Jussara Lee is a renowned fashion designer living in New York City. She promotes ‘slow fashion’, hand-made garments, as well as reusing and recycling clothing. We talk about the high cost of fast fashion, our purchasing power as consumers, and the future of sustainable fashion.
Use Your Purchasing Power
Corporations only care about their bottom-line, so boycotting stores you don’t believe in does make a difference. Taking responsibility for your purchases is one of the most powerful non-violent tools available. Naysayers argue that individual actions have no effect, but these actions reverberate and impact the decisions of others. Recently, clothes giant H&M found itself with a $4.3B surplus, thanks in large part to changing consumer demands. As purchasers become more environmentally friendly, they moved away from fast fashion en masse, forcing the retail chain to change their behavior. H&M now operates clothing recycling centers in many of its stores in a bid to appear more environmentally friendly. While this is only once instance, consumers can apply this action to a wide variety of stores and businesses and enact change in them.
The Impact of Fast Fashion
Fast fashion relies on the same business model as fast food: a high volume of cheap product for a low cost. Cheap textiles and materials as well as cheap labor come at the expense of exploited workers and the environment. To grow the cotton for one white t-shirt requires 713 gallons of water; leather tanneries use toxic metals like mercury and lead to dye their materials; cheap synthetic materials leech plastic microbeads into our water-system and food sources, eventually finding their way into our bodies. On top of this, the amount of oil used to create plastic hangers, bags, and other plastic accessories coupled with the carbon created during transportation creates a significant impact on the environment and climate. The actual cost of production, which should include pollution and other hidden costs, are not included in the price of fast fashion items.
Stay Small and Local
Unfortunately, there is no way to be entirely carbon neutral. Producing waste is inherent to life. The problem of pollution is essentially one of scale: the bigger you or your company are, the more pollution you produce, regardless of whether you use sustainable practices. Resource distribution is incredibly unequal throughout the world, so it’s important to use only what you need and not more. This way, we can ensure our resources do not go to waste and that others have access to what they need, as well. Staying local is also important to fighting climate change. A huge amount of carbon is produced in the transportation of goods. Consider using a local store to purchase new goods, instead of Amazon or eBay.
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Jussara Lee has developed a small scale business operation in which luxury fashion and sustainable practices work in tandem. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she launched her own label, which was embraced by prominent international retailers. For the past 18 years, she has worked to scale back the company to focus on making the best-fitting custom-made clothes with the gentlest impact on the environment. Hand-tailoring, local production, biodegradable materials, natural dyes form the core of her brand. The addition of mending services and a collection of transformed vintage clothes are part of her efforts to fit into a circular economic model, where the least amount of resources are consumed and waste is given a new purpose.
You can follow her on Twitter @JussaraLeeNYC