Thursday, 26 April 2018

How to become a Fashion Revolutionary

The fashion industry is vast, complex and opaque. Even if you are concerned about how the clothes you choose can impact people and the planet, it can be daunting or overwhelming to know where to start to equip yourself with the knowledge that will help you make informed choices. Fashion Revolution Week provides an opportunity to join forces with one another and collectively push for change, but if you don’t feel confident about asking tough questions, here’s how you can quietly start your own revolution using just the contents of your wardrobe.

See fast fashion garments as works in progress rather than the finished article
I am a professional dressmaker, and even if I have an exhaustive list of measurements and a mannequin padded to a client’s shape, I’ll still have to make adjustments to the garment I am creating during fittings. Not only is every body unique, but everyone has their own unique feelings about their body, and which parts of it they would rather reveal or conceal. 

One of the things we sacrifice when we choose cheap fashion is fit. A generic sized garment probably won’t fit anyone perfectly, but we can be reluctant to spend money on alterations when they might cost more than the clothes themselves. If you buy enough cheap pairs of trousers, one of them is bound to fit, right? As anyone who has ever reached the end of their tether in a high street fitting room (or at home surrounded by online purchases that all need returning) will know, this doesn’t often work out well. Instead of buying lots of cheap clothes that don’t fit, why not spend some of that money on making sure your clothes fit perfectly? Sewing courses (like the ones run by Sewing Bee producer The Thrifty Stitcher) can teach novice stitchers the basics in a few hours. Alternatively, if sewing isn’t your thing, support a local business by paying a tailor to perfect your wardrobe.

Avoid obsolescence 
The fast fashion cycle relies on ever-changing trends to persuade people that they constantly need to buy new clothes. Magazines that rely on brand advertising will praise a style in their “must have” column one month, only to deride it as “so last season” the next. My dad has an interesting theory about the recent craze for pre-distressed denim: he reckons it is a way to speed up the lifespan of a garment, requiring us to buy more products. Fabric that has been worn down with sandpaper or sprayed with chemicals isn’t going to last as long as pristine new fabric. I think it’s part of the fun of owning clothes to naturally age them by wearing them, and refashioning or mending them as circumstances or personal style dictate. By developing this relationship with my clothes, I see them as valuable belongings rather than disposable items. 

Break the rules
A lot of us end up with clothes we don’t really wear because we feel obliged to buy them, especially for parties, weddings or other formal occasions. If you love having something new to wear that’s fine, but if your wardrobe is filling up with clothes that you have only worn once, you might need to re-think your approach. You can hire contemporary and vintage clothes for a special occasion; a designer label suddenly becomes more affordable when you only want the garment for a weekend. You could also search charity shops in a well-heeled area for other only-worn-once occasion wear.

I’m not a big fan of dress codes, especially when they are designed to discriminate or make people uncomfortable. I have an aversion to high heels but I’ll wear fancy flats with a posh frock, and I think this is an acceptable compromise! It just isn’t worth buying clothes because you think you ought to; your own comfort will give you more confidence than clothes you’ve just bought to conform. I feel more comfortable being overdressed than underdressed, my main concession to practicality being my footwear! Of course, I wouldn’t wear a vintage evening gown to hike up a mountain, but I like wearing a skirt if I’m just going for a stroll. Finding a personal style that means you’re always comfortable is an important step towards buying less clothes that you won’t end up wearing.

Relax and enjoy fashion
I know this is much easier for me to say than for many people to do. Factor in body-shaming and outfit-policing in the media, and “what not to wear” lists, and a purchase that you were looking forward to wearing ends up languishing at the back of the wardrobe for fear it will invite unwanted attention or criticism. I think we all could start to treat each other with more kindness and compassion in general, but we could all examine the snap judgements we make about other people’s outfits. Is it really any of our business if they dress in a way we wouldn’t want to ourselves? 

In its ideal form, fashion is meant to be a form of self-expression, to let the world know who we are, or who we aspire to be. This isn’t possible if we are being sold cheap, ill-fitting garments that don’t make us feel good about ourselves. It’s possible to create radical change if enough of us can break free from this cycle of dissatisfaction and obsolescence. 

Fashion Revolution offers template letters to send to brands and policy makers if you want to start asking Who Made My Clothes but don’t feel that you know enough about the subject, or the right questions to ask. Their website is full of helpful information, including access to their online zines, as well as their Transparency index. This provides information about well-known fashion brands and how much they disclose about their supply chain, so you can make well-informed decisions about where to shop.

I would love to get to a point where I can just enjoy fashion in an uncomplicated way, without having to research every purchase or avoid a lot of shops altogether. We have a long way to go before that happens, but fashion is a creative industry and I am hopeful that enough talented and dedicated people are working hard to make a change. Until that happens, we can all be fashion revolutionaries by rejecting the negative aspects of the industry, supporting people who are making positive changes, and demanding positive changes from the multi-million-pound brands that have the resources to be at the forefront of change rather than lagging behind.

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