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When is fashion considered “sustainable”?

Ever since I purchased the book “Sustainable Fashion & Textiles” by Kate Fletcher a month ago, I’ve been so inspired to write this post. I get many mails and comments every single day evolving the subject sustainable fashion, and there are indeed many theories and questions that covers it. Many people are looking for a “cheat sheet” – a way to be sure that the garments you buy are made properly from start to finish. A way where you as a consumer are allowed to say yes or no to the question of whether you are a sustainable consumer or not. And even though this would be the dream for us as consumers, it’s far from possible to operate like that the way things are today. The closest you get to a scenario like that is obviously to support the sustainable brands and to challenge the way you consume in general (learn more HERE). I’m no expert but you don’t have to be to know how complex the supply chain in the fashion industry is. I’m a curious consumer (probably more than the average, but that’s only because I want to have my facts straight with you guys), and it’s important to me to stay as updated as possible now that I have the “power” to influence so many people around me.

Sustainable fashion is not a “either or” kind of question. I often run into theories that claim that if you stay away from synthetic materials and stick to the natural ones then that equals sustainability, because the garment will be biodegradable. And although this has a fragment of truth in it, it doesn’t say one bit about the rest of the supply chain which can be so complex from fibre to finished product. It doesn’t say anything about how long that piece of garment will last through wear and wash, how long you intend to keep it, how many chemicals that where involved in the production of it and it doesn’t say anything about the ethical basis evolving the people in the production part either. If we look at polyester vs cotton for example you actually use a lot less energy and water in the production of polyester than that of cotton, and there can be so many chemicals involved in the production of cotton as well. The problem with polyester though, is that the fibres are made from mineral oils that we can’t restore the same way as we can cultivate cotton. Some people also believe in only buying secondhand. And as much as I’m all in for this and I too believe that we have ENOUGH garments an textiles in the world already (just waiting for u to reuse it directly or indirectly through new systems), I am also well aware of the consequences of not supporting good and holistic projects and concepts at all. Projects that allow the fashion industry to change from the healthy social basis at the design office, to a warm and responsible collaboration with the people in the production. Do you see how complex it is once we start unfolding the supply chain?

This post is by no means written to scare you away from doing what you can to make a difference. Don’t let that “I can’t do nothing right, so I’ll just do nothing at all” kind of thinking win! But I want to give you some food for thought. Thoughts that can help us become even better and more creative as consumers.

Lige siden jeg for en måneds tid siden klikkede bogen “Sustainable Fashion & Textiles” af Kate Fletcher hjem, har jeg følt mig inspireret til, at skrive dette indlæg. Jeg får mange mails og kommentarer vedrørende emnet bæredygtig mode hver eneste dag, og der findes mange teorier og spørgsmål om netop dette emne. Mange efterlyser lidt et “cheat sheet” – en gylden måde hvorpå du altid kan sikre dig, at det tøj du køber er ordentligt lavet fra start til slut. En måde hvor du kan svare enten ja eller nej til spørgsmålet om, hvorvidt du er en bæredygtig forbruger eller ej. Og selvom dette kunne være en drøm for os forbrugere, så er det desværre langt fra sandheden nu og her. Den fremgangsmåde findes ikke – det tætteste du kommer på scenariet er dog, at bakke op om de bæredygtige mærker og udfordre dit eget forbrug generelt (læs mere HER). Nu er jeg ikke ekspert på området, men det behøver man heller ikke være, for at vide hvor kompleks forsyningskæden i tekstilbranchen er. Jeg er en nysgerrig forbruger (nok lidt udover det sædvanlige, fordi jeg gerne vil oplyse andre forbrugere om emnet også), og det er vigtigt for mig, at holde mig opdateret når nu jeg kan nå ud til så mange mennesker med mit budskab.

