In the mid- to late eighties, brands like Patagonia and ESPRIT began leading the movement and it wasn’t long before luxury labels like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood brought conscious to couture. Today, our well-known high street brands and retailers are introducing mindfulness to the masses and conscious fashion brands are popping up all over the place.
Conscious Fashion has been whispering out a quiet revolution for years, but now we’re shouting about it. What changed?
After 2016’s love affair with kale and 2017’s avocado-fest, by 2018 kitschy food fads had my eyes almost permanently rolled and I was one salt and pepper halloumi fry from deleting instagram and smashing my phone against a wall.
But it wasn’t just greasy cuboids of salty cheese served in baskets at super-cool food halls that made a name for themselves in 2018. It was actually much better. Some of the trends we saw last year deserve a place in our culinary vocabulary and in our plates and mouths until the very end of days. There was vegan junk food, every type of non-dairy-dairy you could think of, biodynamic wine, pulled jackfruit and cauliflower-everything. And as for 2019, well, 3 days in Greggs brought out (and immediately sold out of) vegan sausage rolls.
All these things – even the cauliflower – are great ideas. But a great idea isn’t enough. Even a really, really great idea at the wrong time won’t do as well as an OK idea at the perfect time. But these things kicked OFF last year because 2018 was the year of the woke.
We have never, ever, ever been this woke before. Every day I feel a little bit more woke than the day before and it is sweeping across multimedia: we’re checking in at vegan donut stalls in Berlin, commenting “WATCH COWSPIRACY” on news articles about what red meat does to your insides, and we’re hashtagging about sustainability and a fashion revolution. Our Instagram idols are plus-sized, we’re respecting prefered personal pronouns and putting them in our online bios, and we’ve even got a little spinny vegan gif on Instagram stories.
2018 was the year that really showed how much this generation cares. We saw that video of the turtle with the plastic straw up its nose and we did something about it, campaigning for businesses to offer a more ethical alternative. Stacey Dooley even got in on the debate. A woman – whose repertoire of investigative journalism in the same year tackled domestic violence against women in Russia, sex slavery within Isis, and whether or not sex offenders deserve a second chance – noticed the murmuring getting louder. She deemed the environmental impact of fast fashion – our insatiable appetite for consuming garments – worthy of her hour-long slot on BBC.
I, for one, love it. I am proud to be part of a generation that is worried about our planet and all the people and the animals in it. And anyone who sneers at Millennials and Generation X or anyone else who knows how to use Facebook without causing World War 3 with a distant relative has really, badly got it wrong.
Millennials entered young adulthood in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis and the negative impact on their employment prospects and financial security has been well documented. But it has shaped their ideologies and their concerns as well. A YouGov survey from 2017 showed that while 34% of the UK think people should eat less meat due to an awareness of the environmental impact of its production, this rose to 50% in those aged 16-34.
It is now generally accepted that this age group is the most socially and environmentally conscious that has ever been, and I’m not a show off but I’m telling you now, my recycle bin is definitely the most used (and most correctly used) on my road.
Yet we’re not given the credit we deserve because we cackle ‘Yaaaas Kween’ at our friends over Aperol Spritzes and we know how to take a decent photograph of brunch. But disregarding millennials is a big mistake. In 2018 there were some 1.8bn – almost a quarter of the entire population – with around 12 million of us living in the UK alone. And fashion retailers are quite aware of that fact.
For the case of conscious fashion, it’s fair to say that this is the perfect time.
Fashion retailers use extremely sophisticated technology to predict trends. Their social media platforms are ran by the most savvy among us. They overheard the whispers about a more sustainable solution to everyday consumerism, they recognised our spending power, and they credited us as the most powerful commercial market out there.
It may not always feel like you hold the power, especially when it comes to your relationship with an industry that is constantly changing and evolving, but you do. You have the power to take it or leave it.
And for that reason I leave a word of warning to the purveyors of sustainable and ethical fashion if they do fail to deliver what they’ve promised. Millennials are vocal. We’re activists, we’re researchers, we’re humanitarians, and we’re nomadic, frugal, empowered, and many. While collectively it is our cash that allow us to facilitate the positive changes we see in the industry, it only takes one person to speak up if those changes aren’t upheld. If it isn’t everything that was promised we can speak much louder than whispers. And it really does only take a whisper and it will be shared right across the world, faster than you can say ‘Avocado is Bae’.