‘Fast fashion’ has become the norm. So many of us give as much thought to buying an £8 top as we do grabbing a Meal Deal. You can go to Tesco and fling a Marni-inspired dress into your trolley during your food shop, or pick up lingerie in Lidl as you peruse the cheap wine. In her book To Die For, which exposes the dirty, unethical side of fast fashion, Lucy Siegle summarises our greed perfectly: “We buy fast and cheap and in huge quantity. Not only is the global wardrobe heaving, its contents are being discarded and refilled at a spectacular rate.”
I fully admit to being one of these brainless, unethical consumers in the past. I used to spend a big chunk of my monthly paycheque on clothes – nothing fancy, just trend-focused, wear-it-once-and-then-never-again sort of garb. Topshop, ASOS and Zara used to be my all-time favourites. Eveningwear was my worst habit, to the point that I would be buying a new dress or top from Zara as soon as I found out I had a night out in the pipeline.
A couple of years ago, though, I had a revelatory moment upon opening my wardrobe and realising that I didn’t like anything in it any more, bar a few staples like black jeans and white shirts. And that’s the problem with most of the high street: it’s so trend-led that most of the things on offer feel dated once the seasons change. And then you want to buy more of it, just to keep up. It’s a vicious cycle.
I started adopting the mantra to buy less but buy better, which works well for me as, as my sartorial tastes have matured, I’ve naturally found myself leaning towards classic, wear-with-everything styles that never feel boring. There are plenty of brilliant mid-market brands with ethical, transparent practices that I’ve fallen in love with. I buy from then when I can afford to – let’s face it, we’re far from getting a brand that delivers Primark prices without having dodgy credentials behind it. But, equally, a leopard can’t change its spots and I still yearn for cheap fixes.
My solution? Charity shopping. I’ve found a wealth of beautiful pre-loved (‘second-hand’ sounds so unappealing in comparison, doesn’t it?) items in my local Oxfam – including pieces from designer brands like Mulberry, Burberry and Armani, as well as mid-range classics like Toast and Jigsaw – which cost less than any of the now-naff-looking Topshop dresses I used to hoard.
Just because we love fashion doesn’t mean we have to embrace its ugly side. Until your favourite high street retailers can prove total transparency in their production processes, you’ll never know that saying ‘yes’ to their new clothes doesn’t also mean saying ‘yes’ to unethical practices. And even if that sometimes means wearing high street clothes found a charity shop, then so be it; at least you’re recycling rather than directly buying into the supply chain. Show some originality – fashion is all about fun and creativity, after all – and remember that, although it can help to fill out your wardrobe, money can’t buy you style.