Tag: sustainability

Spend More, Buy Less – over one year later

Last summer I found myself falling down the sustainability rabbit hole. I vowed to change my ways of consumption and be a more respectful consumer. I can 100% admit that I have failed. Here I will tell you exactly why. I know these are excuses (literally exactly what they are) but I know that there are other people in the same situation as me who came in with good intentions and have strayed.

1 – Sustainability can be expensive

The first thing that I thought I would do would be cut out fast fashion. I wouldn’t shop at Zara. I wouldn’t shop at H&M. I wouldn’t shop online in e-stores like Missguided and Pretty Little Thing. This lasted for about 6-8 weeks then I crumbled. Terrible, I know, but it’s really hard to not buy anything when you constantly want something new. The sustainability principle of buying less is very hard when you’re into fashion and want to keep up with the latest trends or even start your own. Quite often the only way to execute certain looks is by buying cheap pieces to get the aesthetic we desire. I want Gucci but I can’t afford it, so I buy the Zara alternative. Most of the time, the people who I have seen online preaching about sustainability and not shopping fast fashion are wealthy. Like go into Gucci and buy the fur slides for the hell of it wealthy. They aren’t living like regular college students are living.

2 – I suck at thrifting

On the other end of the spectrum, the people who talk about sustainability thrift exclusively. They buy used, secondhand clothes, shoes, accessories, regardless of the condition. They manage to find things that fit. I never do. In fact, I am perhaps the world’s worst thrifter. I rarely find anything that I find semi-passable. I’ve been to Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, Housing Works, Beacon’s Closet (I do like that place), and 9 times out of 10 I leave empty-handed. Thrifting in New York is not what I expected it to be. I thought that it would be so easy and that I’d find cool things ever single weekend. What I have come to learn is that in order to get cool things you need to spend a lot of money. For example, I was at a store on Saint Marks a couple of weeks ago and I tried on the coolest hat you have ever seen. When I looked at the price tag it was $75. That’s insane for a secondhand, non-designer item. I have had similar experiences in other thrift stores where I have spotted cool items then been taken aback by the price. I’m not willing to spend more on an old, used, slightly roughed up item than I would on something new.

3 – I’m a college student

Living in New York is hard. Everything here is so damn expensive. When I began writing the Spend More, Buy Less posts I was working full-time. I had an income which meant I was able to buy more expensive clothes but now I can’t.

I do fully agree with a lot of the principles I spoke about in these posts and after going back and reading them again I want to start making a more conscious decision to keep an eye on my consumption again. In the meantime, here are some suggestions which I think could help towards reducing your individual footprint.

 – Donate or recycle old clothes

Whether it be by literally taking the clothes to be recycled for textiles or recycling by someone else wearing them, don’t put your clothes in the trash and send them to a landfill because that is simply a waste. Not all clothing is biodegradable so it can sit in the landfill and pollute for years to come. Either donate clothes to a charity (in the US I’ve donated to Goodwill but in the UK there’s more of a selection), sell it back to a store in exchange for cash or store credit (either Beacon’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange would work), or give it to a friend. You could also try selling on Depop. It looks like Instagram but it’s shoppable.

 – Build a capsule wardrobe

I know a capsule wardrobe sounds so dated but bear with me. Build up a collection of basics which you can mix and match on a daily basis and splurge on fun, trendy items every once in a while. If you have good jeans (black, grey, and maybe blue if you’re into that), various t-shirts in different cuts, silky cami tops, button downs, a couple of cute skirts, and a pair of black pants you can build lots of different outfits. Try making the look more exciting via your choice of outerwear or by adding accessories. I know that throughout the winter I dress boring as hell underneath my coat but because I always wear interesting outerwear or furry accessories I look pulled together.

I know that my current rate of consumption is unnecessary and I know that purchasing from fast fashion stores on the regular is not admirable so I would like to reign in my spending. However, I don’t like it when people are extremely judgmental of others for their consumption because you don’t know their personal circumstances. Also, lots of people remain ignorant of the issues at hand, often through no fault of their own. It’s definitely a personal journey and I think one that we have to make the decision to make on our own.

Spend More, Buy Less – Part 4

As I said in my first post on this topic, I plan to investigate the matter further. The first step that I planned to take was watching The True Cost, the documentary that has been talked about in every fast-fashion criticism of the past few years. I have also read a book on the topic Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman, a writer who chronicled his travels around the world to find out exactly where his clothes were made: Levi’s, the all-American icon were made in Cambodia, his flip-flops made in China. I also went to a talk by the author during my orientation week at school. I found it very interesting and it also brought up further ethical dilemmas. It so happened that I went to a talk about sustainability in Edinburgh in July which sparked another post, so here is part 4 in the Spend More, Buy Less series; a series that I hope to continue for as long as I can keep thinking up ideas on the matter.

