I’m sitting on my bed in the midst of a silent war on laryngitis, and the hours spent willing my vocal chords to deflammation is giving me plenty of time to check in on my neglected social feeds. Scrolling through recent developments from my favourite fashion labels, most of them ethical in some measure, I see plenty of refreshingly unisex styles, slow or hand-produced natural fabrics and inventive colour schemes. Not bad, I consider, scrolling absentmindedly. That top would handle a sticky Kyoto summer alright. I’m struck with a buyer’s conundrum, though — an ongoing one that makes me ponder the greater future of the fashion industry, and how people who like clothes can deal with themselves.

 

 

It’s great to be transparent about your ethical processes, human rights and sustainable production. I am one hundred percent on your team. It’s also heartening to see so many independent labels defiantly state how they differ from the churn-and-burn cycle of commercial fashion, giving us even more reasons to change our buying habits. But my conundrum comes from a more personal and psychological point of view; isn’t the most sustainable way to buy clothing to not buy clothing? So many labels proclaim we should ‘buy better, buy less’, yet half their collection ends up on sale at the end of a season — a cycle that is perpetuated by expectation from both their peers and their customers. We see the same familiar labels doing the rounds on eBay and buy-and-sell groups. Recycling and on-selling clothing is smart, but why is there such surplus in the first place? This excess stock is a profit buffer for nearly all labels and, they would claim, essential to keeping them afloat.

For fashion to become truly sustainable, consumers of fashion need to address a critical yet expansive question: How many items do we really need in our wardrobes? This is not a rhetorical question, people. “Less!” I hear you shriek. But I want an actual number — something that is generated by statistics and mass cultural input, and I know I won’t get it without a broad and in-depth psychosocial study. A familiar line I’ve been guilty of uttering in the past is, “I know I don’t need more clothing, but I just love it so much.” Facing a future that requires immediate action on climate change and global consumption, can you see ‘because I love it’, or ‘it’s perfect’ being justifiable reasons? Is it that hard to tell yourself “No. This thing is very nice, but you bought yourself a very nice thing a few weeks ago. What purpose is it serving?”. Even those with an admirable commitment to buying ethical and sustainable fashion will arrive at this question eventually. How much is too much? How much is enough? And how will labels move towards an honest model of sustainability; marketing their designs without marketing excess?

The real challenge the fashion industry faces is that of coveting, something I believe can be addressed through shifting the mindset of the consumer. I’m figuring out how to talk about this in a solution-oriented way. More soon.