You are NOT what you wear.
I see you. I know you have ALL sorts of challenges in sourcing (and funding) the ethical, eco-friendly wardrobe of your dreams. And gosh, in our current climate of complete chaos and devastation, this is more-so the case than ever before.
So you should know, I’m not judging you for the clothes you’re wearing or buying.
Please bear with me for just a sec, while I nerd out and introduce you to some basic public health and international development concepts that I find SO helpful when thinking about and critiquing bits and bobs I see and read (about all things, not just slow fashion…)
- Research into behaviour change shows that shaming people for ‘undesirable’ behaviours rarely results in the desired behaviour change (and in fact often has the opposite effect).
- Current public health and sustainable development theory is based on a model called ‘the social determinants of health’. This essentially demonstrates that an individual’s behaviour, social and economic situations (and health of course) are the result of a HUGE range of social (think political, environmental, cultural, geographical and more) factors, and that the old ‘you have sole responsibility for your health’ is largely a load of poo (a very convenient load of poo that takes responsibility away from big business and governments and puts it solely on you, thank you very much!). I think our current situation makes this clearer than ever.
- Income and access (broadly speaking) are not distributed evenly or fairly (equitably) throughout the world or even throughout local communities. Not everyone has the same opportunities, nor do we all start on a level playing field.
- When we look at and interpret other people’s behaviour, we tend to describe it in terms of individual control and fault, but when we explain our own behaviour we tend to describe how it as the result of external factors to us (often out of our control). Ie. we blame others for stuff but don’t blame ourselves for the same stuff.
These concepts (among many others, of course) shape my understanding of the world, and inform how I interpret information. The reason I’ve included them here is that they’re KEY to helping me know where to place blame, limiting snap judgments about people, and being gentle with both ourselves and others.
See, our tendency to blame others for their personal situations/health/income (fuelled, I personally believe, by the modern ‘self-help’ industry, but more on that another time), means we fail to appreciate the complexity of the systems people exist within. This goes much deeper than someone’s immediate income (although that often first comes to mind in regards to wardrobe choices) to political, social and environmental influences and constraints.
You are what you eat.
The popular phrase, “you are what you eat”, has been commandeered (I’m sure intended in a somewhat humorous or clever way) of late by our well-meaning slow fashion community, turned into, “you are what you wear”. But it’s been bugging me for a while now, that this phrase has potential to shame and exclude a huge range of people from the movement we are trying to grow.
When I first discovered ethical fashion and started Slowclothes, I didn’t want to wear anything in my existing wardrobe for close to a year. I felt embarrassed to be seen in non-ethically-made clothing. But as I’m sure you know by now (if you’ve been reading my posts for a while), wearing what you already own is THE MOST (ENVIRONMENTALLY) SUSTAINABLE THING YOU CAN DO. So this was SO counterintuitive on my part.
People are often taking important actions in different areas of their lives – whether that’s diet, transport, fashion, work, volunteering, etc - to reduce their impacts on the planet, or live more compassionately. Judging them for what they’re wearing is never going to be a helpful exercise. And it goes against our very values of inclusivity, compassion, and respect – all of the things we fight for in the future fashion industry.
You, my friend, are NOT what you wear.
And you are certainly not what it appears you’re wearing. That fast-fashion top that you’ve committed to wearing to death is getting the workout it, and the world, deserves, so go you!
I know, I know.
I can hear my husband and almost everyone I know in my ear as I write this, “take a chill pill Kari. It’s not literal. Don’t take everything so seriously. It’s just a saying."
And I know. I get it. I'm a party pooper. It's just that I really don’t like this particular phrase – I don’t like how it may make people feel. I don’t like its intentions.
Clothes DO NOT become a part of your body (as food does). So literally you are not what you wear. I also don’t believe that wearing a fast fashion top made in a dodgy supply chain means you are not well-intentioned, clever or compassionate. Wearing a non-eco-friendly dress does not make you a hater of the environment.
You’re doing great. You are NOT what you wear.
One of the most influential phrases I ever heard is, “we are all doing the best we can, with the resources and information we have, at any one time”.
Don't get me wrong. I DO believe we all have the potential to do better in the ‘wear your values’ department. Whether that’s re-wearing what you own more, shopping second-hand or supporting sustainable fashion labels (now, more than ever this is crucial, in whatever way and as much as we can). But none of that is going to be visible to me or anyone through your outfits. It is a personal mission we can all embark on for ourselves, for our beloved planet and fellow-humans around the world making our clothes.
In the same vein, I truly believe the slow fashion movement should AVOID developing its own trends and fashions (beyond the trend of versatility and durability broadly). These will date like any other.
You are NOT what you wear.
You are so much more than that. I believe you are well intentioned. That when you know better, you’ll do better. That information and access and resources and politics and culture impact your capacity and choices to make different decisions than you’ve made in the past. That living through an unprecedented bushfire season, and/or an unprecedented public health challenge, are enough right now.
You are NOT what you wear.
You are an eco-warrior, or perhaps an eco-warrior in training, or in the making. You CARE about others living and working in terrible conditions overseas. You DON'T believe modern-day slavery is okay. You just don’t always know what to do about it, or don’t always have the time or resources to do as much as you’d like. Perhaps you don’t feel like you have the energy or capacity to deal with that today, this week, or this year (gosh dang 2020!). Maybe, you just don’t have the energy to feel that shit today.
And you know what?
You are awesome anyway.
You are SO much more than what you wear.
The End. xx