Fashion is not sustainable. The whole idea of trends causes us to constantly buy new clothes and discard the old ones. If we want to have more sustainable wardrobes we need to change the way we think about clothes. We need to look at them as investments, things we are going to keep forever. This doesn’t mean that we have to stop buying fun new outfits or enjoying shopping. Whilst it is extremely difficult to have a completely sustainable wardrobe that does not mean we can’t reduce our current consumption to be more sustainable.
Can you still shop from the high street and have a sustainable wardrobe? Well, the short answer is, sadly, no. I have always shopped from the high street. Recently I have started to learn more about the environment and the negative impact that we have on the world. This has caused me to reflect on how I can make changes in my life to be better for the environment, starting with my fashion choices.
When I first started learning about the dark side of fast fashion I wanted to ignore it, unfollow the accounts trying to spread awareness and bury my head in a big pile of lovely new Zara jumpers. This lasted about a week before I realised that I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I was contributing to companies literally BURNING their excess stock. So I did my homework and started to learn about how I can do my bit. (If you want to learn a bit more about the impact fast fashion has on our world, follow Aja Barber on Instagram, read this in the Financial Times and look at these 20 facts from Good on You. That’s a start).
Things I enjoy about fashion:
- The excitement of a new outfit
- Trying out new styles
- Recreating outfits I see on Pinterest/Instagram
- The way clothes can lift my mood
- The feel of different fabrics
- Unboxing a new bag or pair of shoes
So, how can I still enjoy all of that and try to minimise the negative impact I have on the environment through my fashion choices?
When speaking about sustainable fashion it is important to recognise how it is not simple for everyone. Many people need the clothes they wear to be functional, long lasting or affordable. I recognise I am speaking from a point of privilege when I speak about creating a capsule wardrobe or about only buying better quality items. I am in a position to enjoy fashion as a luxury and buying clothes because I want them and not need them. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is the responsibility of the brands themselves to fundamentally change their practices. However we do have power as individuals and can definitely create change.
When I started my fashion Instagram and started following other fashion bloggers I was tempted to buy more clothes than normal. Seeing the ‘insert brand name here’ hauls made me want to go out and buy the same clothes. I got caught up into thinking that I needed to keep up with the trends I was seeing on Instagram and that to be a part of the fashion side of Instagram, I needed to have the same amount of clothes as I saw other popular Instagrammers owning. Dangerous.
However, I started to find Instagram pages promoting slow fashion, capsule wardrobes and people restyling clothes they already own. I also learnt more about the impact that fast fashion is having on the environment and the ethical concerns around many of the fast fashion brands and their production methods. This did not make me want to unfollow those Instagram pages that were showing fast fashion, it just gave me a better understanding of the fashion industry as a whole and why I didn’t need to have as many clothes as them. I still enjoy seeing how people style their clothes and take a lot of inspiration from social media.
Not only have I learnt a lot about the fashion industry from Instagram, having my page has helped to keep me accountable. If I promote slow fashion and want to encourage people to make more sustainable fashion choices, then I need to practise what I preach. I can’t try to promote the benefits of slow fashion and then post styling videos with the 10+ new things I have bought this week.
I definitely don’t have all the answers and I am constantly learning more about fashion and sustainability. However, I thought it would be useful to share some of the things I have learnt so far to help my fellow ‘fast fashion loving yet environmentally conscious’ people.
For those who want to cut down on the amount of fast fashion they consume, read on:
Build a capsule wardrobe - start buying things that you know already fit with what you own. Having a capsule wardrobe won’t work for everyone’s style or needs but it is a great way to cut out the unnecessary purchases.
A good starting point is:
- Blue jeans
- Black jeans
- Smart trousers
- Black & white t-shirts
- Striped long sleeved top
- Formal shirt or blouse
- Chunky jumper/cardigan
- Slip dress
- White trainers
- Black ankle boots
The chances are you already own some of these items so you can start building from there. Then when you are out shopping or being tempted by one of the ten emails you get everyday from your favourite brands, you can ask yourself: does this fit into my capsule wardrobe goal?
Be more mindful - REALLY think about what you are buying. Why do you want it? What are you going to wear with it? How many times are you actually going to wear it? Ask yourself these questions before every purchase. Go away and think about it. Be aware and in control of what you are buying.
Something that helps me is having a list of things I am ‘allowed’ to buy before I go out shopping. I look at my wardrobe and think, yeah I really do need a new jumper, so when I am out in a shop I know that buying a jumper is a considered purchase. I don’t feel guilty for buying it and I don’t get home and regret it.
Wear your wardrobe - the most sustainable way to plan an outfit is from things you already own! When I started being more conscious about the way I shop and posting on my Instagram page I thought I could no longer tag brands such as Missguided because I would look like a hypocrite. How can I promote slow fashion and talk about ‘buy less wear more’ when I was tagging my £20 dress from Missguided? However I learnt (from Instagram) that the most sustainable fashion choice is the clothes you already own. So keep wearing those Primark crop tops and PLT jeans - the more wear you get out of them the better.
Don’t buy trends - I find this one really hard. Sometimes I don’t even realise I am buying a trend item but then I get home and I've got a sweater vest and a tiny handbag with me (see Instagram Autumn 2020). This links in with the point above of buying staple pieces that go with anything. More often than not a trend piece has something extra added on to a staple piece to make it relevant to the season. For example, it is hard to go on the fashion side of Instagram now without seeing a Shacket. Whoever is doing the Shacket’s PR is killing it rn. However, do you actually like it? Does it work with your body shape? Will you want to wear it next October when we have all moved on to something else? If you can answer yes to all of those questions then check out Depop first to see if anyone is already selling theirs on! Easy.
Look after your clothes - READ THE CARE LABEL. They aren’t lying when they say hand wash. Do it. If you have spilt something on your clothes, can you just clean off the stain rather than putting the whole thing through the wash? Hang your clothes on hangers to dry them. Dry your knitwear laid flat on your bed on a towel. Looking after your clothes will make them last longer.
Rent your outfits - I haven’t tried this yet as I could not justify spending money to rent a designer piece to sit around in the house… However, as soon as we are back out and about I am excited to try out Hurr and ByRotation renting platforms. You can wear actual Chanel, GANNI, Jacquemus, House of Sunny (the list goes on) for often less than £100 for the whole week. Seems pretty good to me.
This can all be very overwhelming at first. I think our mindsets around clothes need to shift. We need to see clothes differently. Forget everything you learnt growing up about buying things ‘on trend’ or having the latest release of something. Remember that as long as you are doing something, that’s the most important thing. Listen, read, learn. Buy one less item of clothing this month than you normally would. Buy some Christmas presents from a sustainable fashion brand. Research your local charity shops and visit one. Download Depop (if only for the drama at the very least). It all helps and all makes a difference.