The Hot Topic: Learning to Love your Clothes: A Step Towards Sustainability
Learning to love your clothes is the greatest solution to fast fashion destroying the environment.
Imagine someone telling you where to spend your money, which clothes look good on you, and which do not. Someone sniping at you that what you wear is so last season and that you better groom yourself up, to fit in with other people around you. Your moods and tastes manipulated by an external force, your sense of aesthetics constantly at war because it just cannot keep with the constant orders telling you how you look. This is not describing a catty classmate or your mother: it’s the fashion industry telling you, all the time, what you must and must not wear.
The fashion industry is currently estimated at $1.3 billion in yearly sales globally- not including footwear and jewellery, only clothes. To put this into perspective, Common Objective reports that this industry then is just slightly bigger than the Russian economy, or the combined GDP of the poorest 126 countries in the world. If footwear and jewellery were added, the report adds, it would be $2 trillion per year, a little bit smaller than India’s economy. Imagine ten fashion brands and their owners influencing decisions of global importance, fashion brands whose models are purely for profit - this is not a dystopian novel. It’s a living reality.
Fashion’s relationship with the rest of the world has always been murky, simply because the basis of it is appearance and style over substance. Fashion first spreads its tentacles towards those who are at the top layer of the society when it comes to appearances: film stars and rich people. It segregates and divides, creates a lack where there should be none, and slots people into categories. And now, in a capitalistic world, its harbingers get to sit at the top, telling people how they must look.
There was wisdom in the old ways of living. Saris passed down from mother to daughter, being repurposed many times over before finally being handed over to someone else perhaps. When children in the family were born, second-hand clothes for the child arrived from extended aunts and uncles, as grandmothers sat down to knit. Seasonal clothes were stowed away in the house to be worn again next year, and the many years after that. Fashion in an earlier age was sustainable: if a style was seen and sought to be emulated, the cloth might be purchased from a local vendor, and a tailor nearby commissioned to stitch it. Even now, as boutiques for Indian traditional wear crop up, they advise and provide designs, fabrics, accessories, and the stitching and designing. At every level, employment is generated locally, at smaller levels; the power remains divided, and the end product is unique, a labour of love.
The studies vary, so do the statistics - it’s said that it takes many countries and many thousands of gallons of water to make one pair of jeans, and other clothing can’t be far behind. The reason being that they are designed at one place, sourced, weaved, stitched, and finished at others. The thread might be sourced from a cheap country and the buttons from somewhere cheaper than that. Learning to love your clothes, then, is the greatest solution to fast fashion destroying the environment.
But it might be the only way to save the world from an ever-growing pile of discarded clothing. I admit that it’s hard: today there are more avenues than ever before, to show us the latest styles. Brands continually bring out their spring, summer, fall and winter collections. We are specifically told that we need a light jacket for x degrees, something a bit warmer for x plus five degrees, and so on. There are different clothes for different occasions: loungewear, evening wear, formal, smart casual, preppy, music festival boho, chic, and unisex among many others. Then some travels require radical overhauls of the wardrobe, and social media to project the image that one is worldly, wise, and in-tune, through a choice selection of clothes.
But learning to love your clothes again is possible. It can be a simple matter of mixing old clothes with new ones and realising the joy (or pain) of exchanging with siblings or friends. A great trick is to cleanse your social media: unfollow the bloggers and influencers, the movie stars and their airport looks, and the brands which keep attempting to instruct you what appropriate wear is. The best clothes are the ones which feel like an extension of your skin which make you feel good, and which never really go out of trend. Loving your clothes is loving who you are, who you once were: it shouldn’t be discarded. Loving your clothes is the first step towards sustainability, in the recognition of over-consumption, and the realisation that you are greater than the sum of the brands on you. Loving your clothes means that a Swedish brand across oceans cannot tell you what is flattering, and what is not - it means that there are more creative ways to express your identity and personality, than purchasing a mass-produced item that one day, is ultimately thrown away with a cringe.