Book Review: How to Break Up with Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

Margaret Mead

Eleanor’s Thoughts

This is one of my favourite motivational quotes. It’s one I kept coming back to as I was researching sustainable fashion at university, and one I think of when I’m sat trying to work on my own in my little bedroom feeling like this whole pursuit is too overwhelming.

When Lauren Bravo used it in the closing chapter of her book How to Break Up with Fast FashionI knew this book was one that really reflected how I feel about our personal potential to create a sustainable fashion industry. Trying to enact any kind of positive change in this vast and complex industry can feel pretty impossible at times, and many people will tell you it is. The internet may have made buying fast fashion even easier and quicker, but it’s also the thing that can help make finding sustainable fashion comrades in the area you live and all over the world far simpler. Community and collaboration drive this movement.

The stats that Lauren introduces the book with are a daunting read, and even as I begin to feel that I’m aware of many of them, there’s another one that shocks me. The fact that out of ’71 leading retailers in the UK, 77 per cent believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery (forced labour) occurring at some stage in their supply chains’ is a figure that’s hard to forget. Lauren discusses these heavy ideas with clarity and compassion, whilst moving on to discuss the conflicting emotions that can come through quitting fast fashion with playfulness and honesty that makes this challenging topic engaging, and actually easy to read. As someone who has just spent the last year of their life going through a break-up with a real-life human being, the swaying from anger to adoration to reflection to acceptance is very easy to empathise with. Not all the things we love are good for us and in this case, they’re not good for the people making our clothes or the planet.

Personal anecdotes are used to bring a balance of perspective to the large-scale problems tackled in the book. Percentage of Lauren’s clothes currently covered in food stains? Forty. One of the best techniques for replacing that ‘treat’ that fashion can be in your life? Lots of baths (not a euphemism apparently).

An outfit should always have at least 20 per cent space for pasta.

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

Whilst at the same time the ‘Where is the humanity?’ chapter discusses the many ways in which garment workers’ human rights have been disregarded unflinchingly. The death of 1,138 people in the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 is a disaster that many were aware of at the time, but other building collapses and fires are simply forgotten. Lauren discusses in this book how the sustainability movement can often be too focused on a middle-class white women’s perspective which can bring with it accusations of a white saviour complex or companies who ‘greenwash’ purely for profit. It’s a complex issue which Lauren discusses much better than I could do here, and it’s clear that this perspective needs to change to reflect the experience and concerns of all parts of society for the movement to continue to grow.

But when considering our next fashion purchase, recognising that every item of clothing is handmade and that those hands have often been exposed to harsh working conditions is a simple way to respect the human rights of the garment workers.

‘We can only do the best we can do. But we can probably do better than we are.’

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

This quote repeated often throughout the book is something to remember in those conflicted moments in our shopping future. It’s going to be hard to avoid buying from a fast fashion shop ever again, their whole business model relies on making it easy, quick and cheap. With every time you have to compromise, there can be another moment where you take one step forward, whether it’s fixing your jumper, going to a ‘clothes swap’ or just not washing your clothing as much as you used to. Dressing in protest does not have to be reflected in the style of clothes you wear, as Lauren discusses, a radical act can be as simple as re-wearing the clothes we already own.

Sarah’s Thoughts

I love fashion. I have done since I was young. From dressing up Sindy dolls in my own creations to working in the fashion industry. My first job after fashion college was as an Assistant Buyer for a large high street retailer. A regular task was to trawl the length and breadth of Oxford Street to ‘comp shop’. Basically playing detective on what your competitors have in their store: price, colours, fibre content, where it is made and most importantly what did they have that we didn’t. I was literally shopping for a living.

I soon fell out of love with shopping for work and for myself. So when I was asked to review a book written by a woman who’s hobby was shopping on ASOS, I didn’t think it would be for me. My mind changed the minute I turned the last page on the first chapter. I haven’t stopped quoting lines from the book and telling friends and our workshop participants about it.

