The normalisation of buying what we want in the name of fashion whenever we want it has a dire impact on the environment and our mental health.
What is the impact of the fashion industry?
The cold winter rain does nothing to deter crowds from gravitating towards the vintage market on Brick Lane. It feels like walking back through the decades, to a time where the fashion industry was not expected to account for more than a quarter of Britain’s total impact on climate change by 2050.
We see it everywhere. Even attractions such as Piccadilly Circus contribute to the normalisation of fast fashion through the constant advertisements they project onto the public. Tourists risk their lives by running across moving traffic just to get a picture in front of the iconic screens which show the new instalment of the H&M winter must-haves.
Are fashion advertisements to blame?
Environmental activist, Natasha Parker knows what it feels like to experience advertisers praying on our insecurities. She says that the promise of being “loved, liked and worthy,” a message received through fashion advertisements, is not worth the destruction of our planet.
She is involved with Global Action Plan, a charity whose goal is to steer people away from thoughtless buying and instead popularise reselling clothes, especially through apps like Depop. Her philosophy is why shop for just one occasion when “we can find more unique items, reflect our style, save money and be planet-friendly”.
Parker says that there is no other alternative than to “buy less, buy better”. The rise of high-street shops such as Primark and online websites like Boohoo means that throwaway fashion has become an epidemic. In 2017, over 235 million items of clothing were sent to British landfills.
So what is the alternative to fast fashion?
Donation, reselling or even purchasing used clothes. This may be the answer for some, but it’s hard to overlook that with vintage shopping gaining popularity, the prices are rising. Indeed, it may be better for the environment to purchase an antique Rolling Stones shirt from a vintage store. However, with the price being close to £100, who wouldn’t consider purchasing the same item from a high street store?
Despite the potential extortionate prices of rebuying and reusing, change is still coming. Sarah Vines, manager of FARA charity shop in Angel credits this to the recent trend of ‘thrifting’ in the US. With some YouTube videos gaining upwards of 6 million views, they may have reignited the popularity of the vintage scene in East London. Wearing used clothes has become “cool and trendy” again.
The history of vintage fashion should not be overlooked
As the trend of vintage gains acceptance, the mainstream media seems to be overlooking it as a lifestyle. Fashion blogger Vicky Brearly, who goes by the name of Vintage Vixen or Vix, doesn’t see the appeal of shopping on the high street.
“The colours, the styles and even the prints are virtually the same in every shop,” she says. Her blog boasts 40,000 monthly views, proof that there’s interest in her ethical attitude. Yet some would question whether her lifestyle is more aspirational than practical. What about the casual shopper who goes to the shopping centre to relax after a hard-working week? Is it possible for them to maintain the pleasure they get from shopping while being more considerate of the environment?
Brearly says that the enjoyment people get from spending their day shopping isn’t lost on her just because she buys second-hand. “I know this sounds a bit silly, but I almost form an emotional attachment to the items I find. Almost every piece in my wardrobe has a story behind,” she says. Shopping ethically through purchasing used clothing is not only great for personal satisfaction and the planet. It is possibly beneficial for the wallet, if you learn to avoid the trendy spots and their inflated prices.
The general consensus on fashion?
It would seem that for some, shopping second-hand can be even more exciting than going to a shop. Manager Vines is passionate about experimenting with style. She gestures to the mannequin in a bright pink leather jacket and a wool green dress whispering in delight. “You can try new things for less while helping other people and the environment,” she says. She picks out a fluffy shoulder bag from a box full of individualistic pieces, eagerly displaying a £4 price tag.
It’s a cycle without a visible end. Inside Fara, employees unpack sacks of clothes and Vines informs me that people consistently contribute to the racks. “You get regular people that donate once a month, have a clear out,” she says.
This balance is what makes reusing clothing limitless. There’s always a piece shoved in the back of your closet, begging to get out and see the sun again. Donating it, will give it a second chance at life. As they say: ‘One man’s trash, another man’s treasure’. Maybe that’s just the thought in my mind as I stroll out of FARA with a black fluffy bag on my shoulder.