Recently – and not for the first time – I was told that my approach to fashion was “elitist” and that I needed to understand that not everyone can afford beautiful designer products.
I do not deny this. I remain steadfast in my opinion that mass-produced clothing is what taints this industry, leaving a sour taste in the mouth when you consider the waste, and the ethical and environmental implications of such business models. Just Google ‘environmental impact of the fashion industry’ and you’ll get the idea.
According to the International Labour Organisation there are around 246 million child workers to date, aged between 5 and 14 years, whipping up our basic cotton tees and “must have” designer rip offs.
Then there is the extra fun fact that every pair of nylon stockings you ladder, snag, or just throw out because you do not need it any more takes between 30-40 years to decompose. And might I add polyamide (or nylon as it’s more commonly known) is made out of coal, a non-renewable resource, just like petroleum, which coincidentally is the key ingredient in polyester and acrylic fibres.
As for the natural fibres, cotton is considered to be one of the worlds ‘dirtiest’ crops, using only 2.5 per cent of the world’s arable land, but accounting for 16 per cent of pesticides, which is more than any other crop currently being farmed. Moreover, cotton is responsible for consuming vast quantities of water – one t-shirt accounts for around 2700 litres of water used from farming through to production.
In the past few years, sustainability has become the big ‘in thing’ in the fashion industry, and, increasingly, designers are coming up with solutions to offset their products non-sustainable downside. Bruno Pieters, formerly of Hugo Boss, is an excellent example of this. Early this year he launched Honestby, a new model for how fashion can be produced and sold that offers total transparency to the consumer. This means that you know where every button, thread, trim, and bit of fabric came from, how it was grown, and what conditions the garment and textile were produced under. Not to mention he even goes as far as showing you the mark up – something I am pretty sure most fashion houses would be hesitant to consider.
The problem with the fashion industry does not necessarily lie with the designer labels, though we definitely have a share of the blame, but with the companies who produce en mass. And therefore, without pointing too many fingers, the blame lies even more so on us: the consumer.
The time has come to abandon old ideals of conspicuous consumerism.
It is our approach to how we buy and perceive fashion that drives these companies, and creates the demand for more and more products. How many times have you or your friends offloaded bags of unwanted clothing at markets or at the Salvos because you just do not want them anymore despite the fact that you have probably only worn them once?
Of course giving stuff away to be resold to the less fortunate is great, but production today is not what it used to be, and unlike all the beautiful vintage from the last century, most of the stuff you are chucking in the donations bin will end up going to landfill because it simply is not sellable.
Maybe instead of buying something ‘just because’, we should be taking a more considered approach to how we shop. This is where the idea of curating you wardrobe comes to mind.
While purchasing with the idea that the item will last for an extended period of time is not a groundbreaking phenomenon, or one that will save the environment, it is an idea that will perhaps help to combat the throw away attitude that society takes to fashion; an attitude that is in many ways the fault of the industry itself.
What we – both as an industry and as the target audience seem to have largely forgotten – is that clothing is a craft, and should be treated as such. If the 80s and 90s are the decades of wanton excess, they are now long gone. The time has come to abandon old ideals of conspicuous consumerism. Stop buying stuff in the name of image and trend, or because an advertisement tells us it’s necessary. Like all industries, there are a few very rich people who need us, the public, to keep buying more and more stuff to stay that way. Maybe the time has come to drown out the noise, and enter an era of considered consumption.
Instead of buying a couple of cheap frocks from Topshop or H&M or Bardot over the course of the year, why not get one or two really beautiful ones, whether from local or international designers? Sure, you will not have that little endorphin rush that can come with each new purchase, but you will probably end up wearing, and loving the better option a lot more.
Buy locally and not only are you cutting out the carbon footprint of shipping, and the potential ethical implications of how and where the garment was produced, but you’re supporting some talented people, more of whom each year get swallowed up by an industry that has less and less room for real creativity. The designers, whether small or large, famous or toiling away in obscurity, are the creative backbone of this industry. (If you truly believe Zara comes up with those garments from scratch, then you are kidding yourself!)
And don’t let this idea of longevity in your wardrobe limit you to the “classics” that magazines and stores constantly peddle to us: buy clothing that appeals to you, whether it is a beautiful crisp shirt or a zebra printed ‘onesie’.
It takes time. I have been putting my wardrobe together for a few years now, but there is an element of satisfaction in seeing it grow. Some of it is designer, and some of it’s not. I love my worn, old nameless t-shirt as much as my Givenchy shirts. And while I am sure there will be more bits and pieces being incorporated over time, what I have now is not only reflective of my own tastes, but it all looks as good as the day I bought it.
Hewitt graduated from RMIT in 2010 and was selected to show in the prestigious National Graduate Showcase at the 2011 L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival.
He currently lives in Melbourne and spends his time trying to reconcile his love of design with what he describes as an “ever increasing sense of dissatisfaction at the state of the world, and the state of his chosen industry”.
You can view Hewitt’s latest collection, In Poor Taste, here.
Comment below! Do you think we should become more conscientious consumers of fashion?*
*Please note that while we welcome all views and contributions to the debate, coarse, racist or sexist language, defamation, abuse and attacks are not acceptable.