Fashion, Sustainability Shaming and Twitter: A Force for Change

After years of mindlessly using single-use plastics and buying into fast fashion, we’re finally becoming more conscious of how our actions impact the world. With 66% of millennials stating they’re willing to spend more on sustainable brands, it’s clear that the damaging environmental effects of fashion are no longer being ignored.

Leaves. Photo: Scott Webb

Photo: Scott Webb

For one month during my time at university, when I was given the task of running a Twitter account – and by extension, a blog – dedicated to a topic of my choice, I chose sustainable fashion.

In a world of changing attitudes towards the way we treat our planet, I wanted to learn more about sustainable fashion and why it was so important. In doing so, I learnt something else: I was wracked with guilt over my fast fashion choices, and I had unconsciously given in to the thinly veiled sustainability shaming that is rife on social media and beyond.

As millennials and Gen Z-ers, we’re inundated with criticism over our sustainability activism, due to our apparent lack of willingness to commit to it wholeheartedly.

We’re the generations most likely to be photographed, and we’ve been brought up exposed to social media and all of its vain characteristics. Because of this, we care about how we look, and – somewhat selfishly – we’re often not willing to compromise on owning the newest and trendiest for the sake of doing our bit to help the planet. Or at least, that’s what some would say.

Photo: Pratik Gupta

I joined in on countless tweet-athons and interacted with the biggest sustainable fashion influencers, and as a result, I felt a nagging fear that I wasn’t doing enough.

Similar to those who shun plastic straws but still use make-up wipes when they’re too tired to go about their holy grail skincare routine, there are a lot of people who practice sustainable fashion consumption alongside the occasional trip to a fast fashion retailer – including me.

It’s important to remember that, unlike ditching those £3 make-up wipes for a splash of water or replacing plastic straws for paper ones, sustainable fashion is still relatively difficult to access for the general public, due to the often hefty price point.

With some high-street brands facing the undeniable need for change by employing more sustainable practices, it’s slowly but surely becoming easier for shoppers to get their hands on sustainable garments, but it’s not a change that’s going to happen overnight.

Photo: Charles Etoroma

Yet, back on Twitter, I came across a minority of sustainable fashion supporters who promoted the mentality that, when it comes to making the transition from fast fashion, it’s all or nothing.

On the surface, I knew this was a ridiculous idea. So, why did I find myself contemplating donating my entire wardrobe to charity and going on a sustainable spending spree? It was a stupid thought – I didn’t have the money and I was yet to find any affordable sustainable brands that I really loved.

While there was no shortage of sustainable fashion advocates that applauded the small changes make a big difference approach, Twitter was being used by some as a means of berating those who – be it due to a lack of money, education or otherwise – didn’t have a perfectly curated sustainable wardrobe.

But I soon noticed the counterproductive nature of their ‘dump fast fashion and invest in sustainable fashion’ mentality.

Surely we’re better off keeping – and taking care of – the clothes we already have, instead of buying more?

This became even more obvious in February 2019, when the UK Environmental Audit Committee released a report detailing the true environmental and social costs of our clothes.

Stats included the harrowing reality that ‘less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing at the end of its life,’ and ‘around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in household black bins every year, sent to landfill or incinerators.’ 

Photo: Amanda Vick

Over one year after I began my foray into sustainable fashion blogging, I have found a way of pouring my heart and soul into making better fashion choices without kissing goodbye to fast fashion completely.

I’m concentrating on loving the clothes I have, re-purposing and maintaining them, and purchasing sustainable items when I can (and when I need to).

I’ve realised that real change doesn’t happen in a New York minute, and finding a compromise that works for you is important.

Millennials and Gen Z-ers get a lot of stick, but we have set in motion a vehicle for change and re-energised the conversation on sustainability and how to achieve it.

Baby steps are still steps in the right direction, and while you should always hold yourself accountable and push for improvement, you should never give in to sustainability shaming – not even from yourself.

RELATED: Why fast fashion needs to change

TEXT: Jo Bentham

IMAGES: Unsplash

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