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I’ve studied and worked in the fashion industry for years. Yet it was only a few years ago when I started delving into the topic of sustainable fashion, that I really began to uncover how the industry uses (or abuses) water.

It was disappointing and frustrating (to say the least) to learn that the daily act of getting dressed in the morning, or putting on a load of washing was contributing to the destruction of our waterways. This was something I never really used to consider, and I know I am not the only one. But it was something that hit ‘close to home’.

I grew up on the east coast of Australia, so I was fortunate enough to live only a short walk or drive away from a beach or waterfront, and I never had to worry about access to clean, drinkable water. However, I also grew up with an awareness of the scarcity of water, particularly the precarious relationship Australia has with it. I saw firsthand the devastating effects of droughts and floods, and I became conditioned to shorter showers as water restrictions were the norm.

So, after learning that our clothing habits were having such a devastating impact on this precious resource, it was comforting to learn that even as citizens there are changes we can make –  and now – that will bring about change.

But knowledge is power. Therefore we need to educate ourselves about the “bigger picture”, and only then can we positively inform how we think about and engage with fashion.

We are all part of the fashion supply chain, and it is important to remember that while our individual actions may seem insignificant, they are still needed in order to bring about change.

Water

Why is water so important?

Firstly, water is a basic human right. Yet according to the United Nations, 2.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 4.2 billion people lack safely managed sanitation. The impact of this type of water stress is devastating, with people being forced to drink from contaminated sources, increasing the risk of infection and disease, and resulting in unnecessary death.

Secondly, oceans. Covering 3/4 of our planet, oceans not only provide us with food, energy and water, but they absorb 30% of the carbon dioxide that we produce, mitigating the effects of climate change.

This brings me to my third point, climate change. We should all be aware by now that the world is facing a climate crisis. In the context of the world’s water sources, if temperatures continue to rise, this puts us at risk of rising sea levels, greater flooding and droughts, increased water scarcity, pollution – the list goes on. This will gravely impact people’s quality of life, and potentially result in the displacement of large populations from land that is no longer habitable.

Given all of this, you would think water would be a pretty high priority for the fashion industry. But, unfortunately it often isn’t.

Water + Fashion

We all need water. We all wear clothes. These are basic human needs (thank you Maslow). Yet in the race for faster, trendier, and cheaper fashion, consideration for our waterways and oceans usually comes runner up. We see this at every step of the process.

Water Consumption:

The fashion industry relies heavily on water, with the growing and production of fibres being the greatest consumer.  You only have to go so far as cotton for an example.

It takes as much as 20,000 liters of water to produce a single kilo of cotton, or approximately 2,700 litres to make 1 cotton t-shirt. Now consider multiplying that by the 21% share of the global fibre use for apparel and textiles that cotton controls (cotton is second most used apparel fibre). 

In addition to this, it is worth acknowledging that 57% of the world’s cotton production occurs in areas that are already under high or extreme water stress, with only 30% coming from rain-fed farming. 

The Aral Sea (or sadly, what is left of it) in central Asia, which was once the world’s fourth largest lake, is a devastating reminder of the effects of water stress on land, biodiversity, and communities.

Water Pollution:

You may have read that in some places you can tell the colour trend for the season from the colour of the rivers. You might have thought this was a myth or exaggeration, but there is some element of truth to this (check out the documentary River Blue).

This is not surprising when run off from wet processing (for example, dyeing, printing) is often left to pollute waterways, and eventually enter our oceans. This is not only harmful to marine life, but also to the health of those who work in the industry and those who live nearby.

The Citarum River in Indonesia is a clear example of the devastating effects of water pollution from the fashion and textiles industry. Every day the river is used as a dumping ground for industrial waste, domestic rubbish, and chemical fertilisers, by the factories and properties lining its borders. There is no proper waste management system, and little or no regulation. However, residents remain reliant on the polluted water for drinking, bathing, crop irrigation and washing clothes.

Microplastics:

If you take a look down at what you are wearing, it’s likely that something you are wearing contains a synthetic fibre. 65% of our clothing is made from these synthetic fibres, the most common being polyester. This is bad news when it comes to our oceans.

Have you heard of micro-plastics? Well synthetic textiles are contributing to 35% of global micro-plastic pollution. 

In the same way that threads come away from our clothing, leaving lint in our dryers, synthetic clothing sheds synthetic fibres (or plastic) during both the wash and wear phases. However, unlike our dryer lint, these fibres are so small, no ordinary washing machine filter is able to catch them. Neither are wastewater plants, so they head straight out to rivers, lakes and oceans, and are ingested by marine life (and if we eat seafood, possibly us).

Water + Fashion + You and I

As we have discovered, everything on our planet is connected. But the idea of being able to make a positive difference may seem overwhelming. We are all part of the fashion supply chain, and it is important to remember that while our individual actions may seem insignificant, they are still needed in order to bring about change.

Here are some impactful changes we can introduce now to the we way we think and engage with our clothing that will go a long way in reducing our impact.

  • Undoubtedly, the most powerful thing we can do is work on the relationship we have with the clothes already hanging in our wardrobes. The most sustainable item after all, is the one we already own. We have the collective potential to slow things right down if we just remember why we loved them in the first place, what memories we share or new ones we can forge, or how we can accessories or try new outfit combinations (who knows what we can come up with).
  • If and when we do go shopping, we must consider what’s on the inside. When it come to fibres knowing which are best, and which ones to choose can be tough. Synthetic fibres (including those that are recycled) shed microfibres, and some natural fibres consume tons of water (literally). Therefore, try choosing organic, or lower water consuming fibres such as linen (my personal favourite), as they work with nature, rather than against it.
  • We can work on our laundering skills. Firstly, we do it too often (a simple spot clean will often do). We should also try opting for a lower temperature, shorter cycle, and maybe even investing in a mesh laundry bag (Guppyfriend).
  • We can use our voices (spoken or written). If something doesn’t align with our values, why not question it and demand answers. If we are finding it hard to recycle our unwanted clothing and textiles in our area, contact the local council. Or if we are unable to find out about a brands supply chain, write an email to a brand, or jump on social media.

