This time last year, I decided to stop buying fast fashion. To go without the high street, without online hauls, without multiple weekly visits from Joe, the delivery man.
New Year’s Eve 2018 was my last hurrah, when I sat on my parents’ sofa scrolling through 4,614 midi-dresses as the clock crept closer to midnight. I bought five, hungrily clicking ‘add to basket’.
I shopped the way I have so many times before: palms clammy, pupils dilated, on a mission. As though I were a donkey and the perfect outfit was a carrot, bobbing forever out of reach.
Clothes have been my passion and buying them my hobby.
This time last year, Lauren Bravo (pictured) decided to stop buying fast fashion. To go without the high street, without online hauls, without multiple weekly visits from Joe, the delivery man
I’ve danced out of shops cradling a carrier bag like a newborn baby, delighted in removing the tag from the perfect jacket later in my bedroom. Of course, a few months later, that jacket ends up relegated to a lower peg when the next must-have turns my head.
As for those five midi-dresses? In the time-honoured tradition of online shopping, I sent all but one back. That one became my go-to dress over the next month or so — not because it looked especially good on me, but purely as it was the newest.
The pursuit of the new is human instinct. But in recent years, we’ve supercharged our pursuit of novelty and created a monster: fast fashion.
Global clothing production has roughly doubled in 15 years. Last year, Brits spent an estimated £2.7 billion on items we wore only once.
Workers in Bangladesh are paid some of the lowest legal wages in the world to make clothes that end up in landfill — an estimated 300,000 tons a year in Britain (stock image)
Workers in Bangladesh are paid some of the lowest legal wages in the world to make clothes that end up in landfill — an estimated 300,000 tons a year in Britain.
ARE YOU WASHING YOUR CLOTHES TOO OFTEN?
About 25 per cent of a garment’s carbon footprint comes from the way we wash and dry it. In 2017, the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) said UK CO2 emissions had fallen by 700,000 tons in five years because people were washing at lower temperatures (30c and less) and ironing and tumble-drying less often.
This really does make a difference — and it prolongs the life of your clothes, too.
Washing brings other problems: plastic-based fabrics such as polyester and nylon shed thousands of tiny fibres which go on to contaminate waterways and end up ingested by fish — and ultimately by us.
Let’s agree underwear and socks should be washed after every wear. But for everything else, stop and evaluate. Does it really need full immersion, or could a squirt of stain remover fix it? Or an hour or two airing on the washing line?
Try these DIY instant stain removers:
- FOR OIL: Apply a generous amount of talcum powder or dry shampoo and leave for a few hours to absorb the oil. Scrape it off, then give the stain a gentle scrub with cold water and soap or washing-up liquid.
- RED WINE: Blot gently (don’t rub it in further), then apply salt to absorb the wine. You can also use bicarbonate of soda.
- BERRIES: Turn inside out, pull the fabric taut and pour boiling water through the stain from behind. For stains on cotton, try rubbing in a little whitening toothpaste with a toothbrush, then rinsing.
- CHOCOLATE OR BLOOD: Turn the fabric over and hold it under the cold tap to loosen the stain. Avoid heat, as this will cause it to set. Massage in detergent, working your way from the outside of the stain inwards.
For dried-in blood stains, soak in white vinegar for 30 minutes and rinse in cold water. But be very careful with delicates.
Try refreshing clothes with Day2 Dry Wash Spray (£5, wilko.com), it’s like dry shampoo for clothes and neutralises odours and softens fabric. Each bottle, makers claim, can save about 60 litres of water.
Slowly, though, we’re starting to wise up to fast fashion. We might not know exactly what or how to change, but we know something must.
My relationship with fast fashion is estranged, but far from over. A year on, I have kept my pledge not to buy fast fashion, but still window shop wistfully at stores such as Zara and & Other Stories. I want to move on, but can’t promise never to relapse.
Still, I hope that makes me more able to talk about how to break up with fast fashion than someone who quit shopping so long ago they can barely remember the thrill.
