Last week Lauren Bravo was gracious enough to answer a few questions about her view of the fashion industry and how it can become more eco-friendly. Lauren has written for major publications such as Refinery29 UK, Cosmopolitan, and Stylist, and two months ago, she released her latest book, How To Break Up With Fast Fashion. In the book, she describes her own relationship with clothes while also incorporating facts about the fashion industry that led her to undertake a year-long boycott of fast fashion. Below she shares her ideas on the media's role in changing the industry and how brands should look in the future.
GBJ: After your year-long fast fashion boycott, what was your most worn piece? And were you surprised?
LB: I tried quite hard to mix things up, give older pieces from the back of my wardrobe an airing and not end up wearing just a few items again and again... but inevitably there were favourites! As for most-worn piece, it's probably a toss-up between a very old lightweight grey poloneck, which I took to layering under everything – strappy summer dresses, shirts, camisoles, jumpsuits, everything – and a brilliant floral-sprigged, button-down vintage midi dress from Beyond Retro, which I bought straight after the meeting with my editor where we agreed I would write the book. It's one of those secondhand gems that feels like fate; it fits like a glove, goes with everything, works in winter and summer, looks appropriate for smart and casual and everything in between. I must have worn it at least 50 times in as many weeks, and it's still going strong.
GBJ: What would be your biggest recommendation to other people who are just starting their journey with eco-friendly and ethical fashion?
LB: Try to stop shopping, if you can – even if it's just for a month. Breaking that habit is crucial, and proving to yourself that you can get by without a new trend fix every week. But if giving up in the long-term feels like too big an ask, then at least stick to the #secondhandfirst rule. Before buying anything brand new, always ask yourself: could I buy this secondhand? Whether that's getting it from a charity shop or consignment store, or finding a barely-worn version on eBay, renting it for a one-off occasion, or just borrowing it off a friend. I guess it's a little bit like the 'adopt, don't shop' rule for pets. There are so many clothes on the planet already in circulation, so many out there looking for a loving new home. We should only really be buying brand-new as a last resort or an occasional treat.
GBJ: Should fashion journalists be at least partly to blame for promoting overconsumption of fast fashion?
LB: Oh absolutely – I'm responsible myself! I've definitely played my part over the years, writing those articles with titles like "5 trends you MUST wear this season". But I also think the fashion media has great potential to make change too, holding fashion brands to account, reporting the truth and encouraging us all to change our shopping mindsets. It won't be easy; ultimately media companies will always be concerned about their bottom line, and those shopping galleries drive click-through revenue, but I really hope things will keep on changing.
GBJ: Do you think there will ever be a time when fast fashion giants like H&M, Zara, or Gap, don't exist?
LB: I'd like to believe that if they still exist, they won't be giants. The more I read and learn about this stuff, the more I believe it isn't really ethical for any one company to be as huge as they are. The future is in smaller businesses, slower models and shopping more locally. It's about knowing exactly who has made your clothes, and where, and how. I think it'd be naive to believe that those fast fashion chains are going anywhere anytime soon, but if they want to stick around they need to dramatically change their ways of working, and that starts with slamming their foot on the brakes and producing less.
GBJ: Should H&M — or any other fast fashion brand accused of greenwashing — be given credit for trying to implement sustainability initiatives?
LB: This is the Big Question. On an individual level, I really believe in giving people credit for trying, however imperfect their efforts. I don't think we get very far with guilt, and we have to remember that people are all starting from different places and coming to this conversation with different levels of privilege and information. So if a fast fashion shopper switches to H&M's 'Conscious' collection and starts taking in their bag of clothes for recycling, I think they should absolutely get credit for changing their habits and doing their bit. However, when it comes to the billion pound businesses themselves... nope, I'm afraid it's not good enough. Not at this point. H&M have been banging the drum for more sustainability for a few years now, which means they should be well aware that their biggest problem is overproduction. Organic cotton and take-back schemes are great, but they're a drop in the ocean when you consider how many garments H&M is still needlessly churning out every single week. Lucy Siegle worked out a few years ago that it would take H&M 12 years to recycle the amount of clothes it produces in 48 hours. Fast fashion brands are never going to be sustainable until they seriously scale back their production, and I think the grace period for credit has passed. They need to make bigger, bolder changes, and fast. Especially right now, when so many of the high street giants are still forcing staff to go to work in their stores instead of staying at home with pay. As Aja Barber pointed out this week, nobody needs to buy a maxi dress that badly in the middle of a global pandemic.