Men bæredygtig mode er ikke et “enten eller” spørgsmål. Jeg støder fx ofte på teorier om, at hvis man kun køber tøj lavet i naturlige materialer, så er det lig med bæredygtig mode fordi tøjet dermed er naturligt nedbrydeligt. Og det har da på sin vis også et lille element af bæredygtighed i sig – men det siger slet ikke noget om resten af forsyningskæden, der iøvrigt kan være uendeligt lang og kompleks fra fiber til tøj. Det siger ikke noget om hvor lang tid det pågældende tøj reelt set holder til brug og vask, hvor længe du gider at blive ved med at gå i det, hvor mange kemikalier der har været involveret i fremstillingen af det og det siger heller ikke noget om det etiske grundlag der omgiver de mennesker, der arbejder i produktionen. Hvis vi fx ser på bomuld vs polyester, så bruges der faktisk væsentligt mindre energi og vand på at fremstille polyester, og fremstillingen af bomuld kan være utrolig kemikalieomgivet. Problemet med tøj i polyester er så blandt andet at fibrene er lavet af råolie, som vi ikke kan få igen på samme måde som vi jo kan gro bomuld. Nogle mennesker køber også udelukkende brugt tøj. Jeg er selv KÆMPE tilhænger af genbrug og er primært af den opfattelse at vi har NOK tøj i verden allerede (som blot venter på at blive genanvendt enten direkte eller indirekte på nye måder), men er også klar over konsekvenserne af, slet ikke at bakke op om de gode projekter der faktisk eksisterer i tekstilbranchen. Projekter der har en holistisk tilgang til fremstillingen af tøj lige fra det gode, sociale grundlag på kontoret til et varmt og sundt forhold til de mennesker der arbejder i produktionen. Kan du se hvor komplekst det er, når man ligeså stille folder forsyningskæden ud – hvor svært det er at vide 100% hvad der er det mest bæredygtige valg?

Indlægget her er ikke skrevet for, at afskrække dig fra at gøre en forskel dér hvor du kan. Vi skal undgå den der “jeg kan jo ikke gøre noget rigtigt, så jeg kan lige så godt lade helt være” tankegang! Men jeg vil gerne give dig endnu mere stof til eftertanke. Eftertanker der kan gøres os til endnu bedre og endnu mere kreative forbrugere.

Top – Secondhand / Jeans – Levi’s / Sandals – Boohoo (old)

Let’s stay with the term “sustainable” for a minute, shall we? According to Wikipedia the meaning of this word is: “Sustainability is the process of change, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.” A beauty product can be made 100% vegan or all natural, but if the packaging comes in non-recyclable plastic, then a bit of the sustainable aspect is lost to me. This doesn’t mean that I never buy products like that at all, because you can’t live your life going for “perfect” products. Plastic is made from mineral oils that we can’t restore and get back once they are gone from the planet, and most of the plastic that is and have ever been made ends up in landfills, gets burned through incinerators or it ends up in our nature. That is the problem with plastic in a nutshell; the way we handle it. But if you look at sustainability as healthy, lasting habits for you as a human being, it will never become sustainable trying to be a perfect consumer. It has to make sense and be sustainable for you, if you are gonna stick to it, right?

Lad os lige dvæle ved ordet “bæredygtig” et øjeblik. Ifølge Wikipedia er betydningen af ordet følgende: “udtrykt på en mere enkel måde vil bæredygtighed skabe de bedst mulige betingelser for mennesker og miljø både nu og i den fjerne fremtid.” Et beauty produkt kan fx sagtens være lavet 100% vegansk eller naturligt, men hvis indpakningen er lavet i et ikke-genanvendeligt (fx plastik) materiale, så forsvinder lidt af det bæredygtige aspekt for mig. Det betyder overhovedet ikke, at jeg ikke køber produkter af den slags, for det ER svært at støve det “perfekte” bæredygtige produkt op. Det er stort set umuligt. Plastik er fremstillet af råolie – et materiale som vi først og fremmest ikke kan udvinde igen, når først det er opbrugt, og størstedelen af det plastik der fremstilles ender som ikke-genanvendeligt affald enten på afbrændingen eller i naturen. Det er problemet med plastik i en nøddeskal; måden vi håndterer det på. Men hvis man ser på bæredygtighed i form af vedvarende sunde vaner for dig som menneske, så er det ikke særlig bæredygtigt, at prøve på at være en perfekt forbruger. Det skal give mening for dig, hvis din bæredygtige livsstil skal holde i det lange løb, ikke?

