Caroline McWilliams shares a plea to fashion influencers to think about how they use their power and influence for good. We can no longer flinch away from the stark statistics about what our fashion industry is doing to the planet and must instead make a change. In Caroline’s own words: “Imagine if every influencer who promotes fast fashion switched to promoting sustainable fashion.” We can only hope!
Time and time again in my articles I return to the topic of sustainable fashion. And while that may seem repetitive, I make no apologies, as it is the greatest concern in the fashion world today. In this article I make a plea to all fashion influencers, bloggers and journalists. You have great power in your hands: the advent of mass social media has given a voice to a wider range of people from a wider range of backgrounds than ever before. What you choose to do with this power can mean the difference between a decline in carbon emissions and saving the planet or the furthering of the descent into climate destruction.
Here are some simple facts: clothing has become a disposable entity. An average family in the Western world throws away approximately 30kg of clothing every year. Only 15% of unwanted clothing is recycled. Every time we wash a synthetic garment, 1,900 microfibers are released into the water, which in turn makes its way into our water supply and is absorbed into our food chain via the fish that unintentionally ingest the microfibers. Furthermore, 20,000 litres of water are required to make just 1kg of cotton. Even more shockingly, 23% of all the chemicals made in the world are for clothes production.
Now here is where I turn to you, the fashion influencer. So often I glimpse videos or Instagram stories of you opening pastel coloured boxes or commercial plastic bags of clothes that are clearly cheap and ill made. Your exclamations of ‘oh, I love this…’ are all too common. But what is it that you love about these cheap clothes? You will wear them once, maybe twice, just enough to promote them and to ensure that the companies send you more. Then you might sell them or give them away, an act that you think is acceptable as it is technically a form of recycling. In fact, what you are doing is encouraging the people you influence to buy the same products in copious amounts. So what is there to love about this endless cycle of more, more, more? In the end, what is there in this for you? You may receive free clothes but it is the fast-fashion company that makes the money and in the process the planet is being irreparably damaged.
Fashion as an art form, fashion as entity that we engage with is not damaging. Fast fashion is the culprit and it must be rooted out. You, as an influencer have the opportunity and power to change things, to make a real difference. Instead of promoting fast fashion that is made by underpaid workers, for the most part in Asia, highlight local companies. Suggest that your followers look into small sustainable companies like People Tree or Isabel Manns. Choose natural fibres; buy better quality clothes in smaller quantities. Learn how to mend clothes and how to alter them into something new if you get tired of their current style. It is so strange to think that in our current times it is an accolade to be able to sew and alter clothes. Sixty years ago this was a standard skill. I am partially self taught when it comes to making clothes, but I also learned from my mother who learned from her grandmother and then the skills go back generations.
My sewing machine is one of my prize possessions and I love reworking garments into new ones, making costumes out of very little or simply mending shirts (often those of male friends who really need to learn how to sew…). Now imagine if every influencer who promotes fast fashion switched to promoting sustainable fashion. Imagine if it became the norm to wear each garment we own fifty times instead of five. If this happened, emissions would be reduced by 400%. These suggestions are not at all difficult to implement. It is not difficult to buy a garment from a sustainable source or to alter an old one. The real problem is that people are concerned with money, vanity and power.
There is an Native American prophecy that states: ‘Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realise we cannot eat money.’ The changes must be made now and I plead with you, the influencer, to take these matters into your hands. For isn’t saving the planet more important than a little extra cash in hand or a few more tacky outfit choices? You have power. Use it for good!
All figures are sourced from https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-environmental-impacts and were correct at the time of publication.