Only 2% of garment workers make a living wage, while most of us have a wardrobe full of unworn clothes. Here are some ways to break this cycle.
It is a toxic relationship that many of us cannot let go. A quick purchase here, or a quick pick-me up there. A quick scroll, a flirty click, a casual add-to-basket. Who are we hurting most?
The shocking answer to this question is provided by Boohoo, which also owns Coast, Karen Millen, Oasis, Warehouse, and Oasis. Not only is fashion one of the world’s most wasteful and polluting industries, but it’s also one of the most exploitative. Less than 2% of clothing workers globally earn a fair living wage, with most trapped in systemic poverty at almost every stage of the long and shadowy supply chains. We enjoy the speed, ease, and abundance. But it’s the people who pay the price.
While the meaning of “enjoy” is a controversial word, let’s not be naive. We have had a chance to pause and take stock of the past few months, literally in the instance of overflowing closets, and confront our consumerist impulses. Are high-street purchases making us happier? They ever did? It’s exhausting to live on a never-ending loop of trends. A pandemic can help you shift your priorities.
As lockdown becomes less restrictive, how can we leave? There is no one-size fits all solution. We each have different lifestyles, tastes, and levels of privilege. While some would believe that ethical dressing means spending PS500 on a linen boilersuit, and wearing it every day, there are many other options.
Paul Simon sang that there must be 50 different ways to get rid of your lover. Here are 20 different ways to get away from fast fashion and embrace a more slow-paced, fairer style.
1. Clear out your space
Although it might seem counterintuitive, nobody can make the best of their clothes if there is a lot of polyester everywhere. Regular audits of all your belongings are a good idea. This will allow you to know what you need and what you don’t. You’ll also find treasures. You’ll find clothes that you forgot you had and clothes that you didn’t know you had (hello post-cocktails Zara trip). As the global .campaign group Fashion Revolution likes to remind us, the most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.
2. Dress up
The makeover montage doesn’t have to be just for teens. Good old-fashioned dressing up is a great way to combat wardrobe ennui and remind yourself of how many options there are. People only wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. Wrap, a waste charity, says that extending a garment’s active life by just nine months can reduce its carbon, water, and waste footprints by up to 30%. So dedicate an evening to experimenting with different combinations and mastering new styling tricks. Dresses can be worn over jeans, under shirts, with vests or shirts, and even with scarfs as belts. Add a jumper to your sundress and you have a new skirt.
3. Learn from your mistakes
Ask yourself the following question about each item in your closet: “How many times has this item been worn?” If it is in single figures, ask why. Ask for feedback on those garms that you don’t love and be open. Is it the color or the shape, the length? You sweat like old lettuce by lunchtime in fabric? It was bought for an invitation you never received, or to support a lifestyle that you don’t like? Are you buying it as emotional collateral? It’s easier to resist the temptation of buying the quick fix when you can identify your shopping triggers.
4.Wear and repeat with pride
It shouldn’t be revolutionary to wear the same outfit to two parties. However, a Barnardo study revealed that 33% of women consider clothes “old” after having worn them three times. UK shoppers spent an estimated PS2.7bn on clothes they wore once in 2019. We confuse clothes with disposables. Let’s make outfit-repeating a cause for celebration and not shame. It’s like “playing our greatest songs”. If Hey Jude by Paul McCartney is still receiving a standing ovation, your four-year-old gown also deserves more than one night out.
5. Try to get #30Wears
Dua Lipa’s immortal words, “You need new rules.” Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age sustainability consultancy, created the #30Wears rule. It is a guideline to help you make smarter choices and ensure your clothes last a long time. Ask yourself if you will wear it at least 30 times before buying. Don’t buy if you kow you won’t.
6. Place your order
Joan Crawford once said, “Care for clothes like good friends.” It’s easier to buy a new outfit at lunch than to search through your entire wardrobe for something that’s not covered in food stains, creases or both. So take more time to organise your clothes, hang them up at the end of the day (Crawford also condemned wire hangers), and if ironing is your nightmare, consider investing in a handheld steamer. If you have the space, I recommend storing summer and winter clothes separately. This helps to calm “new season, must-shop!” panic. It also makes it exciting when old friends return.
7. Be a borrower
If you know you’re unlikely to wear an item more than once, don’t buy it – borrow it, whether that’s from a generous friend or a fashion rental service such as Hurr, ByRotation, My Wardrobe HQ or Rotaro. Some specialise in statement pieces for special occasions, while others, such as Onloan and The Devout, run a subscription model that refreshes your wardrobe with trend items for a month at a time. This is the ideal option for those who are committed to their purchases.
8. Go #Secondhandfirst
This gentler approach is recommended if a complete ban on shopping seems too drastic. Try to find the item secondhand before you buy anything new. You could do this by rummaging through a vintage shop or charity, or buying a used version on a resale site or borrowing from a friend. It could help reduce landfill and new manufacturing by encouraging us to #chooseused (there are endless pithy hashtags).
