In 2017, demand for meat-free food increased by 987% according to The Vegan Society and this year the world woke up to the devastating effect of plastic on ocean life, with a single-use plastic ban approved by European Parliament. Clearly environmentalism is on the rise and the next big issue set to be tackled could be what’s in our wardrobes.
While clothes were once seen as a long-term investment, the consumerist society we live in now has created a culture of “fast fashion” – where we buy cheap garments for short-term use before replacing them with the next trending item that’s marketed at us. The result? A disastrous impact on our environment that, as it stands, shows no sign of easing up.
Clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014
According to Greenpeace, the average person buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago. Because of this mindset amongst shoppers, the fashion industry is thriving. Clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014 and while in 2002 clothing sales amounted to $ 1 trillion dollars, that’s projected to rise to $2.1 trillion by 2025, according to the environmental charity.
“I definitely think people's connection with and appetite for fashion has changed quite dramatically in the last five years or so,” said stylist Sophie Brewster.
sofifashion88 / instagram
“I started my career as a personal shopper over 10 years ago, and the only way you could get your trend fix would be through fashion magazines or trying to emulate what your favourite celebrities were wearing. It could be months before the high street could recreate catwalk looks, but now with many fast fashion retailers launching 100 + new lines every week, more mini trends are emerging meaning there is constantly something new and exciting to buy into.
“I also believe there is a massive link between our insatiable appetite for newness and social media influencers posting daily outfit looks which can be purchased with one click through apps like Instagram,” Sophie added.
“Fast fashion and the vicious cycle that has been set in motion by it cannot be ignored any more. First of all, cheap clothing made it unnecessary to make do and mend. Next, we lost our respect for clothing and the necessary knowledge to maintain them. Now we have lost all our inhibitions about even greater numbers of new clothing and using them for even shorter periods of time,” said Kirsten Brodde, global project lead of Greenpeace International’s Detox My Fashion campaign.
"There is a massive link between our insatiable appetite for newness and social media influencers posting daily outfit looks"
Sophie Brewster’s must-have charity shop items that will never go out of style
“Fashion is completely cyclical,” according to the stylist. Key pieces that are always worth keeping an eye open for, which will work from season to season are…
- Oversized denim jackets. People pay a lot of money for denim which looks as though it's been worn for years, so why not pick up the real deal?
- Chunky knitwear. Cheaper synthetic knits don't always look that great after a few washes, but pieces like chunky Aran cardigans or Fisherman-style jumpers never date and can often be made of much sturdy wool.
- Silky blouses. A simple silky blouse is timeless and so easy to pick up for a few pounds. Lots have cute collar details or pretty buttons which work perfectly with knitwear for winter.
- Midi skirts. Midi skirts are a huge trend at the moment and you can find some amazing prints out there. If you manage to find a bias cut style you've hit the skirt jackpot!
- Floral tea dresses. There is never a season or brand collection that doesn’t feature a floral dress. Go for a small repeat print for something less daunting or go full on ‘70s floral print if you're feeling bold.
- Anything leopard print! Every leopard print piece I've ever bought, I have kept and never regretted.
What some shoppers might not know is that fashion has a huge impact on the environment in many ways, primarily in the form of vast water consumption, toxins produced and waste created that goes into landfill.
“People don’t realise how damaging textiles are when you throw them in the bin, it’s reckoned to be the most damaging product after aluminium in the household waste stream because of the toxins that leak off the product. Natural fibres take hundreds of years to decompose and synthetic ones like polyester are designed not to decompose at all,” said Michael Lomotey, Business Manager for Clothes Aid.
Stats compiled by Clothes Aid show that 300,000 tonnes of clothing go to UK landfill every year and the global average water footprint for 1 kilogram of cotton - equivalent to the weight of one man’s shirt and a pair of jeans - is 10,000 to 20,000 litres, depending on where it is grown.
“Looking into the future and talking about planet boundaries, it is clear that consumerism is killing our planet. It's heating up the climate, using too much fossil energy, destroying habitats, landscapes and people’s livelihoods. It is not only nature that is paying the price for it, but the millions of people working in exploitative conditions,” Greenpeace’s Kirsten said.
It’s a bleak picture, but the future doesn’t have to be this way.
"It is clear that consumerism is killing our planet"
“We do see a countermovement on the horizon that is driven by smaller and medium-size eco fair fashion companies that changed their everyday practices, and people that are fed up with throwaway fashion looking for an alternative,” Kirsten added.
The activist also believes in the power of technology to “connect us with lots of tutorials, knowledge and experiences that can be shared widely” and Greenpeace has tapped into this with its Make Something campaign which is encouraging people to make rather than shop this December.
The message is clear: fast fashion is harming the environment on a global level, but what can we do to make our own individual wardrobes and shopping habits more ethical and sustainable?
