Why the clothes on your back don’t really have anything to do with ‘sustainability’.

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After working at a clothing company that constantly prides itself on being ‘sustainable’ as its main appeal, I’ve realised:

You can’t sell sustainability. Sustainability cannot be objectified. Sustainability is a mentality, a culture, a way of being. 

The sentiment brings me back to a conversation I had with my master’s thesis supervisor, Kate Fletcher, on the importance of being present, noticing and taking delight from one’s surroundings.

She shared the following anecdote with me:

‘I realised that what I felt which was much more vital to the success of fashion going forward, or more generally to sustainability, wasn’t that my children understood where clothes were being made (as was the mantra of Fashion Revolution), but actually that they, fully dressed in whatever clothes they were wearing, were able to fully engage with the world…

And in that moment, that day, when that [Fashion Revolution day] was happening, we just went in our old, most tattiest gear, nothing that would be considered a ‘look’, and we just made a den in the woods, and hung-out, and looked at the moss, and we just were being, we weren’t doing anything’.

Sustainability isn’t something you can attach to a product, it’s how you think about and interact with the product, from its design, to its manufacturing, consumption, and evolution into new life.

Sustainability cannot be judged or expressed solely by people’s clothing on their own, but rather by the person’s craft of use.

We cannot say Joey is ‘less sustainable’ than Sheila only because Joey is wearing a t-shirt printed with plastisol butterflies that he received as a gift from a friend, and Sheila is wearing a 100% naturally dyed organic hemp shirt.

Let’s say Joey has sustainability engrained in him and Sheila doesn’t. So even though Joey got this plastisol printed shirt as a gift from a friend (thank goodness it’s organic cotton, though) that he’s wearing anyways, because he still loves the shirt— he’s just going to be careful about washing the shirt to ensure the plastisol bits don’t fall off, and that when the time comes for the shirt to go into its next evolution, Joey won’t just put it in landfill.

For Sheila on the other hand, ‘sustainability’ is more trendy than anything else. After posting on social media about her ‘oh so sustainable’ shirt, she then gets ready to make her next purchase of a jacket made of recycled water bottles, because she was told it’s ‘sustainable’, and hasn’t heard about micro-plastics yet. Sheila doesn’t really know anything about sustainability, she’s just trying to make herself feel and look like she’s helping the planet because it seems ‘cool’ and boosts her ego (even though the planet doesn’t need any help, and would be better off if Sheila and all her friends just left!)

In this example, Joey represents true sustainability as engrained behaviour, and Sheila represents market manufactured sustainability as ego-driven consumption.

Sustainability is not about ‘saving the world’ or constantly making it seem that you’re helping poor starving brown people in the Global South by having them make your clothes and paying them ‘fair wages’, and patting yourself on the back, ‘to feel good’.

Sustainability is about knowing how to save yourself by reconnecting to an inner nature unadulterated by consumerism, an inner self that is able to read and understand the language of Earth’s forces, an inner self that is aware of ego.

People truly tuned in to this inner self are able to read the signs of Earth’s nature, as many peoples of animistic and traditional cultures do. People truly tuned in to sustainability do not compare who or what is ‘more or less sustainable’. People aware of ego do not compare at all. True sustainability is not driven by ego. It just is.

 

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