Journalist and author Lauren Bravo decided to break up with fast fashion for a whole year. We talk to the self-confessed shopping lover on what brought her to tackle the issue, what she learnt and tips on how people can fall in love with their existing wardrobe again
Fashion is a way to establish our individuality, or a way to fit in. It can make us feel confident, or hide our insecurities. A new outfit can mark an event or celebration, or something we buy when we’re bored. There’s so much more to a piece of clothing than its practicalities, and there’s no one-size-fits-all mindset to how we view clothes. But behind the glossy magazine pages and social media posts awash with the latest trends lie some uncomfortable truths. And with our fast-paced world and society’s obsession with the latest ‘must-haves’, the problem is getting far worse.
Beyond the price tag is a far bigger cost, to the environment and to the communities it impacts. One garbage truck filled with clothes is burnt or sent to landfill every second, with toxic dyes and microplastics polluting our rivers and oceans at unprecedented levels. The fashion industry has a bigger carbon footprint than maritime shipping and international flights combined, and accounts for 10 percent of our total emissions globally.
If the industry continues on this trajectory, by 2050 it could use more than a quarter of the carbon emission budget needed to keep to a 2 degrees of warming limit, according to a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. For perspective, 2 degrees of global heating would mean the deadly heatwaves India and Pakistan saw in 2015 could occur every year, among many other drastic consequences, according to NASA. More troubling issues lie in the production of clothes, usually undertaken by poorly paid—and largely female—workers in bad, and often illegal, working conditions in places from Bangladesh to Leicester.
As a fashion journalist, it was something that was becoming harder to ignore for Lauren Bravo. Although growing up with a love of charity shops and vintage fashion, like most people, she succumbed to the “look and convenience of fashion” in her twenties. “I found myself buying a lot cheaper clothes, a lot more regularly. I was constantly either shopping or thinking about shopping, or taking returns back to the post office. I was always on the lookout for the next trend fix. It was just never ending.”
I realised that I had been using shopping as a sort of panacea for every emotion
“As I reached the end of my twenties—it sounds like a cliche but it’s true—I gained a new perspective.” The tipping point came in 2018, when she moved flat and was “confronted by a decade's worth of shopping… I was getting stuff out from the backs of my wardrobes and my drawers and thinking, ‘oh my god, I don’t remember buying this’. Or ‘this is perfectly nice. So why don't I wear it?’ The only reason I didn't wear it is because I bought something else and I forgot I had it. I realised that I had been using shopping as a sort of panacea for every emotion.”
In order to break the habit, Lauren decided to set herself a challenge: not to buy anything new all year, which she details in her new book How to Break up with Fast Fashion.
When it comes to identifying which brands are better than others, Bravo found the lack of transparency difficult. “The trouble with the fashion industry is that it is really opaque; there’s no transparency so, frankly, we don't really know what we're supporting when we’re buying those clothes.”
In contrast to what you might think, actually spending more on clothes does not mean they are more sustainable. Bravo says: “We are trusting the brands when they say that they're doing something. We want to believe them. So that's where really brilliant tools like the Good On You Directory and the Fashion Transparency Index, which Fashion Revolution does every year, are great. They are quite surprising. I think one of the biggest things I didn't realise before this was that actually the brands that cost more money are in no way more sustainable. They're actually worse in many cases.
“They [fashion brands] don't release any information and are not trying at all to use more sustainable fabrics. Whereas the brands that have really come under the heat, the quintessentially cheaper fashion brands, are actually in many cases trying a little bit harder.”
Bravo adds that fast fashion is definitely a “feminist problem”, which “doesn’t get talked about enough”. Around 80 percent of global garment workers are women aged 18-35, but only 12.5 percent of fashion companies on the Fortune 1000 list have female CEOs. “It is rich men at the receiving end of all this and it is women that are being exploited, either to make the clothes or to buy them. It really takes the shine off the cheap clothes, about whose pockets you’re lining,” she says.
In the Love Island world, social media has a massive role to play in the fast fashion world, in causing the problem and potentially fixing it. Especially when we talk about millennials and are Gen Z, who are so enthralled by influencers. They could potentially play a big role in solving the problem. “It wouldn't take that much for these people to get informed and start endorsing sustainable brands instead and pushing other initiatives like wearing secondhand clothes, or the same thing again and again,” Bravo says.
“We are starting to see it on social media as well, some fashion influencers are picking up that mantle and starting to talk more openly about the problems of the industry. But of course, what we're also seeing is a lot of greenwashing; a lot of people pretending to be changing their habits while still taking money from the fashion giants.”
There’s still a long way to go, but “these conversations have really stepped up,” says Bravo. “It feels like every media outlet is, you know, trying to sort of change the way we talk about fashion and clothes and cover sustainability; being much more aware of it. Generally I'm really encouraged. I think we'll be in a very different place in about five years’ time.”
So next time you feel bored with your wardrobe, or are worried about wearing the same thing to an event, think to yourself: do I really need it? You’ll be doing yourself, and the planet, a big favour.