New Year, New Me, New Sustainable Lifestyle?

Finding room for sustainability in your wardrobe

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Ah, 2018. 2018! Where does the time go? I know this makes me sound more and more like my mother every time I say it (which isn’t a bad thing by the way) but WHERE DOES IT GO?! When a new year arrives we always re-evaluate our lives, what things do we want to leave in the previous year, how can we be more productive, do better at work, make the most of our time off and create a work life balance? How can we be healthier, smarter, kinder to ourselves and those around us? And, here’s one you might not have thought of, how can we be more sustainable?

Now bear with me, this post will be a little intense, but if we are to go forward together, I must set the scene.

Sustainability is no longer a code word used by treehuggers and nature nerds to describe a lifestyle that is better for people and the planet.

It still has the same definition but there are now many more people aware of its meaning. Seriously, put your hand up if you’ve heard the word before? Yes, full house, lovely. We are, quite frankly, at the spaghetti junction of bad decisions for the planet. Our emissions are higher than ever, our planet is warmer than ever, and we are eating, wearing, riding and driving our way to a thoroughly abused planet and something has to change. I’m not here to scare you, or threaten you with boring facts and statistics, I’m here to give you a little insight into some ways in which YOU can make a difference. And we’re starting with fashion.

You heard me. Fashion. As one of the most unethical and polluting industries fashion has escalated into a business where high street retailers turn over collections approximately every 4 weeks and designer labels release their seasonal collections at the opposite time of year to when we should be wearing them. We’ve all gone upside down chasing next season’s styles and amongst the madness hovers the question “Why?”.

Most of us know by now which styles and colours we like to wear, what shoes we feel most comfortable in and we definitely have a favourite bag or two. So why do so many of us chase the rainbow of new styles when quite often they’re something we’ve either a) already got from many a season ago, or b) are totally not our style. The answer: because we’re told to. By brands, by the media, by our particularly style-conscious friend. We’re all under the influence.

I digress to a little history, as like me you probably can’t remember how this all started. *Whispers* It was Zara. I know. Our beloved Zara! When Zara arrived in the UK they kicked off a trend that had competing retailers sneering on day one, and re-structuring their business models on day 15. It is Zara who brought us fast fashion, producing only a limited number of garments per style which if not bought would be gone within two weeks leaving shoppers no time to consider their purchase. It encouraged a hunger in consumers to buy on the spot for fear of missing out. Little did we know then that it would lead to such an unsustainable lifestyle for shoppers going foward.

So down to the nitty gritty, why should you change your tune and start integrating sustainability into your closet?

Firstly, for people: Millions of people worldwide are part of the fashion industry supply chain. Although there has been a greater pressure on creating an ethical workplace for fashion workers since the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 and the subsequent launch of Fashion Revolution, there are many retailers still functioning irresponsibly. People working in garment factories are typically women, working long hours for very little money, they have only short breaks or none at all and often the workplace does not comply with building health and safety specs. How many of us would agree to working in conditions like this?

Next up, for the planet: The fashion industry contributes significantly to global emissions from factory operations and transportation, water is polluted from dyeing processes and there is an enormous volume of waste sent to landfill every year from scraps, unsold garments and people binning last season’s clothing in exchange for the latest trends.

Finally, for you: You know how they say that if you feel good, then you look good? Well, when you wear something that’s good, it makes you feel good too so obviously you look even better! Transitioning to a more sustainable wardrobe can do a lot for you personally: save you money on replacing low quality fast fashion clothing, give you peace of mind that what you wear isn’t hurting people or the environment, help you develop your personal style and enable you to minimise your wardrobe to quality pieces that you love saving the stress of deciding what to wear.

But how can you do it? Time to dip your toe into the water…

We’ll be taking a deeper dive into some fashionable options over the next few posts but here’s a few considerations to get you started:

  • Deliberate your purchases. NEED is a great word to use here, ask yourself, do you NEED this? How much does this item look like something you already have? If you want something for a particular occasion, can you accessorise something you’ve already got? Do you have a friend you can borrow something from?
  • Shop wisely. Are you thinking about a new coat, but it’s March? Will it be worn a couple of times and be tidied away until autumn? You don’t need it right now, I promise. Make do and mend with the one you have till warmer climes appear.
  • Ask more of retailers. Don’t be afraid to ask staff about how garments were made, where they came from, how they have been designed. I have often done this, and taken staff up on having someone from head office contact me with some answers. Even if you never hear back, someone will pass on a message that you have asked and that, my friends, is consumer power.
  • Share your interest on social media. Using hashtags on Twitter or Instagram like #sustainablefashion or #ethicalfashion will help others in the know direct you to more sustainable companies or sustainable fashion movements so you can educate yourself and discover fab new sustainable brands!

