Op-Ed: Beyond sustainable fashion, we need to change WHY we shop — for good

The other day I was exploring the charity shop scene in London. Spending time with my nephew and his girlfriend in Chiswick town, we went for brunch and then scurried from one boutique to another — a welcome shelter from the dismal, wet UK weather!

It had been a while since I'd done a proper charity shop crawl, and this occasion didn’t disappoint. We were lured in by rails upon rails of second hand brand names, from fast-fashion to luxury bargains (my best find was a black leather Mulberry Alexa in mint condition for just 250 pounds!) Trust me, there's nothing like unearthing a designer deal from beneath a stack of old Laura Ashley, Topshop and C&A.

But as I was rootling through the racks in the fourth shop along the high street (after having picked up and put down the same Chloe jumper five times in almost philosophic contemplation), I got thinking about how easy it would have been for the ‘old me’ to go into impulse buy mode in this kind of environment. I certainly liked the jumper, but definitely didn’t need it (I live in Singapore most of the year so layers = sweat.) Buying it would mean it sitting unworn, unloved and festering in my wardrobe back in the UK until my next winter visit, like the rest of my coats and knitwear. If, by then, I remembered I had it at all.

Albeit small, this little encounter got me thinking more broadly about what it means to 'shop sustainably.' As awareness about the impact of the fashion industry grows (info here if you need a refresher), we’re increasingly advised to swap, choose second-hand and support conscious labels if we buy new.

Of course, I don’t disagree. Those are definitely important and more planet-friendly ways to consume. It's one of the reasons we harp on about it on this platform and curate cool, responsible brands for you! BUT, unless we learn to adjust our mentality towards consumption as a whole, the act of 'buying sustainably' sort of...falls flat. 

Nope. My wardrobe doesn't look this immaculate either.

Hear me out. So, it makes no sense buying a more responsibly produced garment that ticks all the 'green' boxes if we’re just going to grow tired of it, throw it out and it ends up festering in landfill anyway. BUT, if I buy a jumper from a fast-fashion store and keep it for ten years, does it have more longevity? Does it mean I’ve made a more 'conscious choice?' And down the rabbit hole we go. 

"As awareness about the impact of the fashion industry grows, we’re increasingly advised to swap, buy second-hand and support conscious labels if we buy new. Of course, I don’t disagree. Those are definitely important and more planet-friendly ways to consume. That's one of the reasons we curate cool, responsible brands for you on this platform! BUT, unless we learn to adjust our mentality towards consumption as a whole, the act of 'buying sustainably' sort of...falls flat." 

Ethics aside, if we buy a garment with better sustainable street cred and still throw it out, unless it's 100% biodegradable (kudos) it has the same effect as buying a fast-fashion item and discarding it. The first demon may be unethical production, but the second is our attitudes. Last year in the UK, we sent 235 million items of clothing to landfill and in Singapore the latest stats record at least 150,000 tonnes of textile and leather waste. That's a lot of stuff we've grown tired of.

If that's the case, I can't help but wonder: is the real issue we need to change as wearers of clothes, our relationship with our clothing? 

If so, perhaps we should be asking stuff like:

  • How can we learn to consume more mindfully on a constant? Not just as a passing fad, but as a lifestyle that also encompasses our wardrobes?

  • How do we learn to actually value we already have, as well as new items that we let into our lives (and spend our hard-earned cash on?) To ignore trends and fads in favour of long-lasting pieces we really love?

  • How on earth do you disrupt a system of consumption so deeply ingrained from a young age into our hearts and minds through clever marketing? 

Big questions, right? They're going to take a lot of braincells to explore and answer, plus getting bigger corporations and governments involved to set an example. Honestly, as someone who works in the ethical fashion space for a living, I've started to think about this topic quite often, and as above, I'm often left with even more questions than answers.

One thing, however, is for sure: What we shop is important, but HOW and WHY we shop is crucial. In the long term, buying sustainably becomes pointless unless we shift our mentality towards consumption. What I think we truly need? To unlearn bad habits, change our mindsets and fall back in love with our wardrobes. 

Like this article? Then read these too:

Discover how to detox your wardrobe

What's next for the ethical fashion movement

Your ultimate sustainable fashion glossary

Read our founder's experience of quitting fast-fashion

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1 comment

  • Binki

    Hi Suannah,
    It’s a pleasant read of your article!I
    run a secondhand shop platform in Guangzhou,China.I absolutely agree with your view that our fashion attitude needs to change to for the long term effect.I am writing hoping to get your approval to repost your articles on our online platform(Wechat blog) cause I think such information and views are very helpful to our followers.We will state the resource of course.

    For more information about what we do or any requirements I need to know.Please be so kind to let me know through the email provided.

    Thank you and happy Chinese New Year!

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