Either before you read this article or afterwards, at some point today you are going to think about your body image and whether you like it or not. Let’s be honest, I do it, you do it, we all do it. You are going to look at yourself in the mirror, and unfortunately, chances are you are looking at your body through the lens the fashion industry has forcefully embedded. So let me ask you this, how many times have you dieted to fit into those pants? Better yet, how many times have you exercised to have that ‘perfect beach body’? But have you ever wondered how the media can affect the way you perceive your body or your eating behaviour? Or how the models portrayed in the media can affect your body dissatisfaction?

It is without a doubt that sustainability is currently one of the focal points in the fashion industry. However, the (lack of) inclusivity of diverse body types and advertisements has also been a growing concern in the fashion industry with little to no effective intervention. Diversity and inclusivity are monumental aspects but they do not solely revolve around racism, sexism, cultural appropriateness, or sexual orientation in the workplace, despite their importance. The inclusivity of diverse body types and advertisements has been consequently insufficient whereby skinny models have been the predominant choice for major fashion brands’ advertisements. This has been psychologically proven to lead women to further internalize the thin ideal portrayed by the media and magazines, which adversely affects eating behaviours and body dissatisfaction.

THE SNOWBALL EFFECT OF THIN-IDEAL INTERNALIZATION AND MEDIA PRESSURE

Image Source: Research paper - Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies from mentalhealth.org.uk

The fashion industry alone reinforces a certain thin beauty ideal that most of us tend to internalize. If it is coupled, paired, or even combined with exposure to the media, this will influence the way we perceive our bodies on a subconscious level. When we think of the models portrayed in the media and fashion industry, the first thing that comes to our minds is the ‘polished’ and skinny model. With the media portraying mostly skinny models, it is quite difficult to think that other body types are also considered normal, let alone attractive. When the majority of all the advertisements you see for your favourite fashion brands exhibit skinny models, it comes as no surprise that girls are constantly trying to reach this ideal that is being reinforced by the fashion industry. Why is that? It is because the fashion industry teaches us that ‘skinny sells’. 

Unfortunately, we live in a ‘media-focused world’, where the media is a potent transmitter that has a powerful impact on us. As countries become more Westernized, women are exposed to a beauty ideal, where this ideal portrays that being ‘skinny is beautiful’, therefore, an ideal that is unrealistic and unachievable. The idea that women have to live up to the beauty ideal that is set by cultural standards is something that is truly concerning and could potentially affect women’s psychological well-being. Whether we are reading a magazine or simply taking a walk, we are constantly bombarded by thin ideals on an everyday basis. For instance, in 2008 researchers Harper and Tiggerman found that magazines portray unrealistic thin ideals because they lack inclusivity, by portraying specific body types that are hard to attain. The portrayal of such an unrealistic beauty ideal leaves us thinking that this beauty ideal has become the ‘norm’ and everything outside of it is automatically categorized as unattractive. This may not only lead to body dissatisfaction but also allows individuals to engage in abnormal eating behaviours to help them achieve this ‘beauty-ideal’, such as self-induced vomiting or skipping meals. For instance, Stice’s 2002 research regarding body image has shown that the media’s influential portrayal of a ‘thin-ideal’ has led individuals who internalize it to be dissatisfied with their bodies and develop eating disorders.

 

Including more realistic body types could potentially have positive effects on individuals. In fact, Peck and Loken’s 2004 research shows that women feel more satisfied with their bodies after viewing pictures of plus-sized models. All in all, the influence of the fashion industry’s advertisements serves to show its desperate need to inclusively advertise body types of all kinds that are realistic and representative. This inclusiveness towards the advertisement of the many types of bodies may potentially lead to body satisfaction and healthy eating habits.

IT IS NOT A BARBIE WORLD, AFTERALL

Image source: Rehabs.com

Take a moment and look back at your childhood, back when younger girls used to play with a Barbie doll. Have you ever thought about how Barbie dolls can affect young girls’ body image? Indeed, we are living life in plastic, but it is not fantastic. Before a young girl’s body even fully develops, the world is showing her what it should look like through Barbie Dolls. According to the psychologist Jean Piaget, we rely on schemas as a framework used to organize our information mentally. For example, if a person sees a skinny model, the schema of a model and all the information related to it will be activated, such as ‘skinny’ and ‘beautiful’.

young people tend to consume less food when playing with a skinny doll.

How is this related to body image? One thing we know about children is that they learn through observation. Most girls played with a Barbie doll when they were young and chances are, they compared themselves to it. We have been culturally wired to not even think twice about the impact a Barbie Doll might have on younger girls. Some of us might think giving a young girl a Barbie doll to play with is normal; it’s actually quite the opposite, as Barbie dolls portray an unrealistic beauty ideal standard for women. This could allow young girls to internalize this ‘beauty ideal’ portrayed by the Barbie doll, making them feel like they are in a constant attempt to achieve it. In fact, Barbie dolls have received much criticism regarding the unrealistic thinness that the doll portrays. This affects young people’s body dissatisfaction and eating behaviour, as research by Anschutz and Engels (2010) shows that young people tend to consume less food when playing with a skinny doll. This is very concerning as Barbie dolls, being the primary toys given to young girls, are affecting their health and eating behaviour. This further contributes to advertising diverse body types that are realistic and representative because younger girls will first internalize Barbie Dolls’ body types and then move on and grow up to internalize that of models.  

Thankfully we are beginning to see positive changes in the fashion industry. Recently, Matell Inc., the creator of Barbie Dolls, has made a fundamental change in history. After selling the skinny beautiful Barbie Doll for almost fifty-seven years, a curvy Barbie doll was finally created; a Barbie doll with a tummy and thick thighs, which is quite a shocking change indeed. So, how did young girls perceive the new curvy Barbie doll? Interestingly, young females perceived the original skinny Barbie as ‘pretty, intelligent, helpful, and popular’. However, according to Harrigers et al., (2019) study, young girls perceived the curvy Barbie Doll negatively, by associating it with adjectives such as ‘chubby, fat, and big’. Sadly, this shows how some young girls internalize the ‘thin-ideal’ at a very early stage. 

