By Christina Dean
It’s not everyday that you have an ethical fashion and style epiphany whilst standing on top of a filthy Hong Kong landfill watching a queue of rubbish trucks dump their trash out. But this happened to me. This unlikely, and somewhat smelly, moment gave me such a seismic wake up call about my relationship with my clothes and how much rubbish I created that my entire appreciation of fashion was whiplashed into radical change. In that moment, with countless birds flying afoot and swooping down to eat scraps, I became an ethical fashion consumer and I committed to only wearing secondhand, vintage, upcycled or recycled clothes for the rest of my days. I have never looked back, or looked or felt better, since.
Radical, you might think. But I was already primed for this ethical epiphany moment. Since founding Redress, the NGO working to reduce waste in the fashion industry, 10 years ago I’ve had my nose deep in reports about sustainable fashion and my eyes focused on consumers’ changing relationship with their clothes.
But what I’ve since discovered is that many people from London, New York to Shanghai are having ethical fashion awakenings of their own. The new mantra is that 'feeling good is the new looking good'.
Let me explain. For years, we’ve believed that physically looking good can be achieved ‘simply’ by improving our; hair, teeth, size of bottom or bust, colour of skin, type of clothe, and the list goes on. Our pursuit of this ‘one dimensional physical’ beauty is still true and massively prevalent. One glance inside busy fashion shops, hairdressers, beauty salons or gyms heaving with tight Lycra and dreams of tighter abdominals, prove this.
But there is more to good looks than this. We’ve gone from ‘one dimensional physical beauty’ to ‘two dimensional physical and emotional beauty’. Say hello to the rise of the ethical consumer; the fashion lover who increasingly dresses according to his or her ethical values. They may as likely be into yoga, green juices, veganism, meditation and mindfulness as they are banking, modeling, acting or racing car driving. I like to think they have an active E Spot, where their hopes for a better and fairer world are stored. Like the G Spot, the E Spot is buried away somewhere, and it simply needs some gentle searching and activation to get it going.
My E Spot was triggered on that Hong Kong landfill. In the one-hour that I watched on, so too could an estimated 15,000 garments have entered Hong Kong’s landfills. This repulses me; clothes are so polluting to make and they are almost 100 per cent recyclable, so recklessly discarded so many valuable materials was shocking to me. So I changed, vowing only to wear secondhand and vintage clothes or clothes made using upcycled fabric waste or recycled materials, as opposed to wearing clothes made from virgin materials. (Note, knickers excluded.) My experience of letting my values loose within my closet turned out to be the most fashionable decision I’ve ever made.
Other people’s E Spots are triggered by different factors; shock about some working conditions and questionable human rights; realizing that textile production is polluting our waterways; alarm over the increasing cancer rates identified near manufacturing areas; to waking up about fashion’s impact on air pollution and climate change.
We’re now really seeing the rise in ethical consumers. Reports suggest that 65 percent of consumers in emerging markets want to buy sustainable fashion, which is wildly positive. (Although a sobering reality is that 61 percent of China’s groundwater was recently classified as being ‘unfit for human touch’, so there’s plenty more converts needed.)
So what happens when your E Spot for ethical fashion is turned on? It’s very simple, you start to dress more from your heart, you flex your own style, which reflects who you are, and as a result, you start to develop your own unique fashion identity. (And no, unlike the G Spot, organisms are rarely associated with E Spots.)
The wave of more conscious fashion lovers is huge. Take your pick from the gorgeous line-up of Hollywood stars, like Amber Valletta, Emma Watson and Gisele Bündchen, who’ve worked with designers in the ranks of Calvin Klein, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen to turn the red carpet green, donning recycled materials, sustainable fibres or vintage gowns. China’s glitterati are also coming out of the closet to their fashion and environmental interest; like Bonnie Chen and Sandy Lam. It’s even happening within political circles; Peng Yi Luan wore silk clothes created by craftsmen using traditional looms used a century ago in China by Chinese designer Ma Ke and Michelle Obama was spotted supporting African batik traditions and vintage gowns.
So what’s clear to me is that the pursuit of a more ethical closet is for everyone – celebrities, scientists, secretaries, and you and me included. There’s nothing complicated about it, and contrary to public belief, being conscious around your clothes can save you money.
Step one must be a radical closet edit. This may sound mundane, but it is fundamental. To do this, pull everything you own out to remember and re-organise your clothes. Then analyse every item to create piles. Pile A are clothes you wear regularly, these you keep. Pile B are clothes you’re not wearing. Then work out why and create further piles of; stained, damaged, ill-fitting, don’t like, don’t fit. These clothing misfits may be screaming to be brought back into fashion action simply by cleaning, altering, restyling, redesigning, swapping or selling. Whatever you do, work through your B pile with a guiding principle that you’re determined to end up with a highly curated closet that you love wearing. Warning, you’ll need a large dose of brutal honesty to do this well.
Afterwards, you will almost automatically buy more consciously. You’ll be more in tune with buying beautiful quality pieces that you absolutely love (remember quality over quantity), perhaps more open to searching vintage stores, to supporting emerging fashion designers.
This process of looking for your E Spot will leave you with a new, unique and ‘more you’ reflection as you increasingly fall in love with dressing – from the heart.
This article first appeared in Chinese in Modern Weekly magazine in November 2017