Continuing the train of thought on conscious consumption. Read the first part here.
I'm back! It's been a crazy month since my I last published because I was training with my team, The Débutante, for the United Dance Organisation Street Dance World Championships held in Glasgow, UK. Such an emotional roller coaster but it was above all a huge honour to be sharing the stage with dancers from all around to world, to fly my country's flag, and to present my team's work on that platform.
In this project we collaborated with two Singaporean brands - Yeomama Batik, which uses traditional handwoven Batik fabric, hand-sewn into modern designs by individual seamstresses in Indonesia, and Suii Naturals, an organic makeup brand (the owner, Judith, concocted customised lipsticks and multi-purpose palettes for us herself!). These were very special to me because they brought together the things I love in a way that aligned with what I believe in.
Since my last post about conscious consumption, the big question posed was, how? How can I put this knowledge to productive use in my daily practices? In a way, I hope the collaborations we carried out answered this question from one angle through our representation on social media, choosing brands who share a similarly healthy vision, and doing it in a creative way that fit our art.
Though, this is just one way. And recent conversations have helped me understand how the shifts in priorities and approaches towards fashion consumption do not equate to a straightforward shift in buying habits. Rather than providing a listicle of ethical brands (which you can find elsewhere, e.g. goodonyou.eco) or pretending to have unquestionable certainty to prescribe how you should change your habits, I have come to occupy a rather ambivalent position on the practical translation of this train of thought.
This ambivalence was amplified when a friend mentioned that buying from brands with unethical practices is an investment in them to one day have the resources to improve their practices. The problem we agreed on though, is that we don't know if the money we use on them is directed in this way. The gap in information poses a risk some are more willing to take than others. As such, the issue requires more than villainising unethical fast fashion brands into changing. It's a daunting task that involves large scale, complex changes - the need for cross-border regulations of labour practices, the need to enforce regulations for companies to follow rather than relying on voluntary action (CSR), the need to challenge economic decisions of outsourcing to cheap labour, the question of human rights when the UN's mandates are in fact not mandatory because of the core difficulty of accountability, and so on.
Adding fuel to the fire is how greenwashing is so prevalent. Buying a tote bag from a 'conscious collection' allows the consumer to feel good about themselves when the reality is that wasteful practices like overproduction are simultaneously happening in the same companies.
It is a mammoth task to tackle these issues that requires the coming together of producers, supply chain middlemen, workers, consumers, NGOs, unions, and governmental bodies. And while most of us are simply everyday consumers who can easily assume our individual impact is too little to be felt, let us remember that ignoring a problem makes us complicit in it.
With that, I can only share my personal shifts in fashion consumption habits. These are the small steps I've taken for now, and what I hope is that they encourage you to further your exploration and reflection into your own consumption habits.
In the last three to four months I've hardly bought new clothes. Actually, I've only bought from thrift stores and a couple of Singaporean brands, namely, Yeomama Batik and Chota House Collective. Buying from small local brands has a certain charm to it because I get to talk to the owners and learn about their products -intimate conversations I wouldn't be able to have with large corporations. For these two brands, they've been open with sharing with me their processes of how their clothes are made and are usually excited to talk about it because they are so close to their creations. Even though I cannot assume they are in full control of their supply chain, their openness is an indication of honest production and genuine care for their products, their employees and their processes.
Because both brands involve individual seamstresses, there is a slowing down of production and consumption compared to machine-produced clothes. Yeomama Batik had to wait on their team in Indonesia to return from an extended Hari Raya holiday before receiving new stock. Amidst the increasingly insane pace of the fast fashion system where production had gone from four collections a year to a new collection every two weeks, this enforced patience that allows for humaneness is very welcome, even refreshing.
Besides decreasing my consumption - I used to be a serious impulse buyer, your typical see-now-buy-now shopper - I also streamlined my wardrobe, for several reasons - 1. A clearer wardrobe = a clearer mind, 2. I don't actually need so many things, 3. It's a challenge to my creativity in terms of styling, 4. Reduced wastage + I can pass on clothing I have previously enjoyed to others. The last point relates to selling or donating clothes and bags in good condition to a cause of my choice, closing my own little loop of fashion consumption.
It may appear ironic that in the same breath I'm telling you about brands to buy from, but my point is to ask the right questions & have clear priorities before taking out your wallet; this would narrow your choices & make you more immune to the seduction of commodities and generic advertising.
A couple of other ideas that I've yet to put into practice but hope to soon - clothes swapping (see Swapaholic, Style Theory, The Fashion Pulpit) and upcycling. At the heart of this all is the question, why do we have an affinity for change/newness? But that's a question for another time.
I'm not saying that these practices are easy. They take time and effort, but the rewards are worth it. It also takes a lot of determination, especially in a city where every building and signboard screams, "BUY! BUY! BUY!" - the temptation in the pretty shop windows and on aesthetic Instagram feeds is real! But through time, persistence, and habituation, the temptation dissipates. And whether the change was sparked from guilt, moral indignation, or social pressure, it transforms into a longevity of practice, from conscious action to accustomed in the subconscious.