BODY IMAGE IN THE ARAB WORLD

As the Arab region places high importance on Appearance (Behrens-Abouseif, 1999), it is with no surprise that body image concerns exist, which is exactly what I found in my research study regarding body image in the Lebanese population. Although several research studies have been conducted on body image in the Arab world, research regarding this topic in Lebanon is scarce. Research about body image is undeniably vital but this remains understudied in Lebanon, especially when it comes to how the media and internalizing a thin ideal influences women’s body dissatisfaction and eating attitudes. For this reason, my study extended on previous research and aimed to further the understanding of body image, by exploring the relationship between eating attitudes, body dissatisfaction and socio-cultural attitudes towards appearance (such as media pressures and thin-ideal internalization) in Lebanese women. The findings of my research study concluded that:

  • The more Lebanese women are dissatisfied with their bodies, the more likely they are to engage in abnormal eating behaviour.
  • The more Lebanese women feel pressured by the media, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with their bodies.
  • The more Lebanese women feel pressured by the media, the more likely they are to engage in abnormal eating behaviour.
  • The more Lebanese women internalize the ‘thin-ideal’ portrayed by the media and magazines, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with their bodies. 

This study illustrates the link between thin-ideal internalization, which is consistently reinforced by the fashion industry, and an increase in abnormal eating behaviours, excessive body dissatisfaction, and higher susceptibility to media pressure. Now more than ever, we are realizing the powerful impact we have on upcoming generations, so the question is, do we want them to look in the mirror and love what they see or not? 

With COVID-19 putting a pause on the world, the fashion industry has been forced to adapt accordingly, and with the year’s second season of fashion weeks fast-approaching unsurprisingly, they are not proceeding as normal. Unwilling to disrupt the economy and put designer’s work to waste, the industry has followed in the footsteps of most other businesses and moved its highly-anticipated event online.

London led the way by streaming its virtual fashion week from the 12th to 14th June. Hosted by londonfashionweek.com, the three-day event offered a selection of interviews, podcasts, videos and digital showcases of SS21 collections for viewers to tune in with. Supposedly due to the disruptions in the production line, there was significantly less of a focus on the garments themselves and fewer of the leading fashion houses made an appearance. However, this did offer the opportunity to strip the industry from its jam-packed schedules and theatrical catwalk performances, providing the time and space to reflect on its contribution to current affairs as well as its hidden talents in the form of smaller designers.

A time for reflection

The digital London Fashion Week opened with a poem by James Massiah, which captured “all the things that are fun about Summer and all the things that we might miss because of lock down.” It further emphasised how fashion should no longer focus on “peoples’ identity, race or class. You can choose the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with and the places you go and I really wanted to focus on those things more.” This recognition of current affairs and pressing global issues set a striking tone of reflection for the days to come, in line with the slowed pace of life COVID-19 has encouraged us all to adopt. I’m sure we can all agree that taking the time to appreciate what we have got and could work further to achieve is a habit many could adopt.

Research has shown a relationship between being mindful and having more sustainable consumption – both of which have also been shown to improve long-term wellbeing. This brings to question why the fashion industry hasn’t adopted a greater focus on enhancing the wardrobes we currently have, rather than what we should add to it (Geiger, Grossman & Schrader, 2019).  What’s more, adopting a mindful approach can also benefit those around us too, as being aware of our actions makes us more likely to adopt them to become more prosocial (Donald et al, 2018).

Telling a story

The benefits of these new forms of Fashion Weeks may not lie only with the consumer. With approximately 4.57 billion people actively using the internet in April 2020, hosting catwalk shows online hugely increases the accessibility of live content worldwide – if you compare it to the handful of chosen celebrities and industry experts who sat in the front rows each year. By exposing the work of designers to thousands, if not millions, of more people it significantly increases the profiles of professionals and ultimately ends in more sales.

One of the most powerful aspects of the Fashion Week showcases are the stories that each collection conveys; and it is this narrative that allows people to connect with both the designers and the garments themselves. People are more likely to remember information presented in a story format, rate the brand more positively and be more likely to purchase the products (Lundqvist, Liljander, Gummerus & van Riel, 2013). Furthermore, stories are easy for consumers to attend to. From a young age many of us are presented with information through stories, we learn to connect to others by learning about their experiences and appreciate the world by engaging in its history (e.g. Woodside, Sood & Miller, 2008). Although we have begun to see live streams of catwalk shows made available to the public in recent years, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken a pandemic to push the fashion industry into expanding its online presence during Fashion Week, given the accessibility, adaptability and arguably increasingly effective nature of the internet.

What’s next?

This wave of innovation is something that has been deemed as an inherent human instinct; we are driven to adapt to environmental and situational changes, or pressures in order for us to survive – both in physical and organisational terms (Reiter-Palmon, 2011). However, as in most cases, a first attempt is not perfect, so with this season pioneering the new fashion week modality, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.

Researchers have shown that innovation and creativity however is not always as simple is learning from and acting upon mistakes. In fact, there are a number of specific factors that foster change more effectively than others. Axtell, Holman & Wall (2006) noted how a high initial level of external support for new suggestions is needed, followed by structural job changes like the level of autonomy which allow individuals to freely adapt and generate new ideas. Finally, team members and colleagues must also be supportive of and willing to implement such changes. Although not a complete explanation, this may help to explain why this seemingly obviously beneficial method of communicating Fashion Week has been resisted until now.

Similarly, while we do indeed love to adapt and innovate, we are also creatures of habit. And one thing digital Fashion Weeks threaten is a love for tradition. These historically social and creative events have been held biannually ever since 1943, which provides us a sense of security. Their predictability subtly indicates that everything is constant and ‘normal’ – which is when we naturally feel most comfortable (Psychology Today). As I’m sure you are all aware, the current global situation is somewhat abnormal, and moving these events online only signifies this further by disrupting the predictability, constancy and normality that we crave.

It is still too early to see whether digital Fashion Weeks will be responded to with resentment or seen as a revolution, but whatever the case it is no secret that this new digital scene will take some getting used to. Hundreds of photographers, reporters, celebrities and stylists congregate in the world’s fashion capitals to observe the next-season’s trends, so to see these cities silent in what is usually one of their busiest times of year will be a significant change.

However, this new wave of innovation could be somewhat exciting. Technology is continually advancing, such as the introduction of shopping in virtual reality (Hur, Jang & Choo, 2019), leaving the possibilities for the future of fashion almost endless. Could we be witnessing a momentous change in the fashion industry, or do you think the tradition is too strong for any changes to have a lasting impact? 

