Ethical consumerism with Ana Santi
Like you, like author Ana Santi, we worry about the environmental and social impact of the clothes we buy. So, as champions of slow fashion and making nightwear that lasts, Yawn was thrilled to publish an extract from Ana’s new book, Three Things to Help Heal the Planet. The book is a collection of 21 essays from global experts on how we can come together and make simple changes to our lives to help safeguard the future of our planet. Below, is an extract from Ana’s introduction to the chapter “Wear”, featuring essays from Eshita Kabra Davies, the founder of fashion rental app By Rotation; journalist Tamsin Blanchard; and designer Christopher Raeburn.
Three Things to Help Heal the Planet - excerpt
‘My Barbie was always the best dressed. Unlike my friends’ dolls, she had a stylist: my grandmother. Irene was a seamstress and ran her couture business from home, in a lofty garage. Growing up in Brazil, my sister and I would mingle with her all-female staff – listening to their gossip, joining in the raucous laughter and hiding under the sewing machines. With the fabric scraps of her clients’ dresses, Irene would create extravagant, miniature versions for our dolls.
Irene’s love of clothes extended to her own wardrobe. Every year, she’d treat herself to a new skirt and my grandad would mark its debut with trademark theatrics. He’d announce Irene to us, who would slowly walk down the “catwalk” – a marbled staircase to the living room – throwing back her Elnett-sprayed head in a cackle of laughter, her face brilliantly made-up.
Irene had an appreciation for beauty and an understanding of craft. She cherished what she bought and made; nothing was disposable because she knew what it took to make a well-cut dress.
Many years later, I became a fashion journalist – and accumulated more clothes in a few years than Irene did in a lifetime. Packing up my wardrobe to move house once, I counted 22 pairs of jeans. From high-waisted to flared silhouettes and skinny cuts – in all washes and colours. Today, more than 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year, with 57% per cent ending up in landfill.
When I began my journalism career as a news reporter, my beats included ethical fashion (an area so tiny I could count my contacts on one hand) and the fast-growing, industry darling “value” sector (in other words, the least expensive brands). They were completely at odds with each other. One was about interpreting catwalk trends at the blink of an eye for a fraction of the price. The other was championing Fairtrade principles and organic cotton. One was fast, the other slow. And one was definitely the frontrunner. New dresses, coats, shoes – they were appearing as if out of nowhere, quicker than we could wear them. Luckily, they were cheap as chips!
But someone, somewhere was – is – getting a raw deal. In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which produced clothing for many global fashion retailers, collapsed, killing 1,134 people. It was a wake-up call, shining a light on the appalling and dangerous working conditions of the people who make our clothes. The people we never see, the people we never think about. Lack of transparency in fashion supply chains is not limited to fast fashion brands; by no means does expensive equate to saintly status.
I’m not going to write a list of good and bad brands, for three reasons. One, there is no such thing. Even Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, says so, preferring the term “responsible” to “sustainable”, but there are many well-known brands and retailers from which I would no longer ever purchase. Two, that would suggest our work is done: it’s not, and we must continue to hold brands to account. Three, I’d be taking away the thrill of the hunt; of discovering new brands, new businesses transforming the way we dress, new technology and new ways to challenge the meaning of “new”.
Instead, I’ll say this. Next time you decide to buy a pair of jeans, check you don’t already own a similar style – and, if you do, fall in love with it all over again by shopping from your own wardrobe first. If it’s a standout, seasonal silhouette you're after, ask yourself if you’ll really wear it beyond next season. And if not, try renting it instead. Whether it’s to satisfy a need or a whim, do your research before you part with money.
Few of us buy clothes because we need to. Fashion is nothing if not fun. The thrill of a new purchase, season-defining silhouette and dress that garners a hundred compliments – my gran felt them all, without accumulating all those jeans. We do have to give up some things. We have to buy fewer clothes. We have to question where we buy them from. We have to embrace new ways of expressing ourselves through fashion.
But we don’t have to give up on the thrill.’
Three Things to Help Heal the Planet is out now