Rethinking Fashion: A Confession of a Degrowth Advocate

November 26, 2019

I  love fashion and I am not ashamed.

The way some people are passionate about art or music I am about fashion. It all started at the age of 13 when I first realized that I can express myself through my clothes. Of course, back then it was not that simple. I also realized that people will judge me from what I wear (or what I don´t wear), that my clothes will make a statement about what music I like, what is my social group, in which area I live and where do I hang out in my free time. In other words, if I wanted to belong I had to follow a certain trend. It was then when fashion became from a form of expression a form of suppression.  Not to mention the continuous need to buy more and more in order to be always up-to-date and “fashionable”. There was even a moment in my teenage life that “going shopping” was the most important aspect of my social life.

It was later in life when I came across the idea of degrowth with which after some initial hesitation I became very affiliated. The idea of degrowth is based on the assumption that as our economy keeps growing, our need for resources also grows and our planetary boundaries are stretching to an irreversible point. The degrowth movement defends a society of well-being and an economic system that is not based on over-consumption.  By downscaling consumption and production we will surprisingly find out that we have more than enough to live a happy life.

I found it easy to adopt an easier lifestyle for myself in order to live in line with my “degrowth beliefs”. Avoid flying, consume less, drive less, etc. However, there was one thing that I found rather difficult. Should I really give up my love for fashion and care less about what I wear?

Of course, there is no doubt, that the industry of fashion as we know it today has great environmental and social impacts. For instance, the fashion industry today is responsible for about 5-10% of the environmental impact of the EU. The use of synthetic textiles like synthetic polyester requires fossil fuels and these synthetic materials cannot be reverted in any natural cycle. Additionally, overconsumption and fast-fashion increase waste.

Not to mention the workers abuse, child labor, unhealthy working conditions for petty salaries and violation of workers’ general rights and liberties. As Hoda Katebi puts it: “yet the fashion industry is one of the most destructive forces on the planet (behind the prison industrial complex, USA imperialism, the patriarchy, and crocs, of course).”

As a response to these critics, and in an effort to put a more sustainable face, the fashion industry became a “sustainable industry”. More efficient and transparent supply chains, products with lower environmental impact and sustainable labels are some of the widespread practices. However, this does very little to tackle the real problem.  In reality, all it does is to use a different approach to reach the same goal; consume more!

“Forget Fashion” was the first conclusion after my initial reflection (and a quick google search). “But you love fashion” another side of me was saying. So why do I like fashion?

Fashion is a form of self-expression and communication no different than art, is part of human culture and of course, is highly political. Thus, fashion has the power to challenge power norms and stereotypes, propose alternatives and help us frame and love our bodies. Also, fashion brings knowledge of different cultures (and cultural appropriation). A quick visit to the Victoria and Albert museum, or in some folklore museums with local costumes will give you an idea of how clothing and history are inseparable. Fashion is also a powerful instrument to challenge gender stereotypes and social conformity.

So, why should we give up all this and leave in a world full of boring, grimy and sad clothes (even if it is a degrowth world). On the contrary, what I envision is a degrowth world based on simple aesthetics wehre people find a way of expression and creativity through their clothes and they are not judged for it. In this world fashion magazines, stylists and editors do not exist because style will be an individual form of expression not guided by fashion rules. High fashion designers will be replaced by cooperatives and craft clothes, creativity will not be limited to famous designers, and the only trend will be to be yourself.

Thus, there is no need to abolish fashion, but to reframe and reshape it. Despite what others may claim I don’t believe in a world where clothes are just a shell to protect ourselves from the cold. How much time and effort one puts on his style is a personal and respected choice.

Closing, for all of us who still choose to love fashion, here are some ideas on how to “rethink fashion”

  1. Have a minimalistic wardrobe. It is not about quantity. Think carefully before buying something, and try to consume moderately and thoughtfully.
  2. Understand that your fashion choices are political decisions. What you buy and who you buy from are political choices.
  3. Be creative. The same way a painter mixes colors to create new ones, the same way one can make many different outfits by using a few items. In fashion words “mix and match”.
  4. Break dress codes and support freedom in dressing.
  5. Understand what you like. What you really like and not what others think you should like. You can choose to be comfortable and warm, colorful, or go unnoticed.
  6. Then, wear whatever you like! Don’t follow trends. Nobody can tell you what you can and cannot wear. Trends are just an effort to make people discard old clothes and replace them with new ones
  7. Say no to fast-fashion, boycott big companies. Buy locally, support small businesses or radical designers and learn the story of the clothes you are wearing.
  8. Reuse, refashion and exchange.
  9. Love your clothes. Take care of them, repair them.
  10. Don’t judge. After all, aesthetic is subjective.


Teaser photo credit: By Ryan Jude Novelline – available online at artist’s website, CC BY-SA 3.0

Marula Tsagkari

Marula Tsagkari is a PhD candidate in Energy Policy & Economics at the  University of Barcelona.

Tags: degrowth, fashion, new economy, slow fashion