Updated: May 1, 2020
Welcome back to The Drey.
I wanted to continue to share the Sustainable Squirrel journey this week by explaining a bit about the main motivation behind the transition from selling vintage clothing to building a sustainable brand.
What started out as a fun way to earn some extra cash soon developed into something more meaningful as I became increasingly aware of the fast fashion industry and its truly awful impact on the planet and the people working within the supply chains.
What exactly is 'Fast Fashion'?
'Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.' - Solene Rauturier, GoodOnYou
Many high street brands, like Zara, H&M and Topshop, will put out a whole new collection consisting of 100s of new styles every week. Now imagine how many individual items of new clothing are being created, in one single week. I'll give you a hint - it's a shit load!
This is all part of a diabolical plan to make consumers feel like they have to continually buy new clothes, and consequently throw away their 'old' ones. The UK waste prevention charity WRAP has estimated that £140 million worth (around 350,000 tonnes) of clothing ends up in UK landfills each year. These clothes then sit there for generations gradually releasing toxic chemicals into the air which in turn contribute to climate change.
The emissions from the clothing which ends up on landfill are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the environmental impact of fast fashion. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter after oil (Greenpeace) with the equivalent of 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 being produced every year by the textile industry alone, and that's without the added impact of the garment's journey around the world to end up on the rails of your local high street chain.
I'll go into more detail another time about the damage each type of fabric does to the environment, in fact I've just thought this might make an interesting series *grabs her notebook and furiously starts writing...
Sorry, where was I?
The Human Cost
“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.” - Lucy Siegle, The True Cost
In order to produce this much clothing for the rock bottom prices we have come to expect from today's fashion brands corners have to be cut and its the workers in the supply chains who suffer.
The big fashion brands put huge amounts of pressure on the farms and factories to produce garments at the lowest possible price which leaves them with little option when it comes to working conditions and pay. Cotton farmers and leather manufacturers are often exposed to incredibly toxic chemicals and factory workers spend their incredibly long working hours in factories which have a nasty habit of falling down.
It was the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh in 2013 which drew the world's attention to the horrific conditions in these factories. Over 1000 people were killed when the building, which only the day before had been found to have massive structural cracks, came down on top of them. The other businesses in the building had closed after the cracks were found but the garment factory workers were forced to go to work, producing clothing for big brands such as Matalan and Primark.
The disaster led to a campaign by Clean Clothes Campaign for tighter regulations and greater transparency within the fashion industry but the fight is still going on with many brands simply moving their production to countries with fewer regulations.
What's The Solution?
"Buy less, choose well, make it last" - Vivienne Westwood
Firstly we need to curb our consumerism and simply buy less stuff! Its basic maths - If there's less demand for clothing then less clothing will be produced.
Secondly we need to make sure that the products we do buy, and this goes for everything, are well made by companies that actually care about their impact. There's a certain consumerist narrative which would lead us to believe that we have no choice when it comes to where we shop or that we have some sort of God given right to own lots of cheap crap.
This is bollocks.
There are loads of amazing, ethical brands out there making a real difference, it just takes a little bit more effort to find them. And I know they're more expensive but that's how much things are supposed to cost when everyone is being properly paid.
I would love a pair of Lucy & Yak dungarees but I never seem to have the money (is this a good time to mention I have a Ko-Fi page? #JustSaying) but that doesn't mean I should go for the cheaper option just because I can afford to.
What happened to the days of saving up for a special item and treasuring it for years to come? And if you really can't wait there's always your local charity shop or one of the many, many websites and apps for buying and selling second hand clothing and other stuff.
The third part of the solution is to take care of the things we already own so we don't need to replace them as often. Get yourself a needle and thread and learn to sew and mend your clothing. And don't tell me you can't, if I can do it anyone can! Airing your clothes instead of washing them and actually following the care instructions on your clothes will also extend their life (I should probably follow my own advice here as i'm a bugger for just chucking all my washing in on the same temperature!)
I believe there needs to be a mindset shift in our consumer driven society to one that treasures the items that we bring into our homes. If we respect our belongings instead of seeing them as disposable we will be much more likely to look after them properly and choose better quality products when we do need to buy them.
Ultimately we have the power to force the changes necessary to protect our planet and the people who call it home. We just need to believe in ourselves and each other and stand up for what we feel is right.