Monday, 28 August 2017

How Sustainable Is Your Wardrobe?

My name is Hannah and I'm a recovering shopaholic.

Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration - I was never exactly addicted. But I loved to shop. As a recreational activity one of the things I most enjoyed was a trip to the high street with my mum or my friends. At university I loved going to the student lock ins with my housemates, and for many years my university or workplace's proximity to town resulted in me picking something up on my way home more often than not. But for all the time I worshipped the high street, I never gave any thought to the ethics or sustainability of my shopping habit. So what changed?


We have a huge issue with consumerism in today's society. We are encouraged to buy more and more items, lured in with sales, constant and clever marketing, and the capitalist dream that you will feel happier and be a better person if you buy this product. Becoming lured into this is really difficult to avoid for most people, let alone if you are interested in fashion or expressing yourself through personal style. I wrote a little about my despondence with fast fashion in my post about why I stopped blogging:

Initially I mostly posted about personal style, trying to gain confidence, but over time it became more about consumerism, gifted items, justifying a shopping habit for items that mostly were for photographs and didn't make me feel confident in actual, real life. I got creative block because I didn't have something new to photograph every week. I was completely buying into fast fashion without even thinking about it. Everything became about the next "fix" and it wasn't sustainable nor was it really fulfilling me.

This change in attitude and mounting despondence for fast fashion is a result of two main factors. One is my day job: I manage a charity shop, handling second hand goods every single day, and I absolutely love it. The other is a documentary called The True Cost (and the research I did following it) which I watched as recommended by Bethany from Curly and Wordy.

Fast fashion is a problem because it has a huge negative impact on the environment, and The True Cost effectively illustrates many of the issues caused by the mass production of clothing. The production of the materials and the construction and shipping of garments has a huge carbon footprint. It discusses the dangers of the toxins that are byproducts from farming cotton and curing leather and the effects and illnesses this bestows on the farmers, producers and nearby habitants over time. It documents the vast landfills filled with unwanted clothing giving off dangerous gases, and the horrific conditions of the workers who make our clothing for a few dollars a month. As much as we hate to open our eyes to it as consumers, these issues are a direct result of the majority of high street and online retailers. These retailers fail to treat workers ethically, pay fair wages or provide even the most basic working conditions. A notable result of this was the 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh which killed over 1000 people and could easily have been avoided if the managers of the factory had listened to the workers' concerns about the cracks in the building. They also contribute shamelessly to the impact their production has on the environment, and will seemingly continue to conduct business this way as ultimately it results in the mass production of cheap clothing with tiny labour costs which they can sell at inflated prices to maximise profit.

As long as we keep seeing cheap apparel as disposable, we will continue to buy this way. I myself am guilty of choosing to buy cheap clothing for less common events like holidays or fancy dress, with the intent of throwing it away once it has served its purpose. Our wardrobes are getting bigger and bigger due to the sheer affordability and availability of clothing, not to mention the boom of online shopping. One statistic declares clothing consumption has risen by 400% in the US in the past 2 decades alone: where we might used to own fewer items of quality, now we buy cheaper and far more often.

My day job aside, there are several reasons why I love shopping in charity shops. One is admittedly out of practicality: since moving out with my boyfriend in March, money's much tighter than it used to be. Another is because it's a really fun way to find more unique items you won't see on every other person on the high street: you literally never know what you'll find for sale! And of course, there's the fact that it's far more ethical to buy an item second hand than to put the money back in the machine that fuels fast fashion. I love knowing that I am donating profits to charities rather than corporate businesses. But there are other bonuses too. From someone working on the inside of the operation, I can tell you that charities receive so many donations that never make it to the shop floor (perhaps they are ripped, stained or worn out beyond salvaging) which are sold on for recycling. As a result of this, you'll usually find the items that make it to the shop floor are of a better quality and will last you for much longer than a similar item bought new for cheap on the high street, likely for the same (if not much higher) price. Buying second hand lessens environmental waste, as you've given that item a second lease of life and saved it from landfill.

