Natasha Darrah discusses how you can make your style greener and cleaner...
The desire to be seen leaning against the bar in a chart topping, show-stopping ensemble, martini in sight, for most, is indisputable. In a world where Gen Z are subject to the firm clutch of countless fast fashion outlets, how far will we follow the elusive trajectory of trends before we completely lose ourselves?
Cast your mind to your wardrobe. How many ‘must-have’ dresses, pants and endless pairs of shoes do you have burrowed away, screaming to be taken out for a spin just one more time?
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) research shows 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year, with most unsold garments being burned as it is significantly cheaper and easier than reusing or recycling. In fact, the clothing sector is said to be the world’s second most polluting industry, closely following oil.
But how? Keeping up with every emerging trend society lends us, from the newest chunky boot to that loud leather trench, is near impossible for students and lower income recipients when ethically produced pieces sit at such a higher price point. Fast fashion outlets are a simple solution to this.
In terms of forced sweatshop labour, and extreme rates of factory production, Zara, Fashion Nova and Shein – which was recently named the most popular brand in the world – sit among some of the worst. Most of the time, such brands are seen to be promoted by Gen Z’s favourite glistening stars of the celeb world including faces like Made in Chelsea’s Georgia Toffolo and former Love Islander, Molly-Mae Hague.
Studies conducted within the industry indicate there is salience in self-expression and identity, but we’re also heavily susceptible to the fashion authority of models, social media influencers and celebrities alike. With these famous faces carrying the torch for the younger generation, how do we break free from the vicious cycle of cheap buys when confronted with the elusive trajectory of new trends?
Mila Esme (pictured), founder of Jardin des Pierres, began crafting jewellery two years ago. Fuelled by her inspiration of nature, she began hunting for fossils, quartz, and stones on family hikes. “It’s exciting to think about the life an item has lived before,” she says. Since the birth of the brand, she has made continued efforts to show people how accessible and affordable second-hand items can be. “There is always something for everyone, so it just takes a little patience to source them. It’s also about finding unique pieces that suit a person's individual taste and help promote individuality.”
We can’t ignore a vast majority of fashion labels, high street to luxury, who insist that a ‘circular’ business model sits at the nexus of their operations. However, “Greenwashing” is a term that has become increasingly prevalent in the modern fashion industry; this defines the falsehoods or misinformation regarding the way a company’s products are sourced, often capitalising on their ability to deceive customers into acquiring their goods, through buzzwords such as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘biodegradable’ and ‘ethically sourced’.
This begs the question – where is the truth?
According to environmental scientist, Linda Greer, “There are still very, very few brands who know where their stuff comes from in the supply chain, and even fewer of them have entered into active relationships with those suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint.”
The term ‘sustainable fashion’ sees goods sourced, created, and consumed in a manner that can be maintained and doesn’t worsen the current state of our planet. As more and more of us are becoming clued up on what our hard-earned cash is truly contributing to, many are turning to an eco-friendlier solution.
How can we lessen our impact on a budget? Extending the lifespan of garments by shopping on pre-loved clothing sites such as Thrift+, Vinted and Depop can have several positive effects – not only are you doing your bit to reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe, but you’ll find yourself with a wardrobe brimming with one-of-a-kind gems.
Depop seller and founder of Anouska Eloise, Calista Barratt, says, “For me, if I’ve had my eye on something for a while and saved up for it, when I finally get that piece, I know I’ll love it forever. Similarly, when shopping vintage, once you’ve spent the day hunting for that one gem, parting with it becomes much harder. That is the problem with the fast fashion industry that we have today, when things are so cheap and can be delivered at the click of a button, they won’t last long in terms of quality let alone in terms of style longevity.”
A study conducted by Oxfam revealed the excitement and novelty of purchasing a brand-new item fades fast. Cognitive psychologist, Carolyn Mair, said, “Nearly a quarter of us say the thrill lasts longer when we buy second hand.”
Though it can’t be ignored that following an environmentally friendly policy should be a priority for brands and emerging designers, the amount of education and information surrounding brands’ sourcing and production strategies seems to remain hidden in the wings.
“There’s definitely been a general awakening of consciousness around second-hand clothing, and I've started giving back in terms of mentorship, working with my old university and schools from age 14-18 which has been super rewarding,” explains Adwoa Owusu-Darko AKA Mini, Creative Director and founder of Depop shop, Mini’s World.
She goes on to say, “I acknowledge I come from a huge point of privilege and never want to make it out like it's just an easy fix, however I think limiting the number of trends that come out helps a lot. But really, the changes needed are systematic and not just at an individual level.”
Aside from just purchasing goods, fashion swaps are beginning to take up space in the spotlight. These swap meetups are the newest and greenest way of exchanging your unwanted fashion items. Not only is this seen as an effective reuse strategy but, through the social lens, such events offer a fun and inclusive way to forge new relationships and open the narrative of environmental change.
Tamara Fox, founder of London based clothes swap boutique Swoop Swaps, says she began her new initiative against mass consumption after coming across a photo of a landfill full of clothes in Cambodia depicting the immeasurable scale of unsustainable clothing production. “This photo engineered a desire to do something to share the impact of the fashion industry’s waste crisis,” she explains.
She began swapping amongst her friends and family and upon noticing demand, opened her events to the wider community. Now, clothing swap meet and greets take place in warehouses, studios, and chapels around London and operate the same as any other shop, except your unwanted fashion items are your currency. “I would love to eventually turn it into a subscription type swap service. We’ll see what happens!”
The modern fashion world already bears a palette of resources, platforms, and rapidly emerging methods to keep our impact to a minimum. So, next time you sit down with Vogue’s predictor of next season’s “In or Bin”, consider the fashion statement of moving into a more trendless future.
For those looking to take the leap into a cleaner and greener future, perhaps the purchase of that ‘must-have’ one hit wonder isn’t quite as necessary as we’d initially anticipated.
Words: Natasha Darrah
Image credit: Image 1, 2 and 3: Jardin des Pierres; Image 4 and 5: Swoop Swap