The fashion industry is finally acknowledging its problem of being the second most environmentally unfriendly industry on the planet. Isn’t it ironic that a business primarily concerned with beauty causes such environmental destruction, particularly when nearly every designer claims to be inspired by nature?
As much as I adore fashion and style, I make an extra effort to choose well-made clothes with longevity, and avoid overly short-lived trendy items. This DEFINITELY doesn’t mean I wear only ‘classic’ items. Quite the contrary! I simply buy items I truly love (mostly bold statement pieces with a few basics thrown in) that can be styled and worn various ways for many years.
Having a truly ‘green’ or sustainable wardrobe can be very complicated; it isn’t feasible for consumers to investigate international supply chains and examine carbon footprints for every purchase. There are new companies, like Positive Luxury, who make this easier and do all the investigative legwork for us. There are also apps, like Good On You, which rate companies based on their commitment to ethical manufacturing. I expect many more of these to emerge as consumers start to ask “Who made my clothes?” and “How can this garment be so cheap?”
So, what can we do now? How do we start? Here is what I do:
1. Wear natural fibres. That alone cuts out almost all of fast fashion. Synthetic fibres release harmful micro plastics into the waterways when they are washed, they take much longer to break down in landfills, and they emit harmful substances as they break down. Natural fibres don’t just feel better, they are better for the planet, long term.
2. Buy Organic. This is harder to find, but organic natural fibres are better for the earth. Organic cotton uses less water and no harmful pesticides, unlike conventional cotton. GOTS-certified cotton ensures that the labourers are paid a living wage, as nearly all cotton is grown in the developing world where regulations are scarce. British woman-owned brand Loskey is my go-to brand for cotton (the classic V is my favourite style).
3. Buy Less. Wear and re-wear good clothes. Always choose quality over quantity.
4. Buy Must Haves. Not someone else’s must haves, your must haves. If the look and fit are amazing on you, and you feel great in it, you will get loads of wear out of it. Only buy what thrills you.
5. Buy Vintage and Donate. Whether it is from Ebay or a local charity shop, buying vintage gives clothes a second life. Also, always give your own unloved or unworn items to a charity shop; just because you don’t love it doesn’t mean someone else won’t. I’m shocked at the recent statistics: in the UK, 300,000 tonnes or £12.5 billion of wearable clothes are discarded and end up in our landfills.
6. Don’t buy cheap clothes. If it seems too good to be true, it is. Someone (or everyone) in the supply chain is not being paid a fair wage so that multinational brands can profit from mispriced clothing. Vote with your wallet for brands whose business ethics you value.
When we went skiing in the Austrian Alps a few weeks ago (how did February go by so quickly?), I wanted a VERY warm new sweater/jumper, because temperatures go way below freezing at night. The family house we stay in is very rustic (see above), so the knit needed to be extremely hard-wearing. I hate synthetic fibres, so that ruled out most of the colourful acrylic Topshop stuff that was dangling in my Inbox. It also ruled out cashmere, because I didn’t want to ruin any of my favourite pieces on the rough timber furniture. I also don’t like wearing ANYTHING that falls into the ‘sporty’ or ‘activewear’ category in cold weather; wearing a zippered fleece or a windbreaker makes me instantly feel like I must be doing something very wrong in my life (!) so I avoid them completely.
I was inspired by my dear eco warrior friend, Michelle Tyler, to give vintage items a shot. Quite honestly, I usually find most vintage pieces I really want are either insanely expensive or not in my size. I don’t possess the sort of patience required to unearth vintage truffles from among all the rubbish. However, once I started looking on Ebay (I have been crazy about Ebay since it first launched… I mean, you don’t just buy things, you WIN auctions!) I was spoiled for choice. I specifically wanted a (by keyword): Vintage Men’s Nordic Wool Ski Sweater/Jumper. I already had one in cream, but I wanted a very oversized one to wear over leggings and multiple layers. I found exactly the sweater I wanted– huge, vintage, warm, colourful, and machine-washable on the wool cycle.
The slouchy fit I was after
The cream one I already owned
Trying hard not to squint while facing a wall of snow in front of me. Lighting is everything!
What I like about these sweaters is that no one in Austria wears them since they are Norwegian, but they still look right at home in the Alpine snow. They are made for the extreme cold. I hope between now and next winter I might be able to find a red one to add to my men’s 1970’s Norwegian ski jumper collection. I’ll look for one with reindeer on it, so I can sew a tiny red sequin on the nose of one of the reindeer!