Shopping has always been a form of entertainment for me. I spent a lot of my teenage years socialising with friends in shopping centres, trying on endless outfit combinations and styling each other in dressing rooms. While Primark was always painted as a ‘baddie’ in terms of ethics, shopping in high street stores such as H&M and Topshop didn’t phase me. As I got older and had my own streams of income I found myself buying more and more. It became most noticeable last Autumn when another added income of a student loan pushed me over the fine line between ‘treating myself’ and unnecessarily indulging. I’m pretty good with managing my money (if I do say so myself), so it didn’t seem like a massive problem….it was just completely unnecessary. The barrier between ‘liking’ something and buying it had evaporated. Suddenly I was purchasing clothes just because I liked them, regardless as to whether I really needed them.
So at the start of this year I decided to make conscious consumption one of my main priorities. Not only had I become aware that shopping was now just a habit for me but I was also increasingly aware of what I was buying into. Learning different processes for knit, weave, stitch and print textiles on my degree I was also aware just how time consuming and costly this was (even when using machines). Buying a £15 jumper from a high street retailer or even a £30 pair of jeans is ridiculous when you break down all the people involved in the process and of course the massive chunk which is taken in profit by the retail giants. My moral thinking simply didn’t align to my shopping habits. And if I didn’t think the wages or how they treated their workers was fair; the materials they were using would just clog landfills or that the dyes and chemical processes was destroying third world counries, then why was I fuelling these companies?
‘the carbon footprint of clothing in use in the UK has risen to 26.2 million tonnes CO2e in 2016… due to a combination of relatively low prices and increased population’
I’d love to give up shopping fast fashion completely. If I had the money I’d never give a penny to some of these companies. The exploitation at the expense of a cheap top to wear on a night out is such a symbol for our capitalist society. But I can’t. It’s just not realistic. Since January I’ve realised just how much more effort (and money) it takes to shop ethically and sustainably. When I think of eco fashion I don’t think of it as being young or creative, I certainly haven’t seen much eco-fashion to my taste. So far I’ve avoided slipping into the black hole of shopping through opting to shop vintage. Shopping vintage doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more expensive (I’d align a lot of the vintage stores I shop in with the prices of Topshop) but it importantly does mean you’re reusing items instead of buying into the generation of cheap synthetic fabrics which won’t decompose. Vintage shopping also means I shop less frequently (no online easy purchases) and when you do buy, you know you won’t see everyone and their mum wearing the same!
‘Clothing manufacture and sales in the UK is still the fourth largest pressure
on our natural resources after housing, transport and food’
I’m interested to see how this personal experiment goes – will I stick to it? The constant influx of new in items is soooo tempting not to mention the lack of ethical and sustainable brands that sell trainers, activewear and youth led clothing. It really is a mission. However, anyone can become more conscious of their consumption. Whether that’s buying less, buying from a ‘conscious’ line within a brand (e.g. H&M conscious) or going cold turkey on non-ethical/sustainable brands – anything is something.
‘1kg of cotton is created using an average of 10,000 – 20,000 litres of water’
Please help a gal out and let me know any cool sustainable and ethical brands that I should check out! I’m keen to go into more detail about what materials are problematic (or at least controversial) and hopefully bring more meaning and reasoning behind my current stance on fast fashion soon!
sidenote: of course my wardrobe is still full of a lot of highstreet pieces (I’m wearing a H&M top in this post!!). For me it’s not about eradicating all traces of non-ethical/sustainable pieces – it’s just about doing what you can, when you can, however you can!
Wearing a H&M top, cords from Blitz (vintage shop off of Brick Lane) and JOY earrings.
All quotes and statistics in this post come from WRAP an organisation transforming the way the clothing and textiles industry buys, uses and re-uses textiles and clothing. Their report ‘Valuing our clothes: the cost of UK fashion’ from July 2017 is a great place to start if you’re interested in knowing more.