Sustainable fashion is about being creative and aware in new ways; not only as for example a designer but also as a consumer. The industry is driven by us as consumers, and as long as we have the demands for “more for less” that we have, it’s safe to say it will keep doing it’s thing in the speed that it does today. Business is business. Whether a garment is sustainable or not is then only possible to answer, by looking at the diverse subjects the book I mentioned in the beginning of this post covers: materials, ethics, use, recycling and consumption to name a few. Sustainability – and not only sustainable fashion – is in reality SO diverse. And it’s better to do something than to do nothing at all. That’s is probably the best advice I can give you! That may well mean that the products you consume are not always perfectly sustainable, but you’re doing something different than usually. You are conscious and mindful about your believes, your consumption and you use your voice as a consumer anyway: by supporting initiatives, projects and brands that are trying to make a difference. And you can do your best to refuse the opposite. Whether it’s supporting eco-friendly and social responsible production or going for products from a brand that values high quality that lasts for years to name a few examples. To give you some insight in my own habits I buy many things secondhand (especially leather good now that I’ve cut down on meat too), to choose the t-shirt made in organic cotton over the conventional one, use what I already have more creatively, support sustainable brands and initiatives, think quality above quantity and so on.

I’d also like to really recommend the book I mentioned in the beginning of the post (even though it’s a heavy bad boy to get through!) – it starts with the importance in not exclusively focusing on the production part of the fashion industry, which is also something that I find very important. I don’t wish to directly to put “the mean fashion people” out of business, because it’s undeniable how many people across the world who relies on their jobs in this industry. For better and worse of course – but that is why it is SO important, that we support the “good will” kinds of brands. So find your own diverse way of exploring the field of sustainable fashion and lifestyle and find the theories that makes sense to you, and that YOU believe in.

Bæredygtig mode handler i høj grad om at være kreativ og bevidst på nye måder; ikke kun som fx designer men også som forbruger. Branchen er jo drevet af os som forbrugere, og så længe den måde vi forbruger på (vi vil have mere for mindre) er gavnligt for den, så er det selvsagt, at den vil forstætte i samme tempo som nu. Business er business. Hvorvidt et stykke tøj er bæredygtigt eller ej vil derfor kun kunne besvares ved, at se på de hovedelementer bogen jeg nævnte først i indlægget fremhæver: materialer, etik, anvendelse, genbrug og forbrug for blot at nævne nogle af dem. Bæredygtighed – og ikke kun bæredygtig mode – er derfor i virkeligheden enormt alsidig. Og det er bedre at gøre noget anderledes, end slet ikke at gøre noget. Det er nok i virkeligheden den bedste tommelfingerregel jeg kan give jer! Så kan det godt være det ikke er det perfekte produkt, men du gør trods alt noget anderledes end du plejer. Du er bevidst om din holdning, dit forbrug og du bruger din stemme som forbruger uanset hvad: du lægger den dér hvor du selv gør en forskel og hvor du ved, at man som brand eller koncept kæmper for, at gøre en forskel. Og du kan gøre dit bedste for, at undgå det modsatte. Hvad enten det så er grønnere, mere etisk korrekt produktion eller et produkt der er fremstillet til, at kunne holde i mange år for blot at nævne et par eksempler. Hvis jeg skal give jer et indblik i mine egne, alsidige forbrugsvaner er det bl.a. at købe mere genbrug (især lædervarer som sko, jakker og tasker nu hvor jeg har skrået ned på mit kød forbrug), at vælge t-shirten i økologisk bomuld frem for den konventionelle, bruge det tøj jeg allerede har mere kreativt, støtte bæredygtige brands og koncepter, tænke kvalitet frem for kvantitet og meget mere.

Bogen jeg nævnte først i dette indlæg kan i øvrigt virkelig anbefales (selv om den er heavy at komme igennem!) – den indleder faktisk med vigtigheden i, ikke kun at have fokus på produktionsdelen i tekstilbranchen, hvilket jo også er noget af det jeg virkelig sætter højt på min dagsorden. Jeg ønsker ikke direkte at sætte “de onde modefolk” ud af business, for vi kommer heller ikke udenom hvor mange arbejdspladser tekstilbranchen giver anledning til i hele verden. Både på godt og ondt, selvfølgelig – men derfor er det også endnu vigtigere, at det er de “gode” og kreative brands der får vores opbakning. Så find din egen alsidige fremgangsmåde at leve mere bæredygtigt på og find de teorier der giver mening for dig, og som DU tror på.

