Reflections on Sustainable Fashion from Paris
Salut tout le monde, and welcome to my final blog post ! I’m sorry it’s late, this semester has decided to wrap itself up in a most chaotic fashion, with strikes across Paris impacting transport for the past two weeks, and a UK general election which really didn’t go as many of us had hoped… and all of this in the run-up to Christmas!
I don’t know about you, but when I think about Christmas and the winter holidays, clothes are definitely part of the picture. Back home, I’ve got a sweater that belonged to my mam, uncle and grandad before (knitted by my grandma), and I always wear it round the house as we try to save on heating in the colder months. At college, I’m blessed with a great friend and housemate who shows up to Val wearing the silliest, most festive Christmas sweaters and even lends them out for parties! Here in Paris, the trends do seem to be a little more ‘chic’ than I’m used to at this time of the year – perhaps next year second-hand, or well-worn garments will be all the rage… I can only hope! However, the holidays are also a time when lots of us feel the pressure to dress up, and look good, for all the events held to celebrate them. In the UK, Britons are predicted to spend £2.4 billion on new outfits for the Christmas party season- many of these items will be worn less than three times before ending up in landfill.
This semester, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what we can all do to help the environment, and how our everyday habits can affect the impact we’re making on the planet. Simply getting dressed in the morning feels like the most straight-forward, immediate, and even easiest routines we can manage to make more earth-friendly; I mean, what could be easier than just wearing the same clothes, again and again, then choosing to buy clothes that existed before, rather than creating the demand for newly-made ones? I’ll admit, I was a little naive! Here in Paris, it’s really easy to feel out of place amongst the many impeccably-dressed (and unbelievably trendy) people on the metro, in lectures, or even in the supermarket. However, I’ve come to realize this isn’t the end of the world, even though occasionally, I do miss living in a village in England where nobody thinks twice about wearing pajamas to walk the dog up the main street – anyone you pass will just say “hello”! Interestingly, though, I’ve learned that Britons spend on average, 66% more on fashion than our French neighbors – this difference has been attributed to the prevalence of second-hand shopping, and rewearing favorite pieces; both good for the environment and our wallets! These are definitely habits that I’m looking to bring into the next semester, and back to Amherst with me.
When reading the statistics about fashion consumerism, particularly in the U.K., I’m always astonished by how much we seem to spend on fast fashion, particularly in comparison with mainland Europe – I’ve come to understand that here in France, there are plentiful government and charity initiatives to encourage personal efforts to save the planet, and you can’t take a metro ride without being urged to cook meals at home, ‘trier les dechets’ (that’s ‘separate your trash’ to you and me, but in France the phrase is so common it’s worth noting!) and donate clothes, food and personal items rather than letting them go to waste. I really appreciate this drive for encouraging personal efforts towards living more mindfully and sustainably, however, I’m not sure it puts the focus entirely where it needs to be if we’re going to solve the climate crisis in a timely and effective manner.
My doubts about the authenticity and efficiency of the role of personal habits against the climate emergency were at once validated, and assuaged, by Justine, who I interviewed about her work in envisioning a circular economy model in France, and Europe as a whole. Justine told me that in order to fulfill Europe’s sustainability criteria in the specified time, France needed to make a lot of changes – ⅓ of those would ideally come from individuals’ lifestyles, and ⅔ from government regulation of large corporate activity. This gives us a really big responsibility as individuals, not only to make changes to our own habits, but to keep an eye on government policy and demand better if we see that not enough is being done! This realization certainly widened the scope of my project, from encouraging sustainable fashion consumption, to examining the role we all have to play in the future of our planet. If this seems a little overwhelming, we’re on the same page! My research into fashion and sustainability in Paris this semester has certainly left more questions open than closed. However, I’m trying to look at these issues with optimism and an open mind, and to arrive in the new year with the firm resolution to step up my commitment, keep my principles of sustainable fashion, and look for opportunities to engage with activism on a wider environmental scale – and I hope you do too!
Until then, however, I wish you a really warm, restful winter break, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my blog throughout the semester.
Yours, in solidarity-