EARTH DAY SPECIAL: WHAT SUSTAINABLE FASHION MEANS TO ME
It’s no secret: there’s nothing more satisfying to me than discovering a new sustainable and ethical clothing label, or unearthing a one-of-a-kind treasure in a carboot sale or charity shop. This search for treasure has always been a part of my life, but it was only since I studied sustainability at uni (where I was doing furniture and product design) that I really began to understand the need for us all to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle in these times of mass consumption and disregard for our environment. I’m pleased that in recent years it has got a lot easier to find items from cleaning products and skincare to fashion and homeware that I can feel good about purchasing, thanks to their eco-conscious credentials and natural ingredients and materials. In the last few years we have seen not only a breadth of new-gen designers launching their brands with an eco-ethical ethos but also established designers adopting sustainable production processes. Whilst this is brilliant, it's also important to remember that sustainability isn’t just about purchasing new but also about appreciating and taking care of what you have. So, this Earth Day, I’m revisiting what sustainable fashion means to me.
In short, sustainable fashion isn't about following a trend — it's a way of life and our approach to consumption in general. Try to invest in pieces you’ll wear 30 times or more (based on Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age’s, 30 Wears campaign — which to the older generations probably sounds like very little but in our present society that promotes “new, new, new,” 30 wears is a lot!!), and be creative with what you already own rather than buying something new for every occasion. I try not to impulse-buy and to be very intentional about it when I do go shopping. Secondhand is my go-to: you can find me scouring the best vintage shops in every major city, thrifting at every carboot I stumble upon, and digging through my local charity shops for pre-loved items (learn how to energetically clean your clothes here). Wearing clothes with a story is part of the fun, and this is a brilliant way to be experimental and express yourself while being easy on the wallet!
When I do shop for new items, I always try to do my research and support innovative labels with strict ethical standards, such as companies that are B Certified. There are also so many wonderful new labels like Ninety Percent and Mother of Pearl, as well as more established brands like Mara Hoffman. I’m also incredibly passionate about supporting small, new designers and encouraging creativity within the industry — whilst they might not be able to label themselves as “sustainable” — small production lines and handmade items are much more sustainable than a fast fashion item ever could be. Of course, sometimes the high of shopping wears off and you find yourself with something that on second thought, you no longer want to leave the house in. In this case, I’m not afraid to return items (I have met some people who would never dream of returning an item!), but if it’s too late I always give the item a second life by selling, swapping or donating rather than hiding it at the back of my wardrobe.
Sustainable fashion is the big issue du jour, and it has always been a consideration for me, in part because of my upbringing. My parents were very careful that we didn’t waste anything, that everything we owned got as much life in it as it could, so from a young age I learned to get creative with my things, to mend and patch them up, to mix and match. I was brought up on hand-me-downs from family, and loved shopping around in the attic for mum’s, gran’s (and even dad’s!) old threads and finding something that I could make work with other items in my wardrobe, so you can see where my love for thrifting, and sometimes eyebrow raising outfits, was born! However, when I moved out and started shopping for myself as both a student on a budget, and later on with my own pay check, fast fashion had really hit the high street and shopping had taken on a whole new pace. I fell head first into the trap of continuously chasing cheap thrills. It was only at the end of the tax year when I looked back at the super-long receipts choc-full of multiple purchases ranging from £2.99 to £14.99 to £29.99, I would be baffled at what those items were exactly and wonder how much use I’d got out of them. It was enough to make me rethink my attitude towards shopping.
Through my interest in wellbeing, I quickly realised mass consumption wasn’t in tune with nature or a balanced life. That’s when I came back to my parents’ way, to their conscientiousness. I realised that how I spent my money was a vote for what I wanted to see on this planet, which is why I now do my best to patronise businesses that have the environment and their communities at heart. The right conversation, the move towards a more sustainable fashion industry is happening right now, which makes me really hopeful for the future even though we do still have a long way to go. It’s important to acknowledge that whilst purchasing sustainable clothing often comes at a higher cost, this is as a result of brands paying their workers higher wages, needing to invest in more expensive manufacturing processes and materials. If you’re able to afford the higher cost of these clothes, this higher demand will eventually lead to increased supply and inevitably bring the costs down so that this way of consuming becomes more universally accessible.
There are many other things you can do to make a positive impact on the planet through your buying power. The same attitude can be applied far beyond fashion, to the beauty, household, lifestyle and food industries as well. When it comes to choosing ingredients, support local producers and buy organic, seasonal foods whenever you can. For beauty products, double check the ones you own for undesirable ingredients and replace those with more natural ones next time you need to — there are websites like EWG with search engines where you can check the ingredients on your current products or apps like Think Dirty, also check out new brands doing great stuff for your health and that of the environment. I’ve got some of my favourites in the beauty section of my website if you need some inspiration.
If you have any clothes that you no longer wear, look into selling or donating them so they can find a new life elsewhere instead of gathering dust (and maybe moths!). Waste is waste whether in landfill or clogging up your home and could be better used elsewhere — this is a more circular use of fashion whereby others can still get the joy out of something new or an updated wardrobe for less or even free without using up more of the earth's resources by making more. I love the charity Smartworks for donating clean items to help those who are interviewing for jobs feel good. I’m also a huge fan of the annual Women for Women She Inspires Me carboots puts on yearly — an uplifting and fun afternoon all in aid of women survivors of war.
There isn’t just one clean definition of sustainability, so it’s important not to get our knickers in a twist about it and end up paralysed, or feeling guilty in our choices or so fed up we turn a blind eye. Just become more aware of it — if we all show some interest and goodwill we can go far: it’s about attitude, and mindfulness. As zero waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau says, we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly, and I think this applies to our attitude towards our sustainable consumption of anything, fashion included.
Don’t stress if you can’t make the best decision every single time — just do your best to support companies whose ethics you admire, to be more conscious in your everyday. Take some time to set some intentions around raising your awareness of your consumer habits and to research ways that you can buy better — or have some fun mending and making do! Slowing down and spending time on things that are important to you, your loved ones and your planet is always good to nourish our mind, body and soul.