I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stood in front of my wardrobe CONVINCED beyond all reasonable doubt that I have nothing to wear; I’ve practically done my best Morrisey impression and crooned “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear”. It’s a blatant lie (see photo evidence); I don’t have room to put all my clothes away and I’ve never turned up for work or a social event in my birthday suit, but still I (like a lot of women) have this belief that I simply don’t have enough clothes.
A few weeks ago, I came across an article in the Observer by Lauren Bravo, it detailed her year of #notnewyear and her relationship with fashion, interest piqued I got the book.
Our relationship with the high street and fast fashion has become problematic for a whole plethora of reasons. We want (or at least think we do) the latest trends (that seem to change daily) that are accessible and affordable without really taking a step back and considering the implications on the environment or the people working their fingers to the bone, in dangerous conditions for a pittance so we can wear a £20 skirt three times then never think about again.
I’m not going to lie I have been semi aware of problems with supply lines and ethical standards but it’s pretty easy to ignore when having a Wednesday afternoon splurge because it’s been a bad day. It’s easy not to ask questions about how it’s even possible to churn out clothes that cost so little; it’s not just bargain retailers either, the entire industry has questions to answers on where clothes are coming from (expensive doesn’t equal ethical) and we have to ask those questions because, and this was my favourite quote, “when people know, they care”.
We’ve all seen and been guilty of waste and it isn’t just clothes, it’s our whole attitude of if it’s broke just throw it away and replace it because it’s easier than fixing it, we don’t seem to care what that discarded item could mean to someone else. A few years ago, I visited Uganda for work and went to visit a fishing village; I had never seen poverty like it, the silence was deafening like the people who lived there were worn out by life. I got to interview just a handful of the 1,000 people who lived there, one story stood out. All one woman wanted was a sewing machine so she could earn some money fixing clothes for other people. It’d mean she’d be able to afford food and medicine for her and her children, a simple sewing machine could go a long way in this village. Now, we all know a high street retailer that has a mountain of singer sewing machines (cough) All Saints. They aren’t put to use. They are there to have row upon row on display in a shop window in Manchester. Is it any wonder that if we live in a society that can literally waste a means of income for an aesthetically pleasing window display that we really don’t seem to care how many clothes end up in landfill EVERY year?
Looking at the impact fashion has on the environment quite frankly made me feel pretty nauseous. I’m a radio journalist by trade, over the past year I’ve increasingly reported on the climate emergency and extinction rebellion protests. I know eating less meat, taking fewer flights and getting an electric car will make a difference these are the lines that are repeated most often by various experts but why has no-one told me I need to stop spaffing money on clothes every month? Until this book I had no idea that clothing production had doubled in fifteen years and that the fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year, why isn’t this as big a part of the climate debate as cutting back on rare sirloin steaks is?
Aside from the ethics and environmental impact, this book made seriously think about my habits and relationship with shopping.
I have loved clothes for as long as I can remember. I can remember with great clarity dresses I owned at 10 years old, my favourite being a red tartan pinafore style dress that I wore with black long-sleeved top underneath it, I thought I was the bees knees in it. I’d still wear it now, I’ve tried to find adult versions with varying degrees of success as I write there’s a size 8 one sat in my wardrobe that has never fit, I’ve had it for ten years and worn it twice during slimmer, smaller boobed periods of my life. My teenage years were spent shopping until I dropped in the Trafford Centre or until I missed the last bus – this actually happened, and it was a time before we all had mobile phones. Somewhere along the line though my relationship with shopping became a bit problematic. It was no longer a past time with friends but a dirty secret and a mood enhancer.
It became endless jumpers and dresses sneaked onto the Asda shop because “if it’s part of the food shop, it doesn’t count” (it does). Bags from an online haul smuggled into the wardrobe. Lots of “I’ve had this ages”, and “it was a present” (part true only the present was from myself to myself).
A lot of the time I don’t actually enjoy shopping, I do it as quickly as possible. I don’t think about my purchases, don’t take a step back and ask if I actually need it (most of the time, no). I prefer to go in like a heat seeking missile, pick up anything that catches my eye and buy it (without trying it on). I can spend £100 in the time it takes to make a coffee and I do not have the bank balance to match.
Through reading this, I started to think about my triggers. I can and have found any excuse to shop, I’m a woman who bought a pair of Doc Martens to go with a Halloween costume (Bride of chucky), but for me shopping and mood go hand in hand, if I’m feeling down or bored you can find me in Top Shop; bad day? get a dress, feeling sad? a skirt will sort that, jaded? Then have some new jeans and so on. That short hit of dopamine will make everything well with the world. The problem is it wears off and the cycle repeats until you’re buried under a pile floral print dresses without the first idea of how you’re possibly going to wear all this crap. Ever. There’s got to be better ways to cheer yourself up.
I know fashion and worrying about the amount you spend on clothes can sound frivolous and a bit ‘woe is me’ but I’m not alone in buying crap to make me feel better, Lauren Bravo’s shown that with this book and convinced me to change my habits.
So, I’m going for a period of abstinence, before taking a sustainable approach. But most importantly finding better ways to deal with a bad day that doesn’t hit me in the pocket and feed the fast fashion beast.
I won’t be giving you the details of Lauren Bravo’s guide of how to break up with fast fashion– as fantastic as it is – you’ll have to buy the book and read it and you should because they way we are currently is unsustainable and we can all make some changes because “because when people know, they care”.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm