Personal Leadership Opportunity: reflections and next steps

Photo credit: unsplash.com

The two blogs that precede this one are pretty indicative of the energy and time that is required to be able to shop for fashion items that are sustainably made. I am currently working on my literature review on sustainable consumption, and I read a revealing paper by Linda Steg. She argues that four different values are the most relevant in determining the level of engagement in sustainable consumption: hedonic values and egoistic values (both self-enhancement values), and altruistic values and biospheric values (both self-transcendence values). The balance between these four values, according to Steg, has an effect on behaviour. In particular, engagement in sustainable consumption is seen when consumers exhibit strong altruistic and biospheric values. Steg argues that the fact that biospheric and altruistic values often do not translate into consistent behaviour is due to the need for values to be activated and supported by situational cues. Various situational factors can be identified. A well-recognised factor is represented by the capitalist narrative, whose emphasis on growth and competition promotes hedonic and egoistic values. Another factor that can either act positively or negatively is represented by social norms and the behaviour of others. Studies demonstrated, for example, that people littered more in a littered environment but were less likely to litter themselves if they observed someone voluntarily removing litter. Situational cues may not be as effective in activating biospheric and altruistic values in demanding and complex situations when the behaviour is somehow costly (for example, it requires an effort or money) – or when it is competing with the fulfilment of other values that are also important for the individual.

The above theory is ‘put in practice’ in my current experience as ‘sustainable fashion shopper’ as I struggle to keep up with my intention of buying only sustainable clothes given the knowledge barriers, cost, time and effort associated to it. I am pretty proud of myself as I did not buy any clothes or accessories in the last 6 months, but I am also aware of the focus and vigilance I had to maintain for my biospheric values and altruistic values to determine my actions and restrain me from purchasing new items. As I acknowledge that shopping sustainably for fashion is harder than I thought and required me to sacrifice brands that I love (e.g. Comptoir des Cotonniers or Boden), I am also aware that by building a portfolio of brands I can “safely” refer to I will make my shopping experience smoother in the future.
Note: I also discovered the App Good On You that significantly speeds up my checks and helps me identify sustainable brands.

Photo credit: Frank Mckenna at unsplash.com

As for my original plan and way forward, I need to start focusing on mending and repairing my clothes. On this, I put much hope in the au pair that will join our family in August as she comes with with the objective to enrolling on a course at London School of Fashion and has had some training in making theatre costumes. I am confident that having her with us will finally encourage me to learn how to sew!
And you may see me posting the image of one original hand-made fashion item one day! Never say never!

9 thoughts on “Personal Leadership Opportunity: reflections and next steps

  1. Shobha Rao 23rd Jul 2019 / 4:22 am

    Hi Simona,

    Apart from the labour rights violations – one of my pet peeves against fast fashion is the massive wastage and pollution of water.

    Apparently, it takes 2720 litres of water (equivalent to what we drink over a period of 3 years) to make a T-Shirt.
    (https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/water-consumption-fashion-industry and

    https://economicsofwater.weebly.com/water-usage-and-the-textile-industry.html)

    In extremely water-stressed countries like India, this wastage of water – is abhorrent. Let’s not forget the fashion industry is not only wasting water while growing cotton and other crops but also including all kinds of chemicals in the various processes from colouring and dyeing, bleaching etc.

    In many of the Asian and African countries with weak regulations- it is also easy for these fast fashion companies to just dump untreated water into the rivers and waterways thus harming the ecosystem.
    (https://www.waterbriefingglobal.org/new-report-warns-fashion-is-depleting-worlds-water-resources-and-damaging-the-environment/)

    Good luck in keeping up your commitments.

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    • simonaazzolini 23rd Jul 2019 / 10:15 am

      Dear Shobha,
      Thank you for your comment. We are often unaware of how much water is trapped in our clothes. It seems that the fashion industry is the third-largest user of water. Cotton is a thirsty crop, and many litres of water are used in the dyeing and finishing processes. Innovation has allowed progress, though: Nike uses a dyeing technology called ColorDry that dyes fabric with zero water and Levi’s has introduced a new finishing process called Water&Less™ that reduces the use of water in the finishing process by up to 96% for some styles. Although progress is being made, it is still too slow and mainly related to premium leading brands.
      The news that Zara will move to 100% sustainable fibers in the next six years stroke me as I wonder what the company will classify as sustainable and how they will be able to implement sustainability standards in their extended global supply chain. It is a big commitment and one that it will undoubtedly shake the system.
      While I wait for more change to happen faster, I try to do my part and limit my footprint. One thing that is now a rule for me is to try and buy organic cotton. The move from standard cotton to organic has several benefits (yet organic cotton production is still around 1% of the global production): No toxic chemicals are used in the growing of organic cotton. It doesn’t damage the soil, has less impact on the air, and uses 71% less water and 62% less energy. Conventional cotton uses about 16% of the world’s insecticides and 7% of pesticides, which is scaring!
      Organic cotton is often found in baby/children clothes as parents put more care on what comes in contact with children's skin. Sadly, it is harder to buy organic cotton for older children or for adults' clothing.

      If you wish to read more on water and fashion, below a link to an article written by a supply chain expert. I report here an excerpt:
      “The fashion industry’s relationship with water goes beyond cotton. Some 14.4% of an apparel retailer’s total water footprint relates to manufacturing. An estimated 17 to 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment, and an estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles, many of which will be released into freshwater sources. Worse: the industry is rampant with players that don’​t respect the citizen’s right to safe water.”
      https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry

      Sources:
      https://news.nike.com/news/nike-introduces-first-product-with-colordry-technology
      http://store.levi.com/waterless/index.html
      http://aboutorganiccotton.org/

      Like

  2. coffee_sustainability 29th Jul 2019 / 6:54 am

    Hi Simona,

    The other day, my 18 years old second son glared me from top to the bottom and said, “You are wearing a Cross Country T-shirt which used to belong to your daughter’s friend and was damped in our garbage, and jeans probably….from about 30 years ago?”. He was right, and I am proud of that! My selection of cloth that day was perfectly fine for a relaxing day at home. Your introduction of the literature review by Linda Steg is very interesting. I have never analyzed the sustainable cloth consumption from the four values you introduced, hedonic values and egoistic values (both self-enhancement values), and altruistic values and biospheric values (both self-transcendence values). It applies to me. I only shop cloth based on necessity these days, not for self-enhancement values like my kids do. The shopping I did last three months was an ultra-slim down jacket which I needed for my business trip in Colombia where the weather fluctuates suddenly after a sweating day to the cold evening after the sunset. I also bought a formal party dress for my son’s high school graduation banquet. I feel a bit guilty for the second one, but my self-enhancement value overcame the other value to celebrate my son graduating (safely!) from high school.

    However, who praises me on these values not going into fashions like my other friends do? I recently encounter the movement “Fashion Detox Challenge – Help Tackle Clothing Waste!” below.

    https://fashiondetoxchallenge.com/

    It is a movement detoxing from any fashion purchase for 10 weeks, which you can sign up via the website. The Fashion Detox Challenge is a collaboration between ex-fashion designer and Ph.D. researcher Emma Kidd and the sustainability team at Glasgow Caledonian University. While the Challenge sounds pretty easy for sustainably-minded people like us, watching testimonial videos by college students who actually benefited from joining the Challenge is quite compelling. I like the fact that the concept of the movement which was not compulsory, rather urging the voluntary actions of each person to learn the effect of the outcome by themselves. You may know the movement already, but just for your information.

    Liked by 1 person

    • simonaazzolini 5th Aug 2019 / 12:04 am

      Hi Kana,
      A few beautiful good quality dresses are an investment as they last and can be used for years. I fell in love with the pink dress you wore at the Gala dinner during our previous workshop! Ready to buy it second-hand in case (not joking!).
      I did not know about the Fashion Detox Challenge, and I will certainly look at a few videos tonight! Thanks for pointing me at it.
      Again on fashion challenges, Livia Firth, an eco-fashion campaigner, and wife of Colin Firth, made famous the #30Wears Campaign. She always challenges people to wear “pre-loved” clothes (she proudly posts images of her wearing her mum’s!), embrace slow fashion and rethink our shopping habits. Her rule is that before making a clothing purchase, we should ask ourselves a simple question: Will I wear this piece at least 30 times?
      For those dresses bought for a special occasion, 30 times may be a challenge, but for the vast majority, 30 times is an easy target. But this is us :-). It would be interesting to run an experiment with friends and see how many clothes are disposed of before they get to 30!

      As for mum’s outfits, I have a funny anecdote too! My daughter – almost 3-year-old – is so used to see me wearing jeans and a T-shirt or a pullover that the times she sees me with a skirt or dress, she goes “woohoo!” while staring at me! She makes me laugh!!! At the same time, often she goes to the chest of drawers and picks up what she wants to wear. Given her young age and no social conditioning, this says a lot about how the brain, aesthetics, and clothes are intertwined.

