Should Sustainable Fashion Be Fun?

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Should Sustainable Fashion Be Fun?

Ethical and sustainable fashion is having a moment right now. Celebrities are instagramming it. Big time bloggers are talking about slow fashion.

And communities that used to only talk among themselves – fair trade, eco-conscious, vegan, all natural – are becoming so large they’re starting to run into each other, creating a big puddle of passionate, ethically minded people who can learn from one another. It’s beautiful. If I had a little wine in me, I might shed a happy tear over it.

But, as with all of-the-moment things, popularity invites critique. 

recent Forbes article suggests that sustainable brands need to “become more fun and less preachy.” Shoppers in a new psychological study suggested that consumers who cared about ethics were boring (and un-sexy, of all things).

And some sustainable fashion insiders suggest that distinguishing something as “ethical” or “sustainable” dooms it for failure.

As if that’s not enough, I recently ran across the profile of a blogger who suggested that sooome of us ethical bloggers just don’t know how to be approachable with the young people because we talk too much about certifications and regulations and ethics.

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Or maybe because we keep telling people to stop buying so much gosh darn crap, and that’s not very fun, is it?

While I think internal and external critique is beneficial, I feel like we’re selling ourselves short by insisting that everything be as appealing as possible, with the lowest barrier to entry. 

I started StyleWise as a personal style blog on purpose, because I thought it was an approachable way to prove to myself and other fashion blog readers that you could dress fashionably – and more importantly, like yourself – wearing all ethically sourced pieces.

Along the way, I realized that a lot more needed to change than simply where I spent my money and I began to recognize the ways that local justice work, environmentalism, politics, and labor rights play into one another. It was, and is, a slow path to progress, but it happened because I continually challenged myself to learn as much as I could about the industry.

I think the whole ethical and sustainable living experiment is fundamentally about education.

And education is sometimes technical, sometimes boring. Sometimes not fun at all!

As author Marilynne Robinson said at a talk I attended last week, we are equipped with the most sophisticated organ in the known universe – the human brain – and every single one of us has one!

We have too much potential within us to insist on everything being perfectly approachable on the first read. We can do better than that, and we must if we want to create a better world. 

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I want to live in a world where people are interested in having the kind of fun that doesn’t come at a cost to others.

Now, I can totally see how brands benefit from talking less about the marginalized makers and letting the product speak for itself, but I don’t see that as the real issue here.

I think we need to redefine what we mean by fun in the first place. Call me weird, but I think it’s fun to see hard work, dedication, raw talent, and profound respect for people and planet come together to create a product that will have a long life in the home or on the back of someone who cherishes it.

It’s way more than fun, actually: it’s gratification, contentment, awe, connection. It’s meaning-making.

So, I can’t buy a critique that tells me that the only way to convince people that this matters is by continuing to over-consume (in the case of a few well-intentioned bloggers) or by removing all the hard facts from my posts or by branding myself in a way that isn’t transparent, authentic, or true.

I can’t promise that I’ll always be having fun over here, but I’ll always be striving to be transparent and hopeful. 

I’m all-in, accepting the tragedies and triumphs of this messy industry and this occasionally overwhelming lifestyle choice. Will you be all-in with me?

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Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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  1. Saying ethical fashion isn't fun reminds me of people who think politics are boring. What they're really saying is their lifestyle won't be directly affected by the outcome of an election. How dare you ruin my fun by inciting empathy and stating facts.

  2. the tk maxx here has a poster in the window encouraging people to 'give up clothes for good' meaning donate and buy more – and I dont know which bothers me the most, the idea of giving cheap fast fashion to a charity shop that cannot sell it and encouraging people to buy more clothes to hardly wear……………….

  3. I'm in! Ethical fashion has so much to do with community, with human problems and foibles and stories. And those things are enduringly fun.

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