Sophie Johnson writes:
“…people come out of Primark with carrier bags of T-shirts that cost as little as £1. That’s bad for the planet and for people, for farmers and for factories of cheap labour, and it’s bad for the people who buy it; they’re just consumers, suckers-up with their washing machines and landfill… you can operate a company ethically, and with regard to quality.” Vivienne Westwood
What does it take to make us change our behaviour? There’s the classic model of AIDA: Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action (attributed to American advertising and sales pioneer E. St. Elmo Lewis) which says that we have to pass through the four stages encapsulated in the acronym before we do something, but are we all the same when shifting from initial awareness to action? Do we all have different timeframes? Does it depend on our education, our intelligence and our individual motivations?
Big questions, but such a model of behaviour is always best demonstrated through a specific context and example. So here’s a personal one from me: how I buy clothing.
Having worked largely in advertising agencies for the past 16 years, it is not surprising that the majority of people I have worked alongside have been above average in terms of physical attractiveness, concerned with their appearance, keen to maintain their looks and generally speaking either fashionable or into statement outfits that express their creativity.
This can be quite a challenge to keep up with, and one of the consequences of working amongst image conscious people is the desire (to try at least) to keep up.
Over the years, this has led to regular visits to hairdressers and frequently feeling the need to have something new to wear, especially if there’s a pitch or client meeting coming up.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of buying clothes that are inexpensive because – you tell your inner conscience – that the nature of your job requires you to have a varied, regularly updated wardrobe.
The desire for variety and something new to cheer oneself up or feel more confident is certainly not restricted to the advertising world, but I suspect if I’d spent my adulthood in academic circles, for example, I might have felt the need for fewer wardrobe overhauls and haircuts.
Something happened in the past few decades to clothes – high street clothes I mean. They have actually got cheaper. Shops selling cheerful throw-away items have become more and more ubiquitous.
I have heard about developing countries and sweatshops and exploitation, of course, (I’m sure we all have) but I’ve also never really stopped and thought properly about my clothes shopping habits.
Back to my original question of how long it takes for awareness to turn into action and what the process is. In my case, I think I needed my awareness to be reinforced through the words of someone I look up to and admire. And for me, that person is Vivienne Westwood.
Her philosophy is to buy less, choose carefully, and make it last. If you spend more per item, you can afford fewer things, but then you are more likely to cherish them and look after them.
The next step is to look further into how these clothes are made, what with and by whom. Is the material sustainable? Is the production responsible? Are the people making them being fairly paid and looked after?
Interesting how human rights, the environment and fashion collide in this way.
Livia Firth is also passionate about making fashion sustainable: “Once you’ve seen how a factory producing throwaway fashion operates, you can never really go back to the high street,” she says.
As a supporter and wearer of Firth’s Green Carpet Clothing, Emma Watson has also joined the campaign, saying “I can’t wrap my head around why ethical clothing is a speciality and not a base standard.”
In a similar vein to Vivienne Westwood, a relatively new company Black Barrel started out in 2012 as two people designing ideas and thoughts that ‘worry them’ and printing them onto T-Shirts.
“Our goal is to connect people with people and people with nature, be eco-friendly and to cover the land with trees. We use only recycled materials and organic cotton to produce our clothes. Most of our T-shirts are made of 50% organic or recycled cotton and 50% post-consumer recycled polyester. Yes, this means we recycle your used plastic bottles and make fashion out of trash!” say Alik Sidorov and Kadri Hülp of Black Barrel.
When I asked them for more details, they informed me, “Our shirts are eco friendly, including packaging. They are sewn in India and Nicaragua and printed, finished and packed in the UK. All of the T-Shirts are certified by the Fair Wear organization; that means all workers involved in producing them are getting a fair salary and working conditions. In other words, they have a good job.”
I visited their website and found they include a little pack of germinating seeds with every t-shirt sold that, when planted, soon ‘sprout’ and turn into plants and trees, with the intention of helping to contribute to a greener environment.
It seems a good time to be thinking about this, when we’ve just had the shopping fiasco that is Black Friday followed almost immediately by the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.
I admire anybody who is trying to do the right thing, raising awareness of where clothing comes from and encouraging us to shop with our conscience. I’m going to try and change my consumer behaviour for good from now on: buy less, look after things to make them last as long as possible, and look into how they’re made and by who before I buy them. But I agree with Emma Watson: we shouldn’t really have to do a load of research into what we’re buying: human rights and the environment should be protected across the board.
Quotes from Vivienne Westwood are from the eponymous book “Vivienne Westwood” co-written with Ian Kelly and published by Picador.
Quotes from Livia Firth and Emma Watson were taken from: http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/columns/tamsin-blanchard/TMG10765035/Roll-out-the-green-carpet-for-Livia-Firth-the-queen-of-sustainable-fashion.html
Black Barrel website: http://www.blackbarrel.co.uk