It’s no secret that the fashion industry is environmentally damaging and ethically problematic. Since the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory in 2010, awareness of the issues relating to the industry has grown. However, often we are provided with the facts without any information on how to make a change. Many of us have, probably, at some stage in our lives made the resolution to alter the way we shop and create a more conscious closet, but a few days, weeks or months later, we stumble back into our old habits. It’s hard to make a change if you aren’t offered any guidance. In this post, the first in a series on sustainable fashion, I hope to offer some advice as to how to you can stick to such a resolution. I’ve chosen to do so in advance of other posts specifying the environmental and social damage intertwined with the fashion industry because I think, sometimes, such posts can be overwhelming and when not coupled with solutions, disillusioning. To include both topics in the same post would simply be too long so I’m starting with the positive. Here are some steps you can take to make a change, which I hope, by the end of this series, you will be inspired to instigate.
- Think about the clothes you have at the moment. Take all the clothes out of your wardrobe and really look at them, reflect on them. What are your favourite, most worn items? Asking yourself this will help you to clarify your style. Ultimately, the items we wear most often are those which we feel good in, regardless of whether it is in fashion or not. Considering your own closet will help you to realise which types of clothes you feel happiest and most confident in. If you buy items like these, you will be sure to wear them more, getting more value for your money and reducing unnecessary waste.
- Don’t be a fashion victim. Rather similar to the last point, Know your style. What suits you. Don’t just buy because it’s ‘in season’. ‘Fast fashion’ means that trends are changing incredibly quickly anyway and therefore you won’t get a lot of wear out of any item you buy just because it’s in the latest magazine. Odds are, if you don’t feel comfortable in it, you won’t wear it anyway.
- Versatility. When shopping, consider how the item will fit in your wardrobe. How will you style it with the other clothes you already own? Does it go with many of your clothes? Do you have something like it already? Buying versatile clothing that can be styled in multiple different ways will maximize your investment and minimize unnecessary waste.
- Shop with intent. We are most susceptible to impulse buys when we go shopping with no clear aim in mind, (approximately 40% of all purchases are impulse buys) Shopping just to shop. Before going out to shop, make a list of the items you are missing in your wardrobe. This will help you to focus your attention on items you need. Having a look through your wardrobe before you hit the streets will also help you to buy clothes that complement what you already have, ensuring you get the most wear out of them possible.You’ll also save time, not spending hours aimlessly browsing clothes.
- Borrow don’t buy. All too often we hit the shops, looking for an outfit for this occasion or that, which will only be relegated to the darkness of the wardrobe once the night or day is over. Avoid spending immense amounts of money for a couple of hours wear and exchange clothing with friends. If you don’t have friends you can borrow from, rent a dress/suit/ skirt. Anyone in University in Ireland can, starting from September borrow from NU wardrobe (message me for details )By borrowing, you get the same effect, a ‘new outfit’, without the environmental impact.
- Buy less, buy better: You’ve probably heard this before, but it is the number one rule of sustainable shopping. Buy fewer clothes, of a higher quality which you will wear for a longer time. Sustainable fashion is expensive but it is so for a reason. Its customers are those who place quality above quantity. Much of ‘fast-fashion’ is made to last only a season, or a year, falling apart and being reduced to waste only a few months after it is first worn. Remember, because you are buying fewer items you can afford to buy better. Expense is relative.
- Seams: Over and again, I’ve been told to buy better quality, without being told how to discern between cheaply made clothing and that which is not. The price tag as an indicator of the standard of the clothing. My top tip is to look at the seams. Turn the item inside out. Have a look at the seams. Generally smaller, closer knit stitches are indicative of higher quality clothing as they are stronger. Tug gently at the seams. If the fabric seems to separate easily, it’s not a good buy!
- Take a break. If you’re in doubt, hovering on the edge of the shop, taking a step toward the till and then back again, hanging out in the changing room for hours turning this way and that. Walk away, go for a coffee. Sleep on it. Come back tomorrow. Allowing yourself time to take a breath, and consider the purchase will ensure it is a conscious buy and that you really do want it.
9.Consider the real cost. As somebody who loves to make up stories, this is what really helped turn me from fast fashion to conscious consumption. Ask yourself, if the clothes could speak, what story the clothes would tell? When considering making a budget purchase maybe ask yourself a few questions. How can it be so cheap? Is this likely to reflect the true cost? How could the workers have been reimbursed adequately for the hours spent producing the item? What is the likely environmental impact of this item?
10. Buy secondhand/ vintage- preloved: This clothing has a story you want to hear. A story that is exciting to imagine. Who wore it before you? Was it somebody in France, a comedian from the U.S, worn in China by a 40 year old backpacker. The story is yours to imagine…Also, you’re almost guaranteed nobody will be dressed in the same thing. You’ll have a very low environmental impact as you’re reusing resources already embedded in the existing clothes not driving the production of new ones. Finding ways to style vintage items often requires creativity and can spark your imagination.Buying vintage has endless perks.
12. Don’t just buy because it is sustainable: This is critical. If you’re not going to wear it, whether it is manufactured in a factory powered by solar power, or with organic cotton, it is still a waste of resources.If you won’t wear it thirty times. If it’s not ‘you’. If it doesn’t go with any of the clothes already in your wardrobe. Don’t buy it. If you really want to support an ethical/sustainable brand but feel the style doesn’t suit you, maybe think about family or friends. If you think the brand would suit somebody you love, why not get it as a present for them? In this way, you could introduce them to sustainable and ethical fashion and maybe encourage them to make a similar move toward a more conscious closet.
13. DON’T THROW IT OUT: If there is an item you don’t like anymore or have grown out of, don’t just bin it. Nor should you bin things just because they are not sustainable or ethical (my sister asked me if I was going to do this), if you do so, you will only be further contributing to the environmental damage, adding another item to the landfill. You can donate it (although this is slightly problematic as I will explain in a later post), swap it or just give it to somebody you know would like it, or you can transform it, using it to upcycle another item, or upcycling it itself. Get creative!
I hope these tips will help you begin to make the change. I’m going to be doing a series of blog posts on sustainable and ethical fashion so if you want to get more informed, keep an eye out. If you liked this post would like to ask me any questions, message me on Instagram, I’d love to hear your feedback. @afruitfulllife