I don’t know about you, but once I started my journey into living a more sustainable life, I found it was particularly challenging to refrain from shouting statistics from the rooftops. Facts about the climate crisis, stories about labor violations in fast fashion factories, and news that by 2050 there might be more plastic in our oceans than fish was all I wanted to talk about in the midst of retail holidays and a boom in online shopping trends, and I would carry my soap box with me wherever I went. I wanted to awaken the conscious consumers within people I encountered on a day-to-day basis, but I wasn’t sure how to talk about sustainable fashion in a way that truly garnered connection.
While I was going at it in good faith, this kind of approach left me emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, and for lack of a better word, grumpy. Then one day as I was literally digging single-use plastic utensils out of the trash (and washing them off with a scowl on my face at a family function), I realized I had gone off the deep end. I knew there had to be a better way to inspire change in my friends and family without coming off as a preachy know-it-all.
With the new year’s beginning, family discussions surrounding politics and personal beliefs are inevitable. This can be a phenomenal opportunity to share your passion about sustainable fashion with the people you love most, but talking about these kinds of touchy subjects isn’t always easy.
Over the past few months I have tried a more light-hearted approach to sharing my values, and I found that people were a lot more receptive when I wasn’t preaching at them (#gofigure). Today I’m elated to share some tried and true tips that have helped me approach tough topics like fast fashion in a way that gets people to listen (and includes leaving my soapbox at home).
Tip #1 — Wear It Before You Share It
One of the easiest ways to inspire change is to live and breathe the change you wish to see in the world. I can’t tell you how many times I have shocked the socks off family members when they compliment me on my outfit and I nonchalantly tell them that I got it at Goodwill (while secretly doing a happy dance on the inside).
One of the biggest misconceptions about shopping second hand or purchasing from slow fashion brands is that you will look like Andy Sachs pre-makeover in The Devil Wears Prada. We know that isn’t the case, but that doesn’t mean your Forever 21-loving niece does. By dressing in second-hand clothing, you are literally a walking billboard for the Movement. Wear it loud and proud.
Similarly, if you shop from sustainable fashion brands, don’t be afraid to talk about it. If your aunt compliments you on your handbag, don’t just say thank you! Use the moment as an opportunity to tell her about the amazing brand you bought it from. Mention that it was made by inspiring women who sewed it by hand and earned living wages for their labor. You might be surprised how this opens up a conversation about what Fair Trade means and why it’s important.
Tip #2 — Gift Sustainably
One of the biggest concerns I have stumbled across in my conversations with family and other consumers is the price differentiation between fast fashion and slow fashion brands. Many people don’t understand why slow fashion brands charge “so much” in comparison and can oftentimes have a hard time justifying the extra expense. One of the easiest ways to educate people about the difference is to let them experience it first hand. A great way to do this, especially during a holiday or birthday, is to gift consciously.
When people feel organic bamboo or organic cotton, there is a noticeable difference in the quality. Tell the person you are gifting why it is one of your favorite brands and the unique features that make it so cool (AKA sustainable).
Rather than focusing on the negatives of fast fashion, reinforce the positives of slow fashion.
Another awesome option is to give your family or friends resources that have helped you along your journey to conscious consumerism. Sharing your favorite book or podcast on sustainable fashion, where they can digest information on their own time and on their own terms, is a great way to start the conversation without putting someone on the spot about a subject they may know very little about.
Tip #3 — Ask More Questions
One of the hardest things for me to do when engaging in a conversation about a topic I am passionate about is to stop talking and actually listen to what the other person is saying. Sometimes I so badly want people to see where I’m coming from that I can forget to put myself in their shoes. I have found that truly listening to the ones I love (and hearing what they are saying instead of just waiting to respond with stats that show why I’m right), has given me much more of an opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue. I’ve learned that it’s essential to ask more questions about why my friends and family members feel the way they do before trying to embark on a conversation about the harms of fast fashion.
The best part of keeping your ears (and heart!) open is that you can learn a lot about what challenges many consumers might be facing. This is super valuable information! As a slow fashion advocate, you can help by then taking those concerns to the brands you love to figure out solutions that can help bridge the gap. Brands will appreciate the feedback and your loved ones will feel validated in their feelings, making these kinds of conversations much easier in the future.
Being a pioneer in the slow fashion movement isn’t easy. Every day we learn more and more about the poor working conditions that the apparel industry has in place, and in spite of this, consumers are spending more than they ever have before. But keep your head up, and your heart open. No matter how insignificant your contribution might feel at times, remember the words of Greta Thunberg: “No one is too small to make a difference.” Live your truth, and your light will shine and show others the way.
the harms of fast fashion aren’t just abroad — Share information about L.A. garment workers and their unpaid wages with your friends and family #ithappensheretoo