Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Sustainable Fashion Zines

I was really pleased to see Elle Magazine’s sustainability issue in September, it was the first glossy fashion magazine I had bought for years. I loved the thought-provoking interviews and uncompromising editorial: “if we don’t do this now, there will be nothing around to make fashion with in 20 years”. But I found one thing jarring: having to flip past dozens of pages of adverts for designer brands, some of whom have admitted to burning excess stock rather than reducing or recycling it. I know that magazines like Elle rely on advertising to make their magazine commercially viable, but what could fashion writing look like if it didn’t have to rely on brands that are taking their sweet time to commit to sustainability?

Zines are not a new phenomenon; they have been around for decades and were an important pre-Internet means of communication between fans. Created and compiled by people who were passionate about their interests, but weren’t finding the sort of content they wanted to read from mainstream magazines or official fan clubs, zines have provided a way for otherwise marginalised writers to get their voices heard. 

Zines have always been an important way to build communities, and while social media is making it easier for sustainable fashion advocates to share ideas and reach a wider audience, it’s lovely to see sustainable fashion zines providing the magazine articles I want to read, telling the stories that don’t fit neatly into a tweet or an Instagram caption. 

I’ve blogged before about how much I loved Fashion Revolution’s Loved Clothes Last zine; it’s filled with amazing artwork and photographs, and some fascinating and important writing. Their newest zine, Fashion Environment Change, is a small but perfectly formed A-Z of the industry’s impact on the natural world, and the work we need to do to improve things. 

Facts and figures are interspersed with poems and personal essays, and the zine ensures that it isn’t speaking for the people involved in different aspects of the fashion industry by giving them a voice. Nishanth Chopra, from Erode in Tamil Nadu, India, writes about the problems that textile industry pollution has caused in his home town, and gives an insider's’ view on what could be done to tackle this. The zine is illustrated by students from Central Saint Martins, encouraging a new generation of artists to collaborate on work with an important global message. if you want to find out more, you can read the Fashion Revolution zines online for free on their website. 

Sew Irregular is a beautifully illustrated zine doing what zines do best: allowing people to write about their passions and interests. There’s a fascinating mix of different voices: costume designers and drag performers talk about the processes involved in creating their outfits and personas, while the zine’s “long read” dives into the costumes worn by Janelle Monae in her music videos, and the cultural references she celebrates or subverts. 

Slow fashion advocate Caro Gomez discusses her journey as a designer and maker, and Lauren Sweeney from Salvaged Project describes how she raises money for charity by rescuing unloved clothes. As if that wasn’t enough food for thought in the first issue, there’s also a look at the relationship between mental health and embroidery, told through the examination of old clothes and new learning processes.

Little Black Pants Club have a novel way of distributing their zine/newsletter: it’s the packaging for their product! Every other month, as part of their pants subscription, a pair of knickers pops through my letterbox, and I carefully unfold the wrapping to read founder Alice’s latest reflections on the fashion industry. 

Her latest mini-zines have focussed on her role in the world as a small business owner: how to balance the need to make money in a capitalist society with a dislike of greed and excessive profits, the difficulties of juggling work and family life, and the mental and physical struggles with health conditions that make you less productive. She tackles some wide-ranging, important questions: can the human race get better at sharing the earth’s dwindling resources? Is empathy incompatible with strong business leadership? Who am I if I can’t do the things I used to define myself by? I love discovering the stories behind sustainable brands and receiving purchases in eco-friendly or reusable packaging, and LBPC are ticking all the boxes with this novel idea.

I might be tempted by other mainstream fashion magazines if they start putting sustainability front and centre, but first and foremost I’ll be looking for more zines to add to my collection. The zines I’ve read so far allow writers to express themselves honestly and joyfully. They are able to speak truth to power because there is no conflict of interest with advertisers or sponsored content. There is always a kindness to this honesty; no one is haranguing their readers or trying to spread negativity.

Alice from LBPC’s writing style is perhaps the most direct and irreverent, but to me it’s a very readable blend of dark humour, uncomfortable truth and the determination to live and work according to her values, which I really admire. Fashion Revolution’s zines suggest solutions rather than just pointing out problems, encouraging readers to understand the changes they can make on a personal level, as well as the contributions they can make to creating change on a global scale. The first issue of Sew Irregular really managed to evoke a sense of the joy that can come from expressing yourself thoughtfully and truthfully through what you wear, from using your clothes to explore your sense of identity or to help others.

I feel confident that we could all do with a little less negativity in our lives, so why not look beyond the magazine rack in your local supermarket for some fashion-themed reading material? I’d love to hear your recommendations for further reading too, so please get in touch!