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Shopaholic Diaries: Getting into a sustainability minefield

The week non-essential shops reopened in England, saw me mark a major milestone…..

While huge queues formed outside Primark stores in Manchester and Liverpool, I sat reading the news knowing that in just a few days time, I’d reach six months without having bought any new clothes, nothing at all.

Some people will read this and think so what? As someone who bought at least one new item of clothing every week, this is huge.

I have shopped (and shopped) since the age of 13, I may as well have lived at the Trafford Centre during school holidays. I loved nothing more than a trip to Manchester on a Saturday afternoon, I’d buy anything rather than leave empty handed – I once bought a bright yellow Adidas top with blue stripes down the arms, it was too big and a real low point in terms of style.

So how did my quest to break the habit of a lifetime begin? Well, by accident actually. The last time I bought something was on mad Friday in Asda, there wasn’t a ceremony or anything to mark the fact that I was stopping shopping, at that point I had no intention of ditching my favourite past time, I just didn’t buy anything for a few weeks. Then I read ‘How to break up with fashion’ by Lauren Bravo and made a vow to change my ways for the good of the environment and my dwindling bank balance.

With Lauren Bravo author of How to break up with fast fashion; before lockdown when my hair was decent and not orange.

I’m now half-way through the year and I’m finding it easy – being stuck in the house for four months has clearly helped. I haven’t mindlessly trawled websites adding dresses (all the dresses) to a basket, my credit card probably thinks I died, and my bank account is very confused. 

What I did realise is that when the go ahead was given for clothes shops and shopping centres to reopen, I was completely non-plussed. I had no desire to see what was new in and there is no way on God’s earth that I’d EVER queue up to go in any shop, especially not Primark – it’s hell on earth without a Global pandemic.

I’m more comfortable with my style, I have a better idea of what suits me and reflects my personality. I interviewed Lauren a few months ago (I’ll post that shortly) and she said something that stood out “we shouldn’t be ashamed to wear the same thing twice, we should be proud of our greatest hits”, so I’m embracing that.

Those are the ticks and things I’m doing well, there are some things I’ve not been so great at…..

I did manage to do a wardrobe clear out in April; it was suggested in the guide. I can finally close my wardrobe doors and there’s no longer a ‘one out one in’ policy enforced. What I’ve failed to do is anything with the five bags of clothes I’m getting rid of.

In the past, I’ve loaded up the car boot and taken it all to a charity bin at a supermarket. Easy, minimal effort, not my problem and I’ve given to charity. I don’t have to think about where my latest disastrous purchase has ended up….and that is the problem.

I always assumed it would end up on a rail in a charity shop somewhere, well not necessarily. It’s more likely to end up in Africa. In 2014 350,000 tonnes of used clothing was shipped out of the country, bringing with it more problems.

Climate Change – the statistics surrounding the fashion industry are terrifying, try these out for size (pun definitely intended):

  • The fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year.
  • Two tonnes of clothing are bought in the UK each minute – more than any other country in Europe.
  • The carbon footprint of one new shirt is greater than driving 35 miles in in a car.
  • It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt, that’s enough water for one person to drink for 2 ½ years.
  • The global textile industry produces more green house gas emissions than international aviation and shipping combined.

It stands to reason that shipping mountains of clothes bundles to sub Saharan Africa doesn’t help these figures.

The other problem is that second-hand clothing sold in Africa, sells for around 10% less than locally produced garments. That is destroying the garment industry in places like Ghana and Kenya, putting people out of work and closing down textile mills. It’s not the fault of charities, it’s down to the throw away culture of the fashion industry, charity shops can’t cope with how much we’re donating, we’re buying too much and getting rid of it too quickly, we’re all just passing on the problem on to someone else.

The way we can make a difference to is to try and slow down the Fast Fashion train or wear the stuff you’ve got more, sounds simple doesn’t it? But what am I supposed to do with the 5 bags of clothes I don’t want? Binning it isn’t option, a load of my clothes being sent to an incinerator or landfill isn’t cutting my carbon footprint. Leaving it in the spare bedroom isn’t ensuring the stuff that’s already been made is staying in circulation and fulfilling its fashion destiny (can’t believe I’ve just used that phrase).  I’m going around in circles, stopping shopping is now the easiest part of my sustainability journey, sustainability is hard.

I’ve been debating and reading about what to do with it for two months. One thing that’s been suggested to me over and over again is selling it on. Afterall some of it is new with tags on. I still haven’t got anywhere near selling a single item, I am THAT lazy. I don’t have an eBay account; I don’t have PayPal and crucially I don’t have the motivation to set up either of them.

The thought of spending an afternoon taking pictures, uploading them and filling out loads of details fills me with dread. As does sorting through it and deciding what is sellable. Also, by selling it am I just passing the problem onto someone else?

The truth is I don’t what the answer is, there is every possibility I’m over thinking it in a bid to delay the inevitable…..dealing with my own crap rather than letting someone else do it. 

There’s material that can go to projects that teach sewing and other skills in communities, there is some stuff that my local charity shop can use and there is some that I can make money from, clothes that someone else can else love, everyone wins. On that note, I’m going in, wish me luck!

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

One thought on “Shopaholic Diaries: Getting into a sustainability minefield Leave a comment

  1. I started my own sustainable fashion journey in January and I don’t miss fast fashion retailer at all. I couldn’t justify buying from them anymore after educating myself on how bad the fashion industry is for the environemnt!

    Liked by 1 person

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