By Sophie Fennelly
We all know that fast fashion is bad for the planet and that cutting it out is one of the best things we can do to be more sustainable, but as students, sometimes fast fashion feels unavoidable. Maybe you have got a themed social to go to, or your friends like to wear a new outfit every time you go out and you want to fit in, or you made a late night ASOS order as an attempt to distract yourself when you felt down. You may try to be as sustainable as possible, but it can be expensive and time consuming, neither of which fit with the student lifestyle. So, here is your guide to being as sustainable as possible when buying fast fashion:
Things to keep in mind when buying:
When confronted with the choice of shops to buy from, try and be as informed as possible about the source of your clothing. An app that really helps with this is called ‘Good on You’. It is a database that complies information about different brands that are high street, high end and everything in between, and ranks how ethical they are in three categories: labour, environment, and animal, as well as informing you of the price range of their clothing. It is easy to use, you simply type in any brand and with the click of a button become more informed. Some of the results are actually quite surprising: for example, Monki markets their clothing as ‘sustainable’ but the app shows that this is not exactly the case and it is in fact not that much better than Primark. For each shop you type in, the app will also provide you with some similar options that are more sustainable - a win-win.
If there is a piece that you have spotted and you just cannot resist, or a trend that you have fallen in love with, try the Depop app. Sometimes, especially when there is a mad craze for a certain piece, (such as THAT spotty Zara dress) many people buy it and realise too late that they don’t actually like it or that it does not quite fit right, or it is just not for them, so they put it on Depop. That way, you can still have the same piece without the same guilt.
Shopping online is a whole other kettle of fish, as alongside the general ethics of the brand, you have to take into account the environmental impact of the shipping. So, the main thing to keep in mind is not to buy loads with the intention of sending some of it back. We are all guilty of this and it’s sometimes unavoidable because you do not know how something will fit, but try and think of it like this: if you were in H&M right before closing, meaning you couldn’t go into the changing rooms, would you really buy everything you liked the look of so you could take it home and try it on? On a similar note, if you have ordered something online that doesn’t fit you right, but might fit one of your friends, offer to sell it to them instead. This will save the impact of the shipping. Alternatively, if you have ordered something from a shop that is within walking distance and you need to return it, try to return it in store where possible. Whilst the emissions to ship clothes may not be that significant, if you turn these little things into habits then it will all add up.
One of the decisions which has made a significant difference for me was choosing not to renew my free, next-day shipping subscriptions when they expired. Since my ASOS subscription expired in mid-February I have not made ANY orders, which is a big achievement for me! I have realised that the ease of having free next-day delivery made me much more inclined to buy clothes that I probably didn’t need.
Finally, when you feel that buying an item of clothing from a fast fashion brand is unavoidable, try and keep in mind the ‘thirty wears rule’. This means that, even when you’re buying something for a themed social, ask yourself ‘will I get thirty wears out of this?’. If not, is there an option that you can choose that you would get more wear out of? One of the major ways to do this is to avoid buying lots of things that are current trends and are likely to go out fashion soon - of course these pieces have their place, but it is important to have versatile pieces that will last season upon season. Naturally, this isn’t always viable, but if you can it means that you are getting as much use as possible out of these items, so whilst their creation is still having a large environmental impact, at least you are avoiding throwing them away and increasing the environmental impact.
How to keep your clothes going:
If you are going to make your clothes work for you for a long time, then you are going to have to be prepared to get thrifty. The first steps for this are that you need to invest in two main things: a sewing kit and some good cleaning products. This means that small issues, such as fabric getting dull or ripping, that are much more likely to occur with fast-fashion clothing which is generally lower quality, does not mean that the clothes are ready for the bin. I like to try and use cleaning products that are as natural as possible - white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda can work wonders, but sometimes bleach, whilst quite harsh, is necessary to bring a new lease of life into your clothes. In the same way, if you have a dark item of clothing that has faded, it is worth checking what material it is made out of – if it is cotton then you can quite easily buy some dye and they will be as good as new – but this doesn’t work so well with synthetic materials. If there is something you really cannot fix, either it is a stain that will not come out or a rip that you cannot stitch up neatly, then it is worth questioning whether there is an opportunity to modify your clothes with a patch, some embroidery or a pin badge. This will not always work, but if it does then you get the joyous feeling of having a new item of clothing without buying a new item of clothing. Better for your bank and most importantly better for the planet.