 

 

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  • Nanci-jean Franks
    4. July 2018

    Great post Signe!!! For those who have the means to only buy from ethical clothing brands, that’s great!! I do both, buy sustainable/ethical brands when I can, and secondhand otherwise. I still have a lot of clothes to get through before I do any major shopping lol!! But I did purchase a couple of Tees and earrings from People Tree!! Can’t wait to get them!!

  • Trini Lind
    5. July 2018

    Hi Signe,
    I have followed your YouTube channel for a while now and just recently found your blog. I loved this article and just wanted to share a few of my thoughts on consumerism.

    I come from Norway where it is pretty normal for teenagers to shop an entire new outfit every weekend. When I was a teenager that mostly meant H&M, Only, Vero Moda etc., but nowadays the trend is that even girls as young as 12-13 own multiple Michael Kors bags.
    In my opinion, people in Norway, and many north European countries, just have too much money.

    I now live in India where buying a new outfit is a special occasion. People take great joy in the whole process of looking into stores and selecting that perfect outfit. Afterwards they care for that outfit and wear it until it is torn to pieces. Here, people are not so much concerned about fabric types or who has made the clothes, but that it is good quality and will last for years.

    It reminds me a bit of a story my granny told when I was a teenager. My granny was apprenticed to a shop owner when she was 18 ( this was in the early 50s) and she lived with her sister in a tiny flat far away from her family. My granny loved clothes, but on an apprentice salary she couldn’t really afford it. But one day she saw a coat in a shop window she fell in love with. She just had to have it! So she ate only potatoes for a month and saved all her money. She looked at the coat in the window on her way to work every day ( in those days collections only changed with the season) until the day finally came when she could proudly enter the shop and buy the coat. She put it on immediately and paraded like a peacock up and down the street to show off her new coat. Even now, in her 80s, she still remember that coat with love.

    That is the type of materialism I want to go back to. When clothing become luxury and we truly love and appreciate every piece in our wardrobe. When we remember the story attached to each purchase and our entire closet is like a scrapbook of memories.

    I worked in a vintage dress shop when I was in college, and the old lady running the shop couldn’t afford to pay me, so she gave me dresses instead. Today I treasure every single one of those dresses.

    I hate how brand obsessed we have become today, and how internet has taken over the retail business. I still prefer finding small unique shops selling especially selected pieces from brands I have never heard of and only become aware of because the label is so whimsically designed. I love supporting such small businesses where the owner herself has decorated the shop and greets you with a smile and an offer of a cup of tea or a pair of pink free socks with your purchase. I wish we could all make an effort to support these small niche shops where it is highly unlikely that the garments are mass produced in sweatshops in Bangladesh or overpriced to make a luxury brand seem more luxurious and exclusive.

    These are just my thoughts on the topic and I hope you don’t feel like I have hijacked your post with this super long comment. I just had so much on my chest.

    Thank you for making a difference in the world with your channel and blog! You inspire many to stop over consuming and to take a step back from the overly materialistic world we live in.

    Thank you, Signe!
    Keep up the good work!

    Knus/ hugs from Trini.

    • signeh24
      > Trini Lind
      11. July 2018

      WOW, thank you so much Trini – for that well-written comment!! I can’t describe how happy it makes me that you felt like taking so much time to write me all this, and share your thoughts. I was kinda moved about the story of your granmother and I can only agree, that is a form of materialism our society lacks! I’ve actually made a video not so long ago too, where I share many of the same thoughts and values as you. Especially about our obsession with brands, logos etc. We think it’s “legit” investments, but really it’s become a new and much more disgusting way of consuming; one handpicked and unique vintage designer bag is no longer enough. No, we need to have at least 10 different designer handbags now, and they all need to be “on trend”. I dont like that form of materialism either! Anyway, thanks again for your comment and kind words. If you want to watch the video I mention you can do so right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1EGBrwy_v8

      xx

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