I did actually watch The True Cost and I found it rather saddening. I hate to think that people would be dying just so I can buy a pair of jeans for £20 or a t-shirt for £3. Obviously these items should cost more but I think we have become so accustomed to paying these prices that we think nothing of it. Especially when you’re a teenager and you have a small monthly allowance, you’re unlikely to save up to get an expensive, ethically made pair of jeans or a t-shirt. For the past year I have been working full time and therefore have had a little bit more money than I did before (but I was saving for college so I didn’t have quite as much spending money as I wish I did!) so I did buy more expensive, hopefully more ethical purchases than I did before. Now I’m back to being a student without a job and therefore no income. So the small amount of money that I do have I am likely to spend on clothes from Zara. I feel slightly ashamed to even think like that now that I am fully aware of what goes into the making of these clothes but I will also not be able to afford anything better so it’s a bit of a catch-22 that I’m sure many other people are in.

On one hand, I could shop locally made. For example, since I’ll be in the USA I could buy items from American Apparel, a now-flailing brand, but they don’t have the selection that I’m looking for. They’re just basics. I could also shop vintage. I do enjoy this actually but it is definitely more difficult if you’re looking for something super specific. Since arriving in New York I’ve found a bunch of great vintage/second hand stores, although I find that they can be a little bit expensive for used clothing. Really I’m broke as hell so I’m not doing much shopping at all right now.

Since attending fashion school I’m experiencing further disdain for the fast-fashion industry and even private label brands who are ripping off the work of other designers. Yet I feel stuck because I can’t afford any better, and being at a fashion school it almost feels necessary to keep refreshing your style. It is very difficult to be around people who are constantly wearing new looks and trying new things and not wanting to be involved. It’s rather disappointing to me because when I started researching this I thought that by the end of the year I might have stopped shopping fast fashion altogether, and now here is me buying multiple pieces from Zara a month. I’ve even shopped at Forever 21 a couple of times. It’s kind of embarrassing to me, especially because I’m now ultra aware of the effects of my consumption.

It is funny reading this post from beginning to end for me because I started it in August with the best intentions and as time has passed and I’ve got less and less money and more and more urges and desires to have new things, I seem to have just lost everything that I had found over the summer. I can see my viewpoint changing throughout the post. From before I got to New York (I could shop at American Apparel) to after I’d been there a few weeks (I could go thrifting) to now (Zara, Forever 21). It is shameful and I am sorry. I really need to sit down and reevaluate things because I know that fast fashion isn’t worth it, not to me or to the people (and the environment) that are being harmed as a result of it.

To anyone out there who is reading this and wants to remain stylish but on a (very small) budget, what’s your advice? How do you will yourself away from fast fashion? And honestly, how do you shop vintage? (The experience is just stressful to me.)

Spend More, Buy Less – Part 3

This is now the third post in my sustainability series. Before I have tackled the human cost of fast fashion more than the environment. This time I wanted to shift my focus onto that, briefly. Most of the information below was what I picked up at the EIFF talk on sustainability. I found the executive from Stella McCartney to be very informative and actually extremely interesting to listen to. I can’t pretend that I’ve ever really considered the environmental cost of fashion before that day so my mind has been opened. I always think of the humans first. However, if we keep ruining our planet there will be nowhere for the humans to live. Ah, science.

I think it is clear to everyone that the planet’s natural resources are scarce. In some areas, water is a luxury yet in the production of many clothing items, especially denim, massive quantities of the resource are used and then polluted as a result. So how can fashion respond to some of the harm that it does and turn that harm into good? It isn’t easy. However, I learned that Stella McCartney is a brand that is willing to put the time and effort into finding out how.

Basically, the idea of a circular economy needs to be further explored in order to make fashion more sustainable and less environmentally damaging. Promisingly, lots of the big brands already have officers in house to explore what brands can do to reduce their footprint and make things safer for all involved, although there seems to be more of a focus on the environment instead of the human costs.

Kate Moss in jeans, a vest top, and a leather jacket.

I liked the idea of replanting the grass when sheep graze on fields. This was mentioned by the Stella executive. The sheep are sheared for their wool which eventually comes back and is made into a jumper and then is sold in retail stores. I liked this approach of going all the way back to the beginning. Instead of just exploring Tier 1 suppliers (the manufacturers) or even Tier 2 and 3 (like the textile suppliers and mills before that) Stella, as a brand, wants to go all the way back to the raw materials to make a difference. That was a cool fact to find out.

I also found out that some materials are harder to recycle than others. Cotton can be made back into cellulose, I think they said. But other fibres are often more difficult to reuse and recycle and until the technology is developed to make this possible. Obviously this will require a great deal of investment. Fortunately there are coalitions which focus on sustainability that may be able to make this possible eventually. There are also the corporate giants like Kering which owns Stella McCartney who provide the investment to allow brands to explore these issues in a way that smaller luxe brands may not be able to do.

Denim, white shirts, and t-shirts are all staples of our wardrobes but all harmful to make. The shirts are bleached, meaning the water is polluted. T-shirts just use a hell of a lot of water in the production process (think back to scarcity in some areas of the world). Denim is an obvious offender, but some techniques like sand washing are not only environmentally harmful but actually dangerous for the workers involved. They risk going blind. The more I have explored this topic, the more wary I have become. I feel helpless. I don’t know what I can do, or if there is anything that I can do, to help with this. If you look into it, almost everything that you’d want to wear causes some form of damage.