      A final reflection on my experience with advocating slow fashion. When I tell some of my friends – kindly and using humour – that we have far too much, and we consume without an appreciation for what we already have, I can hear them saying: “oh, again” or “yep, as if avoiding buying a few clothes was enough”…mmm. And it is not that I have many truly shopaholic friends!
      Simply, it is not an easy change of mindset, and as the dissertation of CISL fellow, Zoe Arden, demonstrated having a direct experience of a sustainability challenge would potentially help them make the shift. I wonder what will happen to some of my friends if for one day they find themselves in a factory in India or Bangladesh looking at women that work 15 hours per day in modern slavery condition. Sadly this experience is not easy to have…but I found this video by Fashion Revolution very revealing of what the right communication – one that touches hearts and minds – can do. I immediately posted on my FB page 😉
      Here the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfANs2y_frk&feature=youtu.be

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Chrysalis Earth 31st Jul 2019 / 12:33 pm

    Hi Simona, thank you for the blog.

    The stereotype of the world thinking might be that ‘shopping’ is one of the favorite topics of women. I still remembered the day when Shobha, you and myself met at the café in London, we talked about various complex sustainability challenges the world is facing with for the whole afternoon, ranging from supply chain stresses for big brands in Europe, to humanitarian crisis in Nepal and crazy work experiences in war zones like Sudan. Everywhere in the world, I have always amazed at how much and fast women have been changing and leaning in for all areas. Here we are again, talking about ‘sustainable fashion and consumption’!

    Well done on combining your literature review with personal practices as a ‘sustainable fashion shopper’. Linda’s four values theory is really interesting. Next time when I do fashion shopping, I will give the value mapping a try.

    Similar like you, years ago, I set up an intention to only buy new clothes when it’s something that I really like or necessary. Moving around is crazy and painful with constant packing &unpacking. But it taught me one thing: simplicity. It proves that I don’t need that many stuff to feel fulfilled or happy. I am in rural India this week and am amazed at how simple, earthy and beautiful life can be for many people here. One of my friends Radhamani is a retired professor of a local university here and spent a lot of her current life working for free for the university to help the poor villager communities. She and her husband own a tiny apartment near the university. They have very basic furniture and other belongings. She told me that she always bought second-hand items whenever possible. For things she doesn’t need any more, she returns them back to the store. I was so humbled witnessing her lifestyle. Back in the mainstream society I am coming from, we buy and get rid off new things so quickly and unnecessarily, without even thinking about why and for what?! But the culture was totally different decades ago. We grew up wearing amended clothes and those passed down from moms and cousins. What’s wrong with that? Why is it all gone?

    While embracing minimalism, I still love beautiful things and have my moments of not being able to resist the desire to own. My hope is that the fashion industry can move faster and more boldly so we have more choices and enjoy with awareness when we consume. Good luck on your research and personal advocacy on that. I would also love to hear more about your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • simonaazzolini 5th Aug 2019 / 12:31 am

      I remember well our conversation at the cafe’, and I very much look forward to other engaging and inspiring discussions when we meet. As your story about your dear friend clearly demonstrates happiness is not necessarily achieved by having more goods or services. In this article (https://www.megforum.uni-freiburg.de/prevfora/Forum%202012/SOE%202012%20papers/Consumption%20and%20Happiness), I found an interesting chart derived from Tim Jackson’s work, that shows that the main factor influencing human well-being is the quality of the partner/spouse and family relationships (47 per cent) and money and the financial situation weights only 7 per cent. I imagine that there are many studies (some quoted in the article) stating that people’s happiness increases as income rise, but if we look at our current society’s mental health issues and use of antidepressants the former hypothesis seems to be the correct one.

      As for the desire for beautiful things, it is human. How society got to move from “need” to “want” in such a radical and destructive way, and how we find a way to live within the planetary boundaries are the crucial issue.

      I very much look forward to continuing this conversation when at W3 in Cambridge. And I want to hear about your fascinating trip to India 🙂

      Like

  4. Jordan 1st Aug 2019 / 1:16 pm

    So, I’ve never really cared about clothes. Fashion wasn’t something I thought much of. And I’m sure this was pretty visually evident, ha! This has changed slowly over the last few years, less so from an aesthetic perspective but because I hate the idea of walking around wearing modern slavery and environmental destruction.
    I LOVE reading about your efforts to only wear sustainably-made clothes. In fact, it’s inspiring (and practically guiding!) me to continue to ensure my choices are more sustainable. I found the values framework really interesting, and especially the social construction of these values. That is, obviously the social construction of the values in the first place, but then the need for norms to support turning values into action.
    When you talk about this challenge with people from outside a ‘sustainability’ sphere, what have you found to be the strongest points in convincing others to seek more sustainably-made clothing? As a side-note, I loved Kana’s anecdote about the embarrassed son. My main target is to get my family on board now. Last Christmas the exchange of gifts included a lot more focus on ethically and sustainable made clothes. Small steps, but important.
    Lastly, Good On You is awesome, and was started by a former colleague in Australia – you may already have been in touch with them, but let me know if you’d like me to make a connection!

