With the UN warning this week that we have 12 years to limit climate change “catastrophe”, many of us have been asking what changes we can make in our everyday lives. From reducing our consumption of meat and dairy (reportedly the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet) to replacing plastic straws with reusable metal or bamboo, for the moment, at least, we all seem motivated to do our bit to save the planet.
So, I’m striking whilst the iron is hot. Earlier this year, I was shocked to read an article that claimed that Britons sent 235 million items of clothing to landfill this spring. I felt disgusted…and a little bit guilty.
Whilst I’ve always made sure to dispose of unwanted clothing in a sustainable way, I haven’t always been the most responsible consumer. Perpetually sucked in by the affordability of New Look and the likes and never too bothered by the materials I put on my body; my ethical shopping habits left a lot to be desired.
I tried (at least I like to tell myself I did) to avoid retailers I knew had associations with sweatshops, but like so many others with the privilege of being ignorant, if it suited I chose to turn a blind eye.
But I hated myself for it, so I chose to do something about it. I started by reading and came across the #BuyLessChooseWell movement. It’s a very simple idea – only buy what you really need (good for your bank account) and choose your fabrics and stores carefully (good for the environment). And if you needed more persuading, it’s approved by Dame Vivienne Westwood, fashion’s favourite environmental activist, who gives the advice to “buy less, choose well, make it last.”
With capitalism seeming inescapable, and fast fashion brands like Missguided catering to our every clothing whim, we need to address the ethical and environmental issues of the fashion industry on both a large and small scale.
But I want to make two things clear. One, I recognise that I can “buy less and choose well” because I have the economic privilege to do so, and not everybody possesses that. Two, this is by no means the extent of what we need to do as consumers and inhabitants of the earth. But to me, this isn’t about changing our consumption patterns alone, but our mindsets. It’s about stopping to think before we make decisions, considering the impact our actions may have on the earth, even if in the grand scheme they seem inconsequential.
Here are the little changes I’ve been making that I hope are simple and accessible enough to inspire you, too.
Second hand is where it’s at
Charity shops, car boot sales, even Depop – buying second hand is a great way to consume sustainably and save money. There’s nothing like the thrill of hunting out a bargain and having extreme bragging rights afterward (I once got £235 J Crew jeans in a thrift store for £7. I’ve told every single person I’ve met since.)
Make a hit list, and try to keep to it
Buying well isn’t only about purchasing good materials, but also making good, responsible choices altogether. As a society, we all have too much stuff. We so much more than we actually need. As an impulsive over-spender, I find the easiest way to keep myself on track is by keeping a list of the items I want/need most on my phone. I find it forces me to look at what I already have and assess how much I really need something before I spend my money on it. Also, it really helps in a treasure trove of a charity shop to have a sense of direction and purpose. When you’re in a room full of bargains, it’s easy to get caught up and want to buy everything because it’s so cheap. But even in a charity shop, you need to consider what you really need, or really want.
If you’re going to wear something a lot, consider spending a little bit more
One of the first things I did was to replace the hordes of tatty Primark basic tees with one black and one white fitted 100% cotton t-shirt. Spending just a bit more meant that not only would I get more wear out of my clothes, but they felt nicer on my skin, supported Fairtrade farming and my money went to a relatively sustainable retailer.
You most likely don’t need anything else
Admit it to yourself, what more do you actually, properly need? Probably not a lot. Reject our societal need to have more and more and more.
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