Hands up if you have a ‘clothes chair’? Does anyone have a floordrobe? Or, better yet, a Monica Geller-style messy (but hidden) closet? What seems to always be the case is that when you feel like you don’t have much to wear, clothes seem to magically pile up from somewhere, whether that’s your laundry or relics of your Saturday night.
But, in fact, there’s no magic. In 2018, British women spent around £29.4 billion on clothing, while in 2016, as reported by Statistica, consumers spent £68.1 billion on clothing and footwear. Clearly, we the British, have a problem.
Yet, it’s not as if our sartorial actions do not have consequences, with the fashion industry being of the largest polluters of the planet—perhaps not the second bigger polluter as most claim, but the overall notion still stands. Buying into fast fashion at the swipe up of an Instagram Story is a growing source of waste.
It’s no surprise that Oxfam has launched its initiative #SecondHandSeptember, encouraging everyone to thrift and buy second-hand clothing during the month and hopefully beyond. Oxfam has also partnered with London Fashion Week, where designers like Vivienne Westwood and Henry Holland, singer Paloma Faith, and actress Rachel Weisz have donated some of their pieces to Oxfam to raise more money. London Fashion Week and Oxfam are also encouraging fashion week attendees to show up in second-hand pieces. Fee Gilfeather, Oxfam’s sustainable fashion expert, says the intention behind #SecondHandSeptember is grasping that “It’s in everyone’s power to change things.”
“By signing up to #SecondHandSeptember and pledging to say no to new clothing for one month, you can help protect the environment, and if you buy second-hand in Oxfam you’ll be helping the poorest people around the world escape poverty.”
Although shopping less can count as a form of activism, as you are not giving in to every trend catered to you via an algorithm and are being somewhat kinder to the planet, it’s also important to look at why and how those who are partaking in #SecondHandSeptember are able to do so.
For art director at Studio Palmetto, Maria Maleh, it’s about shopping sincerely. “I am doing #SecondHandSeptember with the intentions to think twice before I consume things.” In Maleh’s case, she says it’s about asking questions, such as “Do I really need this? Do I already have something similar at home? Can I maybe borrow it from a friend? If not, can I buy it second hand or from someone who does not want the item anymore?” For freelance features editor, Hester Grainger, it’s about understanding what’s in her wardrobe before buying something that is preloved. “Rather than rushing out and buying something new as I had an event to go to, I checked my wardrobe first and found some gems. This month it’s also made me more creative with second-hand shopping. I’ve picked up a fab bomber jacket, an awesome dress from C&A (I went retro!) and also a white shirt from BHS!”
Yet budding writer Albena Kadrija, whose based in Switzerland, “where we are really into the save the planet modus”, rejects the idea of thrift shopping based on two reasons. The first being quite simple: “we already have a full wardrobe.” “My #SecondHandSeptember is more about reusing clothes I already have as I don’t want to add more unworn clothes to my pile. I also want to soon improve my DIY skills as a way to help the planet, with first of all using what we have.”
Kadrija’s second reason is that “thrift shopping has become more of a status symbol. Buying them just to show on Instagram that you’ve bought second hand and to never wear them again is just as bad [as shopping fast fashion].”
On the one hand, a no-shop September may be what is necessary for both our wardrobe and mother nature, but in order to be sustainable and simultaneously donate to charity (as that is what Oxfam’s initiative is based on), we must try to rectify a phenomenon already taking place around the world. And, once again, the only way to do so in a capitalistic society is to use our biggest political power: our wallets.
As much as #SecondHandSeptember is about reusing and recycling clothes, Maleh points out that “It’s also about minimising my own personal consumption,” adding that, “I also like to give. I use apps and facebook groups where I give away some unwanted items for free.” Food-waste reduction apps like Olio or Too Good To Go, for example, are normalising the concept of sharing food instead of throwing it away.
But what about influencer culture, when it comes to fast fashion and being sent free clothing and beauty products? We’ve seen (and sometimes been lured by) the amount of gifted pieces that fashion and beauty influencers are sent—which is where Maleh finds the green line to be tricky. “I do not find it too difficult to not purchase things, especially clothes, but what I struggle with is the unwanted gifting that brands keep sending to my flat. I am at the moment trying to figure out how to deal with that without sounding ungrateful.”
You may be partaking in #SecondHandSeptember (or even a no-shop-September) but the central thread of repurposing clothes is the intention to be greener through the small things. September is a month of new beginnings; schools around the world start and new uniforms are being bought, including P.E kits and extra rugby trainers. More so, going forward, shouldn’t the conversation around sustainability in fashion include parents, mothers who are shopping for families, and millennials finding their latest vintage buy?
