HOW TO CURATE A SUSTAINABLE WARDROBE
BY ALICE WILBY AND BEL JACOBS
The fourth anniversary of Rana Plaza has come and gone but not enough has changed. More worryingly, the industry continues to grow . British fast fashion retailers ASOS and Boohoo, for example, are set to see sales grow by up to 50 per cent this year .
Even a random selection of facts about the clothing industry will demonstrate just what bad news this is. The world buys about 80 billion pieces of new clothing every year - 400% more than we did twenty years ago and the way it’s made and consumed has enormous implications for people and planet.
The clothing industry is one of the largest polluters on the planet, just under oil, currently more than food. Think about the pesticides used in cotton farming and the toxic dyes used in manufacturing as well as the huge amount of resources needed for extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping - all while global natural resources are dwindling. And it’s not as if that clothing plays much of a function in our lives, after all: almost one third of UK clothing ends in landfill.
At the other end of the scale, 90 per cent of the 75 million people - some just children - who work in fashion and textiles across the globe are heavily reliant on their jobs, which means they don’t dare ask for better pay, childcare, days off or, in the case of Rana Plaza, the right not to enter a building they knew was already dangerous and unstable.
All this for an industry based on false desires, on assumptions of status and beauty, on the need to decorate and embellish. We need to keep pushing for a better world and for more sustainable, ethical clothing.
1. STOP BUYING STUFF; YOU DON’T NEED IT
On average, we see 5,000 advertisements every day. Every advertisement carries the same message: your life will be better if you buy what we are selling. That message has taken Western to the place it is now: over consumption. Think about why you buy what you buy; understand the mechanics of a society driven by profit-making, largely unchecked commercial organisations that have millions to throw at ad campaigns. Ask yourself how mainstream fashion media creates a language of desire: ‘five of the best plaid skirts’, ‘the perfect work dress.’ Are they really the best plaid skirts? For who?
Understand that trends are artificial drivers of business, that the most genuinely stylish people are not driven by trends but creative responses to the world around them. To consume less is to begin to lead a genuinely creative life, in which clothes take on a different, deeper role in your life. They become sartorial companions in life, as you mend and embellish old favourites and turn them into something new.
Take a look at Fashion Revolution's 'Fashion Love Stories' and 'Haulternatives' for inspiration.
A survey of women by children’s charity Barnardo’s found that the majority of fashion purchases are only worn seven times . “If people are buying more at lower quality – so after a wash the hems are gone or the garment is out of shape – that’s really difficult for charities like us,” explains Leigh McAlea, head of communications for Traid.
Wrap report says that extending the life of an item of clothing is one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon, water and waste footprints. To this end, clothing companies such as Patagonia and Nudie Jeans offer free repair services.
The Good Wardrobe is a fantastic resource. A style sharing community hub, this fab website is a mine of information. It’s the place to come for tips and ideas on how to prolong the life of your wardrobe.
3. USE CREATIVELY/UPCYCLE
You haven’t opted out of fashion; you’re approaching it in a new way. Pick a look you like - from catwalk or street style images - and then get as close as you dare with what you already have.
Styling hacks that work well at the moment is wearing all one colour, pulling out a ball dress even if you’re just going to the shops, clashing patterns imaginatively. Work out what works for you, change usage: use scarves as belts, turn t-shirts back to front, wear skirts as dresses. Layer excessively. You might never wear a sleeveless dress on its own but you might if you had a blouse underneath it.
Below are organisations that specialise in up cycling through embroidery or darning or knitting or anything really.
By Hand London. Simple, stylish sewing patterns that are easy to follow and to customize.
Wool And The Gang. This pioneering outfit are bringing back knitting as a sustainable way to produce clothing to really cherish. They provide the patterns and video instructions, or if you’re feeling really lazy you can pay extra and buy one already made. Collaborations with the likes of Vivienne Westwood have made them the toast of the fashion world.
The London Craft Club. A collective of crafters and designers, they run an amazing array of events to get you learning new skills and hand making beautiful things.
Mr X Stitch. Jamie Chalmers, aka Mr X Stitch runs workshops in contemporary embroidery in East London. His website is a gold mine of needlework inspiration and a book is coming soon.
Ray Stitch. This beautiful haberdashers shop is Islington, London is a serious treasure trove. They also run a variety of workshops, from learning to make a tote bag, to making the perfect fit pair of women’s trousers.
4. SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS - VEGAN, ORGANIC, ETHICAL, VINTAGE.
If you do have to buy, buy sustainably. The options are endless and the offerings are way better than they used to be. Look for brands that are locally produced, choose their raw materials carefully, work with factories that abide by labour standards, visiting the factories on a regular basis and speaking to factory owners even more frequently, and/or focus on creating sustainable garments and accessories with a lower environmental impact. (Think: minimizing waste by repurposing it to make additional garments, reducing carbon emissions and/or shipping using recycled paper products). Obviously, no single brand is going to tick all those boxes. Pick issues that are important an expect them to change as you become better informed.
