Consuming with Consideration

Ethical, Sustainable, Vegan Shoes from Oka-B

Shoe Bird

Having worked in the fashion and footwear industry for nearly 20 years I have seen some astounding changes – some good and some not so good! So when the opportunity came to write my thoughts down about this fascinating industry surely it would be a breeze? But the more I started to think the harder it became to unpick!

The biggest change over the past 20 years has undoubtedly been the availability and choice of quickly copied and designer inspired clothes and shoes that we can all now afford – and why not? We work hard and we play hard and why shouldn’t we buy the clothes and shoes we want to look great and feel good in? There is nothing wrong with shopping, buying, wearing and eventually getting rid of our clothes, but the questions we should be asking ourselves is how we do it and is there a way of consuming with a little bit more consideration for all the people involved with getting those beloved – even if for one evening – outfits to us in the first place.

Fast fashion is exactly that – clothing that has been manufactured very, very quickly. Most often somewhere far from where it is ultimately going to be sold, by people that are very unlikely to wear the clothes themselves. Fashion is built on the concept of change and relies on the consumer becoming bored by the same styles and looking for something new. The more affordable and attractive the clothes are, the more likely our heads will be turned to something new and shiny, but here is the rub, the more cheap stuff we buy, the more we send a message to the industry that we want it. The more we appear to want, the more pressure on manufacturers by big brands to make more cheap clothes.

Although these clothes may appear cheap to us, someone somewhere is paying the price on our behalf. As consumers we are disconnected from how our clothes and shoes are made. We have very few factories left in the West. Over the last 50 years it became far too expensive to pay people a fair living wage in Europe or North America to sew our shirts and last our shoes. So collectively, as an industry and consumers we decided to outsource that hard, labour intensive work to countries that had large and poor populations and needed money. So today, hundreds and thousands of people far away are doing the work we didn’t want to do, mostly because we couldn’t live on the wages it paid. More recently we are becoming more aware of these issues in the supply chain. They are being highlighted and action is slowly being taken by the International Labour Organization but are there changes we can drive ourselves – now?

So what can we do as consumers?

Be smart, consider buying a little less and better quality and shop around for that quality. Closer to home might offer you something that you didn’t realise. Our high streets and malls are dominated by the same big branded retailers. Look for less familiar brands online and mail order retailers and up and coming independents as they won’t be ordering the same volume as big brands so won’t be able to pressure manufacturers in the same way.

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Recently I discovered US made footwear brand Oka-B which is designed and manufactured entirely in Georgia, USA. They employ over 150 people just like you and I going to work every day in a safe, clean and fair environment, working sensible hours with regular holidays.

Made from a patented PVC that uses Microplast® technology which is lightweight and flexible, and vegan friendly, the shoes are made in a ‘one piece’ construction through injection moulding. Like the mass production of chocolate in moulds – once the liquid plastic cools down they pop out! This is an affordable and effective type of production with very little wastage, known as Zero waste. Another evil of fast fashion is over production which brings with it excessive waste, both during production and at the end of a garments life. Up to 25% of recycled material goes into a pair of Oka-B’s, so when you have finished with them you can return them to the factory to be ground down to make more Oka-B shoes!

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What else can we make a choice over? How many times we wear our shoes and clothes? In a recent interview on BBC Woman’s Hour Livia Firth suggested wearing an item 30 times #30wears on Instagram and Twitter before you either consign it to the back of your wardrobe or dispose of it. That’s my New Year’s resolution, just not sure how often I can get away with a rainbow coloured sequined mini skirt at my age!

Oka-B shoes are available in select retailers in the UK and www.oka-b.co.uk

Read more from our amazing contributors:

Good gift
City Girl
How did I get here and where am I going?
New Goals
Annaborgia: Fashion for the Vegan Bride

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Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs

Biography

Fiona Armstrong-Gibbs has worked in the fashion and footwear industry for nearly 20 years. She is a fashion lecturer, writer, currently researching social enterprise in the fashion industry and is involved with Oka-B footwear as their UK distributor. Her co-authored book Marketing Fashion Footwear: The Business of Shoes is due for publication later in 2016

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