Dear fashion lovers,
With this global pandemic shining a spotlight on fashion’s biggest problems, one can only wonder: how did it all get so messy? When did we stop thinking about our clothes as the dear friends they should be, and start to treat them as disposable? And most importantly – when did the word sustainability start to become so empty? Shall we try and return its meaning?
I grew up in Italy in the 70s and 80s in a family of four siblings. Only my father worked; we had to be frugal with lots of things, including what we wore. Hand-me-downs and make-your-own were the norm and by the time I started earning money, I saved as much as I could to buy staple garments – famously saving for more than a year to buy my Max Mara coat, which cost 700 000 liras (the equivalent of probably £1 000 today). I still have it!
At the time, high street was practically non-existent. Shops offered high-quality clothes at prices that better reflected their value, and we all bought with purpose. No one – no matter how much money they had – would dream of buying something to wear a few times before throwing it away, like is the case today.
Then fast fashion happened and changed our world forever.
Today, I want to offer you a solution. What if sustainable fashion were an act of rebellion? A way to slow it all down; a way to look at it as an opportunity to change our behavior and save fashion? With the Eco-Age team, we came up with 10 solutions to help us navigate it all. We called them “Make every step count.” I hope these steps to navigate fashion life offer a useful way to challenge misconceptions, re-engage with what we wear, and make a difference. It can seem overwhelming, but global issues such as the climate crisis and slave labor can have local solutions, thanks to our simplest of daily acts: getting dressed.
1. Learn the story behind your look and wear with pride
The fashion world can feel disconnected and without identity, but there are so many beautiful stories we can wear. I am sure you know plenty of brands who can tell you how their clothes are made, by whom, and from what materials and techniques. Make sure the story is authentic and wear it with pride.
2. Buy for life and rewear forever
How many times do you ask yourself if you’ll still wear a piece in 10 years’ time? I think about all the ways I could style anything I want to buy, which has saved me from making some disastrous shopping mistakes. I love wearing everything I have. I am sure the same is true with your wardrobes – no matter how many clothes you get, you probably have some which are the equivalent of your “comfort foods,” pieces you wear all the time as they are safe and make you feel great.
3. Wear artisanal
How many times did you get dressed in a trend, rather than a story? How often do you wear a piece of art? There is so much “fashion” around us that it is hard to connect with things that are handcrafted. I would love to think that our fashion future is completely artisanal and that one day we will all care for the people whose hard work goes into making the clothing and accessories we wear and love, and whose techniques go back centuries.
4. Discover second-hand and vintage
One of the best things about vintage clothing is that it’s often of very high quality, which is why it has lasted so long. I remember my mom taking us kids to a second-hand market south of Rome to look for clothes for the whole family to save money. One day, she found this extraordinary vintage dress, in black silk with white cashmere polka dots, and guess what, I still have it!
5. Embrace clothes swapping and borrowing
Another misconception is that we have to own everything we wear. My sister and I grew up swapping clothes, and I still borrow clothes from or lend them to my girlfriends. Sometimes it makes for fun stories – like when I found myself in Botswana to film with director Andrew Morgan and packed all casual clothes, only to learn on arrival that I was granted an interview with the president of the country. To my rescue came Pat Dambe, head of corporate affairs for De Beers, who dressed me for the interview.
6. Read the labels
Most labels today do not offer enough information. I think our biggest power right now is to push governments to establish stricter labeling regulations like they do for food. We should also tell brands what information we want from them – social media is a powerful tool we can use to voice our values.
7. Choose natural fabrics
There’s nothing better than a beautiful fabric made with the highest quality wool, organic cotton, linen, or even hemp. Simply speaking, natural materials come from plants and animals and have the potential to be made with little to no chemicals. Just remember that natural doesn’t necessarily mean organic. They are also easy to freshen up with dyes, or to repair if needed. Wool is a particularly great option as you can air it instead of frequently washing it, drastically cutting down on water and energy use.
8. Go upcycled or recycled with your fabric
There are amazing recycled materials out there made from waste – Econyl regenerated nylon is a favorite, made from recycled fishing nets and carpets. You can already buy swimwear and sports clothes made from it. Another way to approach it is to upcycle your old clothes. Take something you haven’t worn for years and use the fabrics, pockets, zips, and buttons to create something new.
9. Find a seamstress or make your own
We don’t have to buy ready-made clothes to enjoy fashion. Clothes made just for you are clothes that will be treasured forever. You can make your own, or, if sewing isn’t for you, there are so many skilled seamstresses out there.
10. Treasure the memory of each wear
I remember my mind being blown by an interview with Amanda Harlech from 2011. She spoke about how her wardrobe was full of incredible memories. For every piece she could recall when she wore it and what happened, from her first kiss to other adventures. It is the best way to describe my wardrobe, too. I have so many pieces, which I have had for decades, clothes that used to belong to my mom, or my aunt, or my mom’s best friend… All worn countless times and attached to some incredible memories.
Originally published in the June 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia