Art/Style/Travel DiariesStyle

Why I no longer hesitate
to re-wear an OOTD

Or how fashion could be so exploitative

All Relevé Fashion brands complete a sustainability and ethical declaration requirement. ( Rob Leung for Relevé Fashion)

What should I wear? We all have asked that countless times, perhaps not in this pandemic. But even in this lockdown, what we decide to put on can give us a sense of comfort and ease, or even a sense of normalcy, uplifting our mood. After all, what we wear or show outside can have a huge impact on how we are on the inside. Fashion has an undeniable role in our everyday lives, even when our everyday lives have slowed down.

Raia Gomez: ‘After a few exciting years in the industry, the stars in my eyes eventually faded’ (Rob Leung for Relevé Fashion)

I’m one of the many for whom fashion has always played a pretty big role in life, and not only because I work in the industry.

I was that little girl who’d sneak into her mother’s shoe closet and wear her high heels when no one was watching. As a teen, I’d go shopping on trips abroad with my godmother and my sister and we’d jokingly say, “keep still my beating heart” whenever we’d find something we really liked. The Oscars red carpet was always a major event for my cousins and me.

It’s safe to say that I knew pretty early on that I would work in fashion.

After a few exciting years I spent working in both the corporate and creative sides of the industry, in the Philippines and in the US, the stars in my eyes eventually faded. They were instead opened to the massive environmental and social impact of fashion. I really couldn’t fathom how something I’ve always loved, something that can look so beautiful and covetable on the outside, could actually be so destructive and exploitative. How could this be the case and how could most of us not even know the extent of it?

I’d be the first to admit that in my school years, I was among the avid shoppers who’d buy and wear an outfit just a couple of times. In some cases, I’d buy something cheap because I knew I’d want to wear it only once. I used to think how incredible it was that fast fashion brands could offer such affordable clothing, imagining that they had brilliantly optimized their operations to do so. Now I know that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Fast fashion is far from cheap. It just seems like it is because someone else is paying the price, and it is our planet that is. We eventually end up paying a higher price when we consider the environmental destruction it contributes to and the consequent natural disasters. It may seem like an exaggeration but unfortunately, it’s not.

The fashion industry is among the most polluting industries in the world. Some reports even cite it as the second most polluting, next only to the oil industry. Fact is, what we have in our closets has a larger carbon footprint than all global flights and shipping—combined.

On top of that, of the one hundred fifty billion garments made every year, the clothes that aren’t in our closets end up in a landfill or are incinerated at a rate of one garbage truck per second.

It’s become clear that climate change and our frequent change of clothing are closely related. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

We ask what should I wear, but we never really ask who made it. At least not outside the context of brand names. We need to remember that behind every invisible stitch is the person who made our clothes and the hands that brought them to life.

Some garment workers have been known to make six dollars a month for 400 hours of labor

What I initially thought as fast fashion brands optimizing their operations to sell cheap clothing was in fact them squeezing costs in the only part of their supply chain where they could—the salaries of garment workers. Some garment workers have been known to make six dollars a month for 400 hours of labor. It’s no wonder we can buy a shirt for cheaper than a cup of coffee. It’s important for us to recognize that most garment workers are from developing countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, or even India. Not only are they virtually unpaid but they’re made to work in unsafe conditions.

From Releve fashion: Turning fashion into positive social action  (Rob Leung for Relevé Fashion)

Last April marked eight years since the Rana Plaza tragedy. Over a thousand garments workers died when they were forced to continue manufacturing fast fashion products in the building even after they had reported cracks on the walls. They say dress to kill—I never imagined fashion could actually be that.

And now, amid the pandemic, while our clothes have provided us a sense of comfort, for others, it’s been a source of grief. Garment workers are reportedly owed billions of dollars after fast fashion brands cancelled their orders for garments that they had already made. It gives a whole new meaning to fashion victim. How can fashion be a form of expression for others while simultaneously being a form of oppression for many? I’ve said it and I’ll say it again. I never want what I’m wearing to be a weight on someone else’s shoulders. I know many feel the same way.

I founded Relevé Fashion to provide a trusted platform for ethical and sustainable designers. “Relevé” is French for “elevated” or “raised”.

From the word itself, our mission is to elevate the fashion experience into a form of positive social action while also empowering shoppers with informed choices, to raise their awareness so everyone can purchase with purpose.