Not only have I shopped like it was a career, I have made it one. As a journalist, I’ve written for budget fashion brands, high-end designers and supermarkets. I’ve churned out 800 words for fashion magazines on why we should all buy a skirt 2 in longer than last year’s.
I hold my hands up, I am a hypocrite. But I’m a hopeful one. That’s why I’ve spoken to academics, activists, sustainability advocates and fashion influencers to find out how we can reverse our conspicuous consumption and find better ways to celebrate our love of clothes…
‘UNFOLLOW’ TEMPTING BRANDS ONLINE
We’re not saying you’re never going to shop again, but you’re not going to use shopping as a treat, a pastime, or an emotional crutch. Mindless spending on cheap clothes shouldn’t be a comfort blanket.
So, start by unsubscribing from all those email newsletters with tempting discounts, and stop following brands and influencers on social media that make you think you need something new every other day.
Come up with ‘treats’ that aren’t a new pair of earrings or an inexpensive dress. Don’t think of it as taking a break from shopping — otherwise you’ll always be weighing up things to buy when your period of abstinence is up — you just have to stop thinking about shopping.
Your new goal should be to direct all that time and energy on something more productive. ‘Going shopping’ isn’t a hobby, it’s just a habit — one you can shake.
This isn’t depriving yourself, it’s liberating yourself. You’re gaining freedom — and money, spare time, self-esteem and cupboard space.
get rid of boring basics — yes, really
Start with a wardrobe clear-out. Having fewer clothes eases decision fatigue that forces us to buy more because we think we have nothing to wear. It also make you creative in your outfit choices, which helps dampen the urge to shop.
Plus, taking a long, hard look at what you haven’t worn, and why, helps you form a clearer picture of the reasons you shop. That can help you to buy more sensibly in future.
Ignore fashion ‘rules’, and cull according to what you’ve worn. For example, people say plain basics will endure, but I’ve found it’s beautiful prints that I love and keep wearing.
And there is no correlation between price and longevity. While I’ve hung on to expensive things I bought because I really loved them, pricey items bought out of any other emotion — boredom, inferiority, because the lady in the shop complimented me — have ended up as guilty cast-offs. Acknowledging this is helpful.
Look at the label. While there’s no point banishing ‘bad’ fabrics such as polyester (an unbiodegradable plastic) once they’re already in your wardrobe, don’t buy them in future.
UNSTICK TRICKY ZIPS AND UNSHRINK JUMPERS
I recommend sorting your clothes into piles: 1) To keep. 2) To donate to the charity shop. 3) To donate to a recycling scheme. 4) To keep but tweak (i.e. mend and alter).
We tend simply to chuck things that no longer look perfect — or stop wearing them — but you can learn to mend clothes with the help of a YouTube tutorial and a sewing kit.
Sewing up holes, replacing buttons, and patching up your favourite jeans can mean you wear the same clothes for much longer. If you’re no good at sewing, pay someone else to do it.
Sewing up holes, replacing buttons, and patching up your favourite jeans can mean you wear the same clothes for much longer. If you’re no good at sewing, pay someone else to do it
The Clothes Doctor app (clothes-doctor.com) lets you arrange repairs and alterations via your phone. Simply post clothes to its Cornish workshop and get them back within seven to ten days. Other services like Handbag Clinic (handbag clinic.co.uk) and The Restory (the-restory.com) will rejuvenate shoes and bags.
Here are some easy fixes that anyone can do…
A bobbly jumper: Carefully shave off the bobbles with a razor, or you can get special gadgets.
A stiff zip: Rub a soft pencil along the metal teeth — the graphite in the lead will lubricate them and help the zip run more smoothly.
An exposed bra underwire: Wrap duct tape or a plaster around the end of the underwire to stop it poking through again, then push it back as far into the bra as you can. Either stitch the hole closed, or plug it with medical tape.
