How much do you know about sustainability, responsibility, upcycling and eco-friendly fashion? If you’re anything like me, probably not enough. I’ve had my mind blown researching this blog post and now I would like to blow yours too (….).
Grab yourself a cuppa and prepare to hate the fashion industry even more than you already do for never stocking the right size in anything and making us all feel shit about ourselves.
Fashion is now moving so fast the I’m not sure anyone can keep up with it anymore. And I’m only half saying that because fashion is moving so fast the I cannot keep up with it anymore.
I never really tried. Although I’ve always liked clothes, if I’m honest I think I only really liked them for how I looked in them. My relationship with fashion was entirely selfish: I didn’t care for fabric or for cloth, I cared for comfort and I cared a lot for flattery.
And then last year I wrote an article about the fashion freedom that comes with youth and how I had totally taken mine for granted. Since them I have made a conscious effort to care more and it’s been fun. I’ve branched away from skinny jeans, I’ve even fallen a bit in love with trousers. I’ve stopped seeing “do I look thin?” as the be all and end all.
So I’ve been keeping an eye on trends, shopping more, spending more (*weeps*) and caring more. I even stopped to read last weeks edition of the Sunday Times Style mag cover to cover. Yes, I resisted the temptation to throw the thing out the window when it told me that cowboy boots were back in.
It was only a year ago that I confidently told the me of ten years ago in the first chapter of my book that kitten heels would never come back into fashion and BAM, I’ve been made to look like a bit of a knob haven’t I???
Fashion is moving too fast.
For me, for itself, for the planet.
Yes, I did just go and make this shit heavy.
You see, this is more than just an issue of personal finance or the self-esteem that comes with a really flattering pair of leggings. Fashion, as an industry, raises the question of something so much bigger; sustainability and social responsibility.
The faster that fashion moves, the more accessible it becomes… good for us, terrible for everything else. As customers (here’s looking at you) demand the items we’ve just seen on the catwalk NOWNOWNOW, at a reasonable price of course, the more the corners get cut.
Please bare with me whilst I brain dump some truly terrifying facts on you:
Textile dying is the second largest polluter of clean water in the world, second only to agriculture. Greenpeace ran a campaign called Detox which pressured brands to remove toxic chemicals from their supply chain after they found that there were hazardous chemicals on many brands’ products, chemicals that were banned or strictly regulated in various countries because they are toxic, disruptive and carcinogenic.
Polyester (the most popular fabric used in the industry), when used in domestic washing machines sheds microfibres that add to the increasing levels of plastic in the ocean, they’re tiny tiny tiny but because they don’t biodegrade they’re becoming a threat to aquatic life.
And then cotton? Cotton (the fabric that I had always considered to be the loveliest and the friendliest, surely good for the planet?!), requires high levels of water and pesticides to prevent crop failure – this is really problematic for countries at risk of things like draught. There are also problems surrounding the pesticides as things develop – thy can become toxic to both livestock and humans.
There is a big call for organic cotton at the moment, and it was answered by both H&M and Zara’s parent company Inditex. Although this was great, on the whole the use of organic cotton represents less than 1% of the world’s total annual cotton crop. So, y’know. That’s a bit shit.
It’s been claimed that fashion is now the second dirtiest industry in the world, second only to big oil. Now I don’t know about that, but it’s not that hard to believe.
And I’m guilty as hell of supporting it in all its nastiness. I’m everything I hate. I’m off on holiday in a couple of weeks and I’ve just dropped a hefty amount of dough (that I don’t really have) at ASOS because that’s just what you do. I’ve got a wardrobe full of flared mid-length trousers that were all the rage last summer that I have no idea what to do with now. I’m having to do everything in my power to resist buying myself a patterned suit (Chloe Plumstead makes them look so fabulous on Instagram), because in my heart of hearts I know I’d-only-wear-it-once (and even that probably won’t stop me getting one….)
We can blame Instagram, Instagram marketing and Instagramers for a lot of this. IT’S ALL INSTAGRAM’S FAULT right???
Even people that don’t rely on Instagram for a job would be forced to concede that they don’t want every other photo of them that appears on the internet to be featuring the same tatty jumper. And when Instagram does become part of your job, in any capacity, your fashion becomes all the more important. No one follows an account to see the same trench coat pop up twenty times in twenty days. We want inspiration and we want it now. Some ‘influencers’ are now doing weekly ASOS shops.
So fashion moves fast, social media catches up with it and we’re all left doing what we can to remain involved.
