Sustainable fashion in the internet age; it sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it? The development of the internet has made it incredibly easy to open your laptop, go onto Asos.com and order a new dress for your summer wardrobe. Despite this, recent years have seen an increasing amount of consumers becoming more concerned with the social and environmental impacts of their clothing.
The way we produce and consume fashion has changed significantly over the years, especially with the introduction of online shopping. With clothing available at a click of a button, it has become easier than ever to purchase a new wardrobe every season.
The problem, as shown by the 2018 Apparel Overproduction Report, is that over half of these clothes are discarded within a year, creating 12.8 million tons of landfill waste. They aren’t very green to produce either, with each t-shirt taking a staggering 2,700 litres of water to produce. Additionally, it is estimated that textile production accounts for over 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. That is over 30 times the amount of emissions produced by the New Zealand agricultural industry!
These worrying statistics and growing public awareness, especially amongst young people, have led to the rise and evolution of sustainable and ethical fashion as both an industry and a way of life. This is in an effort to tackle both societal and environmental concerns and develop methods to curve the long term human impact on the planet.
One woman who has embraced sustainable/ethical fashion and managed to turn it into a business, is Marie Wade. Based in the North Island, Marie runs a vintage clothing business called Fruit Bowl Vintage entirely through Instagram.
Inspired in her mid-teens by individuality, music, and the people around her, she started collecting unique second-hand clothing. Marie explained that during her mid-teens she felt that what she wore had a role in expressing her multifaceted identity.
“I felt what I wore must also tell what I listen to and where I belong.”
After picking out pieces from local second-hand stores and markets, Marie uploads images of them to Instagram. One item of clothing often has multiple images so viewers can properly assess the item and see how it looks worn. Through her Instagram, Marie has showcased and sold hundreds of pre-loved fashion items, from clothing, to jewelry, to accessories.
As a reflection of today’s digital world, the entire browsing and buying process is completed through Instagram!
Marie and Fruit Bowl Vintage are just one example of how sustainable and ethical fashion has developed and adapted to fit the internet age. Her business model, selling predominantly preloved clothing, gives life to vast quantities of clothing that would have otherwise been discarded.
Through Instagram, Marie is able to modernise and digitise your local thrift shop, and use her knowledge and vintage expertise to reassure customers that they are buying quality products.
She shows that it is possible to buy high-quality and fashionable clothing, without requiring the often unethical or unsustainable practice of creating new clothing.
‘Insta-businesses,’ or businesses largely or solely on Instagram, have been on the rise in recent years. With Facebook in slow decline amongst young adults; Instagram use has risen amongst the same generation. Due to this and the interactive nature of Instagram, engagement with brands is significantly greater on Instagram than on other social media platforms.
However, this is not without its challenges. A difficulty identified in the industry would be remaining original, especially with new accounts using the same business model continuously coming up. Furthermore, it is also a challenge to remain constantly available on social media for purchases and messages.
When asked what advice she has for others interested in starting a vintage clothing collection, or turning towards sustainable/ethical fashion she had this to say:
“Do it! Your items will last so much longer, you’ll develop a unique style, and learn how to hunt through the op shops! By buy (sic) vintage or second-hand you’re choosing to say NO to fast fashion, which in turn is no to slave labour and yes to change”
According to The True Cost there are roughly 40 million people employed in the garment industry.
The clothing industry is not known to have the most ethical working conditions. Whilst it provides employment for people who may otherwise struggle to find jobs, including the poor and women, they are also some of the lowest paid workers in the world.
Worker protections and rights outside the Western world are either limited or non-existent. This has raised concern surrounding worker exploitation, health, safety, and human rights.
Sustainable and ethical fashion uses purchasing power to project influence in the industry, and in turn places pressure on larger clothing corporations. Corporations now have to acknowledge and claim a level of responsibility in order to remain in favour with consumers.
As a result of changing societal values and concerns, thanks in part to people like Marie, customers are increasingly demanding more sustainable and more ethically sourced clothing. Conscious customers want to limit the environmental impact and potential exploitation that comes with their purchases, without sacrificing quality. In fact, upon inspection, many of Marie’s clothing items come from New Zealand, Australian or American brands.
This is also reflected through new corporate initiatives such as H&M’s conscious line. Launched in 2012, it aims to provide quality clothing from recycled and sustainable materials. Some branches also promote clothing recycling by providing drop locations and discounts for doing so.
Sustainable fashion does not mean that you can’t buy anything new, or that all of your clothing has to come from vintage shops. It just implores you to be more conscious about where your clothes come from and who the people making them are, with technology making it increasingly easy to do so.