Lauren Bravo, the wonderful author of 'How to Break up with Fast Fashion' talks to us about why she gave up fast fashion, how her relationship with clothes has changed, how she keeps a good mental state in lockdown and what she believes the future of fashion will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lauren, thank you so much for speaking with us today. To start us off, could you tell us more about why you decided to write ‘How to break up with fast fashion’?
I have had a very up and down journey with fashion over the years. I grew up wearing a lot of secondhand clothes and in my teenage years, I bought a lot of vintage. Then, over the course of my twenties, I found that I was buying more and more fast fashion. There was that constant push to be updating your wardrobe. Towards the end of my twenties, I knew I was in a bad place with clothes personally. I was feeling really overwhelmed by my own shopping habits and felt like it was taking up too much of my energy and life. At the same time, as a fashion journalist, I was starting to read more about the environmental impact of the fashion industry and its humanitarian problems. It completely took the shine off those fast fashion outfits. In 2018 I started volunteering in a charity shop, so I was buying more and more secondhand again, naturally. I got to the point where the idea of going to the high street just made me feel kind of tired. So I decided to set myself this challenge where I went for a year without buying anything brand new. The timing just weirdly coincided quite well, because I started doing that in January last year, and then in March I was approached by an editor who thought there would be a book in it. In an ideal world, I would have finished the year and then written the book. But I felt like it would actually make it more interesting if I was still in the middle of it. Being able to say 'Look, I know I am not perfect, I haven't got it quite figured out, but I know that we need to change stuff’. So that is what happened.
How has your relationship with clothing changed after giving up fast fashion?
It has slowed down considerably. I feel a lot calmer around my wardrobe. One of my worst traits before I gave up fast fashion was that I had these kind of morning meltdowns. I would feel an overwhelming sense of wrongness in everything that I put on. I had loads of clothes, but I felt like I had nothing to wear, ever. Things that I had only bought a couple of weeks earlier I was suddenly bored of. I had that constant itch to refresh my wardrobe. But it didn’t take long before the whole idea of going shopping just made me feel exhausted. I started to feel more emotionally connected to the things that I already had. And I realised that often the clothes that I didn’t get bored of were the ones I had an emotional connection to, rather than the ones I had bought because they were a trend. I got better at styling as well. I really had to force myself to get creative in getting my outfits together. Layer things a bit differently, wear things out of season, make them work for different occasions. And what happened at the end of the year was that I decided I didn't want to ever go back.
What does your typical day look like in lockdown?
Compared to a lot of people it hasn't really changed all that much. I am a freelance writer so I am used to my own company. I’m used to being at home a lot. So in some ways, I think the transition has actually been a whole lot easier for me than it has been for most people. The biggest difference for me is that I just haven't got much work. A lot of the editors that I normally get commissioned from have had their budgets slashed and a lot of the events I was going to do have been cancelled. But it was always going to be a bit of a weird time for me because my book came out and I was getting to the end of promo. So I don't really know what I would be doing even if there wasn't a pandemic. But a lot of my work has gone. So I am just kind of dealing with that. With the guilt, and worry about money and not really knowing what the next month will look like. But I am very lucky compared to a lot of people. I can kind of rattle around and become a lockdown cliché with baking banana bread and growing spring onion.
What advice can you give to other freelancers to help them get through this period?
I think I would say firstly, don't beat yourself up if you need to find completely new ways of working. If it works for you to stay in bed until lunchtime and then getting up and doing a really intense burst of work in the afternoon, then do it. Completely ignore everyone else who is talking about their routines. I think now is a good time to figure out when you are most creative.
In terms of going out and getting work, I think the best thing you can do is to join as many communities as possible. You never know where work opportunities might come from. Seeking out that human contact online wherever you can is really helpful. I have had bits of surprise work that have come along from friends of friends of friends and people that have passed my name on. So there is absolutely no shame in letting people know that you are finding it really hard and that you need some work. You never know when someone might know somebody who could use you.
What helps you to stay in a good mental space?
I have been doing Yoga with Adriene, like everyone else in the world and I've also got much more into running. I ran my first 10K yesterday, which I've never done before. Also, I am trying to stay in touch with people even when it does feel like quite a lot of effort. I've been trying to remind myself that actually having contact with people is very helpful and healthy. I shouldn't become a hermit. I'm really just trying to find that balance between self-discipline and being really kind to myself.
Many people are arguing that we needed this shock to the system to be able to rethink the way we were living. How do you think COVID will impact the fashion industry and what do you think the lasting impacts will be, in terms of fashion brands and consumer behaviour?
