There are so many issues that we need to tackle if we want to create a better tomorrow for us all. This time we asked Fashion Changer founder Vreni Jäckle what issues are at the top of her list, where we are at the moment and what needs to change for us to finally start making real progress.
What are the three most pressing ecological and social issues for you right now – and why?
As the founder of Fashion Changers, it goes without saying that I devote a lot of my time to the fashion industry. The current discussion about circular fashion is one that I find very interesting. It’s not really anything new – there are a lot of people who have been working on it for years now – but it feels like it has gained new momentum recently, which is very interesting. On the one hand, we are currently seeing a trend towards circularity being used by some fast-fashion corporations for greenwashing purposes. For example, when brands keep saying: “Let’s close the loop”, but it’s unclear what they are actually doing to achieve that. Meanwhile, some companies in the eco-fashion bubble also need to take a serious look around and ask themselves what they are really doing to achieve circularity.
Simply saying “You can have your jeans repaired here” or “We recycle as much as we can” is no longer enough. Circularity in fashion needs to be taking place in all areas and on all levels if we really want to solve the problems caused by all those mountains of clothing. We need more of a focus on re-use and proper recycling – and not just downcycling into cleaning cloths or insulation material – but much less of pretty much everything. And we need to implement new procedures, while also taking a closer look at things. In our talks with experts, we are hearing that more networking needs to be done. A small fashion label that wants to do everything right doesn’t really have that much of an impact and often simply isn’t reaching the critical mass that's needed to make circularity a feasible option.
And we have to ask the question: how exactly does company xy suddenly become “circular”? Unfortunately, we are often noticing that companies are demanding that their suppliers comply with these new standards but aren’t supporting them in making the changes and even threatening to withdraw orders if their new standards aren’t met. And ever since the COVID wave hit, we have regularly been witnessing what kind of effect the cancellation of orders can have. As is so often the case, it’s very complicated.
I could name so many more issues, like second-hand clothing entering the mainstream but also completely different ones like what is the COVID pandemic doing to our concept of friendship and our idea of what constitutes a good life?
When was the last time you really got to grips with these issues and how did it change how you think and act?
We recently did a short feature about circularity on Instagram, published a text about it in the Fashion Changers magazine and also brought out an e-book on the subject of polyester recycling. That also resulted in a few new insights for me. And it complicated my view of the fair fashion industry, which is doing a lot of things really well and I hope that a lot of them will soon become the norm. But despite all that, I am also realising that it’s still not enough. Approaches that were regarded as ecological in the fashion industry ten years ago are no longer cutting it, because the truth that we are all trying to avoid is that we are still simply over-producing and although it sometimes seems as though second-hand clothing, repairing and re-using have now become mainstream, that’s not really the case. The number of clothing items currently being manufactured is still on the rise
What needs to change politically and/or socially so we can finally make progress in these areas?
In my opinion, we need political incentives for sustainable ways of doing business. It simply shouldn’t be the case that companies who want to do things better are at an economic disadvantage. It cannot be the case that profit is contingent on the exploitation of people lower down the supply chain working in terrible conditions. It cannot be the case that it is cheaper for companies to incinerate clothing than it is for them to recycle it. Germany’s new Supply Chain Act, which has unfortunately been watered down a lot in the past few months, is only a first step and it still remains to be seen how much it can really protect people and the planet. The politicians need to work out exactly what political incentives could look like. And ideally, the decisions made shouldn’t be influenced by the business lobby, as was the case with the Supply Chain law. And if we zoom out even further, of course we also need to ask ourselves to what extent capitalist structures can even function in combination with climate protection and global justice and whether we – even with regulations and incentives – will continue to come up against limitations.
How are you doing your bit?
A lot of what we do depends on the issues I’ve mentioned. We have three focal points: we want to 1.) inspire and educate with our magazine and our social media channels, 2.) network and train people with our events and further education offers including online courses, our newsletter and e-books and 3.) we get involved in fashion-related activism, which means that we share ideas with other committed individuals, NGOs and organisations, take collective action and support the actions of others, such as petitions or demos for example.
And on a more personal level: I only buy vintage, second-hand or fair fashion, take care of my clothes, have things repaired, carefully dispose of every single item that I no longer want and prefer to buy clothing that isn’t made from blended fibres. But I don’t think you have to be doing all that just to be able to have your say or stand up for something. Our own consumer behaviour and the way we treat clothing does have an effect, but I think it’s more important to make changes on a larger scale and to take a stand wherever possible.
If you were Finance Minister for a day, what would you do?
I would listen more closely to people. And not only those in the same bubble as me, but people from the widest range of backgrounds possible. Then I would let everything I heard sink in and incorporate it into my work. That applies to all minister positions. I wish there was less jostling for power and, in an ideal world, that our politicians would act in the best interests of the people who voted for them.
Who inspires you when it comes to creating positive change?
There are so many people doing important work. I am inspired by the ones who never stop actively standing up for more justice in the world. That is so important and so difficult at the same time. Especially as a lot of people don’t actually choose to be activists, but the insufferable injustices they are witnessing leave them with no alternative. That might not have anything to do with fashion, but it does have a lot to do with the future: I think that the work of the 19. Februar Hanau (19 February Hanau) Initiative, which provides solidarity and demands political action in the fight against racism, is worth supporting and very impressive.
When I picture the future, I see...
...a lot of difficult times ahead for us all. There isn’t much point in painting a gloomy picture of a climate apocalypse because I don’t think that gets us anywhere. But I do believe that it can help to not be under any illusions. It’s not like everything is just going to magically turn out okay in the end. Positive developments always involve a lot of hard work.
What do you personally want to look back on when you’re older?
On a life that saw me leave my comfort zone but that was content and happy, in which work wasn’t everything and that involved plenty of good relationships and adventures. Ask me again in 20 years whether that’s a realistic wish or not!
One thing that always gives me hope is…
To put it very pragmatically and following on from your previous question: the time I spend with my friends!
What’s your tip for anyone who wants to initiate change, but doesn’t know where to start?
When it comes to sustainable fashion, I recommend you read our book! Haha! In Fashion Changers – Wie wir mit fairer Mode die Welt verändern können (Fashion Changers – How we can change the world with fair fashion), we have covered a lot of topics as an introduction to the whole issue. We also give a lot of tips on how to get started, but also reveal everything else you should know and what different approaches there are to making a positive contribution with fashion.