    Like

    • simonaazzolini 5th Aug 2019 / 2:08 am

      Ah Jordan, happy that you like my post! Be reassured, your style is perfectly fine :-))). I worked in the so-called “fashion industry” for three and a half years, and there I saw the most horrible outfits ever – that very likely had a ££££ tag attached to it! And no matter the price tag, modern slavery and environmental damage may have been included too :-(.
      Shobha wrote an insightful analysis paper on women workers’ human rights in garments factories in India that shows how far western brands are from getting a grip on human rights and safe working conditions. The fashion supply chain is still too opaque, and even new technologies such as blockchain and RFID are not enough to solve the main issues. But things are moving, and the success of the App Good on You shows that many consumers are hungry for information and data to be able to make a conscious choice.
      As for my efforts with the ‘non-sustainability’ peeps, I have this multi-layered strategy:
      1. I promote the brands and products that are sustainable selling how “cool” they are + sustainable. Sustainability cannot be the ‘selling point’ for the mainstream consumer.
      2. I occasionally drop videos or provocative messages (Fashion Revolution is my primary source – see the video in my answer to Kana!) that should “shake their conscience”, but being careful with the dosage. As soon as you push a bit too much, you run the risk of them switching off moving to ‘denial’ or ‘doom’ mode! And as for a previous blog post, you wrote I look for humour too (scarce resource though!).
      3. I promote the App Good on You as information is a critical barrier to consumer making better choices. I do not expect that all of my friends that downloaded the app restrain from buying a brand after having seen a low score. I struggle to resist to Comptoir Les Cotoniers knowing Good On You gave a low rating! I hold on my position waiting for the brand to disclose more and show its sustainability credentials…but you need a big rucksack full of altruistic and biospheric values to do so!!!
      Note: I would love to connect to Sandra Capponi at some point! I could not imagine she was a colleague of yours. What a fantastic thing she initiated!
      4. I make sustainable fashion presents so that friends can start and appreciate sustainable brands and advocate for them.
      Overall, my main point is that there is no magic wand and no quick fix…but we need simply a lot of patience and determination. A lot!

      Thank you again for your comment and see you soon in Cambridge!
      S.

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  5. pragmagreen 4th Aug 2019 / 12:02 am

    I started to follow your blog pretty late in the blogging process, i.e. today, so I may not know all the details of your challenge and its past milestones, but what I read today made me think a lot. Your challenge reflects a strange yet profound shift that occurred in our society over the last 20 years. Somehow, very rapidly, people started consuming and wasting more and more (and I am one of those thoughtless consumers). Just think about the generation which in the 80s-90s used to go to the local market carrying their own re-usable bags and containers. They weren’t as fancy as today’s trendy keep-cups, but they were re-usable and served the purpose well. I think of my best friend’s grandfather who still has a shiny (!) pair of leather shoes worn for special occasions, which were bought some… 50 years ago. Many people used to have just 1 or 2 suits or dresses for parties and dinners, and the rest of the time they did away with nice simple clothes that were fixed and mended and lasted for years. A smile and a friendly small talk were the best accessories.

    Somehow the normal mindset focused on quality and careful attitude to things (which was caused by scarcity after the world wars, lower income and slower production) has been replaced by semi-annual “hunting” after items on sale. The hedonic and egoistic values seem to have won the battle for now. Your blog invites to ponder what is it exactly that inspires growth of hedonic values on societal scale?

    Besides these philosophical thoughts, your blog reminded me about the first module reading for this course (the one about happiness, consumption and equality), which has spurred small changes in my behavior as a consumer. I started analyzing why I want to buy certain pieces of clothing or some other “luxuries” in the shopping mall, do I really need them? But this is a difficult thing to do, because once you start doing this, you suddenly start questioning a great deal of your shopping choices made over the past years and generally analyzing what consumption means and does to you. Hence, I am really impressed that you took this up as your personal challenge, good luck! Looking forward to hearing about your sewing endeavours!

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