Although 2020 has been difficult, the year awakened us to blindspots that fashion brands have and taught us a valuable lesson in where we spend our dollars. Every time I've made a purchase this year, I chose to see it as an extension of my beliefs and only supported companies that shared my values. I value companies that put people, animals, and the environment first. I value companies that work to dismantle systemic racism and grant the same opportunities to people regardless of their race or gender. I believe the impression these brands have left on consumers is too great to ignore. My hope is that shoppers will not retreat back to old ways or mindsets that cause them to put convenience first in the new year. Keep reading for some useful reminders that should encourage you to do your part when it comes to shopping smart.
In 2021 and beyond, I challenge you to be more intentional about purchasing from brands with integrity.
The Truth About Fast Fashion
The global fashion industry produces nearly four billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of that comes from fast fashion, or the trendy runway-inspired garments that are produced and end up in stores at rapid speeds. Because items are produced at high speed, fast fashion brands often cut corners on quality of materials and compromise safety and conditions for labor workers. Half of the total fast fashion products produced usually end up in landfills every year. "Nothing actually costs five dollars," Danielle James, founder of peer-to-peer shopping platform Model Citizen, told POPSUGAR. "If something is cheap, it means someone or our planet paid the price." Model Citizen is passionate about prolonging the life of a garment, whereas most people would probably dispose of it.
Living in yoga pants and sweatpants for the past nine months, I've been redefining my relationship with consumption. I've realized that although fast fashion pieces are stylish and wallet-friendly, the consumption habits I've cultivated over the years are unsustainable and the climate crisis is not going away. And I'm not alone. Searches for "sustainability" and "minimizing carbon footprint" were higher than ever before in 2020. People are learning why we can no longer consume for the sake of consuming. Staying home was a great opportunity to slow consumption and break the fast fashion cycle. Impulse shopping and the constant new stream of merchandise got us here, and it's up to us, the customers, to rewire the system. Sustainability should be practiced through the entire supply chain: design to labor, mass production to transit, and then prolonging the life of a garment.
Socially Conscious Brands Taking Action
As a Black fashion editor, the industry has really disappointed me with its stance on racism. Throughout 2020, my social media and emails were flooded with messages of solidarity, but often false commitments. I refused to be naive or believe the blanket statements that merely denounce police brutality. Instead, I looked for the brands that realized actionable ways to achieve diversity and equality. James notes that lasting change takes time. "I think it's important to recognize that we are in a marathon, not a spirit when it comes to true diversity and inclusion within the fashion industry," she said. "We are tasked with changing an entire ecosystem, and that takes time. We need more Black people that are sitting on boards of retailers and companies, not just in the diversity and inclusion and human resources departments."
When a brand's external statements don't match internal actions, it can be quite troubling. Admittedly, I've been guilty of cancelling and boycotting the brands that are all smoke and mirrors. The sad truth about brands recognizing racial issues is that it felt way too late. In my opinion, brands seemed to claim solidarity because it was trendy and potential sales and customers were up for grabs. I saw multiple brands produce content for social media supporting Black Lives Matter, even though there was no history of these companies supporting the movement. This felt superficial and transactional, and I immediately perceived it as a red flag.
I'm aware that denouncing systemic racism is long winded and complicated. Long lasting change requires active action. People like activist and L'Oréal Paris's diversity board member Munroe Bergdorf inspire me to stay patient and to always take note when brands admit to wrongdoing. I'm inspired by people like Aurora James, who created the 15 Percent Pledge, and Sharon Chuter, responsible for the #pulluporshutup beauty movement. Both initiatives looked to highlight and support Black businesses. Both initiatives raised awareness for people of color. They became tangible tools to identify which brands were serious about supporting diversity.
Do Your Research in 2021
Too many times, brands have promised corporate solidarity, but have you checked in on the deliverables? If there is no change, are you still supporting these brands with your dollars? "Dollars matter," James told POPSUGAR. "Consumers need to educate themselves on the brands' textile footprint and performative woke-ness to be able to decipher who to support. Good intentions and well wishes are no longer enough. We must ask ourselves the hard questions: Why did it take George Floyd to turn people around? What statement am I making when I support fast fashion brands? Am I supporting Black brands?" We must be passionate about answering these hard questions and knowledgeable that our actions make a difference. Sometimes, it is about taking the extra step to seek out a small brand in a sea of larger brands with convenient shopping options. "When you support a small brand, you're feeding someone's family, you're helping someone's dreams get realized," James shared.
In 2021 and beyond, I challenge you to be more intentional about purchasing from brands with integrity — brands that show actionable awareness, rather than a few months of inner and outer work to eradicate racism. Keep signing petitions, donating or purchasing from brands that support people of color and treat employees fairly, shopping Black and small, and educating yourself on the historical patterns of oppression on marginalized communities. Shop clean, eco-conscious fashion and beauty brands, and keep working to minimize your carbon footprint. Do not let the time you've spent learning and vetting out brands in 2020 be wasted in 2021. As the great activist Grace Lee Boggs once said, "We are the leaders. That doesn't mean we take on the entire burden of change ourselves; it means we find a role to play."