Lauren approaches a wide range of complex subjects with humour, and yet makes us aware that the fashion industry and our relationship to clothes is complicated. For example, during our workshops we are often asked if cotton is more sustainable than polyester but it isn’t as simple as yes or no. Neither is trying to explain that stopping buying clothes altogether puts jobs within the global fashion supply chain at risk. This quote sums up the conundrum:

‘’Between balancing environmental impact and human rights, spending more but buying less but still keeping garment workers in (fairly paid) jobs, the whole business of ethical shopping can start to feel a bit like that puzzle where you have to get a wolf, a chicken and a bag of corn across a river.’

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

I’ve had many discussions with friends trying to explain that just because a certain brand is expensive doesn’t make it more sustainable than a cheaper one. I’ve ear-marked this page of the book to bring out in the pub when the discussion arises again:

‘The price you pay for the garment is not always reflective of the quality of the garment, and definitely not reflective of the sustainability of the garment.’

Dr Sumner, Lecturer in Fashion and Sustainability, Leeds University

Despite my protests, I’ll admit I have three items of clothing from too-expensive-for-my-budget brands that I bought in the sale and I have never worn. My usual excuse of ‘I’ll slim into them’ but three to five years later I still haven’t. I teach people to repair and upcycle their clothes and yet it took for me to read this book to remember those unloved purchases hanging in my wardrobe. I’m now on the lookout for second-hand pieces of fabric that I can use to make the clothes bigger and finally wear them!

‘We need to stop shopping as though clothes are toothpaste, but equally we need to stop using the phrase ‘investment buy’ as a blanket excuse to spaff money we don’t have, on clothes we don’t need. We need to establish what ‘value’ means to us.’

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

As a UK size 16, sustainable fashion brands do not cater to my size. I’ve managed to buy a few pieces such as organic cotton T-shirts and a swimming costume made from fishing nets found on the ocean floor. The author criticises the sustainable fashion companies for often only catering up to size 14 and I appreciated the author for her honesty. It isn’t easy to criticise companies that are improving the practices of the fashion industry. We want sustainable fashion to be mainstream and that means catering for all sizes.

Photo: Victoria Briggs

I paid particular attention to Lauren’s advocacy of vintage and second-hand clothing. A more affordable alternative to buying new sustainable fashion, and one I am a big fan of. There are several chapters full of practical tips on how to shop at vintage fairs and charity shops. Even discussing what to do about that smell associated with second-hand clothes.

‘’The best solution is to keep our clothes in action, whether that’s by us or by a brand-new owner.’

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

Of course, I am biased and particularly enjoyed the philosophy and practical tips on how to care for our clothes, mend them and love them. Again, I’m guilty of teaching people to mend their clothes and yet my own mending pile never seems to get smaller.

‘…If fast fashion is the devil then home sewing is the saintly alternative…
Remember the golden rule of wardrobe maintenance: a disaster is just a craft project you haven’t met yet.’

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

I really enjoyed reading How to Break Up with Fashion Fashion. It was engaging, funny and enlightening. Most of all the book reminded me that I can do more to improve my carbon footprint when it comes to fashion. I will make more of an effort to love the clothes I own, alter them, look after them and most of all enjoy wearing them.

“If the most sustainable item of clothing is the one we already own, then appreciating and wearing those clothes is one of the most powerful differences we can make.”

Lauren Bravo, How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

How to Break up With Fast Fashion Book Launch at Foyles, London. Lauren Bravo in conversation with Katherine Oremrod.

Lauren Bravo’s Top Tips on How to Break Up with Fast Fashion

  1. Unsubscribe from all of your fashion related mailing lists
  2. Edit your social media feeds – swap accounts that make you want to shop to those who are into slow fashion
  3. Turn to your own wardrobe. Get it all out on the bed and confront yourself with the volume you own
  4. Take each piece and ask yourself why did I buy it? Why did I think I want it? Why haven’t I worn it?

‘Learn from this future you! You can learn from past you mistakes. Make clothes work harder for us. It is not sustainable behaviour to buy, wear once and resell. Hopping off that trend treadmill stopped me wearing things that didn’t suit me.’

