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October 10

Disposable Fashion, Disposable Travels And Individual Responsibility: Thoughts On Sustainability Part 1

By Efren Poveda Garcia
1. Let us start with a moment for the appreciation of one of the latest designs by Miista: the bottle cap-heeled mule. Honestly (and I’m not trying to kiss anybody’s *rse here), I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found these shoes in a contemporary art museum. Shocking as they are as a shoe you can buy, perhaps they would have been even more shocking as a single piece of art.

In them, you can read a critique of many people’s current ways of interacting with fashion items. With the rise and expansion of fast fashion companies, our clothes have ended up resembling the single-use-only fast food packaging and bottles of water made of plastic. Clothes and shoes are no longer seen as an acquisition to be used for years, and they are no longer mended when damaged. Nowadays, clothes and shoes are disposable. To the point that many pieces, bought in a moment of consumption compulsion, are thrown away without having been worn once.

Karolina

Of course, it is consubstantial to the fast fashion industry that our clothes, shoes and complements don’t last too long “in one piece,” given the low quality of materials and fabrication. And, of course, they make sure you constantly feel the need to buy new items by decreeing that the jacket you bought two months ago isn’t fashionable any more.

Karolina2

But there’s more to Miista’s bottle cap-heeled shoes, just like there’s more to the fast pace of the consumption-disposition dominant cycle. Now that our awareness about the effects of plastic in our environment and health has grown exponentially, the presence of a (recycled in this case) plastic heel, together with the disposability attached to plastic, remind us of the pernicious effects of disposable fashion dynamics. Cheap prices involve cheap materials and production, and these involve water pollution by dyeing, polyester (plastic) microfibers fleeing our washing machines to the ocean and chemicals that are hazardous to our health, plus the addition of another kind of items to the already enormous waste accumulation. Not to speak of the deplorable conditions of human work…

You can visit loveyourclothes.org.uk for tips on how to buy sustainably, how to take care and mend your garments so that live longer, how to recycle them and how to get them reused. You can also take a look at the video posted on this blog on September 20 to learn more about Miista’s overall philosophy and strategies for sustainability.

2. There has been a lot of talk lately regarding the ecological footprint of travelling by plane, in great measure promoted by Greta Thunberg’s voyage to NYC and the exemplarity it is supposed to embody.

I am not the only one who thinks that despite the beauty of the gesture and the commitment it expresses, Greta’s two-week journey in a state-of-the-art boat cannot be exemplary to most people. Average salaries and time availability make it impossible to follow her example.

Greta

However, an encouragement of the debate about the sustainability of flying seems a very healthy result to me. And I think one of the points for discussion should be the role of travelling in our lives.

In his short story titled Amy Foster, Joseph Conrad presented travelling and reading as two prominent activities for the development of a specific kind of imagination: the one needed to understand human beings with very strange attitudes and characteristics. Or, at least, the one needed to be able to listen, to try to understand those humans marked by otherness, even if we can’t eventually fulfil our aim. In other words, Conrad saw in reading and travelling effective ways to open our minds, to assume that there are realities very different from ours, and that difference in itself doesn’t justify rejection or condemnation.

These was part of Conrad’s recipe for a humane encounter between people from different societies or cultures, encounters that entailed the possibility of changing us and our worldviews forever. And it is a beautiful vision. True for sure in an interesting number of cases in Conrad’s time. True for sure in some cases in our time. But definitely too starry-eyed.

As reality proves over and over, the possibilities for the expansion of mental horizons depend greatly on the book one chooses. And, therefore, they also depend greatly on the chooser’s by default attitude. The same happens with travelling.

In the last decades, travelling has become almost an imperative (or an inertia) for those in rich countries, a phenomenon encouraged by low-cost flights and accommodations. But let’s face it: most of us are not travellers. We are tourists, which is a very different thing.

Spending 3 to 7 days in a different country, surrounded by other tourists in cities where the same ubiquitous franchises have taken control, makes it really difficult to assume a that a two-way plane ticket has a mind-expanding potentiality.

tourist

Travellers used to spend lots of time in their journeys and destinations, in a world that hadn’t been homogenised by Starbucks, Zara, etc. Today, instead, we have fast travel just like we have fast food and fast fashion. Today we have the model of disposable travel, aimed at checking the different locations written down on our to-see lists and providing us with pictures for Instagram and Tinder. All facilitated by a technology for transportation without journey (planes). And all at the cost of the loss at our destinations of vernacular businesses, activities and sceneries together with the displacement of locals, which are the things we are supposed to want to get to know.

“Supposed.”

Thus, I ask myself: “Is this really necessary?” The way I see it, the probabilities of having our lives and minds marked in any significant, enduring way are very reduced in this model. Just take a look at the (in)famous photos taken in Auschwitz by fast tourists in their fast trips. Moreover, touristification is destroying an important part of the attractiveness of the places we tend to visit.

Auschwitz1

Auschwitz2

This is no advocation of ceasing to travel or to use planes completely. It is, instead, a call for all of us to ask ourselves if our planned trip by plane is really worthy, to balance the rewards of our getaways with the damages to our environment (from hundreds to thousands of kilos of CO2 by person in a single flight, for example), to consider the possibility of using our free days to explore our cities and regions (Haven’t you found yourselves in the situation in which visitors know your city better than you do?), or to exercise, or to read (challenging texts perhaps…) and rest, or to spend quality time with family and friends. And don’t take my allusion to rest lightly. I’ve seen many friends and colleagues in need of more holidays after spending their holidays abroad.

But this is also a call to consider romantic travels watching through the windows of a train, and using videoconference instead of business meetings. Of course, there will still be need for flying, even for flying often, for different reasons that include work. But building a habit of questioning how pushing is our need to fly and why, or how meaningful a particular travel may really be, can help reduce CO2 emissions significantly.

3. Despite points 1 and 2, my purpose is not to promote an image of sustainability supported only by the aggregation of individual changes in habits of consumption. Of course, personal choices are important, but we mustn’t forget the role of laws and advertising in habit formation. Neither should we forget how income and wealth influence these habits. Families with low incomes will tend to make use of fast fashion because gathering the necessary money to buy more sustainably produced, quality products is difficult for them. Besides the fact that they have worries that are more immediate than environmental change, such as feeding their children for an entire month.

Globe

One of the things I like the most from the recent wave of mobilisations in relation with the climate and environmental crisis is that they display an evolved environmentalist awareness. The times when every citizen in isolation was made responsible for pollution are over. This is no longer just a matter of recycling and using public transport or being individually guilty otherwise. We need laws. Even more, we need profound structural changes, economic and political, changes that cannot be accomplished if the fight against this crisis is conceived as the sum of individuals’ correct citizenship. This is a collective problem that needs a collective political subject. Citizenship, the people, must work together to bring about measures that won’t delight a bit the institutional and behind-the-institutions powers. This is the message Greta Thunberg tried to transmit last month at the UN Climate Action Summit, and this is what I will be writing about in Part 2.

If I haven’t asphyxiatingly bored you to death, stay tuned!

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