Are You a Fashion Revolutionary?

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I’d love to be considered revolutionary. But I know I’m not. When I was teaching, I was a bit of a change junkie; I loved to try new things. Sometimes weird things. But revolutionary? Not really. I know that I’m not revolutionary in my fashion sense. I’m too married to my classic pieces for that. So the idea of the “Fashion Revolution” movement and the realization that I can be a part of it is really appealing to me.

I’d heard of the Fashion Revolution before, mostly through reading about it over the years on Alyson Walsh’s blog That’s Not My Age. You can read her 2019 post on “three women who are changing the face of fashion” here. But I’d never moved past reading those posts. I can’t explain why. It was Alyson’s recent podcast chat with Orsola de Castro, global creative director and co-founder of Fashion Revolution and author of Loved Clothes Last, that finally galvanized me into action. Here’s the link to Alyson’s podcast.

Sweater by Vince. Hair by the north-west wind.

The Fashion Revolution was begun in the UK by Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers in response to the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013, eight years ago today actually, over 1100 workers were killed and many more injured. Fashion Revolution is now a global movement and hopes to effect systemic and structural change in the fashion industry. Among their many initiatives is a yearly Transparency Index. As the Fashion Revolution website says, systemic change starts with transparency which leads to accountability. And systemic change will help the environment, make workers lives better, and even save lives.

The Index is a tool to incentivise and push major brands to be more transparent, and encourage them to disclose more information about their policies, practices and supply chain. Transparency isn’t about which brand does the best, but about who discloses the most information. Transparency does not equal sustainability. We know that the pursuit of endless growth is in itself unsustainable. However, without transparency we cannot see or protect vulnerable people and the living planet.

But Fashion Revolution is not just about calling brands and manufacturers to account. It’s also about encouraging ordinary citizens to become active in the movement. The goal is not to make consumers feel guilty, but to convince them that they have the power to make positive change. And one small act that we can all do is to ask questions of brands and retailers. Who made my clothes? or What’s in my clothes? Take a selfie holding this sign and post it on social media with #whomademyclothes, then copy it to your favourite brand. You can find out how to take action in many ways here on the Fashion Revolution site. You can download signs and other resources. There’s even a list of social media accounts for major brands. There is also a wonderful list of resources for educators, activities you can do with students of every age.

Become part of the Fashion Revolution. Ask brands "Who Made my Clothes?"
So, Vince… who made my sweater?

There has been so much rhetoric about the evils of the fashion industry these past few years. It’s mind numbing. The toll that the fashion industry takes on the environment, the waste, the abuse of workers. The shocking statistics. The contradictory articles exhorting us to do one thing or another. Where do we even start? I know about buying less, buying better, and shopping second-hand. We all know that fast fashion is a dirty word. I’ve written before on my blog about slow fashion, about shopping consciously. About buying quality clothes and keeping them for years. And about the complex task of finding sustainable clothing brands that suit my style.

Every year in January, when I do my shopping report card, I set some goals for myself. How can I do better? I say I’m going to try to be better at shopping ethical brands. I scour websites which rate companies on their sustainability, their relationship to the environment, and their treatment of their workers. This is the site I found most helpful. But still, every year, after a while, I give up. Then I feel guilty about giving up. Then I probably make tea and sit down with my book until the feeling passes. Ha.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer size of the problem. To ask the question: how can I, as one person, make any difference? Most years, I do feel overwhelmed. I feel that my efforts are futile. But then, eventually, I get my mojo back. I find something that excites me again. I make a new plan for what I can do. And I begin to set goals for myself, however small.

But you know, the getting my mojo back thing hasn’t happened for a while.

The other day when I was listening to Alyson’s podcast, I realized that I had let pandemic paralysis get to me. My excitement with the idea of slow fashion and becoming an ethical shopper had waned. And I needed to get it back. I needed to do what Orsola de Castro said to do, start small. And follow the Fashion Revolution mantra: “Be curious. Find out. Do something.”

So I began to explore the Fashion Revolution website. I made a donation to the global fund. And I found the two graphics above on their site that changed how I view my own contribution to change. Just by hanging onto my clothes, by extending the life of my clothes by taking good care of them, I’m doing something. Something that has consequences for the environment. Something measurable. Slow fashion is not just a fashion philosophy, it has measurable effects. That pleased me no end.

Of course effecting change means I can’t just rest on my laurels. I already shop consciously with a plan and a list, I buy the best quality I can afford, and I take care of my clothes so they last a long time. So I need to find something else. Something that I’m not already doing. I’d love to be able to experiment with upcycling some of my old pieces into new “creations.” But sadly that would involve sewing. And we all know how I feel about sewing. I may have a look at some of the pieces in my “maybe” pile to see if I can have them altered by a tailor to wear them again. That’s what I did with my old Max Mara pantsuit.

