Back in December the when the theme for my work christmas party was announced I was stumped – it was a White Party. As I don’t wear or own any white clothes, this was an issue for me. Only a few weeks before I had dyed a pair of white jeans dark blue to enable me to wear them more frequently, as I loved the shape but the colour was impractical.
I asked around a few friends if they had anything I could borrow but the only things my friends had were basic T shirts so not appropriate for this kind of party.
Not wanting to buy anything new from the high street I looked in a few vintage stores, but as white tires quickly I could not find anything. I also was not keen on buying anything that I would only wear once. Inspired by Eco Ages 30 wears challenge I now ask myself “would you wear this at least 30 times?” when purchasing new garments and I knew I would not wear a white party outfit again for a very long time.
Many of my colleagues were panic buying multiple outfits from cheap high street fashion brands online, but I had no intention of doing this.
I was starting to wonder what on earth I was going to do as time was fast running out, when one of the friends I had asked about having any white clothes told me that a friend of hers had a few white outfits and would be happy for me to borrow something.
Thrilled, I went around her house and found a dress that would be ideal for the party. It wasn’t very ‘me’ but when I had got home and accessorised it myself I felt quite happy with it.
It was great to borrow an item in order to prevent needless consuming. Sharing and borrowing clothes is definitely something that should be encouraged and I will definitely be doing this more in the future.
Stella McCartney’s latest campaign and the message that goes with it is brilliant and really resonates with me.
In a world of fast fashion it seems a strange business idea to encourage people to buy less. But in our throw away culture, the notion of being selective with your purchases and having companies giving us confidence in the quality and longevity of our clothes is rare.
As a luxury brand, Stella McCartney is by no means in most peoples price range. However whilst the price may be out of reach, the ideals for sustainable fashion are certainly not and I for one hope that this conscious consumerism trend catches on.
For more here is the link to aw17 campaign; https://www.stellamccartney.com/experience/en/discover-the-winter-2017-campaign/
So I did not keep up with making regular posts as I promised myself at the start of the year but I guess that is just the way things go. I must confess that I did buy some things from high street stores in the last few months, which has been a moral battle.
At times this year I have felt very frustrated by the lack of freshness in my wardrobe. Having just gone through an interview process and starting a new job I needed clothes that would give me confidence. So contrary to my previous beliefs I bought a new top for interviews.
This purchase I feel was very necessary and the necessity of it got me thinking on a number of topics. Firstly it is sad that my confidence and on some days my entire mood could be affected by what I am wearing, I have always felt that I dress for myself and I am only pleasing me. But this realisation that how I am perceived from my appearance affects my confidence unnerved me a lot. It is a very complex thing.
And secondly that it is OKAY to occasionally buy things from high street as long as they are something you know you will get the wear out of. Livia Firths’ #30wears campaign emphasises the importance of choosing clothes that you will wear on multiple occasions and to get the most use out of them. It is so common for garments to be bought and then sit in a wardrobe with the tags still on. Given the environmental impact of each garment, this is something that should change.
I therefore now (if I am going to buy something from the high street) ask myself these questions;
- When will I wear this? – I always try and think of multiple occasions and ways to wear a garment #30wears
- Does it go with clothes I already have in my wardrobe?
- Does it have lasting style? – I try not to buy into fleeting trends or things that will be out of fashion quickly
- Is it too cheap? If so why is this price? – If ever you are not comfortable with a cheap price tag you can ask the brand, in store or email, whether there workers are paid the living wage.
- What is it made of? – Checking the composition can help you understand the quality of the item and may identify contents that you would not agree with like duck down or angora.
If I am unsure about a purchase, the best trick is to put it back on the hanger and leave the shop. If you think about it afterwards and you do think it would be appropriate for your need and you would feel good to buy it then it is usually a good idea. However it is also likely that you may not think about it at all, completely forget about it in fact. Which means if you were to buy it, you would probably bring it home and leave it in your wardrobe, which is both a waste of the world’s resources and your own hard earned cash.
Unfortunately I did not stick to my word and I have not been posting regularly here about my quest to avoid unethical and unsustainable apparel stores for the rest of 2016. However I am extremely pleased to say that despite my lack of posts I have in fact successfully achieved my goal and had a lot of fun in doing so. From May 2016 when I set out not to buy any garment from a high street store until now I have avoided shopping at high street stores… this also included buying Christmas presents which was a great challenge!
I have shopped in charity shops, on ebay and in various vintage stores, and I purchased many items of clothing which I now treasure and I hope to keep for a long time. I have avoided impulse buys and consequently I am more attached to each item. As well as the way I have been shopping I have also been careful to take care of my clothes sustainably washing at low temperatures and making amendments and repairs where necessary.