It is no secret that our society is dictated by prejudices and discriminatory behaviours that we may not even be aware we are endorsing. Unfortunately amongst many others, the fashion industry reflects a ‘white privilege’ and it has even been suggested that ‘racism is at the heart of fast fashion’. A single glance up your local Highstreet or quick google search makes it immediately evident that the vast majority of both affordable and high-end designers are white and accommodate primarily white individuals. Little further reflection will also reveal how utterly absurd this underrepresentation is. Since when did, or should, the colour of someone’s skin determine their creativity, talent or potential? 

These attitudes are incredibly damaging to current and aspiring fashion professionals, but by simply becoming more aware of who we choose to buy from, real differences can begin to emerge.

With this in mind, we have created a collection of 22 black-owned brands that we believe deserve a little more love. There should be something to suit all styles and budgets, so consumers at every level can experience the fashion industry’s hidden talents.

Affordable

Offering non-toxic, cruelty-free nail-polishes that are individually made, 516 Polish is an ethical, sustainable brand. They pioneer ‘swatch diversity’ by providing product samples on a variety of skin tones and have specially formulated products that complement customers of all ethnicities. 

Boucléme creates British-based, cruelty-free and plant-based products that enhance natural curls. Their easy-to-follow 3-step regime encourages women to feel empowered rather than embarrassed by their curls. 

Selling sunglasses and jewellery that are inspired by North African heritage, this accessories label aims to create trendy yet timeless pieces.

Founded in a small New York apartment, Fanm Djanm (meaning ‘strong women’) is an accessory-based store best known for its bright and bold headwraps. Each piece is handmade in Brooklyn using sustainably sourced fabrics.

Cruelty-free cosmetics inspired by 80s and 90s music culture are what MDM Flow are best known for. From multi-use ‘glossy pots’, to lip products in a range of natural and experimental shades, this beauty brand has the potential to create fun, fresh and funky looks that take you from day to night. 

Selling beautifully crafted yet affordable 14k gold-plated jewellery, Saint Kojo is a hidden gem. If the elegant aesthetic is enough, they also use a portion of profits to educate and empower disadvantaged women in Africa. 

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✨✨✨ 📸 :@jenloumeredith

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This London-based brand celebrates diversity through it’s simple yet sexy garments that represent individuals of all ethnicities. At its heart, Sincerely Nude hopes to ‘break stereotypes one shade at a type’ by raising the awareness and accessibility of a more inclusive industry.

Vitae London incorporates ‘minimalist watch design with maximal social justice’. Working closely with charities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, each watch purchase provides a child with life-changing educational supplies. Their classic designs come in a range of metal colours and materials to create a bespoke timepiece. 

Premium

Andrea Iyamah is a clothing line ‘inspired by nature, inspired by colour, ethnic cultures, nature and design elements that stay true to creating authentic clothing’. Started by Nigerian designer Dumebi Iyamah at the age of 17, it hopes to modernise and embrace traditional African cuts and colours to create unique garments that make a statement.

Nalé’s designers are inspired by different aspects of travel, culture or the simplistic beauties of everyday living. This luxury womenswear brand is characterised by its appreciation of diversity, allowing consumers to learn about cultures all over the world.

Nubian Skin provides lingerie, hosiery and swimwear that aims to cater for consumers of all skin tones. Their founder Ade Hassan, MBE wanted to redefine the industry’s narrow representation of ‘nude’ undergarments, which seemed to disregard a significant proportion of the market – most notably women of colour.

Edgy streetwear in bold patterns and prints are at the core of Phlemuns. For those who want to elevate their everyday pieces and invest in stand-out sweats, their collections will not fail to make a statement.

Starting in Trinidad and Tobago in 1979, Sacha Cosmetics values the ethnic diversity of their consumers. They aim to formulate high-quality products for all individuals, regardless of race. Something all beauty brands should aim to do too.

Blending contemporary and traditional techniques, Tihara Smith is a recent graduate who creates fun and fresh fashion accessories. Inspired by her Caribbean heritage and London upbringing, Tihara creates unique pieces that allow her customers to carry a piece of the Caribbean with them.

Luxury

Aurora James founded this luxury accessory company in 2013 to help maintain traditional African designs and techniques. Each piece is inspired by an aspect of different cultures worldwide, ensuring a range of heritage styles are kept alive within the fashion industry. Using traditional practices in the production process, Brother Vellies ensures artisanal jobs are sustained and the manual craftsmanship involved is still acknowledged.

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Tyla Sandals • Summertime fine 🤎🦢

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With an array of luxury ready-to-wear and bridal women’s wear, Cushnie has something to offer the modern woman for every occasion. Designer Carly Cushnie creates timeless, minimalistic pieces with a fine attention to detail, all of which encourage women to feel both elegant and powerful.

Described as “a contemporary Ready-to-Wear apparel line for Women Without Limits”, Hanifa designs each of its garments with women of all shapes and sizes in mind. Ruffles, ruching, pleats and puffy sleeves best describe the brand’s aesthetic which collectively form figure-flattering, femeine and elegant pieces that undoubtedly suit every type of body.  

In recognition of the nude-shoe market’s poor diversity, Kahmune was formed. The luxury footwear is constructed from sourced, premium Italian leather, making their shoes a life-long investment. Each piece is available in 10 shades which are inspired by the global ethnic diversity, allowing every customer to find their staple nude shoe.  

Mateo New York is a fine jewellery designer founded by self-taught Matthew Harris who was born and raised in Montenegro Bay, Jamaica. Describing their collections as having an ‘aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism’, their collections are designed with modern women and art in mind. With the delicate use of diamonds, pearls and precious stones each piece conveys a sense of natural elegance.

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🌸 🌸🌸🌸🌸

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Specialising in ready-to-wear and bespoke jumpsuits, Rebecca Tembo ensures each client has a personalised, luxury shopping experience. All pieces are made one at a time using sustainable methods. She also founded The Entry, a course which aims to help aspiring start-up designers to build their brand and develop entrepreneurial skills.

Established in 2005 by Telfar Clemens, an undergraduate student born to Liberian parents in New York, Telfar is a pioneer of unisex fashion. Driven by its core value of inclusivity, the fashion brand is known to promote contemporary garments in ways that stand against the fashion industry’s historical discrimination and misrepresentation of non-white ethnicites.