Yes, baby steps towards a sustainable wardrobe are still steps, but I’d like to see large factories around the world and unethical retail conglomerates do their version of #SecondHandSeptember. Maybe we can have an #EqualOpportunitiesOctober and an #OverPayOctober, where factory workers are paid fairly but don’t have to produce excess textile waste? Just a thought.
Amidst an environmental crisis, environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion is calling for the cancellation of London Fashion Week. But what would cancelling London Fashion Week really achieve, and how would it affect independent designers not participating in mass production?
The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters impacting our planet right now, and it is not looking good. There is an endless cycle of clothes ending up in landfills annually (over a million tonnes of which are from the U.K. alone), the industry produces around 10 percent of the global greenhouse emissions, and chemical dyes polluting water produce about 20 percent of water waste yearly. This industry is predicted to grow by 63 percent by 2030, and the textile industry is expected to produce 25 percent of all carbon emissions by 2050.
The Swedish Fashion Council cancelled the upcoming Stockholm Fashion Week, and Extinction Rebellion demands the British Fashion Council do the same. By planning creative disruptive actions throughout the event, with a funeral commemorating the loss of life due to climate change, the organisation hopes to bring our awareness to just how harmful the fashion industry is. A number of companies within the industry are also taking a stand to boycott LFW in various ways—London-based fashion magazine Bricks, as an example, decided not to cover LFW this year.
Here is the thing, though, London Fashion Week is a platform that showcases a number of independent and emerging talent, many of whom don’t even have the means to mass-produce if they wanted to (then we would be having an entirely different conversation). Many designers each year advocate awareness for sustainability and choose to use recycled fabrics and environmentally friendly textiles. That is not to say that LFW only supports independent designers, with big companies like Burberry participating who are far from being sustainable, but the real evil is the fast fashion industry.
It is, of course, important to note that without high end fashion, fast fashion would never exist in the first place. Emerging in the 90s, fast fashion promotes rapid and mass production of cheap clothing to meet the most recent fashion trends. These fashion trends are inspired by high end fashion designers and most independent designers, and it is understandable why people choose to purchase fast fashion. In the real world, who can actually afford to splash out hundreds or thousands of pounds per clothing item? It is so unrealistic and exclusive. Plus, in the age of Instagram culture, where everybody feels they have to show off how stylish they are to their followers, overconsumption is inevitable.
By all means, this needs to change. We do engage in constant, mindless consumption, and so many of us already have more clothing than we need. But fast fashion brands don’t showcase their work during LFW—independent designers do. So is it fair to punish them by taking away their platform? Fashion is a form of art, and LFW is equivalent to Frieze Art Fair or the Venice Biennale of fashion. Many designers showcasing at LFW have worked incredibly hard to get where they are, and we simply cannot take this away from them.
Don’t get me wrong, the fashion industry does need to be regulated, ASAP. In an interview with Screen Shot, Fashion Revolution’s founder and creative director Orsola de Castro claims she is “against” canceling fashion week, saying that we need to “redesign them rather than shutting them down.” De Castro believes that, “As far as being disruptive, we need to be constructive at the same time.”
Taking into consideration how much power and energy are invested in the production of these shows: the number of flights needed to transport models, editors, influencers, buyers, and garments, greener alternatives must be found. Designers showcasing twice a year is certainly excessive, and it would be better have all fashion weeks take place once a year maximum. Recycling previous collections into their new season should also be a must—yes, many independent designers already use recycled materials, but this can be elevated.
Fashion Open Studio is also a great alternative to this, which is a week of presentations, talks, openings, and workshops shining a light on emerging designers. “We need to use Fashion Week as a place to discuss conspicuous consumption, to discuss innovation, to discuss new parameters,” says de Castro—and rightfully so. Re-showcasing work from previous seasons would also be incredibly beneficial. The second hand fashion market is set to grow bigger than the high end and luxury ones by 2022, which is great news and could help support emerging talent instead of forcing them to keep up with the pressures of creating new work and being relevant.
Let’s all start investing into second hand and thrift shopping as our go-to option. Let’s push Instagram Influencers and celebrities to promote second hand clothing over brand partnerships with fast fashion brands. We could even go as far as demanding a new law that would prohibit the promotion of fast fashion brands or brands who use unethical resources when creating clothing. We need to reconsider how we, as consumers, view fashion once and for all, and start appreciating high end fashion as an art form rather than try and replicate it. But, please, let’s not punish emerging talented artists who have worked through blood and sweat to be able to express themselves through fashion.