Birdsong. Their promise of ‘No sweatshops, no photoshop’ sets Birdsong apart as a platform with a 360 holistic approach to sustainable style. The clothes are made by women’s groups and modeled by their friends and supporters.
Brothers We Stand. Set up in solidarity with the women and men who make our clothes, Brothers We Stand, offers a cool curation of Menswear. Featuring brands including Riz, Mud Jeans, Know The Origin and Rapanui.
Here Today Here Tomorrow. Founded by a collective of three designers with backgrounds in the field of sustainable fashion: Anna-Maria Hesse, Julia Crew & Katelyn Toth-Fejel: Here Today Here Tomorrow’s collections are produced fair-trade, by artisans in Nepal.
Reve En Vert. Founded as a high-end, stealth sustainability store, Reve en vert stock a beautiful selection of luxury brands, activewear and beauty products. Also stocks Matt and Nat.
The Acey. An elegant edit of sustainable clothing for women. The Acey also feature a nice edit of my favourite sustainable sneaker brand Veja.
YOOXGEN. The conscious section of on-line shop, Yoox, Yooxgen stocks a carefully curated selection of sustainable fashion and accessories.
Artisans and Adventurers. Located on Columbia Road, their flagship store sells their eponymous jewellery and homewear brand and a vibrant selection of homewear and gifts. Artisans and Adventurers work with small-scale artisans and craft groups, championing small brands with beautiful stories.
Lowie. Heritage label Lowie is ethically produced and famed for their vintage inspired prints and luxury knits. Their Herne Hill store also hosts a sustainable selection of cool, colourful labels including, Kings of Indigo, Under The Same Sun, LF Markey and accessories from Turpentine, Wolf and Moon and Rosita Bonita.
69b. Founded by ex fashion stylist, Merryn Leslie and located on Broadway Market, 69b offers a super chic edit of international and innovative labels including Kowtow, Mud Jeans, Riyka, Anitform and Studio Jux. They also have an impressive selection of accessories. If this destination store can’t inspire you to dress sustainably, nothing will!
The Keep Boutique. This beautiful little boutique in Brixton Market sells clothes to Keep! The focus is on craftsmanship, sustainability, with a beautiful edit of classic sustainable brands including Komodo, Beaumont Organic and People Tree alongside cool young designer like Quazi Design and Desmond and Dempsey.
A Child of The Jago. Antifashion, Punk attitude, they don’t do seasonal collections and us end of roll and offcuts in their designs. Also make in the UK.
Antiform. Designer Lizzie Harrison uses reclaimed materials and fashion forward shapes to create colourful jumpers, dresses and leggings that are as unique and varied as the material she sources.
Beautiful Soul. This elegant slow fashion label is famed for it's signature prints and produces ethically. Designed to be worn all year round and last a life time.
Bourgeois Boheme. Luxury vegan shoes for men and women. BB’s sustainable footwear is ethically hand made in Portugal.
Honest By. The worlds first 100% company, Honest By has a filter system next to the clothes, allowing you to see which boxes they tick.
Jodie Ruffle. Jodie Ruffle’s work focuses on traditional handcraft and slow fashion. Proof that embroidery doesn’t have to be twee.
Katie Jones. Knitwear label, Katie Jones, teams playful aesthetics with serious ethics. A zero waste approach utilizes designer surplus and celebrates artisanal hand craftsmanship.
Matt and Nat. Chic, vegan friendly, bags and wallets for men and women. The linings are made for 100% recycled plastic bottles.
Reformation. Predominantly manufactured in downtown LA, Reformation is the cool girl’s label of choice. With sustainability at its core, every step of the process, from the sourcing of materials, to production and shipping are thoroughly monitored to have minimal impact, and the clothes are to die for.
RIYKA. Ethical, East London label RIYKA use- end of roll, GOTS certified organic, fair-trade, British made or reclaimed. And they have a zero waste policy, sending their waste to charities to by up-cycled to avoid landfill.
Plastic Seconds . Artist and jewellery designer, Maria Papadimitriou, designs colourful jewellery from plastic that can’t be recycled.
Veja. Super cool sustainable trainer brand, for men women and children. All materials and production is transparent and sustainable and they also have a vegan line.
Beaumont Organic. ‘Contemporary Conscious Clothing’, Beaumont Organic makes beautiful basics in luxury organic, fair-trade and ethical fabric.
Kings of Indigo. 90% of their raw materials are sustainable. They use 50% less water in production than the average denim brand and all packaging is made from recycled material.
