In the first instalment of our new ‘How to talk to…’ series, sustainable lifestyle blogger Jil Carrara looks into the best ways to approach the topic of fast fashion with your serial shopper friends. It’s time to stop smiling and nodding when they show off their latest high-street hauls…
“I need a new dress for a party tomorrow, want to come shopping with me?”
We’ve all heard that dreaded question from a friend that immediately sends us into panic-mode on how to reply. Do I dive into a ten minute-long lecture on how detrimental to the planet fast fashion actually is? Do I just decline and make up an excuse? Do I say “sure” and tag along without buying anything myself, or will that make me complicit anyway?
It’s not easy finding the balance between educating your friends without sounding patronising. Most of the time, *spoiler alert* lecturing just doesn’t work – your friends will feel like you are scolding them and will probably just continue living their lives without changing their habits, except for maybe not asking you to join their next shopping spree. So what can you do to drive change in your own circle (and retain your friends)?
First off, you have to consider that everyone is different, learns in a different way, processes in a different way and most importantly everyone has a different background, lifestyle and income. As such, what might have changed your mind, won’t necessarily work on your friends. You might have noticed that if you’re vegan for animal cruelty reasons and trying to convince your other half to reduce their meat intake, showing them online videos might not work as much as showing them the Game Changers documentary about high performing athletes on a plant-based diet. A few of your friends will start making changes more quickly after reading one or two articles about fast fashion’s impact, whereas others might take months or years to really consider it. Even though you feel the pressing urge (hello eco-anxiety) to have everyone boycott fast fashion, try to be compassionate and patient – they’ll get there too!
Organise a ‘documentary night’
I have never met anyone that has shopped the same exact way after watching The True Cost. True story! Seeing the impact cheap fashion has on the people making it, as well as on the planet, with their own eyes suddenly makes the issues more real and tangible. The women making your clothes have faces and voices, they are real people that under other circumstances could have been you. It’s difficult to unsee scenes and images such as the Rana Plaza collapse and it’s difficult to unhear the stories of the affected. Invite everyone to your house, make dinner or prepare nibbles and watch the documentary on Netflix.
Debunk the myths
When it comes to sustainable fashion, there are still a lot of misconceptions around what that looks like. The words ‘hippie’, ‘hemp’ and ‘brown’ come to mind. However with so many new brands in the ethical fashion space and countless second-hand storesand charity shops, there is something for everyone. Suggest great accounts to follow on Instagram, share nice brands and shops you’ve come across on yours and slowly they will see how exciting it can be to dress ethically. Be prepared to help out with great brand or store recommendations when a friend is looking for a specific item – this way they can check it out, see if they like the look of it and compare quality with a fast fashion item. Guess who always wins…
Listen to their concerns
If you’re at a stage where you can have an honest conversation about what’s stopping them from quitting fast fashion, really listen to their concerns and worries. I once told a friend off for wanting to place a huge order from a fast fashion brand we shall not name, and she simply replied “don’t worry, it’s all made by machines”. Only then was I able to explain that machines are currently more expensive than cheap labour in developing countries, so in fact those items were made by fellow humans. I don’t think she ever placed that order.
They might be worried about re-wearing the same outfit to different parties, then renting could be a good solution for them. A growing concept in the UK, I personally use the peer-to-peer rental app By Rotation, as you can even rent just for one day – perfect for last minute party wear that doesn’t cost the planet.
Hit them with the facts
Not everyone loves a stat, but with some people they really resonate. Especially with friends that have a more analytical mind. Having a couple impressive stats on hand to use when the conversation allows can be really useful. My go-to stats that always hit home are:
More than 2 tonnes of clothes are bought in the UK every minute (Oxfam, 2019)
Every week the UK sends 11 million items of clothing to landfill (Oxfam, 2019)
Garments are the second-highest at risk product category for modern slavery (Global Slavery Index, 2018)
Image: Sex and The City, HBO
Help your friends ‘detox’ their wardrobe
Cleaning out your wardrobe can have quite a liberating effect. You can clear out items that you just wouldn’t wear anymore and find some gems that were hidden at the back of the wardrobe, which you fall back in love with. Generally a closet clean out helps narrow down what you love wearing or what you are missing. This process really helps narrow down what you need to buy (if anything) instead of shopping mindlessly at a fast fashion store or during sales. To make it fun, why not get the gang together and make a game out of it. This can be a really nice first step towards building up your sustainable wardrobe. The only thing to consider here is not to toss any items in the bin, but instead donate, swap, sell, upcycle, rent or gift.
Start a challenge in your group. If they agree, this might be especially fun to do around Black Friday if you want to encourage them to #TakeBackBlackFriday and boycott the sales madness this year. Can they go a month without buying anything new? Send them suggestions about alternatives and invite them to go to clothes swaps, or perhaps organise your own after you’ve all decluttered your wardrobes. If anyone needs something for an occasion rent it or offer your own wardrobe – ‘The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ style.
Read our interview with The True Cost’s director Andrew Morgan.
Swapping not shopping? Find out how to organise a clothes swap.
Discover our pick of the best websites for second-hand shopping.