For example the zip on my favourite rucksack broke instead of it going in the bin I spend a few pounds on a new zip, replaced it and it is as good as new therefore adding several months of use to the bag.
For 2017 I plan to do more research into how brands are tackling environmental and ethical issues. Something which has proved to be really challenging is finding basics; underwear, socks, tights, plain T-shirts, etc. and finding them at reasonable price. Affordable ethical basics is something I strive to discover this year.
I will also be posting about other issues surrounding the fashion industry as well as my journey to becoming a conscious consumer.
I grew up shopping in charity shops wearing my mums old jumpers and borrowing belts from my dad and treasuring these items, they had meaning. I would also shop on the high street as any teenager would but I found I had less attachment to these garments. I did as the majority of us do, buy things and never even remove the label, on average each person in the UK buys 4 garments a year that they do not wear after purchasing. There is an instant gratification with walking into a shop and grabbing something you like and having it. These purchases which have little thought and consideration behind them tend to give little satisfaction in the long term, a quick bargain is far less fulfilling long term than something which has been desired and thoughtfully purchased.
As I have said earlier for the rest of 2016 I will not be buying any fashion items from high street stores. I will be looking into the ethical and sustainability practices of many brands.
I am by no means suggesting that every single consumer should boycott big brands, but a little more conscience and awareness would go a long way. Having more of a connection with the things you buy and really knowing that you want them is important, your clothes help form your identity, the self you project into the world.
Another perk of shopping from charity shops and vintage stores is that your clothes are far more likely to be unique and interesting! I personally find it much more exciting to find an intriguing treasure than a high street buy.
I also find it important not to throw garments away with too little thought. If I can fix or change it in a way to make to give it an extra lease of life I always will. Simple alterations with easy techniques such as shortening or lengthening the hem line, changing the buttons or dying your garment to a more current colour can make a big difference to a garment.
Ultimately mending and updating clothes is not the solution to the problems created by fast fashion but small changes made to our attitudes within our throwaway culture, like have a greater attachment to your possessions, is a step in the right direction.
Every day on my walk to and from work in Soho the evidence of the vastness of fast fashion culture is paraded in front of me. People carrying their full to bursting primark paper bags, from its flagship store, who I can only assume are completely ignorant to where their clothes have come from otherwise why would they support it?
I stopped shopping in primark about 1 year ago, it does not make sense for a garment to be sold so cheaply and still turning a profit. It makes me question the origin of those garments, who made them? How much were they paid? In what conditions? It is very difficult to trace a garment back to its production. This is due to most major companies subcontracting their labour. Essentially this is passing the buck of responsibility to provide fair pay and safe working conditions so that they can plead ignorant to any poor conditions further back in their supply chains. The average high street worker will be not even be paid the minimum wage for their country. Guidelines are stretched and unfair conditions are forced upon workers who are trapped often without safety regulations, job contracts or unions.
It is often the argument of large companies to say, ‘well at least we are giving them jobs’ or ‘they choose to work in a garment factory’ Both statements which are made to give comfort to the western consumer. However these workers do not work in these conditions out of choice but out of desperate need to feed their families, they have no alternative. Essentially they have their backs against the wall.
The more consumers that begin to really think about the origins of their clothes the more likely we are to create change. The simple act of questioning brands you buy from, can have an impact, if a brand is aware that their target market are concerned with ethical issues the brand is more likely to make these a priority too. Becoming more of a conscious consumer as an individual may only feel like you are one small person, but the more of us that really consider how and where we shop the more of a positive impact we will have and hopefully we will begin to see a change for the better.
Recently I have felt more and more unsettled and almost guilty whenever I have made a purchase of a High Street item therefore I am already evolving my consumer habits to be more ethically minded. These notions have led me to consider setting myself the challenge of totally avoiding High Street fashion for the rest of 2016.
Setting myself this goal will help lead me to carry out my own research into fashion sustainability, the fashion system, consumer culture and viable alternatives to fast fashion.
Firstly I need to lay out some guidelines and aims, (I will explore these in more depth further on)
- I intend on not purchasing any item of apparel from any high street retailer, unless I have evidence of sustainable and ethical production.
- I am able to shop second hand at charity shops, vintage or online.
- Any new items that I buy will need to come from sustainable fashion brands, either that produce in the UK or have certification that the production method is ethical.
- I am aiming to only buy items that I truly need i.e. serve a function or that I really really want and will treasure. Each buy will be carefully considered.
- Emphasis will be placed on not buying needlessly.
As sustainable fashion is a highly complex thing, there are many problems which are multilayered, I am going to attempt to research these issues and attempt to provide solutions to some.
I will also aim to maintain and develop my individual style rather than buying into trends. This is a way of reducing the amount of items which you can only wear for one season.
This will also include any gifts I decide to buy, which may mean christmas is a challenge! I will take the opportunity to use these rules to get creative!