Image sourced via Advaya Initiative.
Recently the nature of the fashion industry has been truly and utterly bought to my attention. I have not been living in a hole regarding the industry but perhaps now I am ready - really ready to look at my spending patterns and lack of consumer awareness. This is about both the fashion industry and my own habits, more specifically what people may call the ‘shadow side’ in spiritual or personal growth. This article is not to make anyone feel bad, simply to share my story in the hope of raising awareness around what can be going on in ourselves. To reflect on the ability to accept our shadow sides with compassion - traits sometimes referred to as ‘darker’ - things that we hide from or do not like to accept in ourselves. Reading Russell Brand’s book ‘Recovery From Addiction’ made me deeply ponder things I ‘go to’ in a subconscious attempt to cover feelings up. Mistaking my need to be connected within and to spirit with an unconscious pattern to quick fix an empty feeling rising up inside through buying or indulging. This quick fix can be as seemingly innocent as having a few too many chocolate biscuits.
I have bought Teeki leggings in the past (made from recycled plastic bottles) feeling proud of myself that somehow I was helping the abhorrent waste industry and dabbled with some wonderful companies that support workers rights and local artisans. Though at times I am culpable of being a totally unconscious consumer, perhaps drowning insecurities, lack of self-esteem or boredom (a lack of presence?) in new items to make me feel that little bit perkier or prettier. My pattern of buying has really come to the forefront of my awareness having lingered there guiltily for some time in the back of my mind. Guiltily as it was a hidden part of myself I did not want to accept, embarrassed of my little addiction to a ‘feel good’ purchase or spot of online shopping. Especially being on the spiritual path I judged myself for my own attachment to materialism, let alone worrying about what other people might think if they really saw this side of me. I would like to be able to, or at least try to accept all the parts of myself, to bring these fragmented and reactive pieces into my awareness - to understand my patterns. To try to integrate them and become the best version of myself possible. Although I do believe we are just where we need to be. In this moment I am the best version of myself that can be at this time and I am trying my best. However our journey is an evolution, a growth process, constant refinement and peeling of layers. I would not have fulfilled my intention if I created more separation or judgement here so be aware if anything like this arises in you as you read this. My aim is not for anyone or myself to think we are better than anyone else.
Whilst I have been travelling in India I have met the most exceptional, beautiful and talented young woman, Jeanne De Kroon, the creator of Zazi Vintage. We chatted about her wild journey from modelling to becoming an ethical fashion designer working recreating vintage pieces into the most gorgeous coats. Jeanne works alongside NGOs and more recently with the United Nations to ensure good workers rights and to support local communities - a path which was inspired by being shown the uglier side of fashion. When Jeanne was in her modelling years she ended up being taken around Indian clothing factories by a female activist, seeing first hand the abhorrent conditions women worked in. These included limited toilet use forcing some women to wear incontinence pads, extremely poor pay, very young labourers, high intensity work and generally squalid conditions. There is much more to it which you can read up on plentifully elsewhere - I am sure you already know the poor ethics of this industry which is also known to be one of the largest ecologically damaging industries. Are we talking about it enough? Jeanne shared how companies from high street to designer labels are guilty of propagating this. High fashion companies often finishing Indian-made pieces in Italy to be able to say it was “Made in Italy”. There are now multi-million pound industries which professionally destroy or dump wasted high street clothing. Huge proportions of second hand clothes given to charity shops end up in in developing countries markets, damaging local industry. Dumped clothing lies in ‘wasteland’ taking up precious earth space which could be used for all sorts of superior pursuits, from farming to wildlife habitation to name two.
This story is not new to me and I very much doubt to you. However I have buried my head in denial in regards to my own spending patterns and more importantly these stories. Maybe the awareness we have on how our own patterns infringe on the lives of others can be of assistance for a little shake up in ourselves. In the West though we can easily live in a bubble away from the reality of certain industry or events. So in my comfortable world it was easy for me to put the stories like the help notes from Chinese prisoners being sent in a pair of Primark trousers to the UK to the back of my mind. Obviously things catch you in a phase but it is easy to forget. It does amaze me of the human ability to block things out! And yes we have to get on with our lives, do our work and try to stay positive about the world - which for me means not look at disturbing images everyday.
For this to come to light there has been a combination of many things... A regular spiritual and self-development practice which involves uncovering my various sides to my self or feeling my way into the subconscious. This has helped me to see where I am stuck in ‘illusion’ - misconstrued or limited thought, or unconscious cycles of adopted behaviour. So to be able to talk about this I am emerging out of a period of denial or shame with my self. Heart-centred friends with positive values, women’s circles and Russell Brand’s book have all been key features to support this unfolding. I am not saying I am going to stop shopping. Or maybe I should?! I have always been fascinated by social media stars like NeoHippie - a Danish woman who promotes zero-waste and non-shopper living, buying everything her family needs second hand. Or those that only vow to have one hundred items in life! But at times I love a floaty dress, feeling feminine and decorating myself - a wonderful part of life and culture and has been for eons.
So what to do?! I love this quote from Vivienne Westwood; “Buy less, choose well”. In the past I have tried to buy quality items that last a long time. When purchasing now I am going to try wherever possible to buy from conscious, transparent companies who share how their products are made and how employees are treated, and buy vintage or second hand. That seems nice right?! Someone recently said to me that to heal the mess we have got ourselves into we need to connect consumers to artisans. Back to the idea of a traditional market where we can see people making products and valuing that. Maybe this can be done in local and global ways which is what I love about companies like Zavi Vintage. What about the argument that these factory workers would otherwise be living in abject poverty with no job if it was not for fast fashion? How about we all paid a little more for one quality item and bought a little less? And tried to bridge the gap between the rich and poor? What if we bring valuing inner beauty to the centre of conversation, challenge our cultural values and discuss our lack of true, positive values? We are all so surrounded with ‘stuff’ and it feels due time to challenge this - a friend has also advised reading Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’.
I am no saint and I am never going to be a perfect human being - what is that? I am definitely not suggesting all wear hemp sacks and bamboo knickers! But lets bring adorning ourselves back to celebrating the divine, not striving to fill a hole or subconsciously compete with the next woman instead of recognising the light within ourselves. We are all a container expressing the same seed of divinity just in different form. Let us also have some compassion and kindness before we go judging ourselves, before we start pointing the finger at right and wrong, good and bad. This article is to highlight perhaps the less constructive parts of my self. We all wake up in different ways, to different things at different times. And there is no better than this or better than you. We are all human and there is a reason we are the way we are. We are all carrying the same divine force and all trying our best in life; expressing ourselves exactly how we need to be expressed right now. Yet we could try to be a touch more honest and strive for a better world through becoming aware of our patterns and changing ourselves - one gentle piece at a time.