As consumers what can we do? I’ve thought about it and I concluded that recycling is key. If your old clothes are in a usable state, donate them to a charity shop. If you have old uniforms, there are specific companies who are interesting in reusing them. If they’re not in a wearable state, try donating to a textiles bank. Maybe something can be made out of them, even if it’s just dishrags. Reducing our consumption means that eventually the vicious fashion production cycle will slow down. I think that may be the crux of the matter.

Spend More, Buy Less – Part 2

After attending the Sustainability Masterclass at EIFF in July, I had some more thoughts on the separation between the human costs and the environmental costs in fashion and how this all links back to the sustainability discussion. The panel at the talk consisted of an executive from Stella McCartney, a Masters degree student researching the circular economy in fashion, the owner of a colour consultancy business, and, I think, a moderator. I found that this linked in with the ideas that I was exploring in the Spend More, Buy Less vein that I have been delving into. I have actually being reading up on this and doing a lot more research than may meet the eye with my blog, especially as my posts are often published a few weeks after I’ve written them. I am now much more aware of and interested in the ethical debate and I have further posts coming up on the topic in the future.

According to the author of “Why Fashion Matters”, Frances Corner, if we extended the lifecycle of each of our clothing items by nine months we could save $8bn annually. The whole idea is buying clothes that are made to last instead of fast fashion pieces that are designed only to last a season or two. If we begin making conscious decisions to spend more smartly, we can save our bank balances, lives, and the planet. You wouldn’t think that one person making a change could make all the difference, but if each person decided to make this change things could greatly improve.

It is true, though, that luxury brands do less harm than fast fashion. For one, they produce less. People also hold onto their items for longer. Luxury goods do not have the same turnover that fast fashion does because we generally think of expensive goods as an investment. Fast fashion brands mass produce and do so for the lowest possible cost, meaning they go to factories in Asia where there is a low minimum wage and they can make the highest profit. We also buy way too much fast fashion because it is available and because our appetite for it is increasingly larger.

The only way that fast fashion retailers will begin to produce less is if we, as consumers, collectively buy less. If at the end of each season stores are left with so much stock to mark down in the sale in order to shift the inventory they will begin to realise that they are producing too much, that the demand is not high enough. However, it would take a lot of people to make this change. It is also important that we think delicately.

Although it may seem awful to think about children producing your clothes, I learned in Where Am I Wearing? that many of these children work to feed themselves and their families, to keep them out of awful businesses like prostitution. However, when this book was written it was after the Nike scandal of the 90s but before the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013 so perhaps big changes have occurred in this time period, maybe the kids are now in schools. I don’t think brands will ever know who really makes their clothes unless they go to the factories themselves and visit, and do it unannounced. If you do an audit, it will be the very best of things you will see; people will ensure audits are positive or they risk serious repercussions. Random checks are the only way to be confident that your clothes are being produced ethically but even this can become impossible when your manufacturers subcontract the work. Your supply chain can grow until the business requiring the goods really has no idea, fully, of how they got there.

Until the system is changed, and that is a problem greater than what the fashion industry can solve as it comes down to government and culture in the Asian countries, any major changes to the way that fast fashion brands produce can have a detrimental effect on the economies and, in turn, the citizens who are most vulnerable to the changes. If they lose their jobs, they can’t eat. They can’t provide for their families. Sometimes when we think we are doing good we are actually doing more harm. As I previously mentioned, fast fashion and luxury are two very different worlds so the problems that each encounter don’t often overlap.

There was another woman who spoke at the talk who owned a colour consultancy service. It was her job to provide women with assessments on the colours that suit them best so they can shop smartly in the future, therefore hopefully reducing their overall waste. I think my granny had this service done years ago, and she actually offered it to me one time. I tend to stick to a very basic colour palette anyway so I didn’t find it necessary. One thing that the woman said that struck me was that fast fashion retailers were not interested in their customers just buying certain colours that suited them because they just want their customers to spend. They don’t care what it is on, they don’t care if the items are almost disposable as long as they sell. I found that rather sad. Why be so small minded?

 

So as individuals, what can we do? Basically, buy less and think about a purchase before you make it. Do you really need it? Will you wear it enough? Does it fit? Does it suit you? Do you need it? Of course we don’t need half of the items that we buy, but sometimes want outweighs need. Livia Firth is a vocal speaker on this issue. She is known to say if you don’t think you’ll wear something 30 times, don’t buy it. I don’t think motto should apply to every item of clothing you purchase (e.g. a special occasion dress) but I think it definitely should for the more everyday items, especially basics like t-shirts, trousers, and coats. Maybe if we all made the effort to become more conscious consumers progressive changes could occur. It shouldn’t be a pie-in-the-sky dream, especially if people’s lives are at risk when they go to work every single day. That’s not fair to them.