For some years I’ve been consciously shunning big fashion brands, whether luxury or high street, and actively seeking out small independent labels. There are many reasons for this, not least the ability to find stuff that no one else will be wearing. But reading again last week about Burberry and their disgusting practice of burning millions of pounds worth of old stock (which they say they have now stopped), brings to the fore the horrific amount of waste in the fashion industry, which is both environmentally harmful as well as ethically abhorrent. Maintaining the value in their brand and preventing their brand from entering the discount market is the rationale behind this Bonfire of the Luxuries. For the fast fashion retailers, the blazing mountains of fabric are simply the end result of over-production and a criminally wasteful supply chain model.
In the developed world, our wardrobes are saturated. Fashion in the UK lasts an average of 3.3 years before a garment is discarded. A UK-based fast fashion company tells its buyers to remember that a dress will stay in the owner’s wardrobe for only five weeks. I’m pretty sure that if I asked any of my friends to pull out any category of clothing, e.g. a red dress, or a pair of black trousers, or a white shirt, they would be able to do so without any hesitation. I’m no different and certainly no saint when it comes to being a sustainable shopper. Fashion brands know this weakness of ours to seek out constant novelty, except it isn’t ever really new. In a bored moment one afternoon last week, I caught myself browsing through the sale section of the Matches Fashion website. Despite filtering down for my size and just looking at a single sub-category of clothing, the search returned over 800 results. As I scrolled through, I realised how utterly pointless it was for me to keep looking for yet another dress in a slightly different colour or length of sleeve or shape of cuff, to something I probably already had. With the memory of the Burberry bonfire fresh in my mind, I suddenly felt that I didn’t want to support this section of the fashion industry by spending any more money on these wasteful and unprincipled producers. I felt the same again tenfold when I walked into Zara on a lunch break, and saw the usual racks of boring clothes, almost indistinguishable from stuff they have produced each and every season. The wheel turns, nothing changes, so I refuse to help it to turn.
Does this mean I’m going to stop buying clothes? Hell no! I’m not going to stop being a fashion-lover. But I need to find ways to indulge my fondness for fashion in a sustainable way. My mission is to only buy what I really, really want (to say ‘need’ would be disingenuous – we don’t need anything), that is of high quality, unique and/or timeless, and that supports small scale designers and producers.
This week, my friends at Lone Design Club have another one of their regular pop-up concept stores in Soho, London. Their pop-ups feature small, local, independent designers of fashion, jewellery, accessories, beauty and homewares. It was pure luck that led me to literally stumble into their first pop-up and I’ve been to every single one since then. I realised that virtually all the favourite pieces of clothing and jewellery I own has come from designers introduced to me through the LDC events. It is here that I get to meet with and talk to the person who designed and made my garment. She is usually a young London fashion or jewellery designer, making and designing in a small studio somewhere nearby. She makes small quantities, more or less made to order, and if I want some special item or some bespoke alteration, she is happy to make that happen. Maybe I’ll spend more here than I would on a similar item in a high street store, but I know that she’s charging me the true cost of producing a sustainable garment, and every penny I put on my credit card it going directly to her. I don’t bother now with wasting time shopping anywhere else – this is my only regular shopping fix, once every two months.
Don’t confuse me for a perfect human. I am full of weaknesses and contradictions. If you looked through my kitchen cupboards you’d find lots of big brands, and Amazon Prime is my secret friend. Even in my wardrobe, you’ll find the odd Zara piece, but it will probably be something that has been/will get worn for at least 3 years and I have belts that are older than some of my Instagram followers. I cannot wear a halo of the ‘conscious consumer’, but who can? It’s not easy or cheap to live ethically, in this throwaway culture. All we can do is to take action in the areas that matter most to us, and have principles that we try to apply in our daily decisions. These are the things I try to do when it comes to buying things to wear:
- Ask myself whether I will wear it at least 30 times. If not, there has to be another damn good reason to buy it.
- Rent fashion rather than buying. Wear the Walk has been good for me, but there are other fashion rental companies springing up.
- Sell and buy second hand luxury items. I’ve used Vestiaire Collective and Hardly Ever Worn it, as well as good old eBay.
- Go to local design and craft fairs/pop-ups in my area, where local artisans are selling unique jewellery and wares that they have made themselves.
I leave you with some of the amazing designers that I have discovered through the LDC events.
Featured designers can all be found on the Instagram page of @lonedesignclub
Title image features necklace by Phannatiq and brooch by Story Tailors Atelier