So, now that I have deliberately started to try and make my wardrobe a more ethical and sustainable place, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that helped me and may help anybody wanting to do the same:

Getting the Conversation Started

If it wasn't for my job, or for happening to watch The True Cost, I'd probably still be none the wiser and shopping on the high street oblivious to what's going on underneath! Research at your own risk (any topic to do with consumerism is a minefield - fashion is the tip of the iceberg and I'm barely scratching the surface here despite good intentions) and discuss it with others (my mind was blown and I wanted to talk about this topic with everyone!) but as with any controversial topic, be mindful not to let passion be misconstrued as judgment.

30 Wear Rule

Unless you are able to make all of your own clothes and be entirely self-sustainable, it is unlikely that you will never buy anything new again. And frankly, that's impractical. However, I love the idea of considering the 30 Wear Rule when you buy something new: if you don't think you'll get 30 wears out of it, you probably don't need it. Having extra cause to think twice about new purchases is something we could all benefit from when the commonly held attitude is that fashion is disposable.

Buying Second Hand... when you can!

I am happy to buy second hand in most instances but there are cases where you must draw the line - this is personal discretion! If I have a wedding to attend I prefer to try and buy a dress second hand as I'm likely to only wear it a few times. And it's not just about charity shops - if I want something specific I'll scour eBay or Depop too before I consider buying brand new.

... or choosing to shop small

I have no guilt about buying new if I am supporting a small local business. My boyfriend loves to wear band merch from smaller labels - this is great as they print the shirts themselves and the profit goes back into the band and supports their journey. There are many ethical bigger labels too, but I love smaller boutiques like Cosmic Drifters who hand make their clothes to order.

Make the most of your clothes

If you, or somebody you know, can sew it's very much worth repairing and tailoring items you love to get the maximum life span out of them. Once they're really worn out, however, it's worth considering still bringing them to a clothes bank to be recycled as rag rather than chucking them in the bin.

Own less, wear more

My friend Kimberley from Lifestyler made me read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it genuinely changed my life, forcing me to take control of my clutter! I donated or sold so many of my clothes and hugely decreased the size of my wardrobe - now I operate a one in, one out policy when it comes to my wardrobe. This in turn encourages me to make far more decisive and thoughtful purchases, and by owning less I feel I actually get far more use out of my wardrobe as I don't have so many clothes that it's overwhelming trying to find something to wear! I've always been really inspired by Julianne from This Second Obsession's Charity Shop Tuesday series where she shows off some of her amazing second hand bargains and I'd love to try a similar series over here if anyone is interested.

Know that nobody is perfect!

The perfect consumer literally doesn't exist. If you are a living, breathing human being then you have a carbon footprint - as does everything else. As an example, my boyfriend and I try and shop for fresh fruit and vegetables at our local market most of the time which sounds great until you factor in all the air miles that transported that gorgeous fruit and veg over here in the first place. The point I'm making is that everything has its pros and cons, and every situation calls for a conscious decision. Personally, I still get shopping cravings as frankly I love clothes and mixing up my wardrobe, but I just try and vote with my money by thrifting or buying independent over buying on the high street, as and when I can. Just trying to make a more conscientious decision when you can really adds up and can make a big difference at little personal cost. And that, for me, is about the best I can do right now.
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4 comments

  1. I'm torn between wanting to watch that documentary and not wanting to watch it and fall down the rabbit hole and not be able to get out! I've honestly never given charity shops a fair shot, I'm so impatient when I'm shopping and I HATE browsing through racks of clothes, but maybe on our next shopping binge you can convert me! Great post lovely xx

    Kimberley
    www.life-styler.net

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    1. I really recommend it - like I said, it just opens your eyes to what's going on underneath but it doesn't mean you can never shop new again, it'll just change your perspective and I think for the better as you and I both were always obsessed with as many cheap dresses as we can get our hands on, let's be honest!! I reckon you might have more luck with eBay or Depop too in that case, if you did choose to try out buying second hand at all in the future! xx

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  2. I agree with what you have said. I buy most of my clothes from Charity shops or from Ebay or Depop but not all of these are second hand on ebay! The trouble is, I have far too many clothes and I really need to stop buying!x

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    1. I would really recommend the one in one out policy for you in that case! And reading Marie Kondo's book because clearing out is so so therapeutic! xx

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