Ok, so chances are you might be feeling a tad guilty now but do not worry you’re not the only one – welcome to the journey!

 

__________

Images:  Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash |  Angel Navarrete | Photo by Danka & Peter on Unsplash

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23 Comments

  • Great article and really fascinating how many shops have adopted this fast fashion supply chain system. Primark has been known to copy catwalk items within a matter of days. M&S I believe is one of the few high street stores left to carry a pretty substantial ‘core’ collection. As it should be, IMO.

    • I totally agree Natalia! Primark is one of the worst, and you can’t even imagine how much pressure is on their manufacturers to get new garments out within weeks! M&S are very good, especially with their wider Plan A sustainability plan!

  • LOVE THIS!! from writing style to ethos to content. I’m 100% signed up to the Green Police for 2018 and fashion makes no exception.

  • This is great Becky – a truth many of us need to hear and face up to. I rarely buy clothes and do not subscribe to fashion trends (I’m just not that interested) but I have 3 daughters who are growing up in a world, where Zara and Primark are their go-to places to shop for cheap, on-trend fashion items. Not cool 🙁

    • I’m the same, I rarely buy clothes and actually when I shop I sometimes look at be price tag and think, gosh I could make that! It is hard for your daughters though as fast cheap fashion makes it so much more accessible for young girls to follow the ever-changing fashions!

  • I must admit, I had mixed feelings reading this article. (I’m a dress designer, and can get a little defensive, so forgive me!). I’m not being rude – just filling a few gaps.

    You ask “Why” designer labels release collections at the opposite season to which we want to wear it – it’s so there is time for orders and production. I wasn’t entirely sure why this was related to sustainability?

    There is a course at London College of Fashion called sustainability in fashion, and I was talking to the lecturer for it just a few weeks ago on this topic. Ultimately – every way we clothe ourselves is unsustainable, or ethically immoral. Many reject furs and leathers and silks on account that creatures suffer death, yet chemically produced synthetic fibres cause huge environmental damage. Cotton is possibly the worst offender (maybe because it goes undercover); huge amounts of land (animal habitats) are cleared and destroyed to make way for cotton farms because of it’s popularity.
    Cheap clothing is an obvious indicator that people are being treated unfairly, most often in Asia.

    Ulitimately, you have a few good points for sustainability – buy less, and only what you need, is perhaps the only advice that is realistic for the foreseeable?

    But I would add – Spend a little more – on quality items that you need.
    Buy British-made items – or at least from a trusted company/country.
    Why not boycott fast-fashion chains altogether? They are ultimately driving the whole industry to drop prices, and force harder and cheaper labour from it’s workers, processes and the environment.

    • Charlotte, it’s great to hear your thoughts, particularly if you are a designer! I agree completely that pretty much every way we clothe ourselves is unsustainable, it’s more about if we’d rather not walk around naked, how can we do it better!
      I perhaps should’ve elaborated a little more on my point about designers showing the following season styles – for the designers themselves it is as you say to allow time for orders. But for fast fashion brands, it means they are jumping straight on the styles and getting copies manufactured super fast which adds to consumer greed and as consumers we should step back and ask “Why” do we chase fashion styles so quickly!
      For the points you’ve also added at the bottom, you’re absolutely right there too and we’ll be doing a bit more on some of those in the next posts!

    • I love you reply Charlotte. My husband has long lived a life where he buys less, but spends more on quality items. He loves independent brands like https://www.sehkelly.com and favours craftsmanship and provenance and is willing to pay for this on items that will last a lifetime. I recall him spending £400 on a pair of Yohji Yamamoto trousers shortly after we’d first met, so it would have been c.2001 – that was a lot of money then to be spending on a single garment, it still is, but he treasures those trousers to this day and still wears them ‘for best’.