First, it’s important to note that shoppers can be sustainable without compromising their style.
According to Eco-Age, a specialist sustainability consultancy founded by Livia Firth:
“Sustainability within fashion is about pairing ethics with aesthetics. In the past, terms such as ‘eco fashion’ and ‘green’ were traditionally associated with hemp sacks, but in 2018 it is clear to see that this is not the case. There is an ever-increasing variety of sustainable textiles and fibres available to brands, as well as socially impactful manufacturing options, meaning designers can create pieces where ethics and aesthetics co-exist. High profile individuals such as Emma Watson and the Duchess of Sussex have helped champion the sustainable fashion industry by showing that fashion can be stylish, luxurious and accessible.”
Livia founded the Green Carpet Challenge, where celebrities champion ethical fashion while attending high profile events. One of her favourite GCC looks was Emma Watson’s Calvin Klein dress at the 2016 Met Gala, which was made from recycled plastic bottles.
Clothes Aid’s Michael Lomotey shares his top tips for a more sustainable wardrobe
Following these simple rules can make a big difference.
.EXTEND THE LIFE OF CLOTHES
If you can increase the life cycle of a garment, whether that’s by reusing it, donating it to charity, putting it in a Clothes Aid bag or swapping it with friends of family, that’s a great thing to do. To arrange a clothing collection contact Clothes Aid on 020 7288 8545.
Buy more second-hand and swap clothes with friends and family, again extending the life cycle of garments. Also, look for better quality items that are likely to be more durable and shop those pieces if you can afford it.
CARE FOR YOUR ITEMS
Wash them at lower temperatures so the colours don’t fade as quickly and find out how to repair clothes. Sewing is a really easy thing to learn and it’s not difficult to get a needle and thread.
DON’T BIN YOUR CLOTHES
When clothes are damaged people think they’re no good to anybody and they put them in the bin, but the textile recycling industry can deal with damaged items. If you put something in a textile bank it will be reprocessed and then upcycled or downcycled.
The elephant in the room is consumption, we do buy too much. The people who have the most vested interest in that are the retailers because they’re here to sell you products.
CHOOSE FABRICS WISELY
Think about supporting and demanding other kinds of fibres like silk and textile made from bamboo, which have less of a harmful environmental impact.
As Michael mentioned, upcycling is a great way to make your clothes go further and reduce your need to buy new items, and stylist Sophie agrees.
“Upcycling is such a great way to get more out of a fast fashion piece you've fallen out of love with. I have a dress from a few years ago that had most of the buttons missing, instead of banishing it to the back of the wardrobe I popped to a haberdashery and spent £1.50 on some new tortoiseshell effect buttons and completely revamped the whole look of the dress. Changing buttons on an item is such a simple way to bring a drab cardigan or jacket right up to date.
“It's also incredibly simple to distress a pair of jeans yourself rather than forking out for a new pair, YouTube has so many simple tutorials for this. Even quick fixes like rolling and tacking the sleeves on an old t-shirt instantly modernises it. If you're not dab hand with a needle and thread, it can cost as little as a fiver to have an item taken in or to mend a hole in your favourite pair of trousers at your local dry cleaner, rather than throwing them out,” Sophie said.
"Upcycling is such a great way to get more out of a fast fashion piece you've fallen out of love with"
“I had a beautiful black pleated maxi skirt that I never wore on a day-to-day basis because it was impractically long. I had it taken up to midi length and now I wear it all year round, paired with boots in the winter and sandals in the summer,” said Holly Ounstead, a stylist who champions sustainability.
hollyounstead / instagram
Holly’s ethos when it comes to shopping is: buy less, buy well and look after what you own.
Buying well is, inevitably, more expensive but it doesn’t have to break the bank.
Holly recommends brands like People Tree, Nude Label and Matt and Nat to name a few.
“Considering their commitment to sustainable practices, I think these are more affordable at under £100,” Holly said.
Kayt Mendies runs a vintage and second-hand style blog called City Thrifter. She’s been shopping sustainably since she was a teenager and is a firm believer that second-hand shopping is not only best for the environment but results in unique outfits you couldn’t get on the high street.
citythrifter / Instagram
“Having worked for a fast fashion brand in the past and now in charity retail, I see the waste and turnover of trends and clothes. I haven’t bought new in over two years and there really is no need in my eyes (other than with underwear and socks),” she said.
“I think it’s human nature to want to treat yourself to something new and for me, vintage shopping and charity shopping still gives me that buzz. After all, these pieces are new to me and the chances of anyone else having them are very slim.
“If I’m purchasing from charity shops then there is the added benefit that you are supporting a great cause,” she added.
When it comes to second-hand shopping, Kayt has a top tip.
“Don’t go with a particular piece in mind, you need to be open minded. This goes for style and size too. Vintage in particular generally comes up small and I tend to mix clothes from across eras.”