9. Stitching is a great option
How much work goes into a garment is best understood by making it yourself. The Great British Sewing Bee has helped usher in a new generation home-stitchers, while John Lewis & Hobbycraft reported increases in their sewing machine sales during lockdown. I highly recommend Tilly Walnes, AKA Tilly and the Buttons, if you haven’t threaded your bobbin since high school. Her online guides are easy to follow and reliable, while her book Make It Simple contains a variety of patterns that can be used as wardrobe staples such as a jumpsuit or a white tee.
10. Renew and repair
Even if you don’t plan to make your own dresses, there are ways that you can expand your wardrobe with a simple YouTube tutorial and a hotel sewing machine. Clothes can be abandoned because of the smallest things, like a crotch or an incontinence label. Don’t be afraid, however, to use the scissors. You can fix broken buttons or zips, make dragging hems and repair the crotch on your most beloved jeans. Secondhand clothes can also be altered to fit you perfectly if you have a few skills. You don’t have to be perfect – join the visible mending movement that transforms your rips into stunning design features.
11. Give vintage a chance
A new generation of Instagram traders is leading vintage shopping. This summer, 1970s Laura Ashley is the hottest property. However, anything older that 20 years is considered vintage. That means minidresses and minimalism from 2000 are back in style. Monthly events like @AVirtualVintageMarket round up the very best sellers, while the Gem app allows you to sift out the best vintage treasures from across the internet – especially those elusive larger sizes.
12. Rejects can be saved
If you are squeamish about wearing a stranger’s hand-me-downs, deadstock is a sustainable compromise. Most clothes are never sold due to small defects or excess supply. You can search “deadstock” on Etsy or eBay to find great items from all decades that may have been sent to the landfill or incineration. End-of-line clothes are a common sight in charity shops. You can identify them by their snipped-out labels. It’s best to give surplus stock to a loving home until the brands stop making too many.
13. Swap, don’t shop
This week, Nuw launched a swapping feature that allows subscribers to list clothes and receive virtual credit. They can then use the virtual credit to purchase items from others. The same principle is used by Swopped.co.uk. There’s also the luddite option: form a group and exchange cast-offs. Be aware that regretting your old clothes on your most fashionable friend could cause you to feel guilty.
14. Contact your agent
There are more than 500 dress agencies in the UK, also known as consignment shops. These stores sell clothes, shoes, and accessories for half of the profit. The stock is often in perfect condition and only a few season old. This makes it an excellent way to save money and shop high-street at the same time. Luxury resale websites like Vestiaire Collective are flooded with wedding-guest outfits that have been worn once before for half the original cost. You’re a fool if you purchase new clothes without first checking fot this gems online.
15. Stop shopping
This is the best way to reduce your fashion footprint. Yet, for many, just the thought of giving up on fast fashion is enough to make us feel sick. I made a promise to not buy anything new for 2019 and published the results in my book How to Break Up with Fast Fashion. But if you don’t have the time or desire to commit to a year, then start small. Try to limit yourself to just one month, or three months. It takes time for your brain and fingers to stop searching for the Asos scroll. It will get easier after a few weeks. Promise.
16. Avoid temptation
A fast fashion breakup is similar to deleting your ex’s phone number and blocking their profile on Facebook. Go through your email and unsubscribe to all shopping emails, even those sent from the golf supplies outlet where your uncle bought his Christmas present in 2012. Next, go through your social media accounts. Unfollow all the influencers whose pastel-hued grids exist to seduce you into buying things, and replace them with slow fashion advocates such as @ajabarber, @venetialamanna, and @styleand.sustain. You could also use cute baby animal accounts.
17. Buy small
If you don’t have the option of not buying new, there are many great ethical brands available. Utilitarian hemp used to rule all. Now, fashion can be tailored to fit almost any style. Beware of brands that only talk about the pants. The best brands will provide details about their factories, suppliers, and wage commitments online. Gather & See does an excellent job curating the group.
18. Do your homework
Fashion brands are increasingly embracing ethical production in order to appeal to consumers. It’s becoming harder to discern the truth and find where you can shop with confidence. There’s an app that can help. Good On You has rated over 2,000 brands on how they treat people, animals, and the planet. This gives you an overview of their ratings, ranging from “great” through “avoid”. It would be great if Tinder could do the same.
Brands like Olivia Rose, Birdsong, and By Megan Crosby show that patience is a virtue and that made-to-order fashion will be the future. They can reduce waste and manage labour better by only producing what their customers want – an antidote for fast fashion’s obsession with speed. It’s also a great way to gauge your commitment to a particular trend. If you feel that you can’t wait for a new outfit for a few weeks, maybe you didn’t actually need it?
20. Ask #WhoMadeMyClothes
Fashion Revolution’s rallying cry from 2013, this simple question can become a powerful weapon against exploitation. We need answers if we are to ever trust big brands again. Where was our clothing made? Which factories were they made? What was the pay of their workers and what is the net worth of millionaires? This year, you should only wear full transparency. At least metaphorically.