      I am seriously considering boycotting fast fashion chains. Easier ‘said’ than done, of course, because I genuinely love a good day-to-day frock and Zara does them so well, but I choose to not consider the supply/production chain and that leaves me feeling very ignorant indeed.

      Great post Rebecca, really good food for thought – thank you.

      • I know what you mean! unfortunately we are a slave to our wages and we are left feeling helpless to helping a situation – I know I do! And of course kids grow out of their clothes fast too, so it’s not just ourselves we have to clothe!

        Zara’s clothes are (unfortunately) really good for the ‘little’ that we pay. They’re a very naughty company in terms of their designs too, often in trouble for ripping off independent designers – there are supposed to be at least 7 changes by law to make something ‘inspired by’, and not simply copied. I’ve not heard anything in the press recently – perhaps they’ve learned their lesson on that one.

        A quality purchase will last a lifetime though, and looking after your clothes too. I still have things from when I was 17 that are still in great condition. By trick is not to wash things too often if not needed, which is also probably environmentally friendly too!

        • You would get on very very well with my husband! (who graduated in fashion design by the way). He is meticulous about washing clothes/hand-washing and treating them with respect and care. I’m a little more slap-dash, I hate to admit, not fully, but certainly not as careful as he when I ought to be. I’m getting there. I see a post on looking after garments well and how to wash them carefully coming up. Which reminds me, I read somewhere recently that most clothes sold through high fashion brands are only designed to last 7 basic washes. Fast fashion needs to be replaced often, after all. They have us hook-line and sinker.

          • Oh totally!! I can’t say that they are designed specifically to last 7 washes, but probably the methods used to make them mean that’s all they can withstand for sure! – fast methods – no care – cheap threads that snap. Even the time it takes to do a simple back stitch (to stop the stitches unravelling) before cutting the thread takes up too much time on the production line!

            Does your husband still work in fashion? It’d be great to have an article from him one day!

            Xx

          • So with Phil on the washing front. I stoped letting my mum do my laundry when I was a kid as she wasn’t doing it ‘right’! All of my clothes go on a cool wash with a non-bio liquid. And NEVER tumble dried. I’m always amazed at how much my US relatives tumble dry their clothes, it ruins them! I repair as much as possible, always de-bobble jumpers (love me a jumper shaver), hand wash delicates etc. I don’t always go for the most conscientious of brands, but then I have H&M pieces that are 15+ years old and still being worn!!

          • Phil hates tumble drying too – we only really use it for tea towels and socks (though hubby still hangs up the socks!). We NEVER tumble dry any clothes, no way! Can you recommend a good jumper shaver? My lovely H&M jumper that I purchased in December is covered with ruddy bobbles! 😉

          • I use this one: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Philips-GC026-00-Fabric-Shaver/dp/B00E3862DE/ref=sr_1_1?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1516206528&sr=1-1&keywords=jumper+shaver

            I actually find it a little addictive and will sit in front of a film for a couple of hours, debobbling anything remotely in need of it! You have to empty it frequently so that it works most effectively. And there I sit, cup of tea, pile of fuzz on one side, smooth cashmere on the other, happy as a clam! 🙂

  • Really interesting article. It would be great to see a follow up with advice on more sustainable and ethical retailers for a variety of budgets.

  • Great article. I made a concious decision last year to try and avoid fast fashion and buy much less and it was surprisingly easy to adapt to. So much so that now I am pregnant I am struggling to come to terms with having to buy some maternity bits – I have some big jumpers that are serving me well, but think I may need more than the one pair of trousers and some more underware to get me through to June! Look forward to reading more x

    • That’s amazing that you found it so easy to adapt to, so many people don’t do go you! If you’re wanting to find some sustainable options for maternity-wear you could try Boob who are a Swedish brand who have some really stylish pieces! Congratulations on your little one too! X

  • I’ve been trying to do sustainable for a while now, it’s been easier than I thought – I didn’t subscribe to the latest fashion trends anyhow! However it’s been tough realising how much more expensive ethical clothing is, but I acknowledge we have had it too easy, paying cheap prices which the tailors don’t see much off, which is so sad. I definitely buy less, I don’t need them as much as I may want them and I love my aunties amazing hand me downs! Am gearing up to do more in charity shops rather than buying new, but it’s the musty smell i find so hard to get over as well as the crap you have to shift through. I KNOW there is amazing clothes there I just can’t find them!

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