Lauren Bravo speaking at Foyles Bookshop, London Jan 2020

Upcycle a Christmas Jumper

It is estimated that 12 million Christmas jumpers will be bought this festive season despite 65 million lurking in the back of the wardrobe according to charity Hubbub. Speaking in The Daily Telegraph, the Charity’s project co-ordinator Sarah Divall suggests customers ‘swap, buy second-hand or re-wear and remember a jumper is for life not, just for Christmas.’

These facts inspired us to create two upcycling workshops to combat this example of fast fashion, textile and plastic waste (up to 75% of Christmas jumpers contain acrylic, a form of plastic)

Upcycle a Plain Jumper Into a Christmas Jumper

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asked us to help their staff and students create festive jumpers from plain knitwear already in their wardrobes as part of their Sustainable Christmas Fair. We were really impressed with everyone’s creativity. Techniques such as couching, appliqué and embroidery were applied using festive trims and fabric remnants we picked up at Charity shops. There are plenty available this time of year.

Upcycle a Christmas Jumper to Wear All-Year

We launched our December workshops at Buy a Gift’s Zero Waste Christmas market. Alternatively we took a Christmas jumper, added embellishments to create a jumper we could wear all year round. Ruching scrap fabrics and appliqueing them over the Christmas motif. This effect can be used to cover any branding on sweatshirts and t-shirts.

We run a variety of fashion repair and upcycling workshops for up to 15 people. Please email us on hello@fastfashiontherapy.co.uk to book us for your sustainable fashion event or click on our event calendar for our upcoming workshops.

Fabric Scrap Busting Gift Bags

Are cotton tote bags worse for the environment than plastic bags? It is a debate we have been reading this year, first published by Quartz Magazine after the results of Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food 2018 life cycle assessment were published. Taking into account the amount of earth’s resources it takes to produce cotton they argue that a plastic bag could be less impactful than a cotton one. Click here to read the full article.

One view we think is missing from the conversation is a bag made from scrap fabric. If a single use plastic bag creates litter and a cotton bag uses up valuable resources, how about making a bag from textiles that would otherwise be thrown away?

Below are the instructions to make a small tote bag, perfect to use as a gift bag and save on sparkly paper that can’t be recycled. Or keep for your own use, they work brilliantly to carry a packed lunch, water bottle and reusable coffee cup.

How to Make a Small Gift or Tote Bag

Materials required
  • Two pieces of fabric , both the size of an A3 piece of paper (apx 30 x 42cm)
  • Or sew smaller scraps of fabric together to create a bigger piece
  • Dressmaker pins
  • Polyester all sew thread
  • Fabric scissors
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Sewing machine (or come to our free class at The Create Place to use the machines there)
Instructions
  1. Lay a piece of A3 paper one one piece of the fabric (or measure with a tape measure and mark with a pen or tailoring chalk)
  2. Pin around all 4 edges then cut around the paper with fabric scissors
  3. Remove the pins and the paper
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 for the second piece of fabric
  5. Match up the two pieces of fabric, placing right sides together
  6. Pin together along one of the short edges (placing pins vertical to the edge)
  7. Sew along this edge using a 1.5cm seam allowance
  8. Zig zag or overlock the raw edge of this seam
  9. Keeping the pieces together, fold over the bottom sewn edge by 4cm.
  10. Press in place and pin
  11. Pin along the two longer sides, place pins vertical to the edge (making it easier to remove as you sew)
  12. Sew along the two long sides using a 1.5cm seam allowance, incorporating the folded edges
  13. Remove pins then zig zag or overlock the raw edges
  14. Hem the top of the bag: fold over the top edge of the fabric by 1cm, right side to wrong side, press with a hot iron
  15. Fold again by 3cm and press, then pin in place
  16. Stitch around the hem approximately 0.5cm from the hemmed edge
  17. Measure the length of straps you want (we’ve used fairly short straps). Add 3cm to this measurement
  18. Cut two pieces of fabric measuring 8cm wide x the length of the straps required
  19. Take one of the strap pieces, fold over each short edge by 1cm, right side to wrong side and press with a hot iron
  20. Fold over one of the long edges by 1cm, right side to wrong side, press with a hot iron
  21. Repeat on the other long side
  22. Fold the strap in half, wrong sides together. Press and pin in place
  23. Sew the two short edges and then the long edge together, sewing as close to the hemmed edges as possible. This can be done in one long stitch if you pivot at each corner. Click here for a YouTube video on how to pivot on a sewing machine.
  24. Repeat steps 15 to 19 for the other strap
  25. Lay the bag flat and find the centre point at the top of the opening by folding the bag in half width wise and marking the point with a pin. Lay the bag flat again.
  26. Take one short strap end and place 3cm to the right of the centre front, pin in place
  27. Take the other end of the same strap and place it 3cm from the left of the centre front point. Pin in place
  28. Turn over the bag and repeat steps 21 to 23 with the other strap
  29. At this step, decide if you want the strap ends to show on the front of the bag or place them on the inside of the bag. Either way, line up the short edge of the strap just below the line of stitching on the hem and re-pin in place
  30. Sew the straps in place by sewing in a square on the strap. Start at the point where the top edge of the bag lines up with the strap. Sew a horizontal line then pivot and sew down to the same level as the row of stitching at the hem.
  31. Pivot again and sew along the hem line. Pivot for a forth time until you reach the starting point.
  32. An optional extra: sew a criss-cross line from each corner
  33. Press the bag and it is ready to use!
Suitable Fabrics

