While 2020 has been difficult, the year woke us up to blind spots that fashion brands have and taught us a valuable lesson on where to spend our dollars. Every time I’ve made a purchase this year I’ve chosen to consider this an extension of my beliefs and only support companies that share my values. I value companies that put people, animals and the environment first. I value companies that are working to reduce systemic racism and offer people equal opportunities regardless of race or gender. I think the impression these brands have made on consumers is too big to ignore. I hope shoppers don’t retreat to old ways or mindsets that result in convenience being paramount in the New Year. Read on for useful reminders to encourage you to do your part in shopping smart.
In 2021 and beyond, I urge you to be more focused on buying from brands with integrity.
The truth about fast fashion
The global fashion industry produces nearly four billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of this comes from fast-paced fashion or the trendy runway-inspired clothes that are made and land in stores at high speed. Because items are manufactured at high speed, fast fashion brands often degrade the quality of materials and affect the safety and conditions for workers. Half of all fast fashion products produced usually end up in landfills every year. “Nothing actually costs five dollars,” Danielle James, founder of the peer-to-peer shopping platform Model Citizen, told POPSUGAR. “If something is cheap, it means that someone or our planet has paid the price.” Model Citizen is passionate about extending the life of a garment while most people would probably throw it away.
I’ve lived in yoga pants and sweatpants for the past nine months, redefining my relationship with consumption. I’ve found that while fast-fashion pieces are stylish and wallet-friendly, the consumer habits I’ve cultivated over the years aren’t sustainable and the climate crisis isn’t going away. And I am not alone. The search for “sustainability” and “minimizing the carbon footprint” was higher in 2020 than ever before. People learn why we can no longer consume in order to consume. Staying home was a great opportunity to slow down consumption and break the fast fashion cycle. Impulse shopping and the constant flow of new goods have brought us here, and it is up to us, the customer, to rewire the system. Sustainability should be practiced across the supply chain: design for work, mass production for transit and then extending the life of a garment.
Socially conscious brands that take action
As an editor for black fashion, the industry really disappointed me with its attitude towards racism. Throughout 2020, my social media and emails were flooded with messages of solidarity, but often false commitments. I refused to be naive or to believe the blanket statements that merely denounced the police’s brutality. Instead, I looked for brands that saw actionable ways to achieve diversity and equality. James notes that permanent change takes time. “I think it’s important to realize that we’re in a marathon, not a mind, when it comes to true diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry,” she said. “Our job is to change an entire ecosystem, and that takes time. We need more blacks to sit on the boards of retailers and corporations, not just in diversity and inclusion and human resources.”
When a brand’s external statements mismatch with internal actions, it can be quite unsettling. Admittedly, I was guilty of canceling and boycotting the brands, all of which are smoke and mirrors. The sad truth about brands recognizing racial issues is that it felt way too late. In my opinion, brands seemed to claim solidarity because they were trending and potential sales and customers were up for grabs. I’ve seen several brands produce social media content that endorsed Black Lives Matter, even though there wasn’t a story of those companies endorsing the movement. This felt superficial and transactional, and I immediately took it as a red flag.
I am aware that condemning systemic racism is lengthy and complex. Long-lasting changes require active action. People like the activist and diversity board member of L’Oréal Paris, Munroe Bergdorf, inspire me to be patient and always take notice when brands admit they did something wrong. I’m inspired by the likes of Aurora James, who started the 15 Percent Promise, and Sharon Chuter, who is in charge of the #pulluporshutup beauty movement. Both initiatives aimed to highlight and support black companies. Both initiatives have raised awareness of people with color. They became concrete tools to find out which brands are serious about promoting diversity.
Do your research in 2021
Too often brands have promised corporate solidarity, but have you verified the results? If nothing changes, are you still supporting these brands with your dollars? “Dollars are important,” James told POPSUGAR. “Consumers need to learn about the textile footprint and performative vigilance of brands in order to know who to support. Good intentions and good wishes are no longer enough. We have to ask ourselves the difficult questions: Why did George need Floyd ? What statement do I make when I support fast fashion brands? Do I support black brands? “We have to answer these difficult questions with passion and know that our actions make a difference. Sometimes it comes down to taking the extra step of finding a small brand in a sea of bigger brands with convenient shopping. “When you support a small brand, support someone’s family, and make someone’s dreams come true,” said James.
In 2021 and beyond, I urge you to be more focused on buying from brands with integrity – brands that show actionable awareness, rather than a few months of internal and external work to eradicate racism. Keep signing petitions, donating, or buying from brands that support people of color and treat employees fairly, shop black and white, and learn about historical patterns of oppression for marginalized communities. Shop for clean, environmentally conscious fashion and beauty brands and keep working to minimize your carbon footprint. Don’t let the time you spent learning and reviewing brands in 2020 be wasted in 2021. As the great activist Grace Lee Boggs once said, “We are the leaders. It doesn’t mean we take the full burden of change, it means we find a role to play”.
Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Paul Kabata