The Folklore is an online concept store that sells a limited selection of pieces from African designers in order to promote their work and improve their financial success. Their curated collections represent ‘the diversity of Africa’s contemporary urban landscapes and design aesthetic’ and allow people online access to the African fashion industry that previously relied primarily on remote, local selling. If you’re after a one-of-a-kind piece, this is the place to look. 

What are your favourite Black-owned businesses? Comment below or tweet us @fashionispsychology

On 25th May 2020, George Floyd was added to the heartbreakingly long list of names of Black people who have been murdered due to the colour of their skin. You can see these names emblazoned on the news and across social media hashtags and yet, for  many Black people like me, these names read like the stories we were told growing up – the story of our unending suffering. To say that Black people live in fear is not hyperbole. When the people whose job it is to protect you, murder you enmass – how can you not be afraid?

In an effort to minimize the impact of institutional racism on global police forces, I’ve seen a few people cite one of psychology’s most controversial studies – the Stanford prison experiment. In the study led by Philip George Zimbardo, participants were placed in a prison-like setting and given uniforms that gave them the role of either a prisoner or guard. In just 6 days, these seemingly normal men abused their power as guards and the study turned into a lesson that, if given the chance and if placed in the right situation, anyone can be corrupted. If only it were that simple. 

Analyzing [police corruption] as a product of race-blind situational forces erases its deep roots in racial oppression. – Ben Blum

Replications of the study instead proved that our behaviours  largely conform to our preconceived notions. Sadly, these notions have been shaped by: school systems that jump to expel black students, white-washed media, news stories that frame Black people as thugs, jobs that fail to give Black people wage parity, fashion houses that use racist designs as marketing ploys – all of which facilitate corruption by painting the picture that in every sense, Black lives don’t matter. 

Racism and prejudice seep into every area of life and is even one of the reasons why I created this website. ‘Fashion is Psychology’ was born out of my undergraduate thesis which explored how the murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin was treated in February 2012. As the news stories and hot-takes came flooding in, I couldn’t shake a comment from American Talk Show Host Geraldo RiveraI think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as much as George Zimmerman was”. While it’s true that clothing style and race are integral to impression formation, as we’ve learnt from Zimbardo’s study, awful acts are neither situational or clothing dependent. 

56 Black Men Campaign by Cephas Williams

Trayvon’s hoodie became the symbol of #BlackLivesMatter and sparked movements from the Million Hoodie March in New York in 2012 and the 56 Black Men campaign in the UK by entrepreneur Cephas Williams just last year. Both movements shed light on how clothing styles are used as a weapon against Black people, an excuse for White fear, when in reality, racism is so deeply entrenched in the fabric of society it supersedes choice of dress.

Ironically, hoodies are an integral part of the streetwear market which as of 2017 was valued at $309B. Streetwear and the wider Fashion industry at large consistently draw from Black culture, but rarely uplifts Black talent. As BOF highlighted, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh and Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing are the only Black creative directors at major brands, and “there are almost no Black CEOs”. Even Abloh himself has recently come under fire, firstly for an initial donation of only $50 to the Black Lives Matter movement (Abloh is currently worth an estimated $4M) and then for his largely White staff – proving that the success of a few Black people is not enough to eradicate Fashion’s race problem. The situation in front of the camera is getting slightly better with some studies showing that the number of BAME people featured in marketing campaigns has increased in recent years. However, as my own research has pointed out, considering the strength of the Brown Pound and the fact that Black consumers are willing to pay more for products advertised by Black models, it’s shocking that representation is still a topic of discussion. 

So where do we go from here?

Illustration by Sacrée Frangine

Fashion has a duty to support Black people

A value of a brand is no longer dictated by the clothes they design. Consumers need to know where a brand stands on various socio-political issues. They not only need to show support they need to embody the ideals they’re espousing in their Instagram posts. The recent actions of fast-fashion brand Pretty Little Thing is a great example of how the tides of change are dissolving Fashion’s old “thoughts and prayers” approach to activism. In the wake of Floyd’s death, influencer Jackie Aina called out Pretty Little Thing (among others) for capitalising on Black culture via their aesthetic but staying silent in the face of Black suffering. Their initial response of posting an illustration of a black (literally black) hand holding a White one was met with a wave of criticism. The brand have since teamed up with recording artist Saweetie to create a line where all of the proceeds go to the Black Lives Matter organisation. 

Donating is one thing but more needs to be done. The industry has a duty to use its privilege to hire more Black talent, to place more Black people in senior positions, to amplify Black voices and to invest in more Black businesses.

Psychology has a duty to support Black people

As highlighted by researchers Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan (2010), “individuals from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD societies) make up the bulk of samples in psychological research. This is problematic because it skews generalizations about human behavior overall since although 80 percent of research participants are from WEIRD societies, people from these societies represent just 12 percent of the world’s population.” 

Education has been hailed as the first line of defence against racism but if the literature is already skewed and Black voices are silenced, how much can we really learn? Studies investigating racism in particular can fall short when it doesn’t include Black researchers to provide the nuance needed to produce the robust results demanded of the field. The Psychology workforce is also overwhelmingly White. From Black academics to Black therapists, more targeted support is required to even the playing fields.

I wish I could say that fear of the police and institutionalised racism was the only fear Black people have. There’s also the fear that you’ll have to always work 10 times harder than your White counterparts to achieve an equal level of success. The fear that the way you act will be a reflection of your entire race when you find yourself (yet again) being the only Black person at school or work. Then there’s the fear of having to continually explain your existence and why your life matters. It’s troubling to know that it took so many lives to be lost for us to see real change but change is coming and it’s time for everyone to get on board. 

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Header image: Sébastien Thibault

The whole situation with coronavirus has undoubtedly taken us by surprise, and in many ways, it has changed our daily lives – myself included. One of the habits that I have unfortunately, developed is being unconsciously glued to my phone 24/7. While watching everyone on Instagram becoming a yoga expert, among other popular lockdown activities, I started wondering what the effect of this was having on my mental health. Don’t get me wrong, it is fantastic that Instagrammers can offer us a form of escapism during these turbulent times. However, for many, seeing such visuals can plunge you into a rabbit hole of social comparison. Therefore, it’s a great moment to ask the question – could social media be the cause of our undoing?

