The temptation is to buy something really cheap as a quick upgrade but there's always that nagging feeling in the back of your mind. If a jumper only costs twenty quid, then probably some women and/or children are being screwed over across the other side of the world. The clothes factory disaster in Bangladesh was a real eye opener for a lot of people happily buying a new top every week without thinking too much about who made it or how much they got paid. When the Rana Plaza building collapsed, over a thousand people were killed, shedding light on the huge health and safety risks to workers employed by UK brands such as Primark and Matalan (Sarah Butler, Guardian). Some companies signed up to a legally binding international deal on building safety, including Primark, M&S and H&M but many did not, including Walmart, Gap and Arcadia (the owner of Topshop).
Importantly, poor working conditions don't just relate to cheap clothing. The more you pay for an item does not mean that the person who made it is getting any more than if they made something for Primark. Burberry have moved their "Made In Britain" clothing manufacture to China where a shirt can be made at a cost of £4 and retail in the UK at £150 (Carole Cadwalladr, Guardian). Ker-ching!
Also doesn't the stuff you've already got deserve a second chance? In WRAP's report, Valuing our Clothes (2012) they present these key findings:
So on an environmental and financial front, there really is no excuse for not wearing your stuff. And if you really don't want something anymore, throwing it in the bin is just crazy/selfish when there are so many charities crying out for your donations.
- the average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes - around 30% of clothing in wardrobes has not been worn for at least a year;
- the cost of this unused clothing is around £30 billion;
- extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints; and
- an estimated £140 million worth (around 350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.
But, the thing is, you still REALLY, REALLY want a new jumper. I know this feeling. I do not know what is currently "on trend", what's hot, what's not after London Fashion Week. I do know there is nothing wrong with feeling comfortable and creative in your outfits. Feeling good, be it cosy or confident, can have positive repercussions in a lot of different areas of your life. So if a lemon scarf or an Aztec cape is really going to do it for you, there are some guilt-free options out there.
- Oxfam online. Have you been there yet? It is AMAZING. No longer do you have to trawl through charity shops looking for that bargain find (though if you do, go to charity shops in posh areas, they give away really nice stuff!) you can do it on your phone/PC whenever you get a second. Like any good fashion retailer, you can search by item, by size and by colour. Women's, men's, kids'. I am almost reluctant to pass on this information. They have seconds from Whistles quite a lot. I mean it's cheap, your money is going to charity and the clothing is avoiding landfill. Triple whammy of smugness.
- Vintage. Again cheap and avoiding landfill. Very on trend. Watch Dawn O'Porter's show, This Old Thing for inspiration. Check RetroChick's guide to 10 of the best ebay shops for vintage.
- Ethical fashion. If you are going to buy new, check your fashion label. Some are better than others. The Good Shopping Guide has produced a brilliant table ranking high street brands on their ethics. Coming out top are brands like People Tree, Sea Salt, Fat Face and, surprisingly given their prices, New Look. At the bottom are GAP, Primark, George and F&F (Tesco).
- Why not develop a capsule wardrobe? This means that you have such a small number of items, each one has to be multi-purpose and something you really love. As many of us just end up wearing the same thing most of the time anyway, we probably have a capsule wardrobe plus another wardrobe of stuff we never wear and could go straight to the charity shop. Bea Jonhson from Zero Waste Home is an inspiration when it comes to the capsule wardrobe. I would really like one but I fear this would just make me shop more in pursuit of my "key pieces". And then I would get bored of it, especially as I really don't like wearing black, usually seen as the most versatile colour.
- Focus on accessories. I am not one of nature's naturally fashion-conscious people. If I did own anything designer, it would never come out of my wardrobe because I would be too worried about wrecking it. Give me a pair of Birkenstocks over Jimmy Choos any day. But I hear accessorising is the way to go. The chunky belt. The statement jewellery. The black boots. The new season update... without chucking out everything you own.
Thanks for reading! Would love to hear your thoughts about ethical fashion. Have you successfully nailed an organic, ethically produced capsule wardrobe or are you too drowning in clothes you never wear?