Instastories, Facebook Live, Snapchat and LinkedIn – in one way or another we love sharing stories. We live in a sharing society when it comes to our personal lifestyles and general information, which is freely available at the click of a button. Millennials love stories. And millennials love transparency.
So it comes as no surprise that sustainable fashion (a very broad term that can include but is not limited to: organic, fair trade, vegan, zero waste, recycled, upcycled, locally made, secondhand, etc) is gaining popularity amongst conscious consumers.
Clothes from the high street are often “storyless”. They are mass produced by anonymous hands, from unknown fibers, with conspicuous chemicals, under unimaginable working conditions. Or at least, that’s what we have to assume, because there is little or no information about the supply chain and manufacturing process of garments produced for the British high street. But please, try for yourself and ask your favourite brands #whomademyclothes. (For more information about this campaign visit www.fashionrevolution.org).
The few stories that do leak through are horrific and heart breaking; the most famous one being the Rana Plaza collapse, which killed 1.135 people. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Watch documentaries like “The True Cost” movie, and you’ll discover the journey your clothes have made before they were put on the shelf. Making the simplest piece of clothing requires a remarkable amount of manual processes, with each one raising serious concern in their own rights. But considered collectively the current common practice of clothing production is inexcusable.
As consumers, we have to acknowledge that we are partly responsible. We vote with our cash. Just think about the price of an ordinary t-shirt and then get real for a second:
“Who farmed it?
Who ginned it?
Who scoured it?
Who tanned it?
Who spun it?
Who wove it?
Who knitted it?
Who dyed it?
Who printed it?
Who designed it?
Who made it?
… and you want to pay how much for your t-shirt?”
Of course, expensive does not equal ethical – BUT cheap likely equals unethical! I strongly believe that somewhere deep inside us we all yearn for clothes that have something to say. Clothes with substance and meaning. So how can you find clothes that DO tell stories? Preferably happy stories?
One easy way to achieve “Style with Stories” is to invite preloved pieces into your wardrobe. This might be from authentic vintage merchants, high end consignment stores, your local charity shop or fun clothes swap parties with friends and family. With £150m worth of clothing being binned every year in the UK alone, it’s worth our while to reinvent what’s already available rather than demand NEW at all cost.
Second hand often trumps high street with unique and high quality finds that tell a story. Especially at swap parties like the WALK IN WARDROBE™ you sometimes even get to meet the person who donated the garments. It’s such a joy to find out where it was found, where it’s been in the world and the special occasions it has served for before it continues its life in your wardrobe.
I know that there is a certain stigma attached to preloved clothing. But rest assured that second hand doesn’t mean second best. We are not talking about rags depicting poverty or cast offs smelling like old people. Our western world is so saturated with overproduction of apparel, that one person’s wardrobe detox alone can easily surface £300 worth of clothing with TAGS STILL ON! And this doesn’t include pieces that have been worn once or twice before disappearing into the wardrobe abyss. So what ends up at consignment stores or at charity shops is far from worn and tatty. Give it a try; you’ll be surprised what treasures you can find.
If you are looking for inspiration by someone who’s created a new outfit every day for a year exclusively sourced from Cancer Research UK shops, I highly recommend Caroline Jones’s book “Knickers Model’s Own“. It’s a great read, a great project and a great cause.
Sustainable Fashion Brands
Another way to wear clothes with stories is to find brands that pride themselves in transparency. Brands that tell you where they source their materials from, where the factories are and who worked on a particular piece.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a pop-up shop in London where I met Seraphina Davis, the owner and lead designer at Nancy Dee. We got chatting and I tried on a few pieces, including the Dylan Herringbone trousers from her recent collection. What a treat! Seraphina explained that the beautiful upcycled fabric for my trousers was made in Leicester: it was dead stock that she bought from a factory local to where her collection is manufactured. Her team of women at the factory in Leicester can be credited for the fantastic fit. “Denise is the head seamstress who overseas all the production – amazing lovely lady!” No wonder I had such a hard time taking them off again that they eventually came home with me.
Nancy Dee is just one of the many ethical fashion brands who look after the people in their team and into the impact of the materials they are using. Their efforts as small independent brands taking it up with established names on the high street put us as consumers into a unique position of choice. It’s down to us to vote with our cash. If we decide to spend £85.00 on a new pair of cotton trousers, we can choose between one with or without a story.
Ethical fashion is now more accessible than ever and as Livia Firth famously put it:
“Call it ‘eco-fashion’ if you like, but I think it’s just common sense”.