Matcha With..Sophie Benson
We had the pleasure of speaking to Sophie Benson, sustainable fashion journalist and stylist, about her writing, the importance of respecting ‘planetary boundaries’ and keeping consumerism in check.
What inspired you to start writing about sustainable fashion?
I’d had an interest in sustainable fashion since university, but my understanding was quite limited, and it didn’t influence my work or my personal choices. After graduating, I worked as a freelance stylist and did regular shifts styling e-commerce for fast fashion brands. I got to see the sheer volume of the clothes being made plus the terrible quality and smoke and mirrors used to make things look saleable and wearable. Alongside styling, I maintained a personal blog and began to conduct my own research into the darker side of the industry. I read as much as I possibly could on the subject and ultimately got to a point where I felt I couldn’t morally buy fast fashion anymore. From that personal sea change came my career change and I slowly began to wind down styling and focus more on writing. At first, no one really wanted to hear what I had to say and it was incredibly difficult to get anyone to commission me to write about sustainable fashion, but my patience paid off and now it’s the entire focus of my career as a journalist.
How do you balance out your love for finding vintage gems with a sustainable approach to consuming clothing?
Getting the balance right took a long time. It was tricky to reconcile the feelings of guilt that I’d built around consumerism with the creative expression of fashion, and it’s only recently that I feel I’ve been able to really enjoy fashion properly again. As long as I know that I’m buying something for the right reasons and that I’ll keep it – and wear it – for years to come then I don’t tend to feel guilty anymore. I also make sure that shopping doesn’t become a habit by taking prolonged breaks from it to make sure I don’t enter into that buy-feel happy-buy more cycle.
You recently admitted that, ‘instagram is still convincing me I need new stuff.’ Any tips on how to manage the desire to buy?
Instagram is a nightmare for that kind of thing! It’s just constant posts of people looking great in their brand new stuff. To keep things in check, it’s all about making sure I’m buying for the right reasons and taking regular breaks from shopping. If I want to buy something new, I ask myself why I’m considering buying it, whether I’ll get a lot of wear out of it, whether it’s similar to something I already have and whether I really love it. I’ve left a lot of things on rails and in virtual shopping baskets by asking myself those sorts of questions and I’ve never regretted it.
In your latest Instagram post, you talk about how important it is for fashion brands to start measuring their practices up against ‘planetary boundaries’. Can you explain what you mean by this term and give us an example?
There are nine defined planetary boundaries and they relate to different variables such as ocean acidification, chemical pollution, and climate change. We need to operate within planetary boundaries in order to keep the Earth habitable. At the moment, ocean acidification, for instance, is still within a safe range, but biodiversity loss is in the ‘high risk’ range meaning we are facing irreversible changes.
The fashion industry is a huge contributor to the loss of biodiversity (as I write about here) so if a brand is destroying more than it is regenerating, therefore causing a net loss and contributing to pushing us further into the ‘high risk’ range, then they are not operating within planetary boundaries. That’s a very simplified example and there are all sorts of things to factor in (who decides how much each industry gets to use? Do we get corporate targets? Personal targets?), but at its core it’s about only using or emitting at levels the planet can safely sustain. Encouragingly, some brands and fashion groups such as Kering are starting to adopt it as a framework for business.
Can you give us 5 tips for living a more sustainable day to day life?
- Be political. Support and vote for the parties who listen to science and are invested in the future.
- Be cynical. Second guess corporations such as Shell telling us to offset our emissions and ask why it’s in their best interests to focus on individual change.
- Be vocal. Climate breakdown isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds for many reasons, especially when the effects are intangible for so many. Refuse to shut up about it.
- Be anti-racist. Racial justice and environmental justice go hand in hand.
- Do the personal stuff – secondhand clothes, reusable water bottle, recycling, walking or cycling, eating less meat – but don’t let it overwhelm you and never forget that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions.