How to buy less, wear more and still feel fine about doing a sneaky Zara haul once in a while…
I’ll admit, I’ve bought a lot of fast fashion over the years and in part, I do now regret it. It seems I’m not the only one either; whether you’re a full time fashionista, OOTD blogger or just looking for a new dress for Saturday night, a creeping sense of shame is beginning to descend upon us as we gradually become more aware of the problems associated with the ‘wear once’ lifestyle that we’ve taken for granted for so long – the Fast Fashion Guilt is beginning to settle in.
The problem of course, is that we now know the impact of our seemingly innocent shopping habit. I’m sure most people would agree that the costs of the industry on the environment, not to mention on the welfare of those in the garment trade, vastly outweigh the benefits of having a cute new outfit for Instagram. Ethics in the fashion industry has been a hot topic for decades behind the scenes but in the last few years the likes of The True Cost (a documentary exposing the dirty environmental and humanitarian practices inside the world of fashion) and a recent press exposé of Boohoo’s supplier factories have brought an awareness of its dark side to the masses.
So really, should we be feeling so guilty?
For the past, no. The truth is, the industry didn’t want us to know to shocking truth, and made an exceptionally good job of covering it up for an exceptionally long time. Fast fashion is a concept and industry that was, after all, born into our millennial era and we were persuaded and encouraged by advertising and celebrity to wear once, ‘never been seen dead in the same outfit twice’, as if it were the norm – until it was. When it comes to fast fashion, what came first: The demand, or the supply?
“When it comes to fast fashion, what came first: the demand, or the supply?“
Either way, now that we know the less-than-chic truth, don’t we have a responsibility to be part of the change? Absolutely – we don’t want to be part of the problem now we know there is one – but guilt solves nothing. We cannot become perfect, zero waste beings overnight but we can make small changes to our shopping habits and lifestyle that collectively will make a big difference in the long run.
That said, it can be a nightmare knowing where to start. There’s so much misinformation out there and really not much guidance for anyone wanting to make an effort without giving up their fashionista lifestyle entirely. Not to mention, we’re pulled both ways. Extreme sustainability pros use social media to berate anyone who hasn’t hand-knitted their entire wardrobe from recycled hemp, whilst the latest Love Island cast member signs a collaboration deal with XYZ brand that aims to force yards of polyester down our throats.
So what can you do to ‘do your bit’ without going naked for the foreseeable? Here’s my top tips to navigate the nylon and veer away from the viscose…stylishly!
1. PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS
I recently announced on Instagram that I will no longer be buying garments from Boohoo or any of the companies owned by them (that’s PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal, MissPap, Karen Millen, Oasis, Warehouse and Coast currently).
With even more stories surfacing about audits of supplier factories where conditions are poor and pay is worse (as little as £3 per hour), I can no longer promote Boohoo’s clothing as ‘cute’ with a clear conscience. It’s certainly not the first time a fashion company has come under fire, but as I was born in Leicester where many of the stories surfaced, and some of my own female family members – including my mother and grandmother – have worked in the garment factories there, it really drove the issue home for me. When I heard my mum talk about her experiences 30 years ago and realised that things had, if anything, gotten worse, I deleted their apps off my phone and unsubscribed from their emails. Of course, I will still wear what I already have, as wasting fast fashion you’ve bought for the sake of it is a waste full stop. When I can no longer wear pieces or fall out of love with them, I’ll donate or sell them on (see Tip 4 for more).
Instead, I’ll be spending my dollar with brands that appear to be moving somewhat in the right direction – for instance, Zara has begun selling a lot of clothes under the ‘Join Life’ label which uses recycled polyester, and ASOS has a site filter that allows you to search and shop for ‘Responsible’ (recycled or sustainable) options only. These retailers aren’t perfect (for instance there’s still an energy issue with the recycling of polyester) but I’d rather spend my money where effort is being made. Voting with your wallet can allow brands who are making positive moves to make more, and encourage those who aren’t to get with the program. You can also take advantage of H&M’s Garment Collection service that gives you a £5 voucher off your spend for every bag of unwanted clothing (in any condition) that you donate in store. It’s a service that’s available in every store and has been running since 2013!
I’m really hoping Boohoo make some big changes and if they do, I might reconsider my stance. It’s up to you where you want to spend your money but it’s important to understand the consumer power you have either way.
2. PRACTICE OVER PERFECTION
Don’t beat yourself up if you make an impulse purchase and then end up not wearing it. See Tip 4 on reselling and write it up as a lesson learned in what NOT to wear.
For many, there are financial barriers to consider too. With increasingly significant demands on our disposable income, a global pandemic and economic downturn, fast fashion might be one of your only options for clothing right now. This is especially the case for those with children, who need new sizes every few months. That’s ok too.
Don’t despair if this is you – there are other things you can do to help. Why not write to your favourite brands and encourage them to sign the ‘Transparency Pledge’, a group of organisations whose aim is ‘to help the garment industry reach a common minimum standard for supply chain disclosures by getting companies to publish standardized, meaningful information on […] the manufacturing phase of their supply chains.’ You can also check out Labour Behind the Label for more resources on how to support workers in the garment industry.
3. DEVELOP YOUR SIGNATURE STYLE
When I think about all the clothing ‘mistakes’ I have purchased, I’d say 99% of them happened because I wasn’t considering my own style and lifestyle when I bought them.
Forget what’s in fashion (let’s face it, it’s all a massive cycle anyway – I mean, scrunchies have been resurrected from the 90’s and last year we were all parading around in flared trousers again a la Dave Hill from Slade).
