Once upon a time I sold suits.
And pointy shoes!
I cared more about how you thought I looked that how I felt.
I squished my guts into high-waisted jeans and pencil skirts and mashed my feet into ridiculous shoes.
I did this all in the name of fashion. I played the game and cared if you noticed. The way I felt on the inside was directly correlated to how I was perceived on the outside.
But I was pretending. I knew I didn't really care. But I was so far into the world and based my career on it that I thought I couldn't turn my back. I dealt with the rampant sexism in menswear and the constant barrage of uppity fashion industry assholes.
Until my face betrayed me.
I started getting a strange rash all over my face. It looked like eczema, acne, and rosacea all at once, all fighting for space. There were obvious health reasons related to it (leaky gut, overworked liver, gluten intolerance, etc.) but I couldn't help but notice that it ended at my hairline and jawline and not a spot travelled further. Even my eyelids were spared their rathe.
It didn't take me long to notice how people treated me in the six months that I looked like Freddy Krueger. I couldn't hide any insecurities and never being someone who cared about make-up, covering it up was never a thought. So here's what happened:
Everyone treated me like a normal human-being. Nothing changed. At all.
Well, shit. I knew I definitely didn't look cool. And now it didn't really matter. I quite literally needed this ugly slap in the face to show me that this superfluous veneration of materialism was not, in fact, contributing to my wellbeing. Worshipping what’s “now”, “next” or “up-and-coming” in fashion keeps you focused on what you don’t have and want instead of what you already have or may actually need. This way of thinking is not only wasteful and toxic to your psyche, but creates a monumental amount of physical waste and toxic strain on our environment.
Here is what I am over when it comes to the fashion industry:
- Judgement- Fact: every time you walk into the elite boutique or haute couture store you are being judged. It’s not because the salespeople are bad people, and many of them likely don’t realize the extent to which they are doing it, but like in any other group situation we are collectively attracted to those who mirror our values or those where we can draw inspiration. If you don't drink the same Kool-Aid, you probably aren't perceived as cool enough to buy the bag.
- Waste and the human/ecological impact- OH MY GOD THE WASTE! This issue is incredibly serious. I encourage everyone reading this to educate themselves further from those who have produced ground-breaking resources like this and this. For example, do you know how much plastic and paper is used to ship garments to retailers only to be thrown out (hopefully recycled) immediately once the product is ready to be displayed? It's disgusting. An average men's dress shirt is not only wrapped in plastic and shipped in a box full of more plastic, but each shirt is full of clips, pins, cardboard and paper just so it can be presented to a retailer and their garbage can. And don't forget the tags that are either made of paper or plastic, tend to be massive, and are almost always chucked for retailers to replace them with their own tags.
- Conformity- I mean conformity in both a physical and communal sense. By physical, I am talking about the very real way in which clothing is manufactured to hold your body and all its parts in an unnatural way that limits how you move, breath, digest and function. Here is some more info on the subject and 'the skinny jean injury' in Australia. Shoes are a big one here. Most shoes are absolutely stupid, hurt your feet, put your entire body out of alignment, and aren't actually comfortable. I have too many memories of women proclaiming that some high heels are just, "sit and look pretty shoes" for when you go for cocktails and don't need to move. That line is still in the Top 10 Most Ridiculous Things I've Heard While Working Retail (but that's another post). In the communal sense I am referring to people being pressured and into a certain look by capitalizing on our insecurities. Like pants that are manufactured to give you thigh gap or being coerced by brands or salespeople that you need to ditch those jeans you are wearing because next season, no one will be wearing jeans like that. And, you want to be cool, right?
- Living in the future- Like I mentioned before, constantly focusing your intention on what is 'coming next' or what’s 'going to be hot next season' encourages a negative behavioural pattern of emphasizing the future and creating imaginary situations where you will like, totally need that polka dot dress for that dinner at blah-blah that probably won't actually happen. Naturally, planning ahead is needed and so is forethought, but not the way in which the fashion industry, and especially fast-fashion indoctrinates the buyer with a sense of urgency where none is warranted.
Here is what gets me excited about fashion:
- The growing focus on ethical, eco, and sustainable fashion- This movement is an unstoppable force. The advent of the internet and social media has done wonders for exposing us to misdeeds in agriculture, government, and of many mega corporations who take advantage of our people, our resources and our lands. On the slippery coattails of the oil industry, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world and it's time it was put under the spotlight. Born out of the Rana plaza complex collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24th, 2013 where 1,134 people were killed, Fashion Revolution, an organization that created Fashion Revolution Week. Where from April 18-24, we can take a collective stance on social media, contact brands directly and ask, #whomademyclothes and demand better for the people who make our clothes They also have guidebooks you can download on 'How To Be A Fashion Revolutionary' and '#Haulternatives' a way of refreshing your wardrobe without buying any new clothes.
- Consignment and second-hand shopping- I absolutely love consignment shopping. Say you went through a huge orange phase a few years ago. From burnt umber to tangerine dream, that was your jam! And you rocked it! Flash forward to the present and you no longer lust for those fiery hues. As long as they are gently worn and clean, chances are someone might love them as much as you did. Most of my clothing is picked up from consignment or vintage shops around the world. Vintage stores are usually the first places I go when I get some shopping time in a new city. Used and vintage clothing gives you a real feel of how people in an area express themselves. Zara, the Spanish mega-retailer, is the world's biggest selling brand, but do you think a mass produced product from one of their chains is a better representation of the Spanish people than what you can find at a vintage clothing stand at a flea market in Barcelona?
- Clothing that promotes freedom of movement- Freedom to move your body and freedom to drift through trends and moods. Clothing shouldn't restrict your capacity to do something you love. Whether it's swinging on the monkey bars with your kids or wandering for hours on cobble stone streets in Venice. Don't compartmentalize your wardrobe into 'clothing you can't move in but wear all day' and 'stuff I can't wait to change into when you get home'. I have a rule for my clients: at the end of the day, if you can't wait to tear whatever it is off your body as soon as you walk in the door (and it's not for naughty reasons) then why the hell did you wear it all day? It begs you to ask yourself if what you're wearing is because you want to or if there is an outside pressure that expects you to wear it. Also, you are more than allowed to switch your styles from day to day and not worry that you're not trendy enough. Who says you can't wear yoga pants all day or a medieval gown to walk you dog? Uppity fashion assholes, that's who. Don't let their insecurities or agendas dictate your decisions.
So what am I doing to make a difference?
On April 12th, as part of Down to Earth Week a lead up to Fashion Revolution Week, I will be taking part in Sustainable Style YYC hosted by REAP (Respect for Earth and All People). An event that brings together local Calgary businesses, consumers and entrepreneurs to champion for transparency in the supply chain, authenticity in manufacturing, and the overwhelming benefits for our society, environment and economy by buying and supporting local.
Tickets for the event can be purchased here.