20 Minutes with Eliza Edwards
Eliza Edwards started her career in commercial fashion and quickly learned how the industry operates and what makes people tick – unfortunately a big part of the industry is built upon exploitation, false branding and harmful pollution. As a moral person in an immoral world, Edwards changed sides and perspectives: from the inside to the outside. Ever since, Edwards has supported sustainable, second-hand, recycled or upcycled fashion by giving it an editorial voice – through her freelance journalism or with the platform she founded, Slow Exposure. Even though the industry can be demoralising, Edwards’ approach is to make people excited about beautiful clothing and aesthetics within sustainable fashion, rather than pointing the finger.
We met Edwards in her studio treehouse in the middle of Kreuzberg, and talked about slowing down in every way, manipulative marketing, hierarchical systems of fashion and its future.
Sustainable shirt by Studio Alch
Nele Tüch: So with Slow Exposure, you made a cut with the fast-fashion world. I'm sure this also translated into your daily life, didn't it?
Eliza Edwards: I haven't flown in a year. I take trains, and somehow journey’s have become more “conscious”. It’s the same as in fashion: you're consuming less, you consume more carefully and it's more enjoyable. The more time you spend thinking about that one piece or that one train journey versus ten pieces or ten flights, it's going to bring you more joy.
NT: If you spend more money on it, it will not be an impulse buy. It will be something you will cherish and you will have for a really long time. It will be something you love.
"When I was working in PR, we would do a feminist campaign that would have been manufactured by an underpaid garment worker in a developing country. I started understanding the discrepancy there."
EE: Exactly, people have to get excited and I wanted Slow Exposure to remain a positive space, showcasing sustainable brands but sometimes it’s hard to ignore how problematic certain companies can be. It is astonishing what companies get away with. It's immoral. When I was working in PR, it got to a stage where I was doing campaigns completely focused around feminism. So we would do a feminist campaign that would have been manufactured by an underpaid garment worker in a developing country. I started understanding the discrepancy there.
Thoughtful design from Berlin: ABELES
NT: Like we’ve seen a lot within the Black Lives Matter discussion: a lot of brands posting black models and celebrating them on Instagram, while actually being known for creating a hostile working environment for BIPOC.
Eliza Edwards: Yes, reforming the fashion industry is not only about the environment but about inclusivity and representation. I endeavour to keep my platform as diverse as possible. A lot of brands don't work enough with people of colour. And when I would post a model of colour they would often get about 25% to 30% less traction than if I posted a white person. Maybe it was my writing on one day. Maybe I'm underestimating my followers, but I don't think so. I think the Instagram algorithm is inherently racist, and we have to call that out.
NT: 100%. As you mentioned, sustainability within the fashion industry is both a social and environmental issue. How do you get people to engage with this complicated subject matter rather than telling people what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”?
Eliza Edwards:It's difficult to talk about sustainability, so it doesn't sound patronising or aggressive. I try not to fight greenwashing too much because it's dangerous to be too critical and people, as you said, shut down. It’s very dangerous when people are using their voice to manipulate the audience and declaring something is eco when it's not. We all know the fast fashion brands and that they are greenwashing. They know that we know what they're doing. Everyone knows. But new brands that pretend to be sustainable, are a problem. It's not fair to ask a 13-year-old to be excited about their favourite celebrity-founded brand that is sustainable while actually, it’s not. And that is really immoral because they are the privileged ones, they have the knowledge, they have the power, they have a voice and the money. It’s the responsibility of those in government to monitor these injustices.
Upcycling by Kerne.Milk
NT: I think a lot of people want these rules because they are caught in their own consumerism. Everyone knows about fast fashion and tries to be aware. But then one day, you need a new pair of socks, so you're going to H&M, because it's right there, it's cheap. And you don't think twice about it because it's so convenient. So I think that a lot of people would appreciate it if the rules would be a little bit stricter.
Eliza Edwards:If someone has to pay the price for the piece, you, the buyer, should be paying the price, not the person that made it. But we can't ask all the people to have that knowledge because it's just not part of their daily life. And marketing is a really clever thing. Branding is manipulative and it's very difficult to ask people to try to pick that apart.
NT: People are easily manipulated, you don't even have to say that something is sustainable, you can just put a little green banner under it and people would think this item is sustainable. Green implies some kind of environmental friendliness. It's super interesting how the mind of the consumer works and was formed by the fashion industry. So if you can get people interested in fast fashion pieces, you can get them interested in sustainable fashion…
"I’m not interested in a hierarchical
system of sustainable fashion.
I'm interested in everyone
One of the sustainable fashion brands we can be excited about: PHIPPS
Eliza Edwards:I think the easiest way for people to get involved in sustainability is the second-hand market. Often I get criticised for writing about brands that are really expensive. I'm so aware that a Spencer Phipps, who is an incredible designer, is outside my own reach – his shorts retail at 500 euros. It's really important that this is highlighted over and over again: I’m not interested in a hierarchical system of sustainable fashion. I'm interested in everyone getting involved. And so it doesn't matter who shops where. It's more likely that people shop second hand, that’s what people with any normal salary can afford. Second-hand is amazing, I can't talk enough about the excitement that second-hand shopping brings.
NT: There are people, who really don't have a lot of money. And as you said, second-hand still is a great way to get around this, but there are a lot of people who are struggling with their existence, having to provide for their children…
Eliza Edwards: We need sustainability. The more people invest in it, the cheaper it'll get. It will never be as cheap as fast fashion. It can't be. But we need everyone to be shouting from the roofs so it becomes the norm. And how we arrive there is the responsibility of you and I. I don't know how to solve it all the time. I don't. It's very difficult. Because I'm asking myself: What if you're a mother of four and you're living on benefits and you need to buy T-shirts for your kids? What do I say to that woman? I know that this is a problem, but it doesn't mean I'm not going to try and change people's mindsets. It is the job of young people to start thinking differently.
Upcycled fashion by designer Sophia Fish
NT: Like the Business of Fashion initiative Rewiring Fashion is doing?
Eliza Edwards: The idea of Rewiring is really interesting. However, it’s problematic that it's a trickle-down process and we don't necessarily have time for it to trickle down. And what still isn't being addressed is the fast fashion industry issue. And the problem of Rewiring is that it's such a small number of people who know these brands and are buying them.
NT: It's also two different definitions of sustainability because on the one hand, you have the actual sustainability when it comes to the fabric and you have the level of where and how it is produced. But Rewiring Fashion, doesn't address these topics at all. What it does address is the second definition of sustainability: It's more about creating an alternative to the super fast-paced fashion industry where there will be six capsule collections and you'll have to buy new clothes every two months.
"I think we can try and make people understand that there is a journey from the cotton farm to the T-shirt, in between occurs an important process that can be done wrong or right."
Eliza Edwards: When you read about certain designers making the decision to go from six shows to two that's heard by other brands. As soon as an influencer goes to two shows instead of six shows and is posting about one jumper that you should buy instead of six it makes a huge, huge difference. The influencer industry, as much as I have a problem with it, is a very powerful tool. If we had more influencers and bloggers being more vocal about the environment, it would have an impact. Unfortunately, the market is built on creating more, not less.
People have lost the connection between the manufacturer and the garment worker. I think we can try and make people understand that there is a journey from the cotton farm to the T-shirt, in between occurs an important process that can be done wrong or right. Once I’ve made people understand that that's half the battle.
Read Eliza Edwards' Sustainable Berlin Guide here!