A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an expert who invests to create change in the fashion supply chain. I was telling her about Not My Style, the app that my co-founders and I have been developing. Launching later this year, it will tell shoppers in very simple terms how much their favourite high street fashion brands share about the women and men who make their clothes.
"I love that idea," she said. "But I'd never fund it."
After I picked my (sad) jaw up off the floor, I asked why.
"I don't think consumers of fast fashion will ever really change their behaviour enough to make a difference. They are only motivated by price - they'll never care enough to make a real impact."
Is she right? Is our effort futile? Is it true that nothing I do will ever make a difference (and thus, should I go out and buy bags of clothes immediately)?
The answer is no...but also, yes. I believe strongly that consumers do care and would make better shopping choices if information was accessible, convenient, and clear. But I also agree that no one's managed to prove me right yet. With so many great efforts underway, why haven't we as consumers forced brands to tell us who makes our clothes? Here are the top three challenges I see - and how to fix them:
1. Hello? Can anyone hear me?
The world of ethical fashion is filled with smart, stylish, savvy people. It's also small. Really small. After a year of going to talks, conferences, dinners, and shows, I find I keep running into the same people over and over again. What they say is brilliant, but it's being said in an echo chamber. We need to go bigger and wider with our reach.
2. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
I don't condone pachyderm consumption. This adage means that you solve big problems in small ways, one step (or bite) at a time.
There are plenty of reasons why the world of conscious consumers who demand information about where their clothes are made is so tiny - but it is partly because we've been lacking concrete ways to change our behaviour that don't terrify us.
For example: No one who's seen the True Cost of Fashion or participated in Fashion Revolution week can fail to be moved by the plight of the people making our clothes. The next question is what can I do? The answers are simple: shop less (and buy ethical), wear everything 30 times, invest in statement pieces. These answers are right. But for lovers of fast fashion, they are not easy.
When I was 16, I kept a notebook recording what I wore every day to make sure I didn't repeat an outfit within a three week period. I worked at the mall over the summer JUST TO BE CLOSE TO THE CLOTHES. My head knows I have to buy less, but my heart wants that little black dress. For many people today, especially young(ish) women, buying new clothes makes us feel good. You can't unpick that psychology all at once. You need to take it one bite at a time.
Today's shoppers need to be nudged, not shoved. Small actions are what will create big behaviour changes.
3. I want it now.
Like many, many people, I am busy. So busy in fact that I rarely see or touch most of my food because I order it on an app and it shows up at my door. Living in London, I'm lucky. I don't have to sacrifice convenience to know my food is sourced, reared or produced ethically.
Behaviour change comes faster when it's easy. That's not a criticism; it's a fact. When we asked women in our focus groups when designing Not My Style to tell us what they wanted from us, they said they needed 100% accurate, thorough, detailed information...that they could digest in 30 seconds or less. Even when the information exists, most people don't have the time or inclination to read a 200-page sustainability report.
Many people are value-driven but time poor. If we want fast fashion consumers to make a change in how they shop, they need information that is as valid and accurate as it is convenient and simple. If we can find solutions that tick those boxes for people, we can help them be better, more informed shoppers and use their purchasing power to push brands to share more, and do better for the men and women who make our clothes.
I can't wait to prove the doubters wrong.
This September The Huffington Post UK Style is focusing on all things sustainable, for the second year running. Our thirst for fast fashion is dramatically impacting the environment and the lives of thousands of workers in a negative way. Our aim is to raise awareness of this zeitgeist issue and champion brands and people working to make the fashion industry a more ethical place.
We'll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #SustainableFashion and we'd like you to do the same. If you'd like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org