The surge in recent years towards more conscious shopping practices is undeniable. Gen-Z has shown a huge favouring for sustainable shopping, with many ditching the damaging world of fast fashion all together. It’s no secret that fast fashion is a major hurdle when tackling the industry’s sustainability issues, but what exactly is ‘fast fashion’? The term refers to garments which generally copy the latest runway styles, are cheaply made, and retail for low prices. The production cycle operates at a rapid pace to ensure that the clothing hits stores as soon as possible, in order for the companies to capitalise on current trends. However, this exploitative system is powered by cheap labour which is used to generate huge profits with low production costs, and that cheap labour often means that garment workers are exploited and severely underpaid.
Why Is Fast Fashion Bad?
But that’s not the only issue. Due to the low production costs, the garments are often poorly made and therefore lack longevity, leading shoppers to think of clothing as temporary and disposable, rather than as a long term investment. This has led to the normalisation of wasteful consumption patterns in recent years. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign “three out of five fast fashion items end up in a landfill”, which roughly translates to £140 million worth of clothing being sent to landfill sites each year alone in the UK, as reported by Fashion Revolution. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and lycra can take up to 200 years to biodegrade, and during this long process of decomposition the garments release the harmful greenhouse gas, methane, which is a huge contributor to climate change. And that’s not to mention that the fast fashion industry is leading to the depletion of non-renewable resources, using large quantities of energy, producing high volumes of waste, as well as using highly polluting chemicals.
What Can We Do To Help?
It’s not all bad news, however. There are small changes we can all make to our lifestyle to ensure that when it comes to fashion, we’re shopping more sustainably, and consciously. So what can we do to help?
Customise Existing Garments
Instead of just disposing of old clothing, a more sustainable option is to customise existing garments and give them a new lease of life. Upcycling clothing has boomed in popularity, especially among Gen-Z, with trends ranging from tie-dying, to knitting a recreation of Harry Styles’ JW Anderson cardigan blowing up on TikTok. Depending on your skillset, customisations can range from more simple practises, like adding some studs here and there or tie-dying, to methods which require a little more practise such as embroidery, painting, or altering the shape and fit by sewing.
Mend Damaged Clothing
Instead of throwing out damaged clothing items, why not have a go at mending them yourself? For most fixes you’re only going to need a needle and thread so there’s no need to fork out on an expensive sewing machine. YouTube is full of handy tutorials if you’re not an avid sewer and is perfect for learning basic skills. Whether you’re looking to mend a hole, or get rid of a scratchy label, have a try at fixing the problem before heading straight for the trash.
Images Left Charlotte Powell
Donate Unwanted Clothes To Charity
Speaking of trash, one of the easiest ways we can become more sustainable with our clothing habits is to donate unwanted items to charity, or thrift stops, rather than throwing them away. Most towns have an abundance of charity shops who are always looking for new stock, and not only are you acting more sustainably, but you’re also helping the stores raise money for a good cause by donating your unwanted garments.
Buy and Sell Clothes on Second-Hand Retail Sites
Second hand clothing sites are also a great way to get rid of your unwanted clothes, whilst also making a profit, and there’s a range of sites out there depending on the type of clothes you’re looking to sell. Depop is perfect for listing everyday items, whilst Vestiaire Collective is a great place to list luxury products. If it's streetwear you’re looking to get rid of try Grailed, or StockX. If you’re not looking to sell, these sites are also a great way to shop more sustainably and breathe new life into someone else’s unwanted items. If you’re browsing for designer or luxury goods, authenticity may be a worry for you, however it shouldn’t be as many platforms, including Vestiaire Collective, have a rigorous verification process to ensure that you are getting the authentic product that’s advertised.
Buy With Longevity in Mind
Whilst it's easy to prioritise the price of an item when shopping, when it comes to clothing this might actually not be the most efficient way. Cheaper products are less likely to last, meaning you’re more likely to throw them away much quicker and have to fork out more money to replace them. Saving for a higher quality product that may be more expensive could actually be beneficial in the long run. Look at it as an investment: higher quality products will last longer, reducing the chance of you having to replace them, thus reducing the turnover of your wardrobe and its impact on the planet.
Repeating outfits seems like an obvious choice but the world of the influencer, fuelled by apps like Instagram, has led to a culture where repeating an outfit feels like a crime! In 2019, Barnardo’s estimated that UK shoppers spent on average £2.7 billion on clothes that were only worn once. This seems like a crazy statistic but the mentality that clothes are disposable and for one time wear has subconsciously become ingrained in many of our minds. This needs to change!
Don't Be Afraid to Borrow or Rent
If you do know you’re going to be buying an item that you know you’ll only wear once (Christmas jumpers spring to mind) don’t be afraid to borrow. Chances are a generous friend will have something suitable or if not why not try a fashion rental service, such as ByRotation or Hurr.
Look Out for More Sustainable Brands/Lines
When shopping for new items, try to prioritise brands that practice more sustainable production methods, or look for conscious or sustainable labels in clothing. Spend a few minutes researching eco-fashion companies who are using more sustainable practises, including the use of recycled materials. Small brands are a great place to look as they often create products on demand, producing less waste from the offset. Independent brands will often handmake clothing too, ensuring that it's of the highest quality and will last. Find three of our favourite sustainable brands below.
Drawing inspiration from Tokyo and New York streetwear, Cycle by MYOB has been creating garments for over a decade, keeping traditional Japanese craftsmanship at its core. Using recycled goods, cruelty free leather, and eco-friendly materials, the brand aims to inspire and encourage a new generation of consumers to shop more sustainably.
Igwe is an experimental and sustainable sneaker studio run by Samuel Baruch. Fusing clean minimalist styling, luxury materials and sustainable elements, Igwe create unique sneakers for those who want to stand out from the crowd. Exclusively handcrafted in a small, family run factory in Portugal, Igwe emphasises the quality of its production. Each pair is only produced with responsibly sourced European materials using 100% recycled PET plastic bottles for the laces and eco-friendly, chrome-free tanned leather to achieve full circularity.
KIKIITO create avant-garde bags which see contemporary, minimalist aesthetics juxtaposed with ultra-modern lines and buttery soft Italian nappa leather. Sustainability is at the heart of the brand with the majority of small parts, bases and internal workings being made from leftover leather to minimise waste. Staying true to the traditional artisanship that is at the core of KIKIITO, the bags are designed with longevity in mind and for people who truly appreciate the product, with only a limited number being produced to reduce waste.
The Next Step
We’re all guilty of letting sustainability fall by the wayside every now and again, but if anything the last year has highlighted just how much we over-consume, especially when it comes to fashion. For many, lockdown gave us a chance to reflect on our spending habits, assess whether we actually need an item, and plan occasions post-lockdown where we can wear these new purchases. This kind of thinking is certainly a step in the right direction, and let’s hope this way of thinking sticks. To summarise, shopping sustainably doesn’t have to come with an expensive price tag, it just requires us to think a little differently. Whether you change your shopping habits completely, or just take your unwanted items down to the charity shop, any step towards a more sustainable way of living is a step in the right direction.
Text: Sam Pennington