The dark side of Instagram

We are social creatures. The human mind often defaults to social comparison – what other people are doing, eating etc. As the Social Comparison Theory by Festinger (1954) states, we self-evaluate through judging ourselves against others. More worryingly,  we also tend to use other people as reference points to compare our bodies. What happens when you add social media to the mix is that it often results in dissatisfaction with one’s body image. Psychologists say that because Instagram is based on visual communication, it is the easiest for its users to compare themselves with ideal standards of beauty. We are bombarded with pictures of thin and fit people, which serve to harm our body image. 

Why is Instagram potentially worse than the fashion magazines and ads we see off-line? Such social networking sites are peer-generated. What does that mean? Well, the power of comparison is more potent when we’re talking about someone who has many similar characteristics to us. Therefore, a perfect, photoshopped model will not have such an effect as an authentic and spontaneous selfie from a social media friend. Potentially, because we are staying at home now, we can spend more time on social media. Platforms such as Instagram could have a more significantly detrimental effect on body image, especially the “fit inspirations”. What we can observe for the last couple of months is that all weights and yoga mats are sold out, everywhere. Exercise has been associated with a more positive body image (Hausenblas & Fallon, 2006). Still, there should not be any pressure to exercise because everyone does. Which, in fact, might be the case. 

The long overdue change

Somehow, throughout the last years, we have accepted likes as a numerical measurement of physical beauty. This unbelievably reductionistic fact is the part of current reality. In the eyes of young girls, the number of likes equals not only their beauty but also how worthy they see themselves. Fortunately, this is where some people say enough is enough, urging for a pause in self-objectification and homogenous ideals of beauty. Billie Eilish spoke up about being more than her body in her short film “Not My Responsibility“. This is one of the profoundly empowering moments that we’ve recently experienced and desperately needed. She’s saying a definite no to being defined by her body. 

In spite of the negativity, Instagram might not be all that bad. Body positivity content, such as Billie Eilish’s movie, is what we can actually see emerging on Instagram. As highlighted by fashion Psychologist  Dr Aurore Bardey, “social media is changing – Instagram is where we can find diversity and representation. Whatever body type you have, you can find yourself in social media”. She underlines that Instagram is actually the most inclusive platform. The diversity we can see grow on social media decreases the negative aspects of social comparison. In some sense, Instagram has brought democracy to representations of beauty. With such a revolution of accepted beauty ideals, Instagram is where we can find a sense of belonging. In the end, it can actually have a positive effect on body image.

The antidote

When talking about presenting an inclusive and diverse image of the female and male body, most of the fashion brands have a long way to go in how they promote themselves on social media. 

When I asked Dr Bardey what advice she would give on the topic of lockdown and body image, she proposed trying out sustainability as an approach to daily life. Sustainability not only in the sense of material consumption but also the consumption of information and how we spend our time. It is the perfect time for reflection because we, in a sense, have to take a break from fashion. It is an incredibly fast-paced industry, now making an obligatory pause. Usually, trends on and off Instagram are incredibly short-lived. Therefore we are used to everything changing, always wanting something or simply wanting more. Thus, by valuing the time we have now, we can spend it more positively.

If the choice is to use social media, we can decide how to consume it. As Profesor Laurie Santos from Yale explains, the clue lies in what are the reference points that we’re letting inside our head. Are those the ones to which we will be making upward social comparisons that will make us feel dissatisfied? Perhaps, we could curate the information around us by allowing the information that is getting in to be more accurate and more representative of real people’s bodies, real people’s experiences. As she underlines, it is hard to stop information after it gets into your head, but you can choose what you allow to get in.

Any way you choose to spend your time in the lockdown is okay. It is not anyone’s right to dictate what you should do or how you should feel but if you’re feeling jealous or ‘not good enough’ it’s time to evaluate the content you’re consuming. Curate a feed that actually makes you feel good about yourselves. I mean, you have the time.

Self-care is a term we are all aware of; its importance in maintaining psychological wellbeing is well-recognised, yet few of us seem to engage in it. Self-care can involve anything from cooking to cleaning, taking yourself on a walk in the woods or reading a book in the garden. However, one simple and easy way many of us could take care of minds and bodies is through the humble manicure.

However, there are far more benefits than first meet the eye when taking the time to care for your fingertips. By focusing on the intricacies of filing, shaping, moisturising and painting each individual nail encourages us to be mindful. By concentrating on the present, it gives our minds a moment to break away from the recurrent list of responsibilities we are regularly reminded of. As polish dries relish in the respite; for fifteen minutes there’s nothing to do but remain still. Even checking your phone can be difficult, which brings the rare opportunity to switch off from your online existence too.

But if this restful style of relaxation isn’t your idea of peace, painting your nails can also provide a way to bond with friends and family. Unlike other popular activities of indulgence like shopping, there is much less emphasis on body shape and size and therefore offer less of a chance to engage in unhealthy comparisons. Even when going to the salon isn’t an option, hosting virtual manicure sessions with friends could be a fun way to unwind and catch up.

The benefits of having neat and tidy nails extend further than the momentary mindfulness the process creates. Although only a small part of our appearances, our nails can in fact implicitly portray a particular image to others. Pleasantly presented hands and nails have been associated with holding a position of power and in 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported nail salons as being popular locations for meetings amongst professional women.

Much like the colours of clothes we wear, the shades we choose to place upon our nails can reflect aspects of our personality and influence our mood. Some scientists have suggested that certain colours can affect our heart rate and brain signals in different ways, and in turn how we think and feel. These biological influences seem to be reflected in our behaviour too – whether it is consciously or subconsciously. Patterns have been identified amongst nail salon customers when it comes to selecting the colour to decorate their nails with. People often opt for shades that either match or help to modify their current mood. Here are just a handful of ways your go-to nail varnish might be revealing aspects of yourself, you never even realised: 

  • Black – symbolises mystery and can be worn to share a slightly more rebellious, daring side of yourself.
  • Blue – is thought to reflect trust and peace; this sense colour’s sense of tranquillity can be soothing in times of uncertainty. 
  • Orange – is an optimistic colour, portraying someone who is self-assured and sociable. When confidence is running a little low, glancing down at your orange fingertips can instantly inject a sense of positivity! 
  • Pastels – provide a soft and delicate finish, perfect for times of relaxation, comfort and signifying new beginnings.
  • Yellow –an energetic, eye-catching shade often chosen by those who have a positive presence. This colour can be chosen when experiencing burnout, to reignite an inner energy.