Vince sweater, Rag and Bone Simone pants, Moncler jacket, Stan Smith Adidas.
I’m excited again about what I can do to make change.

So. That’s where I’m starting. I’m donating to the Fashion Revolution movement which has done so much good in bringing abuses to light. I’ve also ordered Orsola de Castro’s book Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act. I love her philosophy that clothes need to be valued, that we should buy “with love and respect,” and then take care of our clothes. And I ordered another book called The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good while Doing Good by Elizabeth Cline. Cline wrote Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion back in 2012.

The planning around things I already have in my closet I can do. Respecting and repairing my clothes I can do. The reading I can do. I can donate to the cause. When I decide that I need something new for my wardrobe, I will make a bigger effort to shop ethically. And I will make the best choice I can afford.

And I will talk about all of this to you guys. Of that you can be sure.

You know, I wonder if trying to be a fashion revolutionary is like quitting smoking. The more you try and fail the more likely you are to be successful. Every attempt you make gets you closer to your goal. I finally succeeded with quitting smoking, back in November 1983, after smoking for ten years. I think I can do this.

Now, how about you, my fashion friends? Are you interested in becoming a fashion revolutionary? Maybe you already are. Do tell.

P.S. The book links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a small commission.

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41 thoughts on “Are You a Fashion Revolutionary?”

  1. So much to think about. Like you I keep my clothes for a long time and look after them well. I have some jumpers and one jacket that are older than my 22 year old daughter and I wear them still. I buy the best I can afford and always prefer natural fibres. I mend things too though I can’t make garments. But there must be more I can do. Australia seems to be a little behind the UK, the US and Canada regarding how much we talk about who makes our clothes and the type and amount of information available about where they come from. I fear that quite a bit of green washing is happening. I will listen to Alyson’s podcast and search out the books you mention. I share your love of clothes, good fabric and fine tailoring but I know I need to be more mindful of the impacts on workers and the environment of what we chose to wear.

    1. I don’t think we talk about it anymore here than in Australia, Maria. Most of my friends Shop the same way they did years ago. I think there’s a lot of talk on-line and not enough of it in real life.

  2. So much information to look into and homework to do with this post. Thanks for getting the wheels turning again. You, the one I admire for closet longevity, can still find ways to dig deeper, so I guess we can all try harder. By the way, I do like the way the North West wind did the styling 🙂

  3. Madeleine Guindi

    I have been interested in slow fashion for a long time, I guess. I am 71 and confess to being a fashionista and having possessed a very substantial closet and collection of shoes most of my life. After years of sewing most of my clothes with natural fabrics and using Vogue designer patterns (from age 16 to 40), I discovered consignment shops and thrift stores where I have since shopped for most of my clothes and even shoes. And over the past 10 years, I have shrunk my closet to one fourth of what it used to be. But it seems to still be more than I need, even with our Canadian climate (I live in Ottawa). Since I retired 7 years ago, I have been using my mother’s practice of giving away (or selling in consignment) an item of clothing each time I buy a new one (a blouse for a new one, a skirt for a new one, etc.). This has helped a lot, because I always have the same number of clothes. My latest experiment is to turn all the hangers in the wrong way on my closet rods and each time I wear an item, I hang it back the normal way so I know I have worn the item. Normally, this experiment should last one year, but with the pandemic and wearing practically only loungewear and hiking clothes, I will extend the experiment over at least two years! Only then will I know what has to be given away! I own only a couple of dresses, since I prefer to create a multitude of outfits with tops and bottoms, which means I definitely could do with less clothes. So I have been shopping my closet now since even before the pandemic and have not been buying a single item, except a very nice Chanel style knit dress at my friend’s beautiful boutique downtown Ottawa. The tags are still on and God knows when I will finally have a chance to wear it!

    1. What a good way to keep track of what you’ve have and haven’t worn, Madeleine. I sold in consignment for years, but not recently. You will have to share the name of your friend’s boutique with us.

    2. Pat from Wisconsin

      I second the motion for consignment shopping. In addition to the offerings seeming like a curated collection, they have undergone any shrinkage or stretching already, so you don’t need to wonder what size a linen item will be, post laundering. But it also is great for reducing the amount of waste. At least 75% of my wardrobe is from consignment stores (and a few thrift stores). I like that I can affordably try new brands and I do feel great about minimizing waste!

