The title of Alec Leach’s debut book doesn’t mince words: The World Is On Fire But We’re Still Buying Shoes. The question at the core of the book is equally as direct. We know fashion is bad for the planet, so why are we still shopping? Leach, a former fashion editor turned sustainability consultant, set out to see if he could find some answers. The result is a deeply curious and of-the-moment meditation on contemporary consumerism, hype culture, and how the fashion industry’s obsession with streetwear has created one frenzied drop after another with no signs of slowing down.
But Leach, who spent nearly five years at the streetwear publication Highsnobiety, isn’t here to point fingers at anyone for liking clothes. “We all deserve nice things to wear,” he tells me from his office in Berlin. Navigating shopping and sustainability isn’t so black and white, and Leach is the first to admit there isn’t a silver bullet solution. “I didn’t want to be preaching some commandments of shopping as if I have all the answers,” he says. It’s refreshing to read someone write about fashion’s global environmental crisis in a tone that, while still urgent, has a deeper understanding of the emotional side of clothing.
Leach approaches everything from the place of someone who understands all the good that fashion offers—the power of self-expression it can give. The book oscillates between a personal anecdote about his love for Our Legacy, and then launches into a thorough breakdown of how the “Made In” label is usually a total lie. (Leach always manages to give you some sugar with your medicine, though.) He keeps coming back to the idea that the solution isn’t shopping secondhand or needing yet another “sustainable” collection but that we as consumers need to change our relationship with the act of shopping.
Leach spoke to GQ about changing his own relationship with fashion, the power of questioning each purchase, and how we should take a slower, more intentional approach to the clothes we put in our closets.
When did you start to rethink and question your own relationship with fashion and clothing?
The biggest thing for me was just going to Paris Fashion Week every season and seeing maybe 10 collections a day with my own eyes. And then, in my inbox, there are another 10 or 20 collections a day. You just get the feeling that fashion truly doesn’t ever end. That was something that really started to wear me down after a while. Every season, you see hundreds and hundreds of new collections, and I just ended up thinking, well, what’s the point in all of this, and where is this all going?
It’s really, really exhausting just trying to keep up with everything. Trying to keep up with how you’re supposed to be shopping. I just got to a point where I started questioning what I was getting out of it. After I left my old job [at Highsnobiety] was when I really questioned my habits. I realized that my life was just really clogged with stuff, and none of it really meant anything to me, even though it all seemed really important at the time. I just remember thinking that after chasing all the trends that I was supposed to be chasing, getting all the designers that I was supposed to be getting, I just had a bunch of stuff in my closet that didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t think it suited me, and I didn’t really enjoy wearing any of it.