It is such a complex, complex topic, isn’t it? I think that the idea that we needed a shock to the system is probably right. But I don't think that shock should ever have come at the expense of the lives that it has. I can’t feel comfortable thinking of human life as collateral in that way. But I do think that while it is happening, the absolute least we can do to honour the people who have died, is rethink our ways of living and try to make the world a little bit better when we come out of this.
I think the pandemic has been showing us some brands’ true colours when it comes to cancelling orders from factories in some of the poorest developing countries in the world and not paying for those orders. Or forcing workers to go to work when they really should be at home with their families. Hopefully, it will help us realise what we are supporting when we spend money on those brands. I also really hope that all of the clothes that have been made and not sold this year will get sold next year. It would be mad if that didn’t happen. We have to be sensible and realise that trends don’t matter. Trends are irrelevant. Just save all of those clothes and hopefully in the meantime that frees up a little bit of time and space for brands to stop and rethink the way that they are working. Put a foot on the breaks.
It has been really interesting on a more individual level as well. Lockdown has given us a real prompt to examine our emotional shopping behaviours. For a lot of people, it will have proven that you don’t need to be buying things every week. That you actually have an abundance of clothing in your wardrobe that probably deserves more attention. But I also think there will be lots of people who have still been shopping in lockdown. I think that could be a really interesting wake-up call as well. To sort of notice those urges and think 'Why is is it that when shit hits the fan my immediate reaction is to spend money on things?’ The most important thing is that we can’t get out of this and go back to the same old habits.
Do you have any tips on how to support local and independent sustainable fashion brands right now?
Seek out makers who are still working and really need support right now. Keep them afloat. A lot of them have pivoted to making masks. So even if you can’t afford a whole new dress, maybe see if there is a small maker that you could buy your mask from. Or buy a couple and send them to your friends and family. Like, share or interact with the content on their social media pages. And just anytime you are about to buy anything from the supermarket or from Amazon just stop and ask yourself, is there a small business where I can get this from instead? Because 9 out of 10 times, there will be.
You mention in your book that there are so many stats and so much conflicting advice. There is so much to learn and it is hard to know where to start. What tips do you have for people that want to use the time in lockdown to change their relationship to fast fashion?
You have to start with a really good wardrobe clear out. That doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of lots of stuff. It is about getting out everything you own, and really taking in the sheer scale of the volume of clothes that you already have. And then it’s about trying to find ways to get more wear out of them. Go through every single item and think to yourself ‘how many times have I worn this'? If it is not very many, ask yourself why not, and be really honest with yourself. Once you start to do that, you really learn a lot that you can take forward when you do start shopping again. You see where your weaknesses are and the traps that you tend to fall into.
Then I would say have a big dressing up session. Style things together. Go completely mad, no one is watching anyway. Spend a day wearing your shirt backwards, or put a weird belt on with it. Try all those things that you see people wearing on Instagram or in magazines and you have felt a bit too nervous about to try. Set yourself a challenge. For example, in the next month, you have to wear a different outfit every single day. That will force you to get out of your comfort zone and wear different combinations. Setting yourself little challenges and making it into a little game is actually a nice way to overhaul your relationship with clothes.
And then finally, do a bit of homework. Watch a few documentaries. Read around it (I don't want to say read my book, but read my book). Take this opportunity to go through your social media feed and unfollow everyone who makes you feel bad about yourself and like you’ve gotta be out shopping all the time. Follow some cool new influencers who are more sustainable. Join in on those conversations. That will really get you in the right kind of headspace.
What books are getting you through lockdown?
Once you've read How to Break up with Fast Fashion of course…
- 'Such a Fun Age' by Kiley Reid. That was brilliant. I just loved it. So funny and so insightful.
- 'The Diary of a Provincial Lady' by E.M. Delafield. I really love anything set in the first half of the 20th century.
- 'The Sisterhood' by Helen Bryan. Her book is wonderful and very funny. It's about the relationships we have with other women and I found that really brilliant. It made me rethink my relationships with the women in my life.
- ‘If I Had Your Face' by Frances Cha - That was quite eye-opening but very beautifully written.
- Lots of Marian Keyes. When in doubt, always go for Marian Keyes.
What fashion advice has changed your life?
Fashion Revolution’s motto which is ‘The most sustainable item is the one already in your wardrobe’. When I first read that, it was quite revolutionary. I think it was easy to believe, a few years ago, that sustainable fashion was only for a certain kind of person. That it was only really accessible if you were rich, thin, and looked good in very minimalist, conceptual and arty clothes. None of those things were me, so I never really felt like I could join in. But actually, when I read that and realised that I could be sustainable purely by using what I already own, I think that was an epitome moment for me.
My late grandmother always told me that every woman should have a pair of red shoes. And I have always been very into red shoes ever since!
Written By: Danique Van Leeuwenstijn
Image Credits: Lauren Bravo and Marguerite London