We live in the era of fast fashion. We have become the ‘I don’t have anything to wear’ generation, we are accustomed to the ‘ah sure it’s only a fiver’ phrase when justifying a new item of clothing. In an increasingly globalised and consumer-based society, it seems that we need to look more closely at the label. Speaking to Aisling Byrne of nu.ethical, she explains fast fashion and its costs, and discusses how we can, as a community, regain control of the fashion industry.
Could you give a brief introduction to nu.ethical, and the basis for starting the project?
Nu.ethical is an ethical and sustainable fashion community that we’ve started in Dublin (2015). The idea is that people can have alternatives to fast fashion, people can still have changing wardrobes, but without the environmental and social costs that come with fast fashion. Nu.ethical is a fashion community, nu. run events, such as regular swap-shops, and have also created an online platform for sharing and swapping clothes. Through the community, people can use the clothes that they already have in a fun environment, learning more about what you can do to make small changes within the fashion industry, and helping people become more aware. The online forum is a way for new members to swap clothes with their friends, people around them and the wider fashion community. It is a way for people to still reap the benefits from fast fashion without the added costs, both environmental and social.
Can you describe what ‘fast fashion’ is?
A lot of high street brands fall into the fast fashion category. High street brands (think H&M, Zara, Forever 21) have created ‘fast fashion’. Over recent decades, there has been a move towards this new way of shopping. Previously, brands in the fashion industry would have produced Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer, but it has now developed into the product of 52 seasons a year, with new trends coming out every week. They change the looks constantly, the consumer buys into this and feels a need to keep up with these fast changing trends.
This mass production and mass consumption leads to so many problems along the chain. Workers in the factories struggle to meet deadlines, with more and more pressure being put upon them. Also the designers, who would prefer to have more time to create pieces that they love, and that will last a lifetime, are forced into creating pieces that must get from the drawing board to the shop in three weeks.
The consumer (thats us!) is also isolated from the products, we are put under increasing pressure to keep up with these fast trends, which obviously has a huge effect on us financially. The pressure to keep up with constantly changing trends. As a collective, let’s take back control of the fashion industry. We are all part of the chain and we all have an impact.
Can we reverse this trend of ‘fast fashion’?
Fast fashion has equalised the fashion industry. It doesn’t really matter what your budget is, you can still find clothes that make you look good, whereas before fast fashion’s growth, it was a class issue. This is one thing that fast fashion has done for us, although we are buying into this corrupt system (in some respects).
People seem to want to constantly change their wardrobes, constantly update it, wear an item a couple of times and then move on to something else. We [Nu.ethical] looked at this and we asked ourselves, how can we make this more sustainable and more ethical? If we can’t do this, then the fast fashion industry is ultimately flawed.
Nu.ethical began looking for solutions. If something has to be worn 30 times in order for it to have a suitable lifecycle, as well as not being harmful to the environment, it can be worn 30 times but that doesn’t have to be by the same person. It seems we need to move towards a more ‘ownless’ society. If you look at sharing economy reports and circular economy reports, this is something that is going to grow substantially in the next few years. Rental systems coming in, driverless cars, etc. Why would you own a dress that you are only going to wear three times? You have invested in this wardrobe, you lose money, and it ultimately becomes waste.
People are curious, we are built to try new things, people love fashion. So how do we do this in a sustainable way? Hopefully brands will wake up, in fact they’re having to wake up because of this conscious consumer mindset thats definitely coming in, people genuinely do care.
You describe the environmental and social costs of fashion on your website, can you elaborate on these?
It all starts with the cotton and the material, are the farmers paid right? In many cases they are using monsanto seeds, that do not fend off pests, and they’re forced to buy pesticides. This can put a huge amount of pressure on the farmer, who in turn may go into debt. There has been thousands of farmer suicides in India in the past decade alone.
Dangerous conditions in the factories, as well as outsourcing to homes. Although fast fashion brands will say that they’re being made in a certain factory. However, behind closed doors, a lot of the production can be outsourced to women, men and even children beyond the walls of the factory. This is completely unregulated and undocumented. Undocumented wages, unpaid toilet breaks, undocumented overtime.
Toxic chemicals and dyes that are dumped into rivers and lakes, having detrimental effects on our environment. The clothes then get to our shops, then our wardrobes, and after a short lifecycle we put them into charity shops (90% of which are not sold) and are then sent over to developing countries at knock-down prices. This undercuts the local economy and then the small local shops and artisans in the local economy go out of business. All of this waste ends up in landfills in the countries that never wanted the clothes to begin with. It is a destructive, unsustainable chain.
Social issues include issues with unions, with what workers can and should be paid and the conditions that they should be working in. A label that reads ‘Made in Italy’ could mean that it is only fitted or tailored there, not necessarily manufactured there. It is so difficult for the consumer to be informed when so much of the fashion industry is undocumented.
Fashion and activism, do you think fashion can have an impact in regards to social issues?
Fashion is like your second skin, it can say so much about you, what you stand for and what you don’t stand for. Brands like TOMS, is a brand that has beautiful products, and also has a beautiful social and ethical mindset (purchasing a pair of TOMS helps provide shoes, water, and other health and sanitation services across the globe). Of course, on the other side of that, a lot of brands also ‘greenwash’ their products, that seems to be what millennials want.
The black ‘Repeal’ jumpers, for example are really important in movements, they have created a community. The Repeal jumpers are also ethically produced and approved. A bond is created between strangers passing each other on the street. With sustainable fashion and sustainable brands, clothes and fashion become much more than just bits of material. Fashion can have a message, and it should. People create art when they stand for something, through dance or through music, so why not through fashion?
Do you have any tips that people can follow in order to take some steps towards being more ethical in regards to fashion?
-Next time you need something to wear for a night out, just ask yourself ‘do I have it?’, and if not, does someone else have it? Can you borrow it?
-If you have to go out and buy it, try choose an ethical brand
-Think about what you are buying
-Will I wear this 30 times, and if not, will someone else? Can I share this with a friend?
-Buy something because you know that you’ll keep wearing it, buy something that will last
-Look at your wardrobe, look at what you have and what you don’t have
-You may find that you have 8 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs could do the same thing
-Think about ‘doing more, with less’
-Nu.ethical run swap shops once a month, where you can swap your pre-loved clothes for some new ones
-Be more conscious, be more aware and try think about the costs behind that label
nu.ethical are available online and offline. Nu. are providing amazing alternatives to fast fashion from the swap-shops they run regularly to the online community they are developing. They are all about swapping, sharing, creating, repairing and generally having fun with fashion, with ethics and sustainability at their heart. We need to take back control of the fashion industry as a community, and as a community we can and will do better.
Nu. are starting a wardrobe trial, where you can share clothes with your friends, people in your college, school or area, and the whole Nu. Borrowing, rather than buying means you can get some great pieces, without the financial, social and environmental costs! (sounds great really!)
For their trial the need people to send in photos of 5 items of clothing that you are willing to share, you’ll be invited to the online platform and can access all of the clothes available. To find out more, just fill out this google form and Nu. will send you an email with all the information you need: (Get swapping and sharing!) https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScqyC8eB_XCtwj-X5GreYEuCNkAWyHS7mei5ddCNG_4bDdchw/viewform
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nustartup/ or @nustartup
Louise Conway speaks to Aisling Byrne (nu.ethical)