In essence, there is far more than first meets the eye when it comes to manicures. Serving as an act of socialisation and self-care, the benefits of the beauty treatment can be significant for us all. If investing time and effort into your fingertips brings you joy, confidence and helps to wind-down after a busy day, there should be no shame in dedicating an evening each week to doing just this.

Mental illness has long been a dark cloud hanging over the creative industries. Several decades of psychological research has found creative individuals to be overrepresented in mental illness diagnoses and fashion is no exception. The fast-paced nature of the fashion industry can often mythicize the idea of having a work-life balance and the onset of COVID-19 has only heightened these pressures. Amidst store closures, closed factories and cancelled shows, the fashion industry has turned into the survival of the fittest. 

Despite certain areas of the industry slowing down or even coming to a complete stand-still, others have switched to lightening speed with brands going into webinar and curated-content overdrive. When all of your energy is going into adapting and surviving there is often little room to attend to the all important task of maintaining your mental well-being. The figures have yet to come in but it’s clear that the collective mental health of the fashion industry is headed for swan dive so, how can we tackle this issue head-on and secure a safer landing?

To give you some ideas, this mental health awareness week, I spoke to 6 fashion industry professionals and creatives and asked them to provide the tips they’re using to manage their mental health in the current period.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Get into a routine

“I experience acute anxiety on occasions, so for me keeping my mind occupied to avoid it from wondering, has been the biggest challenge. I’ve found that it’s important for me to have quite a ridged routine; I set my alarm for 6.30am, do a yoga workout, have a shower, eat breakfast, set my agenda and start work at 9. After work my boyfriend and I will make dinner and play cards or a board game to avoid too much screen time, then I’ll usually watch something on Netflix and get ready for bed. I try not to look at my phone or have the TV on for at least an hour before bed, so I really wind down. My routine initially felt quite mundane but I’ve found it’s a great way to break up the week.”

Tip #2 Practice Self Care

“A classic, but a sure way to help me re-centre is to have a self care session. I’ve recently transitioned into natural hair care, so I tend to incorporate other beauty treatments on my weekly wash day. I like to do a manicure and pedicure (I caved in a bought an LED set off Amazon – shellac is life!) and a face mask. I also like to read for a few hours – I recently joined a book club which is great motivation to get my head into a good book. “

Tip #3 Set Boundaries

“I think initially when we started lockdown it was fun to have constant zoom quizzes with friends and colleagues, daily FaceTime with family but I noticed after a few weeks that I was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed with the constant virtual contact.  Before lockdown I wouldn’t FaceTime my friends everyday – sending a text would usually suffice (and I didn’t feel guilty for doing so). When I realised that with working and constant communication from home, my living space didn’t really feel private anymore. 

I wanted to ensure that whilst my flat is temporarily my office, barista and gym, it’s my home first and foremost. I spoke to my friends and family who were really understanding (some of them even expressed the same feelings!), we now have a weekly catch up on Zoom and keep in touch daily with WhatsApp. If we feel like having a call we will but it’s just nice to not feel the pressure to always be available.  This Pandemic is tough enough, I think the most important thing is to be kind to ourselves and take this time to truly put ourselves first for once.”

Tip #1 Take a closer look at your Mental Health 

I am about to release a fashion film which is solely focused on my experience battling my mental health issues. It forced me to learn a lot about  my personal mental health and it’s been a journey I am glad I took. Once your state of mind is too depressed, you are dependent on it and become a victim of your thoughts. Therefore, its important to first discover how your mind works and be open to new ways to improve by considering it a growth process.

Tip #2 Meditation

It may seem cliche, but meditation is the key. I attended a course by Emily Fletcher and it was a game changer for me. I truly understood the importance of meditation and I consider this technique to be like a shower for your mind. I have also become very interested in spirituality and Neuro-linguistic programming. 

Tip #3 Get a life coach

I wouldn’t have been able to battle my depression without the help of life coaches. Talking to a friend or family member can help, but only for a short time and also you can drag them down. You need to get out of your surroundings to get a clear perspective. It’s an investment, but truly the best you can do as it helps you be more productive, more aligned and understand yourself better from a non objective wa

Tip #1 Praying

My faith is everything to me so it’s Important that I pray in the morning and at night but also during the day. I also listen to podcasts and watch sermons. 

Tip #2 Take breaks 

It is so important for me to take breaks and this isn’t just about using the time to read a fashion magazine. I try to intentionally remove myself from fashion focused things. During this time I have pamper sessions, watch TV series, one of my favourite things to do during a break is to watch hair and skin care tutorials on Youtube. 

Tip #3 Talk to your family and friends 

Talking to friends and family daily no matter how busy things are It’s a must. To vent, laugh, discuss, seek advice and much more.  This is a very crucial step as having a strong support network is everything. If you allow yourself to isolate yourself this will cause you to overthink which can lead you into a negative space.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Make sure you have a health-focused routine

I’m doing my best to combat future-related anxiety with consistent routines – it’s my way of making sure I feel accomplished at the end of the day. Now, after two months at home, It’s incredibly satisfying to see the results. For me, getting enough sleep, eating regularly (I’m transitioning to a plant-based diet right now) and exercise makes all the difference. I was never the person that maintained any kind of routine, so I find these habits very restorative.

Tip #2 Have social media breaks

To maintain balance and prevent falling into the rabbit hole of FOMO, I take social media free weekends and I “dose” my screen time daily. It helps me to mange how reactive I am to my surroundings. In addition, that’s one of the ways to take a break from the implicit expectations on platforms such as Instagram.

Tip #3 Get ready even if you have no place to go

Getting ready helps me to stay motivated. Putting on make up is what I do before I leave for work or school, so this is the exact thing I do to boost my mood and prepare for the day. I’ve created home office “uniforms” and I make sure the clothes I’m wearing create a comforting, tactile sensation so that I feel good in my second skin.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Have strict working hours

Even though I run a company with employees I make sure that I have a strict cut off time that I stop working every day. 