Cotton and linen woven fabrics are the most versatile and will withstand washing. More delicate and stretch fabrics will look pretty as a gift bag and handy to store items at home.

Where to find scrap fabrics
  • Old bed sheets, quilt covers and pillow cases
  • Old tea towels or bath towels
  • Scrap fabrics left over from dress making (the blue and yellow bag is a combination of fabrics left over from 3 different dressmaking projects)
  • Piece squares of fabric together to give a quilting effect and help use up smaller pieces
  • Old clothing beyond repair
  • Pieces of fabrics left over from alterations such as taking up the hem on jeans
  • Use ribbon for the straps or lengths of hem cut from clothes with their stitching intact

The Big Swish

24 November 2019, 11am to 5pm, Islington, London

Part of the Festival of Sustainable Fashion

Clothes swishing, swapping and sustainable fashion event from Betsy’s Closet Swap Shop. Along with swishing your clothes for new, join free workshops from Fast Fashion Therapy, Sunny Jar, Talula Fashion, Art Hopper, Endless Bunting, Take It Up Wear it Out and Eco Active. Plus talks, live music and comedy. Tickets cost £3, available from EventBrite.

A fun day full of sustainable fashion ideas, takes and workshops. See full schedule below.

Ready for a Fashion Revolution?

How to get involved for Fashion Revolution Week: 22 to 28 April 2019

Monday is the start of Fashion Revolution Week. The sixth year in which the charity are encouraging us to get involved and challenge our favourite fashion brands with the question ‘Who Made My Clothes?‘. The charity was established in 2013 a year after the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1138 garment workers in Bangladesh. Since then the charity has been campaigning globally to challenge the human and environmental consequences of the fashion industry, encouraging them to change their practices to a more transparent and circular model.

Want to learn how to be a fashion revolutionary? Choose your favourite piece of clothing. Text, email and write a letter to the brand on the label using the hashtag #whomademyclothes? – find more tips on how to approach the fashion brand effectively on Fashion Revolution’s website. Including downloadable posters and kits. Don’t give up, keep contacting the brand until you get an answer. Keep the message positive and professional. Last year Sarah took part in a three week Future Learn online course designed by Fashion Revolution and the University of Exeter to take an in-depth look of ‘who made my clothes?’. Read how she got on here.

We are excited to be taking our Fast Fashion Therapy workshop on the road for two events during Fashion Revolution Week. Pebblefest is an ethical lifestyle festival hosted by Pebble Magazine. It takes place on Saturday 27 April in London Bridge. We have two demonstrations to show how to mend clothes through darning and boro style patching. Click here to buy tickets to the event and find out all the amazing ethical brands that are taking part.

On Sunday you can find us at the Fair Fashion Fair hosted by Betsy’s Closet Swap Shop. A fun day out swishing clothes and eating food that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Tickets and more details about the swishing event found here. Our workshop has sold out but stop by in case we have had any last minute cancellations.