Scuffed suede: You can buy a specialist suede eraser (Jason Markk makes a good one), or use a new pencil eraser to buff out marks.
A shrunken jumper: Soak in lukewarm water and hair conditioner for a few hours, then push out the excess water, lay it on a towel and gently stretch to its original size.
SHORTEN HEMS WITH HAIR STRAIGHTENERS
Think hard about why you don’t wear an item of clothing, and see if you can fix the problem.
The difference between a garment that gets worn and one that doesn’t can be as small as snipping off an itchy label, or a pair of hanger loops that are always protruding from the neckline.
It could be stitching a collar so it lies perfectly flat instead of flapping up, shortening the slightly too-long bag strap that falls off your shoulder, or buying a slip to go under that skirt plagued by static.
Global clothing production has roughly doubled in 15 years. Last year, Brits spent an estimated £2.7 billion on items we wore only once (stock image)
My favourite trick is to combat boob-gape in button-down shirts and dresses by simply sewing up the front. Or there are clever helpers such as press studs, hooks and eyes, iron-on Velcro, and Wundaweb, for lazy menders everywhere.
It’s a roll of mesh tape adhesive that you iron between two layers of fabric to fuse them together.
You can use it to fix drooping hems, cuffs you want rolled back just-so, and wrap dresses that threaten to fly open. It works almost instantly, costs approximately 50 times less than a sewing machine and you can even do it with your hair straighteners, too.
The internet is an invaluable trove of video tutorials and step-by-step guides on every tailoring trick you could imagine, from sewing a bra into a backless dress to turning long tops and shirts into bodysuits, so they never billow out from your waistband again.
And, of course, in the world of ‘slow’ fashion, making a garment yourself from scratch is the best option of all. You don’t spend three days making something you plan to wear only once.
MAKE OLD OUTFITS LOOK BRAND NEW
Stop worrying that people have seen you in an outfit before. People don’t remember clothes, and if they do, they don’t care.
The problem is we’ve adopted the need for novelty peddled by fashion brands — reportedly 79 per cent of women are at their happiest or most confident when wearing something new, while 52 per cent feel lacklustre when wearing something old.
Here’s where creativity comes in. Add different shoes, pair with something from another season, use accessories to steer an outfit in a whole other direction.
Juxtaposition works well — it can help you create lots of new looks. Recent with retro. Summer with winter. Floral with stripes.
ALWAYS GO SHOPPING IN YOUR SUNDAY BEST
What about when you do — gulp — go shopping?
Firstly, dress up. Fashion consultant Aja Barber says the easiest way to buy something you don’t need is to shop while wearing tracksuit bottoms.
Keep a list of items you do need to fill gaps in your wardrobe. When you’re about to buy something, ask: Can I really see myself wearing it at least 30 times? Do I have five things I could wear with it? If it isn’t available in my size, will I be devastated? Will it last?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, don’t buy.
FASHION THAT WON’T COST THE EARTH
Just because you’re not getting a cheap fix on the High Street, doesn’t mean you can’t acquire new (to you) items.
Think about borrowing and lending among friends, or seek out companies that rent special-occasion outfits.
Look for your favourite labels on eBay, scour charity and vintage shops and make an effort to look at clothes with a conscience.
Brands to look out for include Reformation (thereformation.com), People Tree (peopletree.co.uk), Mother of Pearl (motherofpearl.co.uk), Veja (veja-store.com), Rakha (rakha.co.uk), Lara Intimates (laraintimates.com) and Rapanui (rapanuiclothing.com).
The prices might seem higher than those of fast fashion, but we need to get into our heads that that’s how much ethical clothing actually costs.
We also need to remember that, if we buy less, choose what we love, and keep it, we actually save money in the long run.
n Adapted by Claire Coleman from How To Break Up With Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo, out January 9 (£12.99, Headline Home). © Lauren Bravo 2020. To order a copy for £10.30 (20 per cent off) go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155. Offer valid until January 16, 2020. P&P is free.