Wanting to follow trends, to dress like our idols, is not a new concept. Since the days of disposable incomes, this has been a part of every day life for women. We’ve always cared about our appearances and the human condition has ensured that we’ve long since wanted the next best thing.
Just look back at the trends of the last century. The iconic 1920s and the flapper dresses, skip ahead to the 60s and the beehive is all the rage, the 70s saw the world go mad for denim, the 80s and they went wild for shoulder pads, the 90s and the baggy trousers, the 00s and the rhine stones.
Now let’s look at the last eight years.
There has been nothing defining, rather, we’ve dabbled with it all.
Trends that used to carry for a decade, are now hard pushed lasting a month.
And it’s taking its toll: in 2012 there was 14.3 million tons of textiles sent to landfill.
What do we do with our clothes after their five minutes is up??? Although donating clothes to charity shops is still a great thing to do, it is found that really only between 20%-30% of donated clothing is resold. Thanks to fast fashion, getting even faster, charity shops are now filled with cheap fashion trend pieces rather than the vintage gems that we used to love them for.
We are constantly wanting more. The more we want, the more we have, the more we have, the cheaper it all becomes, the cheaper it is, the more we can have and here we go again…..
Fashion is, a fucking nightmare.
But wait…. is that a glimmer of hope I see on the horizon????
Why yes, yes it is.
Because there IS stuff that we can do (more than just not buying a patterned suit that you’ll only wear once of course)…
Let’s talk about upcycling.
My new obsession.
Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-prodcuts, waste materials, useless or unwanted products into new materials or products of better quality for better environmental value. Upcycling makes use of already existing products, which is critical in the fight against fast fashion.
And upcycling is something that you can do yourself, so so easily. Whether it’s turning jeans into shorts, sticking patches onto your favourite denim jacket to make it more interesting or even embroidering boring old jumpers – there is always a way to get creative with fashion and ensure that we’re not wasting things.
The problem is of course, that we can’t be arsed.
When you can get a pair of shorts for a tenner, why would you bother making your own?
That’s my logic most the time anyway. A logic without logic. A logic that is terrible for the planet. NO MORE £10 SHORTS GUYS.
A friend showed up at my house the other day with patches sewed onto the bum of some old jeans and they looked GREAT. My best mate does the embroidery thing and makes the weirdest and coolest shit; everyone is constantly asking her where she gets her stuff… so badass to say that she made it.
There are brands out there who are upcycling too, there is Elvis & Kresse, the company making bags out of old firehoses, Bottletop Fashion are another great one and then of course ASOS reclaim vintage.
My favourite though, and the brand responsible for inspiring this blog post and creating the jacket in the pictures, is Will & Pop. They opened my eyes to upcycling; I am the proud owner of two of their jackets and a whole new mindset.
They create vintage pieces and customise them for you, there will never be more than 25 of any design and they are happy to work with you on something that you would like to create – I am shamelessly plugging them by the way, because they are great.
They say on their website that they are passionate about slow, sustainable fashion.
And there was one word in particular that I took from that and that was SLOW.
Slow is not a word we associate with fashion anymore, it’s not one that we want to. We’re the ‘one click buy’ generation, the ‘next day delivery’ crew, the WE WANT IT NOW people. We don’t want to take anything slowly.
But if my research into the fashion industry this week has taught me anything, it’s that we have GOT to slow it down.
My brother heaved a heavy sigh last week when he noticed me internet shopping: ‘you don’t need anymore clothes’ he said. Of course, he was right. I don’t need more clothes, but I do want them. And that’s not going away.
My desire to look good, to have fun with my fashion, to follow the trends, that isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.
But what I decide to do with that desire is another story.
I recycle my milk cartons, my wine bottles, my council tax bills. I see that as my responsibility. There is of course a tiny voice that kicks around in the back of my mind asking if I can make a difference all on my own, but that’s a voice I have trained myself to ignore. Every. Little. Helps. I don’t feel comfortable being irresponsible and wasteful with plastic, on the contrary, I do everything in my power to be as economical as possible.
And it’s high time I realised that my responsibility to be better does not end in my kitchen.
This isn’t the end of shopping, it’s not the end of my interest in fashion.
What it is, is the beginning of something totally new, an interest of a different kind.
A chance to get creative and do my bit at the same time, it’s a farewell to fast fashion for the most part and a hearty welcome to upcycling and making sustainable and sensible fashion decisions, wherever possible.