2 Fast 2 Fashion (or why I’m trying to quit the high street)

Why is it so hard to be a good person, damn it? I’ve reluctantly come to the realisation that ditching the plastic carrier bags and single-use takeaway coffee cups is simply not enough right now: my H&M t shirts are lending a helping hand in the destruction of the planet, too.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been having lots of thoughts about fast fashion and realised that I’ve been pretty lazy with not making changes to my buying habits. I don’t really buy a lot of clothes, but I’ve recognised that when I do they’ve got to come from more sustainable sources. Most importantly, the working conditions for the people who make our clothes are predominantly dangerous, exploitative, and inhumane. But we’ve all known this for a while, really, and chosen to ignore it, for the most part.

The stuff I wasn’t so aware of was the environmental impact of what we wear. Textile dyeing is the second biggest global pollutant of clean water after agriculture, for example. Polyester sheds microfibres in the washing machine that can pass into waterways and pollute the ocean and cotton often requires treatment from toxic pesticides. So, in short, things aren’t great.

The conversation about fast fashion is opening up, though, which is great. However, much of this discourse comes from a place of privilege – a lot of slow fashion is not affordable and the problem is much more deeply rooted than a matter of personal choice. Bloggers and YouTubers are like, “Don’t spend £100 on twenty things in Primark! Spend £100 on one good pair of shoes!” and I appreciate what they’re saying but, also: mate. Please behave. Not everyone has £100 to throw around in the first place. Saving up isn’t always a possibility and it’s important to phrase these things in a way that doesn’t shame people for living within their means. (Also, if you buy things from charity shops to sell for a profit on Depop then, like, don’t.)

Second hand clothes tend to have a bad rep amongst the middle classes, and let’s not sugar-coat it – this is rooted in classism. People think of charity shop clothes and they think of musty, stained slacks wilting sadly at the back of Oxfam. But online reselling services like eBay and Depop are aimed at a much younger consumer, a generation that doesn’t really know what slacks are (but knows they don’t sound appealing). And anyway, charity shops have some great stuff in them. You just have to have the patience to look for it. And anyway, when Persephone from Guildford isn’t inflating the prices by buying all her wavy garms to take back to university in Bristol, they’re affordable, which is the main thing.

So, this is my early new year’s resolution. I will try to buy more clothes second-hand and make more of an effort to restyle pieces I already have. Because clothes are a fun time – I can wear turtlenecks under summer dresses in the autumn and winter and it’s (almost) a whole new dress. Sounds simple, but we (by which I am mostly referring to myself) have been conditioned into thinking that we have Summer Clothes and Winter Clothes. Obviously shorts and cable knit jumpers don’t usually belong in the same outfit, but we’ve undoubtedly been trained to see excess as the norm.

When I mentioned this decision to my mum, she seemed slightly dismissive of the idea, like she couldn’t see the point. “What difference are you going to make on your own?” And she’s right, in one respect. But the same thing could be said of my veganism (which she is supportive of). One person doing a thing on their own doesn’t make a lot of difference, but lots of people doing that thing on their own is another story. And, even if it’s only a small difference, that’s enough for me and my collection of tote bags.

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