Lindex – Re Design and Better Denim. UpCycled from their own denim archive and made locally in Sweden, this high-street option explores more circular ways of working.And better Denim, using sustainable materials and less water and energy.More than half of Lindex total collection is made of sustainable sources and Lindex is dedicated to reach 80% by year 2020.
Nudie Jeans. Made from 100% Organic Cotton with transparent manufacturing. They also offer a free repair service and when you no longer want your old Nudie Jeans, they will repair and sell on as worn in ‘vintage’.
People Tree. The Originator, People Tree have recently stepped up their design and styling game to produce more fashion forward collections. Still a great place to go to for simple summer dresses and simple striped tops.
Studio Jux. Formed in 2008 because they believe fashion should be fun and enjoyable for everyone; for the designers, the people working in factories and everyone wearing and using the products. ‘JUX’ literally means ‘fun’ or ‘having a laugh’ in German. The studio JUX collection is made in our own factory, women empowerment projects and social enterprises that are based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tom Cridland. UK designer Tom Cridland is also appealing to a new consumer, recently launching a collection of t-shirts and sweatshirts designed to last 30 years. “The whole purpose is to encourage people to buy a little bit less and to buy better, especially when it’s a basic item they’re going to wear all the time,” he explains.
Beyond Retro. The go to shop for affordable second hand, vintage fashion.
FARA. Fara always have an edit of great quality clothing for Men, Women and Children. They also have a dedicated vintage clothing shop called Retromania in Victoria, London.
Oxfam. Bel and I had the pleasure of trawling through the Oxfam warehouse rails and we can attest to the absolute jems to be found there. From vintage through the decades to designer and high street, the on-line shop brings all of the wonders of the warehouse to the comfort of your living room. Go in store or on-line and purchase yourself something truly original.
TRAID. A great edit of very reasonably priced secondhand and vintage clothes for Men and Women. Traid has become equally infamous for their avant-garde window displays, created by their maverick merchandiser, Traid also host regular events in their stores, up and down the country. And each November, they hold #secondhandfirstweek, celebrating the power of secondhand clothing. Sign up to their newsletter for regular updates.
5. KEEP ABREAST OF CURRENT CONCEPTS IN SUSTAINABILITY
Compiled between January and March this year, The Transparency Index rates 100 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers, including Topshop and Prada, according to how much they disclose about their social, environmental policies, practices and impact.
It’s not overly encouraging reading but it shows steps in the right direction. On average brands, scored just 20 per cent transparency; none scored above 50 per cent. Adidas and Reebok came out on top with 121.5 out of 250 points, closely followed by Marks & Spencer and H&M.
There is no way to hold companies and governments to account if we can’t see what is truly happening behind the scenes. This is why transparency is so essential.” said Fashion Revolution co-founder Orsola de Castro: “Transparency encourages scrutiny, vigilance and accountability. It’s like opening one’s front door and allowing others to look inside. And of course, the more doors are open, the more the picture becomes clearer, the better we can understand and ameliorate supply chain workers’ lives and the environment.” 
6. LASTLY POLITICISE YOURSELF
No matter how ethical we try to be in our purchasing, it won’t be enough. The system - capitalist, consumerist - is not set up to enable real systemic change .
This is why we emphasised how important it is to politicise yourself: be vocal about your beliefs, to those around you and to the brands themselves. Positive reinforcement works as well if not better than negative; praise a brand if you think it’s taking the right approach.
Address the disconnect. Seek to understand and to remember where your clothes are coming from: who made them, how they were made, the possible environmental toll taken on the planet to made them, what animals were sacrificed in their making.
JOIN THE FASHION REVOLUTION
Ask brands #whomademyclothes, try your own haulternative or fashion love story and prove that #lovedclotheslast.
Fashion Revolution also has a comprehensive list of resources on their site: FURTHER READING
There’s lots of reading out there but if you need a short sharp burst of reality, turn to film.
My Fancy High Heels is a poignant take on the brutal Chinese leather industry.
True Cost has become a cult classic. Also, try Slowing Down Fast Fashion by Alex James and Cowspiricy.
If you don’t have time for these, going to Youtube and simply searching for something like ‘over consumerism’ will bring up a host of helpful vids.
This article is a summary of the talk Alice and Bel held at Bourgeois Boheme, on the 28th April, for Fashion Revolution Week.
2. https://qz.com/920561/conscious-consumerism-is-a-lie-heres-a-better-way-to-help-save- the-world/
3. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fashion-revolution-week-behind-the- scenes-of-a-2-trillion-industry-a7694831.html
4. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/23/marie-kondo-joy- decluttering-waste-recycling-clothes-peak-stuff
5. http://www.thefashionlaw.com/home/clothing-keeps-getting-cheaper-and-factory- workers-are-paying-the-price