Instead, spend some time considering your lifestyle, taste, and body shape to curate a wardrobe that doesn’t leave you desperate to hit the high street every weekend. If you need a helping hand or want some more tips, check out my YouTube video HOW TO FIND YOUR STYLE – leave me a comment and let me know what you think!
4. BECOME A PRE-LOVED PRINCESS
Oh, how I enjoy the notorious Instagram posts of @depopdrama (if you haven’t seen them yet, prepare yourself) but don’t be put off by them. I’m yet to have a buying/selling disaster and I’m a seasoned pre-owned Pro! Vintage hunting is one of my all-time favourite sports AND it’s better for the environment, as there’s less manufacturing and less fashion waste in landfills when you buy second hand. Some of the best pieces in my wardrobe are second hand, and you can also make a nice little income selling your old clothes so long as you’ve kept them in good condition.
Pro tip: Get clever with search terms. Some sites/apps will autocorrect if you misspell but eBay won’t, meaning you could find an absolute steal just because something is spelled incorrectly!
As we come out of lockdown, you can also start checking out your local charity shops (if you live in Glasgow’s West End you’ll know it’s where all the best pieces are!) and why not consider a clothes swap with your friends and/or some of your social media pals?
Here’s a few of my favourites online pre-loved sites:
- Hardly Ever Worn It – pre-loved designer items verified by experts
- Depop – ever so slightly worn Louboutins for £150? Yes please.
- Isabella’s Wardrobe – local Glasgow designer pre-loved store with online site and worldwide delivery.
5. TAKE MY OUTFIT CHALLENGE (UK GIVEAWAY!)
I want to see how you get creative with your outfits! I’ve already mentioned that finding your own style is one of the best ways to buy less in the long run. Therefore I’m running a giveaway over on my Instagram to win a virtual styling session with my wonderful friend and stylist Denise Wright! For full details on how to enter, see my giveaway post on Instagram. Closes 30th September 2020*
6. ‘THANKS, IT’S RENTED!’
Please, please don’t turn your nose up at clothing rentals. Selfridges, after recently launching a rental service for designer goods, has come under fire from some Holier-Than-Thou types who accuse them of a ‘sustainability stunt’ and even ‘encouraging people to spend money on a lifestyle they can’t afford’.
Here’s the thing: Clothing rental is nothing new. What’s more, anything that works towards lowering production, energy consumption, and human exploitation – PR stunt or not – is a GOOD THING and a step towards a better future. And newsflash – some people have been (and won’t stop) buying things they can’t afford for decades just to look a certain way (the proper term is ‘Conspicuous Consumption’). This is because they are driven by different motives than style (and usually it’s based on insecurity) but by renting instead they will spend less and therefore get into less debt. If you’re currently one of the Negative Nancy’s on the topic of rentals, stop.
If you have an event coming up and you want a showstopper outfit, but think you’re unlikely to want to wear it (or – let’s face it – be seen in it) again, then why not rent? Many dress rental shops are now online and will post ball gowns, complete with free returns, in a matter of days! I for one welcome the big stores getting involved in this age-old mode of fashion consumption and can’t wait to see who joins in next.
Here’s a UK store where you can rent fabulous dresses at reasonable prices.
7. WHEN YOU JUST HAVE TO HAUL…
Sometimes, you do just need a wardrobe refresh. Perhaps you’ve nailed Tip 3 and noticed there are some gaps in your garms? Or maybe you’ve changed size, or worn out all your lockdown loungewear, or whatever. If you need it, and you’re sure, then nobody should be telling you otherwise.
When this happens, start by making a List. The List is what stops you from going crazy and buying anything and everything that looks ‘cute’ on the rail. Beware end of season sales and overly attentive assistants – if you didn’t go in for it, don’t come out with it!
Online, take advantage of Wishlist/Board features and gradually cut down the pieces you’ve saved until you’re left with what you really want and will really wear. For bonus points, use that wish list as inspiration and try to find similar pieces second hand (if you’re really good, you might even find the exact same pieces!) If you still can’t find what you need pre-loved, go ahead and splurge – WITHOUT the guilt this time!
Pro Tip: Pay attention to quality and use that as your baseline. What might start out life as fast fashion could become part of your Forever Closet if it’s made well and looked after. Good examples are Zara’s tweed blazers which are well-sewn and timeless, or M&S’s coats and undies.
Check out my previous haul videos and more for inspiration here.
Before I started this article, I wanted to make sure I was writing for an audience who were in a similar boat to me. This is not about being the finished article – it’s about beginning. It’s for women and girls who care about doing the right thing, but might not be ‘there yet’. I wanted to try and help remove the guilt from the process of learning to live, shop and dress in a more responsible way.
I also recognise that to seasoned sustainability experts, some of the brand initiatives I’ve mentioned here might seem like a drop in the water or even just be ‘PR exercises’. What’s important to remember is that it’s a start. In 2020, it is very unlikely that major retailers will be 100% sustainable and ethical. We’re only just waking up to the problem and if we eschew the businesses who try, they may never find a permanent solution.
As an individual, being on the right path is what really matters – not how far along or behind you are on it. Even if you’re right at the beginning, you’ve just read an article all about the journey, so I think that’s a damn good place start!
Let me know your thoughts and ideas on the topics of fast fashion and sustainability below or drop me a DM over here.
Images courtesy of Unsplash/Pexels
*Unfortunately this giveaway is open to UK residents only