“Buy less. Choose well.” – Vivienne Westwood
In a past life, I worked in the fashion industry. It is a peculiar place, with much concealed anxiety hiding behind the glittering facade. I spent my 9-5 among some of the most well-dressed people I have ever encountered, which provided endless wardrobe inspiration, but also made me notice how obsessed society seemed to be with the new. The arrival of a new season (and we all know seasons change on an almost-monthly basis in the fashion industry) was an imperative to completely rehaul your entire wardrobe, with that season’s “key pieces” leading the way, each of them setting you back about three months’ rent. The anxious hunt for that bag, those shoes, that designer’s name label sewn into your clothes. The delusion that “the look” couldn’t be created with things that were already in your wardrobe. That you were a nobody unless you had “the look”.
My interest in ethical fashion was a logical mix of my passion for animal rights and my work experience in the fashion industry – a curious juxtaposition which has often made me question my own choices, but also introduced me to the novel idea that fashion could indeed be kind to the world – when everything around me pointed to the contrary.
A Relevant Discovery
As I delved deeper into the world of vegan fashion, I uncovered other problems that lied beneath the “buy it now” exterior of the garment industry. Hearing about workers suffering in horrific conditions and learning more about how the fashion supply chain affected the planet was a wake-up call. Every day I felt farther and farther from the work I did, and was less and less inspired to continue doing it. Creating editorial content for luxury fashion houses who treated their workers as nothing but commodities depressed me. Especially when most of the products I was hired to promote were made from animal skins. And the most important lesson I learned was this: cheap fashion is not singularly responsible for the fashion industry’s problems.
As detrimental as fast fashion is to people and the planet, let’s not forget this important truth: luxury brands are often not better. Luxury brands use the same language to reassure the customers, to convince them that their practices are ethical – but a report from the Clean Clothes Campaign that deals with cheaper labour countries in Europe names brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace and Max Mara among those resorting to underpaying their workers and subjecting them to subpar conditions. What gives? Mass-producing garments will always have an impact on workers and the environment, but I’ve found that often it’s not what we buy, it’s how much.
Shop ‘Til You Drop?
Open your wardrobe right now and tell me how many of your garments you’ve actually worn in the last year. How much of your stuff do you use on a regular basis? If moving is a nightmare, if shopping is not only your cardio (hello, Carrie Bradshaw) but also your antidepressant, if you get sucked into the vortex of “renewing your wardrobe” each time seasons change – I know it’s none of my business, but it may be time to downsize. The sheer volume at which clothing is produced, regardless of price, is highly unsustainable. Magazines chime in with “the 10 bags you HAVE to have this season!” and vloggers show off their “hauls” on YouTube with a nonchalant ease (and let’s not forget the people who can easily “haul” at Gucci and Louis Vuitton, not H&M like the rest of us). The “shop ’til you drop” mentality is alive, and it’s taken over. And that is what’s harming our environment, endangering workers, and slaughtering animals by the minute.
Shopping Without Meaning
When I was a student, I remember buying one piece of clothing a month (is it just me who had much more money when I was a student compared to when I “grew up”?), building up nondescript heaps of cheap clothes and accessories which, years later, ended up in boxes at my in-laws’ house in Milan, forcing me to painstakingly trot to the donation bins every time I go back. Even now, years after acquiring it, the stuff keeps haunting me. And what’s sad is I don’t feel anything about any of it. In my present life, all those boxes contain is just masses of fabric and cracked old faux leather.
Buy to Last
But in my wardrobe, at my current flat, my collection of summer dresses hangs preserved. None of the three dresses is expensive. They were all bought for the summers I spent working in a beachside town in Tuscany. I only wear them when I go on holiday, but all of these dresses hold so many memories. So many birthdays, beach parties, walks along the shore. For that other side of the calendar, my winter coat still cuts a distinct figure in my wardrobe. Six years of age, this €149 beauty hasn’t aged at all, with its timeless slim black silhouette. Other buy-to-keep items which come to mind are my silver-hued summer sandals, my Converse collection, my Jill Milan bag and my Beyond Skin shoes, but also my faux fur and the faux-leather biker trousers I’m wearing in these pictures.
For ethical fashionistas, charity shops and second-hand shopping is a godsend. Yes, you may have to do a bit more digging, but it can sometimes truly be worth it. Clothes-swapping is a new trend sweeping over the fashion landscape – and this can be a true game-changer.
Choose brands who care about where their clothes are produced, and by whom. Buy high-quality vegan leather (it’s worth it!). But above all, buy to last. Build up a really great basic wardrobe (confession: I love the word ‘basic’. It means minimal, pared-down, essential, all words that signal true class to me) – it is a true art form that takes time. Find out just how much fun you can have playing with the looks that are already in your wardrobe. “Less is more” has never been more appropriate.
This month I am watching….The documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel, about badass feminist protest group Femen, on Netflix. Also, new episodes of Game of Thrones and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, if anyone missed that (doubtful).
This month I’m listening to…my Beatles playlist on Spotify.
This month I’m reading…Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Photos by David Camilli