DUCFS 2020 Head of Marketing, Caragh Taylor, and PR director, Hattie Burns, discuss the impacts of habitual fast fashion with Lauren Bravo - journalist (spy her work in Cosmo, Grazia, The Guardian and so many more reputable publications) and author of How to Break Up with Fast Fashion.
Ever considered taking a pledge not to buy a new item of clothing for a whole year? No ASOS. No Zara. No panicked late-night purchase for a big event the following evening. No retail therapy at the touch of an Apple Pay fingerprint. This might sound like a bona fide nightmare for many of us – we really grew into our fashion form during the 2010s, when e-commerce platforms boomed, and we were bombarded by tantalising adverts across social media platforms informing us what we needed for our next night out. Journalist (spy her work in Cosmo, Grazia, The Guardian and so many more reputable publications) and author of the now-cult book, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion, Lauren Bravo, is, however, a woman on a mission to convince us change our consumption culture: to break up with fast fashion.
‘Any emotion I was feeling, the answer was always to shop’, Lauren tells us as we query her on the addictive nature of fast fashion. And perhaps there is more truth in this statement than we would like to admit – we’re all guilty of indulging in a cheap impulse purchase, one that may well sit at the back of our wardrobe, tags attached, until sheer volume makes it necessary to enact an overhaul. ‘If I was bored, I would buy stuff. If I was sad, I would buy stuff. If I was happy, and was celebrating, I would buy stuff’.
‘I moved house at the end of 2018, and I had so many clothes. I could barely remember buying them. I was holding up clothes and thinking “why don’t I wear this?”. It would be perfectly nice, I just forgot that I even owned it. I shoved it to the back of the drawer because something new had come along’. And this perhaps best summarises our generation’s consumer culture – we strive for new, the next big thing. We see curated Instagram feeds, exterior perfection and addictive low-cost garment options to feed our aesthetics. But what of the environmental and humanitarian impact of these low-cost, poor quality pieces? ‘There are horrifying statistics around the carbon emissions involved in garment production, and the exploitation of garment workers… so many workers live on poverty wages just to bring us a £20 dress’. Awareness around this, she believes, is on the up. The impressive following her book has garnered would suggest that people really do want to engage, to make better choices, and the unprecedented support DUCFS has received this year is testament to the fact that our generation really do want to see change, and really do want to acknowledge the endemic human rights abuses riddling the fashion industry.
So many people do still, however, consume cheap fashion, unwilling to expend time and energy on seeking out alternatives or boycotting fashion all together. Even those who really do want to buy better, to buy less new, are faced with issues: not every town has a good second-hand shop (which is often suggested to be the best substitute for fashion-lovers trying to take a step back from fast-fashion), and not everyone has the funds to purchase slower-fashion garments. We also make the point to Lauren that, as students , it’s really hard to know your sartorial identity – all the time, we are told to purchase investment pieces, to consume mindfully and purchase pieces with longevity to break the vicious fast-fashion circle. But how, when we probably don’t even know what we’re going to wear tomorrow - let alone five years from now - can we possibly know if a costly (albeit sustainable) piece will have a lifespan in our wardrobe?
‘I think it’s a myth that we’re peddled a lot – this idea that you should buy classic items. If you’re somebody like me: I’m a magpie, I’ma bit of a maximalist. I’m not ever going to be that woman that has a wardrobe full of white shirts and well-cut trousers. That’s not me. I get bored too quickly’. But, she claims, as long as we can really know ourselves, and know whether or not we can commit to a new purchase in the long-term, we can consume better, we can adjust our habits. It will likely be less harsh on our wallets, too. ‘Get on Depop, be prepared to be buying other people’s pre-owned stuff and then passing it on again. Keep that circle going. I don’t think we should torture ourselves trying to guess what items are going to hit the jackpot’.
And longevity, for Lauren, is really about the emotional connection you can form with an item of clothing. Items that find emotional resonance are the ones we hold onto forever. She speaks of her grandma’s beautiful jumpers and coats, which continue to serve as wardrobe stapes, and of a Beyond Retro dress which saw her through an interview with her book editor which was to determine whether or not she would write How to Break up with FastFashion. This kind of find can carry you through big life moments – ‘I ended up, on the day before I had a big book launch event, back in that same branch of Beyond Retro, back in the same changing room, wearing that dress. 10 months before, I was kind of having a panic attack, like, can I actually write this book? And in that moment, I was about to wear it on stage in front of 140 people to talk about that book’.
She suggests we would all benefit from remembering that nobody really cares about what you wore on that night out, to that dinner party, to that festival. ‘Nobody actually remembers what you wear nearly as much as you’d like to think they do’. We all need to re-discover the joy in coveting a beloved piece – clothes are memories of moments, and our throwaway culture has eroded our connections with the garments we wear.
She asserts that guilt-tripping is definitively not the way to get people to change their habits. The secret to a better fashion future, wherein we consume in a way that precipitates a better world more widely, is to educate, to offer up alternatives which suit the lifestyles of real people. ‘People care when they know.’ Guilt makes people feel overwhelmed, ‘makes them feel like they just want to buy themselves in the sand. But if you can say to somebody, look, here’s a slightly more expensive dress, but it’s really beautifully made by this person in this location, and we know that they were paid a living wage, and it’s organic cotton… then they’re probably going to vote with their wallet and put their money behind what they believe in’.
The next time you reach, in a newness-fuelled frenzy, for your phone to purchase THAT Zara dress, take a step back. Do you really need it? Take a breath. Re-discover a piece hidden at the back of your wardrobe. ‘Opt out from that world until you feel stronger in your resolve’. Break up with fast-fashion – we can all act to realise a better world.
‘How to Break Up with Fast Fashion’ is available to buy on Amazon – RRP £12.99