*wearing my Sancho’s Dress jumper and second hand leggings.
As a lot of you may remember, for Lent this year I challenged myself to not purchase any new items for the entire 40 days. I managed it without too many issues, but it made me think about my habits as a consumer i.e. a person who buys stuff.
As a kid I was always conscious of what I was wearing and liked to be in control of my ‘statements’. My Mum likes to tell stories about how fussy I was about getting dressed in the morning and that fussiness turned into a desire to keep up with the trends as a young teen. Inexplicably my favourite outfit as a 10-year-old was a pair of lime green board shorts and a maroon tank top so my taste/eyesight were definitely questionable at times. I even got into the slogan tee trend and at one point owned a top that said “stop drooling” in bubble writing across my chest. I also DIYed my own that read “blondes have more fun, brunettes can read”
Okay I’m done cringing at myself, let’s continue. At around the age of 11 my Mum started to teach me to sew. I wanted new clothes at a rate that she (rightly) refused to buy them for me, so I thought I should start making my own. My new favourite past-time became going through clothes I didn’t wear anymore to cut them, crop them or sew them so they became something new. Lots of these projects, or even most of them, didn’t work out exactly how I pictured. But I enjoyed the process and it meant that I always gave something a second look before just tossing it out.
As I got a bit older I started learning even more about sewing and started to make more things from scratch. I also trawled charity shops to find things to alter or salvage fabric from. It sounds pretty cool and eco-friendly but it was driven by a desire to have new stuff all the time, I was just creative at how to go about it.
At University I felt the pressure to have a new outfit every time I went on a night out. For some reason, being an outfit repeater seemed like a crime. At this point I was earning money and a lot of it would go on new clothes. My body shape also changed at this time and a lot of stuff wasn’t fitting me the way it used to.
I have pretty much always looked for sales and bargains. I prided myself on finding deals that no one else did and paying as little as possible for everything, not just clothes. I knew that most items are produced in horrible factories, but I never really made the link between my spending habits to the corruption in the fashion industry. If you are buying something that is ridiculously cheap, you can almost guarantee that someones else has paid the price somewhere along the line.
Since taking more of an interest environmental issues and my individual impact, it was hard to ignore how lots of things that are bad for the planet are also the product of human rights violations. I recently watch the documentary The True Cost and I cried through a lot of it. Particularly the stories of people who can’t even afford to feed their families, working crazy hours a day, often suffering abuse and all so they can produce items that they would never dream of owning themselves, for our consumption.
If you’ve heard the term ‘Fast Fashion’, it basically describes how the fashion industry is like the fast food industry that produces instant and convenient options but with a hidden cost. The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter, bigger than the transport industry and second only to agriculture.
We have become so conditioned to expect high turnovers of stock in shops, weekly trends and revolving closets. I completely understand the pressure to look a certain way and to have to do so on budget. I feel a sense of relief that I am past that point in my life where I feel I have to follow every single trend to keep up with my peers. I am also lucky I think that I have a job that has a partial uniform so I don’t even have to meet a certain standard of dress pretty much ever.
However for me, I realised that I couldn’t go on turning a blind eye to where my clothes are coming from. I started researching different brands, looking at the labour practices and environmental impact. There are so many brands out there trying to do the right thing, but they need support. I can honestly say that it feels great when you know that you have purchased something that will not only bring you joy, but has contributed to, or supported people trying to do the right thing.
A couple of my favourite companies are Sancho’s Dress and People Tree. They are committed to ethical, fair trade products that you can feel good about wearing. They both have regular sales so you can get some absolute bargains. There is also an app available for download called Good On You. It allows you to look up certain brands to see how they are rated on a variety of categories. You can also browse for labels that are identified as doing great things and setting high standards within the industry.
Three quarters of Brits don’t recycle their clothes and send them to landfill instead. This contributes to an estimated 235 million textile items ending up there from Britain alone. Lots of these clothes will be perfectly wearable but we are just so disconnected from the process. The information is out there, we just have to demand transparency and make informed choices.
Buying less in general is a great place to start and embrace outfit repeating! Buying second-hand is pretty good too. Another way to think of it is cost-per-wear. Before you buy anything, consider how many times you will wear the item. If it’s going to be a staple item in your wardrobe then you can perhaps afford to invest in something well-made, and fairly priced. If the answer is only a handful, then ask yourself if you really need it or whether you could perhaps borrow something from a friend if it is for an event. Let’s all do our best to not add to the cycle of mass production and waste and instead support the good guys!
Peace and love badasses