Slow Fashion Advocate Maggie Zhou On What ‘Greenwashing’ Is & How To Catch A Brand Out

maggie zhou

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘fashion’? Meryl Streep roasting Anne Hathaway about the colour cerulean? Same. The Tyra Banks era of ANTM? Also same. 90s Kate Moss? OBVIOUSLY.

But have you heard of slow fashion? Slow fashion, in opposition to mainstream fast fashion (think cheap, poorly made, probably-fall-apart-in the-wash fashion), is a mindful movement that promotes conscious consumerism, ethical practices and climate justice in the fashion industry without forsaking lewks, you know?

We hit up slow fashion advocate Maggie Zhou to chat sustainability, greenwashing and partnering with Converse to open a virtual store on an Ocean Garbage Patch.

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PEDESTRIAN.TV: Okay, tell us about slow fashion. What is it and why does it matter? 

Maggie Zhou: I see slow fashion as a direct opposition to fast fashion. Slow fashion looks different to everyone – to me, it’s fashion that’s both ethical and sustainable. It’s fashion that takes care of its garment workers by paying them a living wage and ensuring they work in safe working conditions. Slow fashion to me is also a mindset shift. It’s about slowing down our consumption of fashion – regardless of whether it’s fast fashion or otherwise. It looks like asking yourself if you really need that bag or if you’d actually wear that top 30 times.

I try to support brands that are trying to minimise their impact on the environment as much as they can. I look for alternatives to mass production, say, made-to-order systems or small-batch releases. Also, I prioritise natural fibres over synthetic materials.

It matters because we all wear clothes (nudists, you have a free pass here). Every day people make conscious decisions about fashion whether they realise it or not. Fashion has always been political. By clothing your body in whatever garments you choose, you are choosing to express yourself visually in a certain way and simultaneously, your values are on show. 

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PTV: And what made you so passionate about fashion as an issue? 

MZ: For a long time, I really couldn’t care less about the impacts of fast fashion. That sounds terrible but it’s the truth. In my later teen years, I was caught up in the fast turnover of trends and ended up regularly collaborating with many fast fashion brands on Instagram. After a while, the magic of receiving plastic-clad polyester pieces wore off. 

I started feeling pretty icky about promoting these brands and my gut was telling me it didn’t feel right. For someone who prides themselves on having fashion as an extension of my personality, wearing clothes that didn’t align with my morals felt wrong. I decided to honour that feeling and change my actions. I now carry myself with confidence and pride knowing I’m presenting myself holistic and authentically. 

PTV: What are the main problems you see in the fashion industry right now?

MZ: Many of us call ourselves feminists, yet we fail to care for the garment workers making our clothes (80% of whom are women). It pains me that our intersectional feminism doesn’t extend to those beyond our borders. But honestly, my main problems don’t lie with individual consumers. I hope to see more government regulations and policy regarding sustainability and the treatment of workers.

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PTV: Do you have any practical tips for those of us trying to slow down our own wardrobe?

MZ: As Orsola de Castro, the founder of Fashion Revolution, says, “the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe”. There are a lot of barriers to entry with sustainable fashion such as the financial costs and the lack of size inclusivity. What we can all do is make the most out of the clothes we already own. Break down the stigma of re-wearing clothes, experiment with different types of styling and don’t fall victim to the vicious Instagram trend cycle that will convince you that your new dress is unwearable after a couple wears.

I also recommend putting at least 24 hours between yourself and a purchase to see if you really want it or whether that boost of short-lived serotonin can be achieved outside of an online shopping cart.

PTV: What are some of your favourite sustainable fashion techniques or innovations? 

MZ: It’s so cool to see so many people and brands being so innovative with sustainable techniques! I’m someone who can’t sew or make clothing so I’m constantly in awe of people’s creativity. I once dyed a pair of Converse with Vegemite though! 

Other techniques that have been tried and tested on Converse kicks are dye made from colour-changing berries, paint made from glow-in-the-dark microbes and ink made from air pollution.

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PTV: Greenwashing is a thing right now. Do you have any advice for people navigating the world of fashion online? 

MZ: Greenwashing is when a brand employs marketing techniques to make them appear greener than they actually are, so if their ‘green’ initiative (say recycling in their head office or having a small line of clothing made from recycled plastic) doesn’t outweigh its overall environmental impact – it’s just a shitty Band-Aid cover-up. 

It’s a tricky world out there and it’s easy to get swept up in the green spin of it all. Wading your way through greenwashing requires time and patience. Know that you can directly contact brands via social media and email to try squeeze information from them. Look for specific and measurable targets, not just vague language promising that they’re eco-friendly. 

And if you don’t have the time? Follow slow fashion creators and local small businesses. Learn from experts such as Good on You, Ethical Made Easy and Well Made Clothes.

Wanna know more about Converse x Maggie Zhou’s Ocean Garbage Patch virtual store? Or wanna pick yourself up a fancy new pair of sustainable kicks? Check out Renew Labs.