Conscious Fashion: Beige is the New Black

We’ve all heard of ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, eco-fashion, organic, green, slow and circular fashion. Now we’re now hearing more and more about conscious fashion. There’s no dictionary definition out there yet. What does conscious fashion mean to you?

Fair Trade

A teacher at my school ran a Fair Trade stall at lunchtime once a month. We shuffled around her trestle table and watched as she unwrapped tissue and newspaper. She revealed handmade chocolate, jewellery, statuettes and other treasures. We spoke in low voices and counted the coins in our purse belts in the hope of exchanging them for these unfamiliar items.

The stall also sold little notebooks. Their unlined pages were sewn at the spine and perfectly imperfect with flecks of unprocessed cotton. They were nothing like the crisp stapled workbooks I carried in my schoolbag.

I barely thought about the meaning of the Fair Trade logo printed on the wrapper of the bitter dark chocolate. (I didn’t really like the taste very much but that didn’t matter. As a sweet-toothed schoolgirl forbidden to sneak to the shop at lunchtime, it satisfied my candy cravings!)

I thought about the people who had made these lovely things. These craftswomen working diligently and meticulously. Living in countries I knew nothing about and would probably never visit.

Supply Chain

The concept of trade – fair or otherwise – meant little to me. Beyond bartering and exchanging Pogs and Puppy in my Pockets with the girl who lived in the flat behind my dad’s, that is. Kneeling on the concrete pavement by the car park we were magnates of the plastic figurine trade. We made our life-changing business deals swiftly before we got called in for tea.

Trade still isn’t something I know much about. But when it comes to phrases like conscious, ethical and sustainable fashion, it’s the people at the start of the supply chain I think about. What is important to me is #whomademyclothes?

Not Just a Trend

Conscious fashion is currently without definition. Its wider understanding varies a great deal. Little is said about what it means for people at the production end: the garment workers (usually women) and their working conditions.

I believe conscious fashion can be defined by comparing it to the other end of the fashion scale – fast fashion. In terms of manufacture, production, waste, durability and environmental concerns they are polar opposites.

To me it makes sense to define something by comparing it to its familiar opposite. However, a lot of the time this is interpreted in terms of aesthetics. In doing this, we water down the concept, reducing it to a trend.

Fast v Conscious

If we think of fast fashion to mean cheap fabric made to be disposable, then by comparison sustainable fashion becomes expensive. An investment. Consumers can be put off exploring conscious fashion brands because they believe them to be unaffordable.

Even colours are associative on this sliding scale. Fast fashion is a spectrum of colours. Every colour anyone could want, changing with trends and seasons. Autumnal burgundy and mustard. Summery blue and white seersucker. New Year’s Eve’s black, red and gold. Consistently though, the fabrics and colours associated with conscious fashion are neutral and natural. Hemp and hessian. Bamboo and beige.

On this basis, fast fashion becomes representative of a throw-away culture. A lower class of product. By contrast, conscious fashion is long-lasting and symbolic of quality and wealth. Becomes aspirational. How can it be there is actually a class divide derived from the dyes and fabrics used in clothing manufacture?

This is why it’s important to have an approved definition. Conscious fashion isn’t about wearing your wealth on your sleeve. Fashion Revolution have calculated that if garment workers were paid a living wage the retail price of a 29€ t-shirt would increase by just 1.57€.

Ethical Awareness

Conscious fashion doesn’t look a certain way. It’s not about colours or how much you paid for it. Ethical fashion is about people. The workers I thought about when I bought my first Fair Trade notebook. Members of a society whose waterways and marine eco-systems suffer when gallons upon gallons of waste runs off factories. The young women I know who consume products at an unhealthy rate to keep up with trends.

Conscious fashion is created with environmental and ethical awareness. It is sometimes more expensive, but lasts longer and is better quality. Therefore cost per wear increases its value for money. Not to mention no one literally died making it.

My Definition

The conversation about conscious fashion is just getting started. There is so much more to come and when it does a definition will follow. When an issue is talked about and written about enough it earns its stripes. It takes its neat little place in the world as legitimate lexicon.

The meanings of words come from their collocates – the words they hang out with. So if, when we talk about conscious fashion, we think about all kinds of concepts like fairness of trade, gender equality, decent working conditions, a living wage and sustainable, ethical and environmentally friendly practices, then I already have my definition.

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