Tip #2 Exercise daily 

Exercise doesn’t have to be a solo activity. My wife, daughter and I do exercise with Jo Wicks on YouTube every morning. 

Tip #3 Indulge your hobbies

Make sure you don’t forget your hobbies while on lockdown. I make music in my 

spare time and I play PlayStation to help take my mind off the current situation as it helps me to escape while still being creative outside of fashion. 

Tip #1 Don’t give up on makeup

I find putting mascara on to be a simple yet helpful process when dealing with life stressors! It helped me get through my 10 months of maternity leave with smile and a sense of femininity! When I feel down, my mascara really helps!

Tip #2 Family is everything

I make sure to not get too caught up in my work and put time aside to be with my family and play wth my now 5 year old twins!

 

Tip #3 Make other people smile

It’s important to not be too self-focused during this difficult period. Step out of yourself once in a while and try to bring light to people around you. I find bringing other people happiness to be the key to my wellbeing.

Do you have any mental wellbeing tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Celebrity Hairstylist and Educator Vernon François sheds light on the recent rise in  lockdown hair transformations.

I lost a bet to my colleague earlier this year. Fresh off my trip to Trinidad for carnival in February, I was positive that we wouldn’t have to work remotely because COVID-19 would go as quickly as it came. After I monzoed her the £5 and set up shop at the desk in my bedroom, the next thing I did was give myself super bright waist-length braids. I’ve never experimented with a colour so bright before but I felt compelled to make the change and it appears that I wasn’t alone in these feelings. According to Brand Advisory Platform Wearisma, in the UK, social media content related to hair transformations has grown by 57% between March and April this year. While many may assume this collective desire to change our hair is simply a side-effect of lockdown boredom, psychological research would suggest that there are deeper factors at play.

Me featuring lockdown blonde knotless braids

For many people, hair is inextricably linked to identity. Whether you’ve had the same style since childhood or are constantly reinventing your look, hair can go a long way to help you express the identity you have forged for yourself and the one you choose to express to the world. Having a good hair day is more important than you may think. A study commissioned by Procter & Gamble revealed that being dissatisfied with your hair can lead to increased levels of self-criticism, social insecurities and can even reduce your belief in your ability to achieve personal goals. When the psychological risks of having an unflattering style are so stark, why are we jumping at the chance to tamper with our tresses in the wake of COVID-19?

One significant reason is control. All over the world, people’s daily lives have been disrupted by restrictions put in place in an effort to quash the rampant spread of Coronavirus. While these efforts are without a doubt vital for our collective safety, they have amounted to a sense of a loss of control. One thing that you do have control of however, is your hair. The instant gratification that comes with making a drastic change to your hair can provide you with a much needed sense of control in a time where many of us feel helpless. To delve deeper into the significance of hair in our lives and how we can safely experiment with new styles during this period, I spoke to celebrity hairstylist and educator Vernon François who has worked with the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Solange Knowles, Serena Williams and many more.

What role do you think hair plays in people’s lives?

Hair is an important part of our identity, how we choose to wear it reflects how we want to be seen or perceived by the outside world. It can change according to the stage we’re at in our lives, our lifestyle, how we see ourselves, how we want others to see us. Hair can also have cultural, historical, social and geographical relevance. It has links with heritage as certain styles and methods of braiding are associated with different tribes in Africa, it can show which “tribe” you identify yourself with from a fashion or societal perspective. Historically certain types of braided styles were linked specifically to Greek, Egyptian or Roman communities, also the Vikings and Celts have trademark styles and ways of braiding hair. Different qualities are seen as desirable depending on where you are in the world, and the symbolism tied with how people wear and decorate their hair is a vast area to explore.

A good hairstylist will always talk with their client about the role that hair plays in their life, whether they do or don’t embrace their hair’s true texture and the reasons around that. Understanding the client, their needs, desires and expectations is crucial to achieving successful outcomes beyond the salon chair. There is always a bigger picture to be explored beyond the style itself, which is as personal and unique to each individual as their hair texture is.

Celebrity Hairstylist and Educator Vernon François
Have you had many clients come to get their hair done after a significant event?

It is not unusual for clients to have their hair done after a significant event in their life like having a baby, following a break-up, or starting a new job. People say the effect is often a sense of feeling reinvigorated, and that particularly going short after having longer hair feels liberating. A change of any kind, small or dramatic, with the hair’s cut, colour or style can be up-lifting. Many women have told me that having their hair cut short has made them feel more confident, expressive and feminine. I’ve always been a huge fan of short hair.

Psychological research has proven that as we get older, life altering events and changes in personal appearance go hand in hand. In 2013, researchers Megan Stitz and John Pierce found that “stressful life events may prompt body image dissatisfaction and underlie motivations for changes in body appearance to promote self-image. Successive or dramatic appearance changes may be an important signal of stressful experiences.” Alongside zoom quiz nights and the pillow challenge, hair transformations are a signifier of this extraordinary moment in history but as Vernon cautions, having a little patience is one of the best things we can do for our hair.


The most important piece of advice I’d give to people experimenting with their hair at home is don’t be tempted to cut or trim your own hair, even a small amount, please wait for your hairstylist to start back.  You might end up doing more harm than good which could be costly and time consuming to fix when the salons open again.  Also, it’s a skill that takes many years to learn and the scissors that you have at home will not be as sharp as those in salons, which can easily cause split ends and damage.
Another piece of advice is to take the time to prepare and style your hair for bedtime, which will help promote good condition and encourage the shape of your kinks, coils, curls or waves to form overnight.  Prepare hair by sectioning then spritzing from root to tip with the Overnight Repair Treatment Oils from my collection, which are fantastic for helping to keep hair moisturised and looking and feeling healthy.  Finger twist or two-strand twist a section of hair, then coil it around itself leaving the texture fluffy at the roots to encourage volume, and pin in place.  Repeat this all over the head, don’t worry about being neat.  Ideally sleep with hair covered in a silk cap so friction isn’t an issue as you move around in your sleep.  Unravel in the morning in an environment that’s not steamy or humid and let the hair be free.

Has your relationship with your hair changed during lockdown? Let us know in the comments!