  4. Mary Lou Hartman

    Great information- I am looking forward to learning more and following your journey!

  5. Today’s post really resonated with me. I have always loved exquisite fabrics and clothes. But, this post made me realize that even at 74, I can do more in my clothing selection. I plan on researching where my clothes were made this year. Thanks for inspiring me!

    1. That’s my goal too, Jane Ann. So manty of the brands hanging in my closet are not transparent though, so it’s hard to find out information.

  6. Yes,we all have to be!
    I buy quality,long lasting clothes,take good care of it,wear them a lot (here I repeat myself,but you have a lot of new readers,I guess)
    A couple of years ago ,I simply started to feel that buying a lot of things is not necessary at all and have spent the whole concert/theatre season in one dress and silk trousers and blouse (and I mean, going out at least once a week,repeating it all the time)-it was a kind of experiment,I’ve felt great and it came completely naturally to me
    But,reading your yearly reviews,I started to count, on annual basis. It was not difficult-I write down all of my purchases (from groceries on….) for decades,I only didn’t add a sum before
    I’m pretty pleased,but I could do better….and a lot better,because I vary in my weight (mostly medical reasons,but,no excuses….) a lot and here I see a great opportunity
    Thank you for a lot of useful info
    Dottoressa

    1. “spent the whole concert/theatre season in one dress and silk trousers and blouse (and I mean, going out at least once a week,repeating it all the time)”
      This really hits me. I usually plan to wear something different every time and often buy a new piece to make it happen. Two outfits alternated, all season, for the theatre, ballet, etc. Why not? I could do this. Just give me a chance to go somewhere and I will plan to do this. 2021/22 theatre season, here I come! Our Alberta Ballet is rescheduling Swan Lake for October 2021. Who knows? It could happen!

  7. Orsola de Castro – I also bought her book on Alyson’s recommendation and I’ve found it’s given me a real, new appreciation of what I’ve got. I also found Brenda Kinsel (whom I still really miss) inspiring in that she would alter and tweak and pair things till she got it right. It’s just how things were when I grew up, use what you’ve got, repair and even make-do, which is much easier when you’ve set a new value and appreciation on an old garment. Thank you for your blog which I love and always look forward to receiving. I like your blend of books, clothes and musing and the comments which follow.

    1. Thanks Eleri. I’m excited to read de Castro’s book. I agree about Brenda. She is a loss to everyone who admired her, and there were many.

      1. Just one other thing that the book points out – we need to plan for the end of a garment’s life whilst in our possession. Sort out wardrobe/Sack of clothes into charity/thrift shop has been thought of as a ‘good deed’ but what happens to the clothes from there on in – will the ones which don’t sell be baled up and then ruin a clothing trade, which uses local fabrics and tailors, in another country by offering a cheap/free alternative. Plenty of food for thought and change in mindset.

        1. Good point, thanks Eleri. I remember Orsola de Castro mentioning that idea in her interview with Alyson. We need to know what happens to our donated or consigned pieces after they leave us. I stopped taking items to a consignment shop that bulk donated everything if it didn’t sell. Id they donated to a women’s shelter or something similar that was entirely different.

  8. I buy quality pieces and only what I need to fill gaps in my wardrobe. Like you, I keep a list and stick to it when shopping. It can be difficult when shopping with friends who buy, buy, buy.
    The more trendy pieces I buy from consignment or thrift stores. That way I get my shopping fix, pick up pieces for a great price that are already worn but in great shape. That way I don’t feel I’m contributing to overconsumption.
    I suppose the next step is to look into particular brands. 🤔

      1. Pat from Wisconsin

        For awhile, around here, consignment and thrift stores were the only places that would let you try things on. Now, if you look, you might be able to find one set of fitting rooms open in a department store.

  9. All good info Sue . As I’ve said before , some of my clothes have been loved for years . Perhaps at your next ‘get together ‘ we could all wear an outfit that includes a really old favourite ? Something we’ve owned & loved for many years . Something that has earned its outlay over & over . I wonder who has the oldest item ? My wedding dress from 53 years ago could be a contender except it hasn’t had much wear . So not a good example .

  10. I have already come across Loved Clothes Last, bought it and read it avidly. As a result I’m trying to forsake poly fabrics, although its not easy. So many garments have a sprinkling of plastic. And not just clothes. I was amazed to learn that the paint we buy for our homes contain it too!

