Conversations around unsustainable fashion consumption have become a hot topic over the past few years. With the average garment worn only 10 times before being thrown away, the speed and relentlessness of fashion trend forecasting has given rise to an unquenchable thirst for ‘new’.
Long gone are the days of a two-season wardrobe, with fast-fashion retailers now producing over 100 billion items of clothing every year. From human rights issues to waste, CO2 emissions to degenerative agriculture, the impact of our rapidly accelerating clothing consumption goes far beyond a single issue. An increasing number of brands have responded to public concern over sustainability transparency, cueing the onset of ubiquitous ‘greenwashing’. From tencel, recycled cotton and QMilk to scoby leather, the pursuit of the most ‘sustainable’ materials ranges from intriguing to down-right absurd.
And here lies the problem. An understanding of sustainable consumption that rests primarily on swapping cheaper clothing for seemingly ‘ethical’, ‘sustainable’ and expensive alternatives is an oversimplification at best. At worst, it embodies a naive understanding of how income and privilege afford greater choice. Perhaps more imporantly, however, this approach does little to recognise the fundamental driving force behind the fast-fashion epidemic: overconsumption.
In the face of tempting marketing strategies, advertising algorithms and influencer culture, how can we endeavour to curb our consumption of new clothes? Lets take a dive into some solutions.
Love what you have
Appreciation for the clothes we already own might just be the most impactful mindset to reduce our appetite for new ones. You might not feel like you love every item of clothing you currently own, but an ‘attitude of gratitude’ can be cultivated through connecting with the full process behind your clothes. In recognising the magnitude of resources and labour that go into producing a single garment, we might be more compelled to do everything we can to appreciate and look after our existing clothes, as opposed to creating demand for more.
Simply going through your clothes and ensuring they are hung up and organised can help in reminding you of what you have, and how you could restyle old items that you haven’t reached for in a while. After all, if you can’t see it, you won’t wear it.
Fix up, look sharp
One of most tangible ways to extend the life of existing clothing is through repairing, and there is a huge amount of tips and tricks online to help even the most shaky-handed of sewers patch up their clothes. Whether the job is as simple as replacing a button or more substantial like altering a hem, make-do-and-mend culture is seeing a promising comeback among those keen to redefine the way we treat our clothes.
If you’re not feeling optimistic about your own sewing abilities, seek out a tailors — yes, they do still exist, and have recently upgraded. Dubbed ‘the Deliveroo of clothing repairs’, Sojo
offers an app-based service for alterations and repairs, challenging the disposable culture of clothing one stitch at a time.
Whether you decide to get crafty with a needle and thread, keep a sewing friend on speed-dial or opt for a more professional service, knowing where to turn to might just help defy the impulse to buy new something that could easily be fixed.
One of the most recent developments in fast fashion solutions has been the rise of renting. In the UK, popular clothing rental platforms include Hurr
, By Rotation
and My Wardrobe HQ
, which have been providing customers with an alternative to clothing ownership. These platforms might organise exhanges by holding garments in a centralised location, or by facilitating peer-to-peer swaps, and many have built a reputation on their ability to provide high-end occasion wear which customers may feel otherwise reluctant to purchase.
Rental isn’t without its pitfalls — the concept still monopolises off that dopamine kick of ‘newness’ and prices on a similar level to many fast fashion outlets. Nevertheless, it offers something of a solution for a consumer market keen to break away from models of ownership and individual consumption.
Swap and share
While most of us would be more than happy to lend clothes to friends, many simply don’t think to ask! Sharing among friends is a great way to expand your wardrobe without buying new.
Creating a sharing culture among friends starts with opening a conversation around sharing and its benefits, and you might be surprised at how many people show interest. In fact, sharing clothes can go beyond friendship groups. Organised community ‘clothing swaps’ like Kindred
in West London and the Community Clothing Exchange
in Leeds aim to provide a non-monetised, item-for-item swapping system in local communities. Projects like these not only fortify community connections, but help find a new owner for a pre-loved pair of jeans.
Shop second hand
The second-hand clothes market has seen rapidly increasing popularity, and it's set to grow by a further 185% in the next ten years. Sure enough, this demand is reflected in the diverse options available to consumers, ranging from charity shops, vintage stores and online retailers like Depop
Shopping second hand provides a more sustainable alternative to buying new, through extending the lifespan of existing garments that might have otherwise ended up in landfill, and at the same time reducing consumer demand for new clothing from fast fashion outlets. As with rental schemes, the expanding second hand market has not been without potential concerns — transport emissions, gentrification of so-called thrifting and questions on efficacy of donating clothes to charity shops, many of which still end up in landfill — but its increasing popularity can be seen as at least partly demonstrative of the public's concern with the impact of fast fashion.
It should not be assumed that these solutions provide a means by which everyone can boycott fast fashion retailers altogether. An increasing awareness of the problems surrounding high-speed fashion consumption has surely given rise to some promising alternatives, but improving accessibility must be a priority.
So lets manifest a make-do-and-mend mindset, savour sharing and second-hand, revel in the enticing realms of rental, but, most importantly, love the clothes we already have. If I’m going to buy anything new, it will be a needle and thread.
About the author
Harriet Matthews is a first-class honours arts graduate from the University of Leeds, with a passion for the ways in which sustainability intersects with arts, culture, media and sociology. She currently works at a forest school in Brighton and enjoys working with young children to encourage their understanding and embodied experience of the natural world.
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