Have you seen Stacey Dooley’s documentary, Fashion’s Dirty Secrets? It’s an important reminder of the human and environmental costs of our obsession with cheap clothes.
Before I go on, I want to make one thing clear. This post isn’t designed to preach to you, or to patronise you. It’s actually more of an admission of my own guilt: I get a buzz from buying cheap clothes and I don’t think hard enough about the true costs.
Here’s the problem: we produce too many new clothes. Most of them are made of cotton. Growing cotton uses a lot of water, and processing it uses huge quantities of pesticides and toxic dyes. In the UK we’re physically removed from this brutal and damaging process. Out of sight, out of mind. But the countries that produce our clothes pay the price. Watch Stacey’s documentary footage of the heavily polluted Citarum River in Indonesia and you won’t be able to bury your head in the sand any longer. Add to this the horrible working conditions and things are looking very dark
What’s the solution?
The problem is overwhelming. How do you turn back the tide of cheap fashion? The answer is you can’t. Not on your own. But if we all make some small changes together, then change is possible.
For now, for me, the answer is simple: THINK TWICE.
Think twice before I indulging the LIKE, WANT, BUY impulse. I’m addicted to the buzz of buying new clothes. A decade ago, I’d think long and hard before buying a couple of new pieces each season, like a wool coat or an expensive cardigan from Boden. Now, my inbox and Instagram feed is full of cheap must-haves screaming buy me now. Before I buy anything new I’m going to check in with conscience and ask myself who really wants the new dress. Is it me, or is the clothing addiction?
Think twice about whether it’s needed. Is it offering something new, or is just a repeat? Or is it a one-off piece you won’t wear again? Remember those old-fashioned ‘fashion maths’ posts you used to get in magazines? You need to think like that about every purchase – will it be versatile, good value and have a life beyond one season?
Think twice about the ethics behind your favourite brands. Do some research. What’s their position on the dark side of fashion? And how does that make you feel?
Think twice about quality. Buy cheap, buy twice. That’s what your granny probably said. And she was right. I know that there are certain shops that produce clothes which last for years, and others that don’t. If a company’s clothes always go baggy or shrink after one wash then don’t buy them any more. No matter how cute they look.
Think twice about how you invest your money. Ethical clothing is relatively expensive. My purse is limited, and find it painful to spend too much on one item. However, now is the time to be 100% honest with myself. If I add up all the money I spent on fast fashion in a year, then I could buy myself a nice capsule wardrobe of ethical clothes. It’s about spending my money more wisely.
Think twice about buying new. Before fashion got so damn cheap, I used to buy a lot of things off ebay. I’d choose a trend, or my favourite brand, and search for second-hand bargains. I took pride in it. I want to show you more of this. I’m also giving away more of my good quality clothes to charity shops for others to enjoy wearing, rather than hoarding them under my bed.
We can’t cure our addiction to cheap clothes overnight. It’s going to take time. I will almost certainly slip up and appear intensely hypocritical at times. I want to keep writing about this, but I also want to keep writing about nice clothes. The key is acknowledge that things need to change.
This post is my first step in a better direction, will you join me? And if you’re still not convinced this is relevant to you, then watch Stacey’s documentary.