As shops begin to open and life seems to be returning to a ‘new’ normal, you may be thinking of returning to the shops and joining that ever-long queue to grab a bargain at Primark. However, I urge you to think twice about supporting those businesses who have failed to protect garment workers rights during this pandemic, through the cancellation or suspension of pre-existing orders. In Bangladesh alone, 2.7 million workers have been affected by the cancellation of orders, with the sudden shock to the economy meaning banks are unable to loan credit to garment factories (Perez and Devnath, Bloomberg, 2020). Across the world, those who make your clothes have been left with job uncertainty, unemployment and no income.
If you truly love fashion, it’s time to think about what you wear.
Choosing where you shop is very important. Sales are the most powerful tool in demanding change – the power to influence designers, brands and other consumers. Industry change cannot happen without the active recognition that there is enough demand – the fast fashion world is run by the power of the purse. By shopping consciously, not only are you fighting for people but our planet also.
As a self-identified lover of fashion, I have failed countless times and still continue to make questionable mistakes (we’re all human right?) when purchasing clothes. However, my thought-process has changed and I now consider several factors before making a purchase.
So here’s a few questions, a shopping checklist, to ask yourself when debating over a clothing purchase. These questions have helped me to make informed purchases, and I hope they can help you too. To think consciously, to actively pursue a conscious decision, is the first step in changing your shopping habits.
Do you need the item?
Perhaps the most important question of all. For the past few decades, we as consumers are guilty of shopping for our own materialistic ‘wants’ over our ‘needs’. Fast fashion has become an unquestioned norm in our society. Gone are the days of made-to-measure garments and hand-crafted accessories. Globalisation of the fashion industry has seen the outsourcing of production to poorer, developing countries, exploited for Western consumption habits. So questioning whether you really ‘need’ a garment is crucial.
If you are purchasing an item to follow a trend, or just ‘because you can’, perhaps think about those who are producing your clothes or the harmful effects of the fashion industry on climate change. Reversing our current mindset to consider necessity over wants will prove that most shopping purchases are unnecessary. Plus, who needs 10 striped tees anyway!?
However this does not imply you can never buy anything on the high street again. Shopping will always be one of my favourite past-times, whether online or in store. Some items you just need, right? If that is the case, then consider the following questions.
Can you find this item second-hand?
Crucially, £140 million worth of clothing is sent to landfill each year, which equates to 350,000 tonnes (WRAP.org.uk). A woollen jumper can take up to 5 years to decompose (Close the Loop.com). With this in mind, it is clear that a lot of our clothing options are being discarded, because of the cruel nature of the fashion industry and trends. This suggests one thing: there are lots of wonderful, unloved clothes available to us, and you should consider all your options to prevent the increase of clothes going to landfill each year.
Before trolling through every high street store, weigh up your options. Most towns and cities have a plethora of charity shops, each containing a trove of hidden treasures. What’s more, if you cannot find a particular item in store, most charities have online shops where you can search for garments. It’s definitely worth visiting charity shops both in-store and online before buying off the high-street.
Similarly, vintage shops offer the same opportunity. There are lots of amazing independent vintage shops around the UK that are certainly worth a visit. Not only do they give unloved clothes a new life, they also have truly unique and one-off garments.
Depop is another platform where you can find unloved clothes. Quite often you can find a bargain here and in lots of cases, the clothes have been unworn or barely worn. Depop has a younger audience than perhaps charity shops users, meaning here is where you can find more modern and ‘trendy’ pieces.
Finally another place to source clothing is from friends and family. Remember that amazing dress your friend has, why not ask them if they still love and wear it? With wardrobes jam-packed with unloved wardrobes, why not do some investigating amongst your own circle, and see what you may find?
Is the material good/long-lasting?
As a teenager demanding some questionable items, I can hear my mum reciting this question ‘what are the washing instructions?’. Whilst at the time it seemed irrelevant, I know understand the importance of looking after each piece of clothing to ensure the garment can reach its full life-span. If you cannot commit to a garment’s upkeep, should you commit to purchasing it?
Furthermore, material choice is such an important factor in making a purchasing decision. Perhaps in the past you’ve been fooled into buying an itchy jumper, or an irritating mesh top. Knowing what fabrics you enjoy wearing and ones that are uncomfortable should be considered in any purchase. You want to find clothes that you will reach for time and time again, that never disappoint.
Similarly, is the fabric GOTS Certified? This international textile standard protects fabrics from the use of toxic bleaches, chemicals and dyes in its production, aiding our environment. The fabric will contain at least 95% of the original fibre and be produced in a factory which respects employees and the environment with respect. Online retailers normally have a section of their website devoted to explaining their industry practices – this can usually be found right at the bottom of each page. It is certainly worth checking out their production and sourcing practices, to ensure your decision is informed.
Will you wear the garment multiple times?
Only purchase if you can commit to wearing a garment time after time. Stats show that rewearing your clothes dramatically reduces a significant proportion of an items emissions. If we extend the use of clothes by an extra nine months, in the UK, it can apparently reduce the relative carbon, water and waste impacts of that garment by 20-30% (ethicalconsumer.org, 2019).
What will happen to the garment if you no longer wear it?
Finally, it is true that many items no matter how much you once loved them, get ignored at the back of our wardrobes. Even if you’ve worn an item multiple times in the past, or maybe you’ve never worn them at all, question what will you do when you no longer reach for it?
Can you commit to donating to charity shops, selling it online, giving it to friends or family rather than sending garments to landfill. Making an active decision before purchase about a clear course of action may help you decide if you truly need it. For we can all buy something impulsively, but in five years time, when the trend has been and gone, who will want your item?
After considering these questions, you will have hopefully come to a decision. And the more you make conscious purchasing decisions the easier it will become. You will know which brands are GOTS certified, or how you will pass on your garments, and your decisions will become more and more informed. Who knows, you may even begin to share your new found insight with others on your trips to the re-opening high street.