Fast to fair: How do we and how could we consume

consumption clothes fast to fair fashion.jpeg

Last Friday, we participated in a panel discussion in Maria Granel, a zero-waste shop in Lisbon. The panel was titled “Fast to Fair: How do we and how could we consume” and we had amazing co-speakers with us! Tanja Wessels from AllInAsia joined us, same as Paula Perez from NAE Vegan Shoes, we also had a great moderator in person of Joana Guerra Tadeu. We had a long and interesting talk between us four, but also managed to get our audience on board and a panel turned into a great platform for discussion, questions and expressing observations. Here are some of our notes from the event and what we stressed as most important aspects in debate on fair consumption.

MATERIALS and responsibility

Departing from the context of a sustainable, ethical brand, Paula Perez (NAE Vegan Shoes) gave us an incredible insight into how a brand, such as the one she is leading, can plan to aim at alleviating the negative impact our consumption might have on the environment. We all need to acknowledge the fact that consumption is not going anywhere anytime soon and brands need to shift their focus from hard profit and blind production to taking responsibility for the products they are actually releasing. Paula gave examples such as projects utilising “trashed” fabrics - like re-claimed airbags and car tyres which NAE successfully took in and re-purposed in their designs. It is always refreshing to listen to brands who not only have their supply chain worked out to the tiniest detail, but can see clearly why and how their efforts matter on a daily basis. The view on veganism is also something that we definitely share with NAE, as both us and Paula agree on the fact that it is very hard to reach ethical production if at the origin of it there is death and suffering. Even if PU leather seems not to be the best fabric, refusing leather should be, and often is, a step towards creativity and search for better and better fabrics.

The clarity of mission and message consistency, but also ability to take responsibility for their production, of NAE Vegan Shoes is why we really wanted to have a conversation with them in the first place, as we know for a fact that some of the biggest brands - we will not point fingers, but think biggest names out there - don’t even have sufficient data about where their products are made. That leads to all kinds of violations, from poor quality of used materials, through human rights violations and low wages to child labour cases. The bigger the brand is, and the more tiers to their suppliers there are, the more likely it is that they do not have any chance to guarantee sustainability and ethics on all of the supply chain levels. We loved how Paula from NAE confidently and fiercely gave us “But you must know! You produce things, therefore you must know” and all we could say was “amen!” We would only wish for more brands like this. Disposable income will always drive consumption. But what we consume is entirely up to us and it is time to choose brands that really do deserve our attention. They are there, we just need to find them.

MISCONCEPTIONS VS. EDUCATION

Imagine this scenario: You just found out that the retailer you constantly buy from, a big chain store with really cool and reasonably priced clothes has been producing their clothes in Bangladesh (well, actually you always knew that because you glimpsed at some of the labels in the past but did not really think about it until just now) and their factory collapsed killing over 1000 people - mostly women. You dig deeper and you find out that the catastrophe could be easily avoided, but the brand you like has been paying the factory owners too little to deal with the issue, yet constantly demanded more - therefore, seems like they are entirely to blame for the tragedy (sounds like Rana Plaza, huh?). The news really shook you. You hate the world for allowing these things to happen and, after some reading, you decide to become a minimalist. You get rid of most of your clothes, but you do not want to just throw them away - do you decide to donate them to poor or those in need. Are your intentions good? By all means. But is it a good thing to do? Not entirely. We are not educated in how things work in fashion and charity, but probably less than 10% of all donated clothes actually ends up being worn or used again. We imagine they will go on, in our utopian vision, and give happiness to others. The fact is, some of the clothes we donate are not in the right quality to be reused. If they do end up sent somewhere - we don’t take into account that people who receive our clothes might just simply not like them (yes, “our” style is not “the” style), or that their climate makes our clothes entirely impractical for them. In reality, most of donated clothes end up in landfills, where they contribute to general carbon emission game. And so - our good action becomes even worse than if we just kept the “unethical” clothes in the first place.

That is why education is so important. Joana Tadeu, our moderator, quite rightfully so, posed an open question during the panel - why there is nothing in schools about being an educated consumer? We are offered products all the time, are they objects, messages, services or something else - we are asked to listen, pay attention and buy. But we are not taught to filter the messages skillfully or look for more relevant ones - still, we are taught abstraction or religions. Truth is, we do not know enough. Just as we don’t know where our donated clothes go, it is also not common to know about the amounts of chemicals that go to oceans every minute, who made your pair of jeans or what is the rough price gap between a Primark executive and a worker in their factory in Bangladesh. Our literacy as consumers makes more and more sense now, since the consequences of our consumption become hazardous and irreversible - and there are many more of us. All of us need to educate ourselves about topics like greenwashing, which happens when highly unethical brands tell us what we want to hear just because “caring” is in style now. We have been given the Internet - unlimited access to all the information we need. It’s sad that sometimes we just choose not to use it when truth is uncomfortable.

ACTIVISM

Last but not least, as the last of the most important mentioned aspects had it, Tanja Wessels gave us a great idea on how manifestation, art and activism can help when it comes to consciousness and ethical consumption. “Not everyone will be minimalists, some of us just love to dress up and will continue to do so” said Tanja, rocking a beautiful bottle green Chinese qipao type of dress (man, this woman always makes us feel bleak with our black-grey-white clothing palette…). What art and activism, and above all vocalising of existing issues, do, is making problems more visible and approachable. Without NGOs and activist communities change would not be placed in media that fast simply because people would have less opportunities to hear messages advocating for it that loud and clear. Not everyone will stop consuming and decide to be minimalists, but there are ways to be educated and smart about consuming as well. It is never too late to say “Okay, that’s it. I had my go with cheap and appealing fashion, but I acknowledge the possibility of not needing all that much”. And that is where the interesting change happens. Once we heard someone much more clever than us say that “nothing can really change in your comfort zone” and we feel like fast fashion is a little bit like a comfort zone. It’s familiar, ever-present and available - even when you go abroad to an entirely culturally different country, you might feel a strike of relief to see a familiar brand, because deep down you know you will feel “at home” for a moment. But that is an illusion - experiencing life happens when we step out of the familiar and go for gold - the unexplored, the scary, the uncharted.

The only thing, perhaps the hardest, is just to be brave, step out and see all the alternatives that unfold. We have all the tools - let’s use them to make ourselves better consumers, better people and, just maybe, make the planet a better, healthier home.

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