Long live fashion!

Beetroot PH bralette, H&M Conscious pants, Yosi Samra shoes

I had first heard of the Rana Plaza Collapse in my undergraduate Labor Law class back in 2013. It had sparked in me a conflict. I am an avid fan of fashion--not one to shy away from shopping for new clothes, shoes, bags, or accessories when the (fashion) season transitions, and I admit I am thankful for student budget friendly prices. On the other hand, I was raised in a household where the help was considered as close as kin, and this affinity has rooted in me the principle of always holding those in the service/labor sector with high regard, treating them kindly, and giving them fair compensation. Thus my dilemma: How do I support both my passion for style and my advocacy for just labor practices?

Fast fashion is called fast for a reason—they are accessible to us consumers both in quantity and in price, but this comes at the hidden cost ultimately paid by sweatshop workers who are given only a meager amount of wages. The repercussions and human costs of fast fashion are gradually but steadily making its way to mainstream awareness through articles like Groundswell’s Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Uniqlo: Who’s paying for our cheap clothes? and CNN’s Your clothes are killing us circulating through social media. Awareness, however, does not really change anything unless it propels action. What can we really do to make a difference?

It comes as a relief to me then to learn about H&M’s Conscious initiative.  H&M Conscious calls is for us to give H&M our old garments, no matter what brand, and these garments are donated to charities or are recycled and reused as raw materials. In exchange for each bag of old clothes or textiles, we get a 15% off voucher we can use for our next purchase. The discount to me, while an attractive incentive, is besides the point. The important thing is that I can do something concrete, no matter how small, to make the fashion industry more sustainable.

This initiative is just one among many we can make for a “cleaner” fashion industry. Tempting as it is to suggest for us to stop shopping at fast fashion houses, it is extremely simplistic because it disregards the importance of trade and industry altogether. More importantly, it is also highly unrealistic considering a vast majority of us cannot afford to purchase only designer or bespoke apparel.

What else can we do then?

Here are some of my suggestions for more sustainable fashion, which also serve as my own sartorial resolutions.

1. Aim for a capsule wardrobe. - Build a wardrobe based on key pieces that can outlast the newest trend.

2. Invest in classics / staples. - They say that the real value of an item is computed by dividing its price by the number of times it is used. If we know we’re going to be using a piece of clothing over and over again—say, a white button down—then there is no reason for us not to look and pay for quality material that will last for years.

3. Shop mindfully. - Ask the following questions before purchasing a new item: Does this fit me well? Does it go with at least five outfits from things I already have in my closet? Can I still wear it two or three seasons from now? Can I clean or maintain it easily?

4. Read the care labels. - The easier clothing is to maintain, the less likely we or the help can make a mistake while cleaning it. Also, if we can maintain the item without difficulty, the longer it will take before it will look worn out.

5. Borrow from your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your boyfriend, etc. - Many trends draw inspiration from decades past (This season it seems to be the ‘70s), so we’ll likely find something we can make current from what our parents already own. Boyfriend jeans? Actually borrow jeans from the boyfriend (or dad, or brother) instead of buying another pair. Of course, this goes without saying return what we borrow, unless generously given to us!

6. Go local. - There are many local brands now available both in retail stores and online. By buying local, we're able to support the development of our own industries, grow our own local fashion community, and reduce our carbon footprints.

Join me in this endeavour, and let’s all help fashion live long!

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