Fashion – Join our actions
Can we, as consumers, make a real difference in the fashion industry? The answer is both Yes and No.
Yes, because we can be a real driving force through our purchasing behaviours. We can build alternatives to fast fashion practices. We can refuse to go along with being fashion victims, and the consumer behaviour that the fashion industry tries to impose on us. We can support initiatives and companies that deliberately opt for a more sustainable approach, and thus demonstrate that an ecological and socially sustainable textile industry is possible. And Yes again, because all such movements are powered by individual actions.
No, because the major changes that are needed in the fashion industry cannot be achieved by behavioural change alone. No, because demand is not the only factor that defines supply. No again, because the powerful actors of the fashion industry make the most of structures built on exploitation of labour and pollution. Because real change also implies a redistribution of this power and profit throughout the supply chains. And the people who should share the power and profit are doing whatever they can to prevent systemic change in the textile and fashion industries.
We have many different levers at our disposal to initiate change. Our consumer behaviour is one of these levers, but it’s essential to go beyond this. As citizens, activists, entrepreneurs or critical voices in our communities, we can influence the political framework and realities in industry, as well as society’s relationship with fashion.
Here is a list of suggestions:
Make your own consumer choices
- We can consciously decide what we need and how often we buy new items of clothing: we should not be fashion victims led by the industry. We can take steps like making a list of what we need by going through our wardrobes once or twice a year.
- We hear, read and see messages daily that influence what we buy. We should become aware of the impact of advertising: the better we understand it, the easier it will become to decide what we will or will not buy.
Becoming conscious consumers
- Should we always wear new clothes? We can stock our wardrobes by using second-hand shops, clothing swaps, or by wearing clothes that friends nor family no longer want. And we can all organise our own clothing swaps.
- If we do buy new clothes, we should opt to buy from companies that are on the right path, such as those that have committed to paying a living wage and that prove that they are genuinely working to improve working conditions throughout their supply chain. More information
- We should also question the widespread principle of “throw-away/disposable” fashion: we should opt for high-quality articles that can be worn taking a “mix and match” approach (basic and classical items). We need to find sustainable, long-lasting items we really like.
- When buying items made of cotton, we should opt for those sourced from fair trade or made from organic cotton.
- We should not be misled by labels: to date, there are no labels that guarantee decent working conditions or a living wage. The current labels indicate the raw materials used (e.g. organic cotton), toxic products (e.g. Oeko-Tex 100) or environmental norms (e.g. EU Ecolabel). Generally speaking, labels for which there are outside audits by independent bodies are more credible than those set up by the companies themselves. More information is available on this subject in our Guide to Labels (available in German and French).
- We should keep and wear our clothes for a long time – textiles are not consumer throw-away goods. Even a cheap T-shirt requires natural resources and human labour to make.
- When we wash our clothes, we should use an economic programme and a low temperature. We should avoid washing our clothes every time we wear them: it’s often enough to give them a good airing.
- We should stop using tumble-drying machines, for the sake of the environment and your clothes.
- We can repair our clothes rather than throwing them out. And why not take up knitting?
- Lend and swap clothes, especially those we only wear occasionally.
The need to commit and become a political activist
Changing our purchasing habits will not be enough to create systemic change in the fashion industry. But we can take action at many different levels to leverage change: one way is by joining a regional group, or you can organise a clothing swap, support campaigns and urgent appeals, or request fashion brands to take action.
Our initial objectives should not be overambitious – it’s almost impossible to only own clothes that respect our criteria. But simple steps can help us to move towards achieving our objectives: we can make small changes in our daily life, talk about these issues with others, and commit to the long term on this issue.