We’re the inaugural retail partner of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, supported by the United Nations Office for Partnerships to help deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Emma Watson, a staunch advocate of sustainable fashion, has said, “As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy.”

At Relevé Fashion, we simply want to make it easier for you to use that power because you can make a difference, even when you’re simply choosing what to wear. We need to remind ourselves that baby steps are better than none, and those baby steps can start with the shoes we choose to step out in.

‘Sustainable fashion’ could be just another marketing ploy

“Sustainability” has become such a buzzword these days. “Sustainable fashion” could be just another marketing ploy. However, sustainability carries a lot of meaning for us at Relevé Fashion. Whether you call it sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, or even eco, conscious or slow fashion, we know the effect it can have as a vehicle for positive social and environmental impact. It’s the silver lining behind the dark clouds of the fashion industry.

Relevé Fashion values integrity, trust and transparency because it’s not enough for fashion to simply look beautiful. Ethics and aesthetics are equally important. While no brand in the world is 100% sustainable (such claim is sheer marketing ploy), we recognize a brand’s commitment to and initiative towards environmental protection, ethical production, and the consumer’s personal and social well-being. These are symbolized by our Relevé Beacons illustrated by my young nephews. They serve as both guide and reminder that we are striving to create a better world and to protect the environment for ourselves and future generations.

Before buying an apparel, we need to ask who made it and what it’s made of. We need to know who we’re supporting and spending our money on. We vote for the world we want to live in every time we buy a brand.

We have an extensive sustainability and ethical declaration that we require all our brands to complete before we launch them on Relevé Fashion. It covers a wide range of practices, policies and commitments (from energy efficiency, labor practices to charitable initiatives etc.), as well as third-party certifications that they’ve earned.

We always collaborate directly with the founders and their teams. As much as possible, we meet them in person and visit their studios. While this hasn’t been possible during the pandemic, it’s something that we’ll continue once the environment reopens. (See Relevé Fashion post.)

In terms of brand selection, we give equal value to ethics and aesthetics. To us, being a sustainable brand also means having products that are beautifully designed and well-crafted. However, it isn’t enough to have beautiful, stylish products if there’s no brand transparency. Everything has to come hand in hand. I also choose brands I myself love to wear and gift to family and friends.

We actually call our Relevé Fashion shoppers Advocates because not only are they protecting our communities and planet when they choose sustainable fashion, they’re also supporting their chosen non-profit partner with every purchase and at no extra cost.

Sustainable fashion doesn’t end with buying sustainable clothing. What we do with our clothes is also a huge part of it. Case in point, re-wearing our garments beyond the fast fashion average of five times can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 400 percent per item, per year. This is why we encourage you to buy what you love, wear it and keep it forever. After all, fashion trends always come back anyway.

Given social media pressure, we could hesitate to rewear an OOTD that we have already posted

Given social media pressure, we could hesitate to re-wear an OOTD that we have already posted. I used to feel this way back in the day. However, now, I actually get excited whenever I’m able to re-wear an item I’ve had for ages and have just rediscovered. It’s like finding treasure a second time around.

It’s also exciting and inspiring to see some famous women and style icons re-wearing their own outfits. Cate Blanchett, the Duchess of Cambridge, Jane Fonda and Arianna Huffington are among those who are making it a point to re-wear their looks, even while walking the biggest red carpets. They know it’s a more meaningful fashion statement, and one they want to make.

The growing trend now is to be a proud outfit repeater because ultimately, true personal style comes from re-wearing clothes and accessories, mixing and matching them to express yourself genuinely.

With all the problems our world faces, the social injustices we see happening, the reality of climate change and not to mention, the pandemic, everything seems overwhelming and just beyond our control. While we as individuals may not be able to solve these problems on our own, it’s reassuring to know that we still have the power to make a difference and that difference can start with our own closets. Talk about power dressing. What we wear doesn’t just have to make us feel good, it can also give us the power and opportunity to do good.

Stylist Rachel Zoe famously said, “Style is saying who you are without having to speak.”

About author


She is the founder of Relevé Fashion, the inaugural retail partner of the Conscious Fashion Campaign, supported by the United Nations Office for Partnerships and the first retailer awarded the Eco-Age Brandmark for sustainable excellence. It was while she was based in New York City, earning a degree in accessories design and working at the intersection of the styling and entertainment industries, that Raia became aware of the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry. She founded Relevé Fashion in London out of her desire to transform the fashion experience into a form of positive social action.

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