How switching to sustainable fashion helped me recover from my eating disorder.
With its emphasis on constant re-invention and staying ahead of trends, fashion’s unique pressures leave its workers extremely vulnerable to mental health issues. Kate Spade, Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow are just a few names that highlight the troubling number of burnouts and suicides.
Whether you’re a designer, a garment worker, a buyer, or maybe you’ve started your own brand – how is working in the fashion industry is impacting your mental health?
I realized I reached rock bottom in a changing room.
I looked at my reflection: an underweight girl wearing a dress. How was it possible? I finally reached my goal size, why did I still hate the way that dress fit me?
I see that 17 year-old girl rolling her eyes as I’m asked ‘How does fashion impact your mental health?’. And then I see her laughing as I answer, ‘Positively’.
As contradictory as it may seem, I do think that fashion causes people more harm than good. ‘Oh my goooood, please no, she’s starting with that skinny models and photoshop thing’, I hear you crying. But, I’m not. In fact, I think models and photoshop have little to do with that.
The real problem lies elsewhere.
Have you ever found yourself getting bored of your stuff? You know… that feeling when you look around and everything feels stale. The obvious answer is to buy something new, to change something.
I recall going to the fast fashion shops selling trendy clothes because, obviously, I would have found something trendy but cheap, I would have looked great in it and I wouldn’t have felt bored & stale anymore.
But fast fashion itself stood in the way. The myriad choices offered by fast fashion brands made me even more unhappy by providing me with too many choices that paralyzed me, increased the regret I felt after choosing and made me feel disappointed because of the unrealistic expectations.
I would spend hours trying on clothes that didn’t look on me as I wanted them to, and if I ever found something acceptable I would regret buying it a few hours after: why didn’t I pick the other one?
I would think the problem were not clothes, but my body. Why couldn’t I fit in that dress the way I wanted to?
So I would drop another size and be excited about finally buying a nice garment. Needless to say it was a vicious circle.
The truth is the allure of the new thing isn’t in the thing itself, but in the anticipation of buying it. So buying new things constantly doesn’t provide the happiness we think it will. Instead, it makes us feel regret and disappointment.
So, what changed in my relationship with fashion? Slow shopping happened.
When we hear about sustainability we think of the environment and workers, but “sustainable” has multiple levels of meaning. Sustainable literally means “capable of being sustained”. Can we sustain a life where we try to change our bodies to fit in clothes, instead of changing our clothes to make them fit our bodies? Can we sustain a life where we are not enough? Not thin enough (‘cause there’s always a smaller size), not smart enough (‘cause there’s always a way to pay less), not fast enough (‘cause there’s always a new trend). Just not enough. I’m asking you: can we? The answer is: no.
Fortunately, ethical companies have created designs where size is flexible: MATTER pants, for example, have four different buttons at the waist, meaning they can be adjusted various ways (you can go one button looser after a large meal). Whilst being flexible in sizing carries great benefits for manufacturers in being cheaper and producing less waste, it also encourages a much more holistic relationship between clothes and our bodies. There’s no trying to fit into sizing charts, where going above a certain number means our bodies are ‘bad’. The clothes are made to fit us, we aren’t trying to fit the clothes.
And it all makes sense. The mainstream market sells products by exploiting low self-esteem, low wages, and the feeling of lacking in something. Options that implement sustainable ideals instead include more positive practices, because ethical fashion really cares about the earth, the makers and the wearers.
Of course, if you are looking for ways to feel more confident and happier about how you look, most of this comes from within, from inner confidence and caring for your mind and wellbeing. But I would argue that you’ll also find yourself a lot happier when you break up with fast fashion. So much of it is motivated by mere profit and is designed to make you feel lacking and wanting to buy the next product. Shopping sustainably is so much more than fair wages and eco-friendly supply chains. It’s about shopping for clothes that make you feel good and that positively impact both the buyer and the maker.
I know it does feel like a lot to change every purchasing habit you’ve been used to, but it is also achievable. We only need to take more time before we purchase things. If we spend time really considering, and looking for things that we can fall in love with and keep forever, then we get to spend more time enjoying envisioning how we’re going to style the new item, which is the bit we actually enjoy most, before experiencing the feeling of actually seeing that through.
My relationship with fashion changed for the better, and yours can too. Just like good wine, fashion can be extremely enjoyable or extremely dangerous. It all depends on how we use it.
Written by Chiara Dellachà, ethical life blogger at Slaveil.