  11. Cynthia Blaylock

    This is a wonderful post with lots of good information – thank you. We just attended a wedding this week and I wore a beautiful pair of black crinkled crepe pants that are 6 years old, a black cami that is about 5 years old, and an embroidered caftan that is at least 17 years old. The only “fail” were the ancient black strappy dress sandals, as I realized I am too old to handle stilettos on the turf (an outdoor wedding) or the dance floor – I ended up taking them off mid-way through the evening. It made me happy to be able to dress up for a nice event without spending a penny on new clothes!!

  12. This is what I love about your blog, Sue! Not only is it fun to read, like chatting with a good friend, but you address real issues, important issues. We’re obviously of similar mind on this topic. I also spent quite a bit of time on the Fashion Revolution website this week and I shared some very disturbing fashion statistics on my blog on Friday. Like you, I need to go further and put even greater effort into becoming a more ethical shopper. I hope you’ll share your impression of the two books that you ordered once you’ve had a chance to read them.

  13. Great post and so important. I have always taken good care of my clothing and mended things as needed. I need to do much better on purchasing less and purchasing ethical brands. I do buy second hand at times and love finding a good quality item. I belong to a group that advocates for social justice and I have brought clothing as something we can encourage people to think about for justice and how producing it affects climate change. Thank you Sue. I can use your resources for our group. ❤️

  14. Hmm. Yes I do agree with you on this. Since retiring I have gone through my closet and jettisoned clothing and accessories I know have outlived their lives with me but others might still find suitable. I am not hard on my clothes and buy the best I can afford, occasionally splurging on something beautiful and useful. As well I have inherited some beautiful clothing that I was able to work into my own wardrobe.
    What I really have trouble with is reading blog after fashion blog encouraging purchasing more and more clothing and providing links ad nauseum to do so. A recent visit to a popular blogger who caters to those of a certain age rendered at least a dozen links if not more. I get it. They need to flog in return for the ‘gifted’ items and to make a little money. Then I read the comments from the adoring fans who claim to buy ‘ everything ( the blogger) is wearing’. I wish more bloggers would espouse the theory of ‘loved clothing lasts’. I added up the USD cost of following said links from a recent ‘styling’ session, over 1200.00 for accessories!
    Fashion bloggers have a great platform to create social change as you are doing. It won’t happen overnight but planting the seeds now might help the future. What about the great ‘shopping the closet’ movement that may women my age are adopting? There has to be a middle ground between being an on trend fashionista and the older woman I knew whose longtime colleagues could date her well cared for but no longer fashionable clothing by ‘I had just started here when June bought that and I’ve been here 30 years’:)

    1. It is a conundrum for me as a blogger whose blog is monetised. How do I preach slow fashion at the same time as I have affiliate links? I can’t afford to pay the costs for my blog out of pocket, and I monetised to cover those costs. But there is a tipping point when blogs become all about selling. My feeling about that is I recommend what I buy and wear myself, or something very similar that I would wear.
      P.S. I agree there is a fine line between shopping one’s closet instead of buying all the time, and wearing the same thing for thirty years. Nothing wrong with that… but better to stash stuff for a few years and pull it out some time in the future to have it feel all new again. 🙂

  15. Great blog. I am not hard on clothes, shoes or bags and have many items I have kept for over 30 years just in case…… You never know when you might get that special invitation to a very formal occasion, you might just lose those extra few pounds you are carrying etc. I am sure we all have clothes that fall I to those categories. Since retiring I find I wear a fraction of the clothes in my wardrobe and seem to gravitate towards the better quality classic styles. Time for a major clear out and to e realistic about what I actually need. Fewer better quality clothes would give me a more useable wardrobe and the rest can go to charity shops. I mow need to muster the will and energy to do just that.

    1. It’s hard to tackle it all at once if it’s a big job, Kenzie. Maybe break it down into categories. Do jeans and pants in one go, for example. If something doesn’t fit or doesn’t feel right on I stash it in a particular spot, and keep doing that until a have a few pieces. Then I look at them all again and make final decisions to donate, or alter, or keep.

  16. Such a well written and informative post Sue … you’re always able to share important facts in an interesting and entertaining way. As always, I’ve enjoyed everyone’s comments as well. Definitely agreeing with D’s rotating smart outfits, rather than always buying new ones. I’ve found recently, that if I really feel good in an outfit, I’m happy to wear it on many occasions.
    I take great care of my clothes and I’m happy to repair if required. I’m also taking greater care in choosing where I shop and trying to buy less.
    My best shopping companion is my daughter, who over the years has saved me £££ by saying “ mum, you have nicer things at home” I now ponder on this, when shopping alone and it really helps.
    Rosie

    1. Thanks, Rosie. You are lucky to have a daughter/shopping companion with good taste who speaks her mind. It’s easy sometimes to forget what we already own.

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