIMES. If you simply must have that dress for your Instagram grid buy it from someone who only wore it three times.
I will admit that I bought a pair of new jeans from Marks & Spenser last month, because they were on sale, and in the exact style I’ve been looking for in second-hand shops for nearly half a year. And I forgive myself for this, because I did my best and I believe the bulk of the responsibility of the ills of fast fashion lie with the men who produce the waste.
However, if you are really committed to ditching high street clothes from your wardrobe you’re ready for actual vintage clothing. Finding vintage requires more patience than buying gently used modern clothing but the time commitment pays off in quality clothing that is truly your own style.
Please do not worry if you’re not at the Vintage stage of your recovery from fast fashion. Focus on switching the balance of your purchases from new to second-hand and you’re doing great!
The next step, however, is for those with extra time and money to be a bit extra in their fashion ethos.
Stop buying new leather and wool
For me this covers most of my shoes, bags, and sweaters. When it came to giving myself guidelines regarding these two fabrics I decided to take good care of my existing leather and wool and purchase any ‘new’ items second-hand.
This is fairly easy when it comes to bags and winter knitwear, but shoes are a bit more challenging. As a woman in her thirties I am deeply committed to comfortable footwear and I’m proud to say all the footwear I’ve purchased in the last two years has been second-hand. Including a pair of Dr. Martens boots and a pair of black leather loafers.
There are a growing number of companies producing good quality ‘vegan’ leather footwear, even Dr. Martens has a vegan option, but they are quite expensive. There is an argument to be made here for investing in quality footwear given the importance of foot health.
When I think of a real leather jacket sold in Zara it is almost too terrible to consider the conditions in which the cow was divested of its skin and the working conditions of the person who sewed it into the latest leather jacket trend.
Notes on fashion privilege
The ability to analyse and spend time on my wardrobe like this is an incredible privilege. I do have the time to spend and I feel I must do what I can to mitigate the human and environmental cost of fast fashion.
However, there are many other issues to address when it comes to feminist fashion. I would be remiss to leave you without mentioning a few other elements that take into account how the fashion industry is not serving women well:
// finding clothing that fits your body – I will not blame any woman who buys a specific style of fast fashion brand jeans because she knows they fit her perfectly. Somehow women’s clothing is not made for women’s bodies so if H&M has a pair of jeans that fit your waist, hips, butt, and leg length buy as many colour variations as you can afford!
// many women do not have the time or money for second-hand clothing – I will not blame any woman working multiple jobs to feed herself and/or her family, who only has a few pounds to spare on a top that will make her feel like Beyoncé for her one night out per month, and who truly has no time to hunt down that top in a second-hand shop.