Everywhere you turn currently, there are messages that change is needed, and fast. With the rising awareness in the global climate crisis, the unavoidable need for a shift in the consumption of the fashion industry amongst others, and a call for action splashed across the media, we know that something’s got to give. But when it comes to making change happen, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed to the point of inaction. It’s been an ongoing challenge that’s never far from our conversations as an ethical brand, but also as a modern, progressive one. Change must happen, but we firmly believe it’s about manageable steps first, leading to greater action. Pala’s founder, John, shares his thoughts on why we need to encourage others to do the same.
Right, where do we begin?
Real impact is all of us doing things imperfectly, rather than a few doing it perfectly. I’m not going to claim authenticity for this sentiment, or for the title of this piece – I’ve seen it quoted and shared around many times across the ethically engaged community. But what I do want to do is to discuss how this galvanising of us as humans to take small actions leading to bigger change, is something that is mirrored in the way that Pala, and other brands on the march towards sustainability, have evolved. The decisions that we make as a business are always seen through the lens of ‘low impact planet, high impact people’. This stance has become a mindset… a habit. But making these habits stick takes time, investment and practice – it’s not always as simple as skipping to the finish line.
We can all be forgiven for feeling totally overwhelmed by the veritable conveyor belt of negative environmental stories emanating from all corners of the planet, so much so that like a rabbit caught in headlights we simply freeze, paralysed from carrying out any effective response whatsoever. There is actually a psychological term for this, called ‘learned helplessness’ – a state that occurs after a person has endured a repeated stressful situation, coming to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation. The problem will never change, it will always be this way.
As the founder of a brand, and one active daily online, I often see comments on social media from people who feel they are not doing enough, or in turn some criticising others for not being active enough. I see this as reductive and polarising. We are all starting on a different rung of the ladder when it comes to our understanding of environmentalism, and the last thing we want to do is divide the situation and risk people not stepping onto the ladder of change at all. Whether it’s how you choose to eat, how you choose to consume fashion, how you choose to recycle, or how you choose to travel to name a few, we all have to navigate the battles that relate best to us and our own situation. I tip my hat to anyone from Birmingham making it to a monthly beach clean!
We are all at different levels of learning and accepting our current climate situation and indeed I would suggest that any zero-waste evangelist would say that you don’t need to upend your life and live in a solar powered caravan up some mountain somewhere to make a great impact. Instead, engaging in a ‘habit change’ is pretty much at the crux of it. We can look to provide gentle, friendly nudges to those around us to help those people – and ourselves – action manageable, and therefore sustainable, changes for the better. For the greater good we all need to be encouraged with positivity, not negativity. For me personally, I am fighting to keep adapting. Last year I wasn’t fighting as hard, next year I anticipate fighting more. I’ll be fighting more than some people; I’ll be fighting less than others. One thing is for certain; the more I’m doing, the more I am more aware of other elements of my lifestyle and my mindset is shifting.
Taking things slow (fashion).
Just as we need to re-invent ourselves to fight climate change by creating small, lasting habits and challenging ourselves to be more persistent and purposeful in our everyday actions, we have seen this happen within the business of fashion too. When I launched the brand in 2016 it was a business founded on creating social impact, primarily creating change through eyecare projects in Africa and empowering weaving communities in Ghana. It was ostensibly about maximising human impact. Getting those pillars positioned in the business took a good deal of time, focus and perseverance. But there were other parts of the business I wanted to address too, environmental impact being a key value for me on both personal and business level. I would have loved to have got everything in place to minimise Pala’s impact right from the start, but the truth is that technology, business mechanics, budgets all came into play and as a team we simply weren’t able to.
If you manufacture anything, there will always be an impact, but since our launch we have focussed on making incremental – and therefore achievable – positive choices for the business. The effort and determination to create those core fundamentals for our business has served me we well. The mindset that has formed and crystallised over time now provides a clear lens through which I and the others here in the team at Pala look at the business. Now into our third year of trading, I still recognise that there are a whole bunch more of those changes that I plan to implement but the truth is that there will always be more that can be done. It’s important to remember that none of us will ever reach ‘perfection’. It’s the incremental changes that we continue to make progress with that has made our brand into what it is today. In short, moving is better than standing still.
Positivity trumps militancy.
I frequently have to remind myself that whilst I am living within the bubble of sustainable fashion and can often slip into the assumption that everyone should be out there buying ‘less but better’, the vast majority of people out there in wider world are still coming to terms with the concept of sustainable fashion. It’s estimated that in the UK less than 0.5% of us shop sustainably – an important illustration that as consumers, we’ve an enormous way to go before walk follows talk. This is not an issue that will be solved overnight.
Habit change is a symptom of mindset change – and there is a spectrum for everyone on to connect with. For some it could be changing your habit brushing your teeth, cooking meals, getting coffee to make it waste-free. What we shouldn’t do is polarise the ‘sustainable value of the individual’. It will push people away for feeling that what they deem is good for them, isn’t adequate for others. We therefore need to think about our language and not be so militant. ‘Minimal waste’ is a strong step in the direction of a future habit of ‘zero waste’.
How can we help?
Just as it is up to sustainable brands to nudge our customers out of the comfort of their previous shopping habits, we need to apply this same science to how we approach spreading the climate change message. Whether it’s buying my parents a re-usable coffee cup this Christmas (there’s only so many sunglasses you can give family members!), or having a discussion around a beach clean after the Queen’s speech, getting them to commit to making a positive impact habit change should be something they feel they can do on their own terms. As we covered above, it’s this positive reinforcement that will create a mindset change which will encourage them to look ahead to the next challenge.
These new battles might come with different challenges that take us out of our comfort zone, but we learn to embrace those choices as we’ve already proven to ourselves that we can overcome before. We use this momentum and venture forward, feeling capable of upping our game again, making choices that may have an even bigger positive impact. In the words of the great sage, Albus Dumbledore “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Not a bad message to live by in our book.
Closing the loop.
This approach works. In my opinion the practice of ‘small steps, big change’ is an important strategy for sustainable businesses to evolve – by embracing, encouraging and sharing with the mainstream rather than simply focusing on becoming the big fish in the smaller pond of ethical consumers. Because ultimately, a small percentage of exceptionally driven humans (who I wholeheartedly commend) living their lifestyle entirely by the ‘Sustainable Manual’ isn’t going to be enough to defeat climate change. We all need to participate in the best way we know how to make an impact.
Next time you are seeking out a sustainable business to buy from, absolutely pick the values that are important to you, but perhaps don’t cast them aside if they are not quite ticking every box. Just like on our own human journey of reinventing ourselves to do better for the planet, we find perfection is not possible, we do the best we can, and we don’t stop bettering ourselves each and every day.
What’s your take on making change happen? As always, community means everything to us so we’d love to hear your thoughts, and how you feel making small steps has led to greater change in your lifestyle. Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch on Instagram.
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