This Saturday, as part of the Wantage Summer Festival, I’m pitching up for a couple of hours in one of my favourite local charity shops, Shaw Trust. It’s a brilliant charity that helps disabled and disadvantaged people into employment and independent living and it’s where I buy quite a lot of 2nd hand clothes from.
On Saturday, I’m inviting people to drop in. I’ll have some pieces I’ve upcycled with me and some 2nd hand treasures I’ve bought. We can have a rummage of the rails together and I’ll share some tips for upcycling and what to look out for when shopping 2nd hand. Hopefully, I’ll pass on the joy of pre-loved clothes and inspire you to have a go at upcycling something.
I think 2nd hand has an important place in ethical fashion
For me, buying clothes 2nd hand and upcycling is part of an ethical fashion jigsaw, it’s about using what we have rather than buying more and it’s about expressing creativity. As a consumer, I want to dress with a clear conscience and as a fashion designer, I’m looking for a place in an industry whose scale and pace actually turn me off a bit.
The fashion industry is complex and involves long supply chains, there are people working in those chains that are not paid fairly, are not given protection if they are ill or vulnerable and they are often working in unsafe conditions. The environment is suffering too, over half of China’s rivers are polluted and cotton farming uses a huge proportion of the worlds chemical pest control. Precious resources are being used up, it takes 2,720litres of water to make one t-shirt (that’s how much we drink in 3 years)!!
I appreciate that affordability is a factor but I think these issues are too important to overlook. And I do think that most of us have more clothes than we need, it’s estimated we have £30 billion pounds worth of underused clothes in our wardrobes.
I love fashion … it’s fun, it’s creative and it’s the expression of me. I used to struggle with ever changing trends but I’ve even grown to enjoy them. They keep my wardrobe fresh and interesting. But I’m determined to have the wardrobe I want without costing a fortune or compromising my ethics.
This blog is where I bring together the pieces of my ethical fashion jigsaw …
- wardrobe restyling – knowing what you have, using what you have and buying wisely – planning what you need before going shopping
- knowing your own body – knowing what suits you means you can avoid impulse buys that you get home and don’t wear
- I’m looking at brands and, when I do buy new, I’m trying to only use those I can trust. I’m looking at some ethical brands. I’m prepared to pay for quality staples and shoes because I wear them lots of times and I’m comfortable with the price per wear.
- Then if I want something unique or on-trend, I shop second hand and upcycle.
The big impact of buying clothes 2nd hand is on reducing the amount of waste going to landfill or clothes being shipped to developing countries, where they might stifle home industries.
Last November, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme called War on Waste showed him stood at the top of a huge pile of 7 tons of clothes, 10 thousand garments and asked people how long they thought it took Britain to throw away that amount of clothes … some answers were way off and nobody was close to the real truth which is 10 minutes! The total is around 350,000 tons, going to landfill every year in the UK, where they slowly decompose releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
Very few textiles can be recycled into new textiles, only 20% of textiles produced worldwide are recycled each year. H&M recently held a Recycle Week, they asked people to bring in old clothes for money off new ones. They led people to believe that they would be recycled but the technology and processes simply don’t exist for most fabrics. It was just more landfill and contribution to overseas, and a marketing ploy to get people to buy more. It was a really dangerous message and disappointing from H&M, who are generally regarded as one of the more aware high street stores.
I’ve always bought clothes 2nd hand even before it was for ethical reasons.
I grew up in the 80s .. my main aim when choosing an outfit was to look different from everyone else and the more creative the better. So I had my Mum and Dads handed down clothes, restyled them, upcycled them. I always raided my Mum’s jumble pile and saved a few items. I could experiment because they hadn’t cost anything so I wasn’t frightened of it going wrong and because I wasn’t frightened it usually worked out ok.
Because of where my relationship with clothes started, I developed a huge sentimentality about clothes, I truly believe I have a relationship with my clothes and I love wearing something that was my Mums or my Dads. It’s romantic but I love the idea of re-inventing a garment with a back story or re-loving something and giving it another life. I feel nothing when I put on a cheap t-shirt, it doesn’t spark joy as Marie Kondo asks.
Then when I moved to London, I had access to Charity Shops in wealthy and trendy areas, I could pick up vintage and designer clothes that I could never afford to buy new. When I started studying fashion, drafting my own patterns and making more clothes from scratch I really started to appreciate the cut of a garment, the quality of fabric and the details that affect the style of a garment. So I notice where high street stores cut corners on quality and style.
So my plans for the event ….
I truly believe that one man’s waste is another man’s treasure and there is no greater satisfaction than giving something discarded a new purpose. But how do I do it and what do I look for? I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve developed a keen eye and experience has taught me what to look for. I don’t mind rummaging through the rails but I never expect it to be a quick task. Sometimes I find nothing but other times, I find treasures.
So the best way to tell you is to bring along some items I’ve bought over the years and tell you why I bought them. Some I’ve already upcycled, some I’ve restyled, some I didn’t need to do anything with and some I haven’t yet done …. drop in and have a chat. We’ll also have a rummage of the rails together and you may even feel inspired to take something and have a go at upcycling yourself. You’ll be able to keep in touch via my 1134 Sewing Club on Facebook.