For the very first Target 2030 article I’ve asked Laurike in ‘t Veld (also my partner) to write about a great project she undertook last year. The subject is fashion, or more precisely, how she used a New Years resolution to move toward a more sustainable way of shopping for clothes.
In December 2017, after being motivated by recurring news on the wastefulness of fast fashion and horrific working conditions, I decided I wanted to go a whole year without buying any first-hand items of clothing. I’d kept myself wilfully ignorant about the dark side of fast fashion for a long time – I enjoyed walking into H&M, Primark, or any High Street shop and buying fashionable items of clothing for really low prices.
However, with every ‘made in Bangladesh’ label I noticed in my clothing, I started to feel more guilty about what I was contributing to. I wanted to tackle my dependence on fast fashion, and see if I could create a new mindset for myself where I wouldn’t enjoy this easy consumption and discarding of clothes anymore.
The plan was fairly simple: I would not buy any first-hand clothing for a year, with two exceptions: underwear and shoes. The underwear probably speaks for itself, but I decided to include shoes as I knew from past experience that finding second-hand, well-fitting shoes is not easy.
The biggest initial change was where I found my clothes. Avoiding the high street altogether, I started to explore the charity and vintage shops in my area. A friend also told me about the website/app United Wardrobe, a place where people sell their old clothes.
Changing where I looked for clothes also meant changes to how I looked for them. Rather than walking into a shop and taking a quick stock of the styles/colours/garments, second-hand shopping became much more about finding the hidden gems. I preferred the charity shops over vintage stores for this reason – it was harder work finding the ‘gems’ but also much more satisfying because of that. The United Wardrobe website was a very valuable addition to my shopping experience. Because you don’t have the chance to try on clothes (and UW discourages returning items, which I think is great), I would spend much more time browsing and reconsidering before I made a final purchase.
‘Slow fashion’ is often described as the antidote to fast and unethical fashion. It means buying high quality items, checking for sustainable and ethical production, and looking at what you have in your wardrobe and seeing how you can preserve your clothes and make them last longer.
However, the ‘slow’ in this case also pertained to the buying process. Not being able to walk into a store and quickly grab something because it looks nice and they have my size meant I started to reconsider what I actually needed, and what I actually liked to have in my wardrobe. By slowing down the process of acquiring clothes, I became more mindful about what I had, wanted, and needed.
There were a few challenges. The most important one was that I found it quite hard to buy certain ‘basics’ second-hand. For instance, I wanted a couple of black vests (I wear them underneath clothes in the autumn and winter) but it was nearly impossible to find these fairly simple items in my size. Here, I cheated my own system a bit when I asked my partner to buy them for me as a gift. I still feel a bit guilty about that!
The disadvantage of buying clothes from United Wardrobe was that they did not always fit well. When clothes didn’t really suit me, I would pass them forward via Facebook groups, so that other people could enjoy them. It’s always a risk of buying online and I am happy United Wardrobe made it hard to return clothes. The amount of clothes that are returned (and discarded because of that) is insane.
One Year On
By the end of 2018, I had started to look forward to the end of my second-hand experiment, and daydreaming a bit about all the first-hand clothes I could buy again. Funnily enough, when my year of second-hand shopping had officially finished, I walked into a fast-fashion store and felt quite put off by what I saw, the massive amount of new clothes on the racks were just too much. I did of course buy a few new items, lured by the fact you don’t have to look far to find what you need. However, I still look at second-hand options first, and I have drastically reduced the amount of clothes I buy first-hand.
Some tips I would give to people who want to change their fashion habits:
- If you don’t like the idea of replacing everything with second-hand shopping, that’s fine! Every little helps, so maybe try and buy second-hand every other item you buy. It also really helps to visit some charity shops and second-hand clothing shops, just to get a feel for what’s out there.
- There are plenty of online places too, like United Wardrobe, Vinted, Thredup, Poshmark, Swap, and Etsy.
- Have a good look at the clothes you own, and see if you can use them in new ensembles to make them interesting again. You could also organise a Clothing Swap event, where you and your friends swap clothes.
- What I didn’t do, but is a very good alternative to fast fashion, is buying clothes from sustainable and ethical clothing lines like People Tree, Thought Clothing, Armed Angels, and many others. Make sure to check how ethical these clothing lines are though! It’s a bit of a fad to have ‘conscious’ and ‘sustainable’ clothes at the moment, so it’s advisable to stay critical.
- Vintage shops can be quite expensive, and the stricter return rules meant I would sometimes spend money on items that didn’t fit so well. On the other hand, you can find some real bargains in charity shops, and there are plenty of ways in which you can improve your existing wardrobe, like community groups that offer guidance as to how you can sew and mend clothes.
I think the most important thing is to slow down fashion wherever and whenever possible.
This means that on the production-side, clothing manufacturers can be more transparent about how and under what conditions the clothes are produced, while they should also make clear that quality comes at a price.
We should all remind ourselves that there’s no way a 2.99 (dollar, euro, pound) t-shirt at Primark can be produced in an ethical, sustainable, and humane manner, and clothing manufacturers should start rejecting this business model. At the same time, consumers can slow down their fashion as well, by not just buying any new cheap thing they see, and by consciously buying items that are part of a more durable and ethical fashion cycle.