“I realised that I could be buying clothes made by someone who was effectively enslaved,” says Raelene. In the past, a firm fan of Boden, Phase Eight and other high street brands, her shopping habits were transformed by a sustainable fashion event in London in 2013. Like most people, Rae had no idea that many clothes were made by women working in dire conditions and for poverty wages in countries like Bangladesh and China. “Looking at dresses online was one of my favourite things to do, and it’s what I turned to when I was stressed at work.” (Me too!) However, hearing about the way garments were manufactured caused Rae to change her shopping habits dramatically.
A major debate surrounding sustainability is over who’s responsible for making the change. While many argue that businesses should act responsibly, Rae believes that this won’t happen without consumer pressure: “I strongly believe that as consumers we create demand,” she states. There’s a great deal of evidence that this is true. Consumer concerns over plastic have led Evian to pledge to produce all of their bottles from 100% recycled plastic. Aldi has begun manufacturing packaging from plastic rescued from entering the ocean. These moves are highly likely to be in response to consumer concern over plastic. Data collected by the UK government reveals that the public is more concerned about plastic waste than almost any other issue, including Brexit and climate change.
Brands that Rae, a yoga teacher and Finance Director, favours include People Tree for fashion and Gossypium for yoga wear. Both brands have strong relationships with their suppliers, and this is key to ensuring that clothes are made ethically and sustainably. Many high street brands have highly complex supply chains and little visibility on what goes on the factories that manufacture clothes on their behalf. By contrast, ethical brands make a point auditing of their suppliers, and of working with trusted partners who share their ethos. Partnership is a fundamental concept when it comes to ethical fashion: instead of choosing ‘suppliers’ based on low prices, ethical brands tend to have long-standing and mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses. So impressed was Rae with People Tree’s approach that she became an investor in the brand.
One of the issues with sustainable fashion is that it’s expensive — and that’s one reason why I love and recommend secondhand shopping. Rae knows that she’s privileged to be able to afford People Tree and Gossypium, and points out that these brands do offer good value for money: “I’ve got some leggings I’ve had for over ten years that are still in good condition.”
Like most of us, Rae isn’t perfect and was recently reproached by another yogi for a salad in disposable plastic packaging. And while the vast majority of her fashion purchases are ethical, it’s not 100% — she recently bought a couple of items from Stitch Fix. It’s so important to acknowledge that none of us is perfect and that we’re subject to pressures from convenience and price to seductive social media advertising. We don’t need a few people doing sustainability perfectly; we need millions of us doing it imperfectly — just like Rae.
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