It’s no secret that the fashion industry has some cleaning up to do. Over the past few decades, the fast fashion movement has swept through the industry like a hurricane, driving businesses to unethical labor conditions, wasteful pollution and other unsustainable business practices.
I spent over a decade attempting to battle these forces from within the fashion industry. I even started my own line, Naghedi, in 2016 in response to this issue. With New York Fashion Week fresh on our minds, I’m hoping my story will inspire others to pause and take a more thoughtful approach to the trends we follow, the purchases we make, and the brands we support.
Prior to launching Naghedi, I ran an accessories company for 12 years. That experience was invaluable, not only for honing my skills as a designer and entrepreneur, but for highlighting all the ways the fashion industry was harming people, animals, and the planet itself. I knew something needed to change.
But I also knew the industry wasn’t going to change overnight. Instead, I took small, iterative steps, like gradually transitioning to a completely animal-friendly product. Eventually, those steps led me to launch my eponymous brand–one built from the ground up to stem the tide of fast fashion and embrace a more sustainable approach. And it all started with a bag.
Naghedi was born out of a desire to create bags that could stand the test of time. Most brands making bags today value velocity and quantity over quality. The result is disposable products designed to appeal to trend chasers and impulse buyers. With Naghedi, I sought to create bags that could delight their owners season after season, year after year. Most of all, I sought to carve out a larger space for sustainability in the fashion industry.
Even with Naghedi, though, I’ve taken those steps toward sustainability one at a time, starting with materials. At the core of fast fashion are cheap, throwaway fabrics and materials designed to be disposed of after a single season. To combat that trend, I tested several materials before landing on the unconventional choice of neoprene. Yes, the same material wetsuits are made out of. It’s durable, animal-friendly, and easy to clean–all essential qualities for a product designed with conscious consumption in mind.
The next step I took was to address the exploitative labor practices that plague the industry. There is no assembly line for Naghedi bags; instead, each piece is handmade by a skilled weaver who is paid a fair wage and works from their own home. Some might view this process as inefficient–after all, each weaver can only produce 1-2 bags each day. But I believe being able to produce a high-quality, responsibly made product is more than worth the wait.
Of course, no business can survive without regularly bringing new ideas and products to market–and Naghedi is no exception. But we take a careful approach to new releases, keeping quantities low to minimize inventory. And even then, we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve our production practices.
Our latest initiative, one I’m very excited about, has been to collect the leftover scraps from finished bags and refashion them into one-of-a-kind pieces. We’ve reached a point with our production where we have enough scrap material to work with, and I can’t wait to share the results with our customers.
But you don’t have to start your own company–or be an environmentally friendly saint–to effect change in the fashion industry. Again, I’m a believer in taking small, collective steps toward solving large, complicated problems. And if you want to make a difference, there are a few simple steps you can take.
The first is to take a slower, more thoughtful approach to the clothes and accessories you buy. Before every purchase, pause and ask yourself: Is this something I’ll want to wear next season? Next year? Does it fit my personal style or is it chasing a trend? Are the materials and craftsmanship of good quality or will it fall apart after a few washes?
To be clear, I’m not saying every purchase should be a cold, logical calculation. Finding something new and exciting–something that inspires you to start putting outfits together in your head–is an important part of why we love fashion. But I also know how easy it is to get swept up in trends, and how this industry often favors “new” over “good.” Put simply, you’ll get more mileage out of buying fewer, more versatile, higher-quality pieces. Think of your purchases as investments, and your wardrobe (and your bank account) will thank you.
I would also encourage everyone to learn about the impact the purchases we make and the brands we support have on the wider world. I have always fought against pollution and wastefulness in the fashion industry, but after becoming a mother, I redoubled my efforts. The simple act of buying a new shirt can have a small but profound impact on the lives of people on the other side of the world–and on future generations. I owe it to my children to do what I can to ensure the world they inherit is a healthy one.
Again, I’m not suggesting you only buy from brands with microscopic carbon footprints. The race to sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint, and most businesses will take decades to reach major milestones, like net zero emissions. All I’m saying is that we should absolutely be cheering on the ones leading the charge.
If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s that, while large, complicated problems like fast fashion can’t be solved overnight, every small, individual step taken in the right direction helps. If we can all take a slower, more thoughtful approach to the things we buy and consume, the industry, the world and future generations will be the better for it.