I am ten months into my No New Clothes Challenge, and I can safely say that it has been the most introspective and life-changing year of my life. This was the year I finally had the courage to take a deeper look at my own consumption habits and take responsibility for my participation in a fashion system and culture that has had an enormous impact on the health of people and the planet.
As I stated in last month’s column, when my year ends, I have no desire go back to my old ways of buying and discarding clothes mindlessly. Now, when I hold an item in my hands, I think of all the precious clean water that was used to make it, how many rivers were polluted to dye it, how much oil was drilled to convert into a synthetic fiber, and of course, the suffering of the woman or child who most likely made my clothes.
What I have learned this last year is impossible for me to forget, so I will be extending my challenge indefinitely and inviting those of you who feel called to join me in this powerful act of resistance.
Because the reality is, WE, as consumers, have a lot of power. It is due to our demand that the fashion industry is churning out new clothes season after season. If we all collectively decided to stop purchasing new clothes, we could bring the industry to its knees and demand that they reform their outdated colonial, polluting, and cruel systems. As long as we keep supporting them by buying their clothes, they will never reform, and they will keep finding new resources to plunder to satisfy our desires and add to their already enormous wealth. And yet at the same time, it is not fair to put all the responsibility on us as consumers.
The fashion industry must also be held accountable for the damage done, and whether through boycott or through a shift in consciousness, they must agree to a just transition to a regenerative fashion industry and to clean up the existing damage caused by their abuse of our resources.
It is absolutely possible to create a fashion industry that benefits rather than destroys life on earth. It would look very different than the one we have now, and it would mean putting the planet over profit — but what good is a three trillion dollar industry on a planet with no more clean water?
A regenerative fashion system would be circular. Meaning that every item made could be passed on to another person, up-cycled into something else, or broken down in a compost heap and returned to the soil. That’s circular. It’s the opposite of our current linear system in which we extract from the earth through oil drilling, forest clearing, or animal slavery to create an item of clothing that has a 60% chance of being discarded after one year and eventually ends up incinerated, adding more carbon in our atmosphere.
A regenerative fashion economy would be local. No more complicated supply chains. Let’s revive the local textile industries that were abolished when fashion conglomerates decided to move their factories to countries like Bangladesh, where they knew they could get away with paying workers slave wages and polluting the earth without repercussion.
It would mean a return to agriculture, with an opportunity to explore textiles that benefit the earth. For example: henequen, pineapple silk, and hemp are just a few textiles that when cultivated in a regenerative way (not mono-cropped) can start to bring nutrients back to the soil rather than deplete it. This area of research currently lacks funding, but we must demand that the fashion industry use its enormous profits to find regenerative solutions to the current textile model.
Wool from sheep and goats also has the potential to be beneficial for the earth. When properly grazed these ruminant animals can benefit the soil with their hooves and manure. We must take loving care of these members of our earth family and not continue to enslave them for our own fashion whims. For anyone who wishes to learn about the current state of slavery that billions of animals currently live in to provide us with with leather, cashmere, angora, feathers, and fur — the answers are only an internet search away.
And so we demand justice from the fashion industry. Justice for the exploited animals, justice for the exploited humans, and justice for our exploited lands and waters.
To the fashion industry:
1) Immediately stop the production of all new clothes made from virgin fabrics.
2) Immediately and permanently cease the use of synthetic fibers made from fossil fuels and the enslavement of animals.
3) Immediately and permanently cease the use of all synthetic dyes.
4) Begin a just transition to a regenerative fashion model; with an emphasis on a circular fashion economy and the use of regenerative and biodegradable textiles.
5) Use your enormous profit margins to fund the research of potential new and forgotten regenerative textiles.
6) Agree to an immediate cleanup of all polluted waterways from your factories.
7) Agree to reparations and financial aid for all the exploited workers on whose backs you made your trillions of dollars in profit.
To the consumers of fashion:
1) Pledge to immediately cease to purchase new clothes made from synthetic virgin fabrics.
2) If purchasing a virgin fabric of wool, organic cotton, hemp or any other natural textile, do not succumb to “greenwashing” and do your research about the true origin and impact of the newly made textile you are purchasing.
3) Pledge to upcycle, repurpose, regift, or re-sell all clothes that you no longer have use for. Do your best to not dump your piles of unwanted clothes on already-overwhelmed donation stores. And never dispose of clothes in the trash.
4) Pledge to mend, rent, swap or buy second hand when you “need” something new. Commit to challenging your own consumption habits and understanding what is a desire versus a true need.
5) Pledge to wash any existing clothes made of synthetic fibers in a guppy bag or something similar to prevent microplastics from entering into our waterways.
To the fashion influencers:
1) Pledge to stop using your platform to sell clothes in support of a fashion industry that is destroying our planet.
2) Pledge to not use your platform to promote greenwashing and to always do your research in deciding which fashion brands you are promoting.
3) Pledge to be held accountable for your consumption habits and to hold the fashion industry accountable for their exploitative practices.
4) Pledge to post pictures of repeating outfits and actively use your platforms to change the fashion culture, promoting a more wholesome and sustainable relationship to clothes.