Style Over Sustainability: Being a Conscious Consumer in the Era of Fast-Fashion
In what feels like a bizarre turn of events I am here to make a confession: my dad is my current sartorial inspiration. And no, not because dad-fashion is in, (I won’t talk any more than necessary about big sneakers), but because of his sensible approach to consuming clothing.
However, it was when I got into trainers that my dad could boast of the originals he’d bought the first time around (namely a pair of bright white Adidas Stan Smiths), joking “if you keep your clothes long enough they come back into fashion”. He keeps this philosophy throughout his wardrobe.
After the oil industry, fashion is the second highest contributor to global pollution, and has undeniably poor ethics and social standards, particularly when it comes to how our clothes are manufactured and produced. From farmers to factory workers, exploitation is rife, and the planet is suffering, too.
Many a time I have laughed at my dad’s favourite phrase, but it wasn’t until I went to Uni that I realised, maybe my dad is onto something? My male friends all had as much, if not more, of an interest in fashion as my girlfriends did. But the way they consumed fashion was very different. They would spend hundreds at a time on pieces – but maybe only once every few months - while we were still returning each week with bags upon bags of clothes that’d never see past the walls of our sorry Uni halls.
Women are undeniably under more pressure to keep up with trends, and there are many more low cost (and low quality) retailers that both fuel and feed this with their easy accessibility. This more, more, more attitude is undoubtedly an unsustainable approach to shopping, and in turn harms not only our bank accounts, but our environment, and the communities committed to labouring for the sake of fast fashion.
The boys were shopping sustainably – and looking good – while I was contributing to the demise of the earth in shitty polyester from the high street.
And so, I decided to adjust my habits.
But my preaching came across pretentious at first; conversations with my girlfriends where I’d drop the “buy less but buy better” line like I wasn’t living off a student loan. They’d argue that wasn’t realistic – and I agree – buying quality clothes with longevity is expensive, and actually, hardly anyone can afford to do so. Exclusively buying fair trade, organic or BCI cotton also costs, which is why adjusting just our habits at first is a great way to start. The money I would once have spent on the high street would just as quickly add up, yet would these purchases last me the year?
It’s about a year and a half later and I still stand by what I learnt from the jeans and jumpers in my dad’s closet. I now spend the same amount of money on one pair of trousers as I would three from a fast-fashion retailer, and wear them two, three times a week. They become an extension of me, pieces I feel comfortable and confident in, and because they’re of a slightly higher quality I can get away with wearing them more often. I shop way less than I used to, save a lot of money, and feel I am discovering, and evolving, what looks good on me. That’s not to say I never buy from the high street or cheaper online retailers, I’m only human, I still do occasionally, but only for basic pieces I know I will wear over and over again, and where possible I choose retailers with a better approach to sustainability – but more on that later.
I can’t say I have completely transitioned to 100% sustainable shopping, as I am still learning about the brands that I can rely on, but reducing my excessive consumption habits feels like a start.
Here are some things I’ve learnt to consider when shopping:
Decide what you’d spend on two garments, and with that money buy just one piece that you will wear more.
Only buy clothes you feel comfortable in – if you don’t feel comfortable, you’ll never wear them again.
Buy clothes you can layer season after season
Wear your clothes more than once a week
Buy things you’ll still love in a year’s time
Create a capsule wardrobe of things that look good together
Who knows, and dare I say it, maybe the brands telling us to look at the men in our lives for inspiration knew this all along.