Thoughts on sustainable fashion

I’ve always had a reasonably sustainable attitude towards fashion. Not because of a selfless desire to protect the world’s resources, but more because, well… it’s fun. As a child, I was introduced to the concept of second-hand clothes via ‘hand-me-down’ garments. As the older sister I didn’t receive many, but the thrill of seeing a much-loved item of clothing again on the daughter of my mum’s best friend, and then again years later on my little sister, was enough to sell me on the concept. Even though I’d grown out of something, it didn’t have to become un-loved. The joy of that pretty summer dress could live on with someone else, and the memories of the fun times I’d had while wearing it would come flooding back when I saw someone jumping around in the same frock.

My secondary school had a uniform that was very specific and rather hard-wearing and so many items, including much of my sports kit, was purchased from the parents of pupils who had outgrown it. In my teenage years, someone in my extended family would give me bags of clothes that her sister no longer wanted to see if there was anything in them that I liked. While at art college, I would visit flea markets and charity shops to find clothing for costumes and everyday wear, sometimes finding a crossover between the two. I would often customise items and often wear them to death, or until they found themselves back in a charity shop.

I had no idea that what I was doing was an extremely good use of resources. It never occurred to me that, by choosing to save a pre-owned garment from landfill rather than purchase something new, I was making a difference to anything other than my own wardrobe. It wasn’t a style statement, or a display of my ethics and beliefs, just a love of interesting clothing. Since I started buying clothing for myself with my own money as a teenager in the late 80s and early 90s, I noticed that much of what is available on the high street hasn’t been made with quite the same care and attention as older clothes. It may have been the lower price of second-hand clothing that drew me to it initially, but it was the beauty of the handmade garments and sturdy items from the 60s and 70s that kept me coming back after mainstream fashion became cheaper.

Although I enjoy cultivating an individual look, I don’t seek out what is now called vintage clothing specifically because it looks different. I enjoy buying new garments from high street retailers too. I guess I’ve always loved the clothes themselves more than passing fashions. I love how garments are designed and made, the fabrics, the finishing. I enjoy owning beautiful things that I can wear, and I just don’t understand how spending a fiver on an item from Primark can feel the same way. Even before you start to wonder how on earth they can make clothing that cheaply.

Perhaps we are starting to veer away from fast fashion again, now that the thrill of the budget retailers’ offerings has started to wane and consumers are becoming more concerned about where their clothes come from. Ethical brands are becoming more style conscious and designers are looking to use recycled materials more and more in their garments, which opens peoples minds to what is possible in fashion. Vintage clothing has become incredibly desirable in recent years and, despite all the frustration that comes with people trying to cash in by describing anything and everything they sell as vintage, showing consumers the fun that can be had from pre-loved clothing might just have a longer-lasting effect.

I will be part of the fashion panel at SHINE this Friday. SHINE is the UK’s leading unconventional conference (or unconference) for socially-minded entrepreneurs.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on sustainable fashion

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  1. I made a decision to only buy second hand clothing a while ago… because I can afford twice as much! I've always had a hankering for unusual clothing that looks beautiful. I suppose being a size 26 & forced to wear one of the three styles in Evans that appealed to 15 year olds (and regularly turning up in the same dress as my similarly sized friend to the point ppl confused us at school) made me extra keen on looking individual. Vintage clothes in plus sizes seem to survive particularly well 🙂
    It's turned into a lifelong obsession & I'm happy to say even things like running shoes have been sourced second hand.
    It even helps me feel more expressive as I can happily spend 3 – less than a pint – on an outfit I wear once or twice.

    Hurrah for sustainable clothing!

  2. It's one of those lovely times when buying something you love and encouraging more ethical business models is the same thing! I like to save money by buying clothes (especially shoes) on ebay, but that is only really reliable if you know how that brand is sized.

    One thing that I have to say, though, is that second hand clothing shops, espcially charity ones, are really difficult to browse in. It's obvious why (lack of money to make them more consumer friendly, and unpredictable stock) but it does make me much less likely to buy things in them, unfortunately. It is so much easier to find what you want in the right size in a high street shop. And because I'm lazy and don't really like shopping, I don't buy as many clothes in charity shops as I'd like.

  3. @Clarabelle – At first, I read that and was shocked at the idea of second hand running shoes… and then I remembered that I have a pair I have worn about twice and was pondering getting rid of! We just need to find more ways to match up those who want to get rid of excess clothing to those who want it.

    @Freja – I agree about eBay. Sizing can be a bit of a tricky thing to properly assess online, especially when some sellers aren't willing or able to answer more detailed questions about measurements. Charity shops are a lot of fun and have the added bonus of letting you try stuff on, but they are tricky to rummage through. If you don't have the time for that, the second-hand and vintage sellers on Etsy plus well-respected eBay sellers like Retro Chick are the best bet. Or clothes swap parties with friends 🙂

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