Views On Sustainability: Take-away points from The Urban Garden Initiative Sustainable Fashion Panel.
By Ollie Cox
The Urban Garden Initiative aim to empower and inspire young people to achieve urban sustainability through gardening. As part of their efforts, they held a panel talk discussing the changes and challenges within the world of sustainable fashion. The panel consisted of representatives from:
- Sense of Shelf, an online boutique for eco-friendly and ethical clothing brands priding itself on all items being under two hundred dollars.
- Green Couture, a platform to Educate Gen-Z on how they can actively live a sustainable lifestyle.
- Green Consume Project also added to the panel bringing along their knowledge of how the consumer can access environmental products.
- Eco House Teens, a platform to promote sustainability amongst teens also brought along their insight.
- To round off the panel, Renoon shared their insight into easily accessible sustainable e-commerce as well as Zoe Elle Co, a sustainable fashion collective headed by Taija Thomas.
Why is there a need for these organisations to be taking action?
One of the key issues raised was a need for greater accessibility to sustainable fashion and the need to take a stand against the rampant consumerism that is currently taking place. Sustainable fashion will never and should never be able to mirror the multinational approach that fast fashion companies adopt. Having a store in every town and city is inherently unsustainable and to fill that store with the same clothes nationwide is damaging. With this in mind, people should be aware of where they are buying sustainable garments. One of the benefits of sustainable fashion’s differing availability to fast fashion is that you will not be wearing the same clothes as those around you. You will be wearing a sustainably sourced piece of clothing from what is likely to be an independent brand. This is where platforms like Renoon can help to make this process easier, as they do the hard work and find sustainable brands for you. All you have to do is the fun part, choosing the clothes you want to wear and enjoy. Collectively there was also an effort to rid the world of luxury fashion of any blame in the crisis we find ourselves in. Sense of Shelf were quick to point out that many high-end brands also have questionable and damaging supply chains. To combat this issue the ideas suggested and largely agreed upon were:
- shorter supply chains
- buying fewer, better quality goods where possible.
There was also a desire amongst all panellists to get smaller brands noticed who may struggle to get recognised. This is something that platforms such as Renoon and Sense of Shelf begin to tackle as they combat the convenience culture that has been created by fast fashion.
In a push to encourage sustainable choices when buying clothes, one thing that we should keep in mind is that the clothes you buy, unless sourced via thrift shops will never be as low-cost as those produced by fast fashion brands. This is because sustainably sourced clothing will ensure that those who make the clothes are paid fairly and will be made out of materials that are not going to cut costs at the expense of the planet. This is not possible with a £3 t-shirt. However, as Emily Chan points out, by spending more on an item of clothing that “you can wear for years to come, instead of wearing it a few times and discarding it, the cost per wear automatically becomes lower.” (Emily Chan, ‘Why Isn’t Sustainable Fashion More Affordable?’, Vogue). This fulfils the mantra that we should all keep in mind when shopping: buy less and buy better. This something that providing the price is fair, could save you money long-term whilst also contributing to a wider movement that will help to save the planet.
What is the biggest challenge in sustainable fashion?
One of the challenges faced by all of the organizations that took part in the event was challenging the powerful fast fashion industry. Recycling and thrifting is often the most accessible way of shopping sustainably and this is not always desired by the consumer. When people are faced with this problem fast fashion can look appealing. This is why there was a collective desire to get sustainable fashion to the forefront of a wider consumer base and not simply those who have already made the change to live more sustainably.
How many times have you heard someone say that it is a privilege to be able to shop sustainably? This is a myth the panel wished to dispel. No one is denying the fact that more money to spend gives a consumer more choice when buying a sustainable garment. And more importantly, nobody is perfect and this is acknowledged. Mass production of sustainable materials is not yet at the level it needs to be to make sustainable shopping cheaper. However, the onus should not be on the consumer but on the large corporations who govern these industries. Sustainable fashion is not elitist, and this is why there are sites like Sense of Shelf to offer affordable options for the sustainably savvy shopper. It should be noted that this challenge can be considered to be part of the fun of finding your alternative to fast fashion, as when you do find that affordable, sustainable garment, you have actively searched for it, made a stand and taken part in sustainable activism.
What is your unique strategy?
One strategy that we should all take on-board is to share what we know. We all have different pieces of the puzzle. Being sustainable is a lifestyle, make those changes outside of simply what you wear. Whether that is one more plant-based meal a week, or what you use to clean your house. These small steps make a big difference.
A personal highlight from this talk that I found insightful about the possible future of sustainable fashion was the addition of food style labels on clothing. This would provide consumers with the precise knowledge they need to know about the make-up and supply chain of their garment. It could be a huge step in getting people to choose better where possible with what they buy.
- Buy less, and better where you can.
- Always look for transparency when shopping, and remember that there is an onus on corporations as well, this is part of the battle.
- Education is the first step.
- We as the consumer should position ourselves as activists and join together to share our knowledge.
- Finally, nobody is perfect and small changes have the biggest impact.