Uncovered - 6 steps towards a more organised & ethical wardrobe
Updated: Mar 5
Does your wardrobe reflect the sort of person you want to be?
By the way I'm not blaming anyone here, we are where we are, we're all in this together. We've been encouraged to buy (and buy and buy), and we've done just that, for years, but the fact is it can't continue. Not if we want to be able to consider ourselves intelligent, responsible, caring, sharing human beings.
What's the issue? I've just finished reading the book To Die For - Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? The book was written in 2011 and the answer then was YES!, fast forward almost a decade and well, you get the picture...a recent article in the Guardian will give you a briefer, but more up to date account. Sadly in the last ten years little has improved and so much has got worse.
Did you know that every item of clothing you own was handmade by somebody, somewhere?
Just think about that for a minute...because clothes production isn't mechanised. Every single garment that you own, or that you see on a bargain sale rail in a high street store (often reduced to just a few pounds), has been made by a real life person operating a sewing machine, often in shocking working conditions. Someone allocated less than 50 seconds to sew the two side seams of a T shirt, throughout an eleven hour shift, often with no break (that's a lot of T-shirts). Lack of labour rights and pitifully low pay, forces people to work back to back shifts, at different factories, just to feed their family.
Did you know that until very recently the Uzbekistan government removed children from school and put them into forced labour during the annual cotton harvest ? This is just one example of the exploitation of people to satisfy the enormous demand for cheap cotton, from the fashion industry.
Did you know that it takes up to 22,000 litres of water to make one pair of denim jeans, whilst parts of the world are in drought? The Aral Sea (once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world), has dried up due to cotton production - Google it, it's astonishing!
You might remember the anti fur slogan in the 80s/90s "worn by beautiful animals and ugly people", well did you know that real fur is "back in fashion"? I thought not, nor did I, but if you do a bit of digging, you'll find out that there's plenty of real, farmed fur in our wardrobes today, it's just labelled as fake, or combined with other fibres so that you animal lovers won't notice.
The fact that the big retailers and wholesalers are continuing to turn a blind eye to this, is all the more reason why we shouldn't. Everything comes with a price tag and it's not always representative of the true cost. We can't leave it up to the big companies "to do the right thing", because they won't, they're driven by profit. It's up to each and every one of us to "vote with our money". I'm not trying to spoil anyone's fun here, but I am trying to change that idea of fun, because at the moment, we, as a privileged group of humans, are having our "clothes shopping fun" at the expense of others we share our planet with.
I didn't know any of this ten years ago and I never, ever, judge people for what they've bought in the past. We're all learning here. What I am asking is that people are open to learning and willing to change.
So what can we do? We need to be rejecting the idea of fast fashion and embracing the slow fashion concept.
1. Declutter & Organise your clothes - taking stock of what you already have, organising it so that it's easily accessible, easy to put outfits together, easy to see what you have (and in many cases multiple versions of), is the starting point in the process. Yes it will mean getting rid of the things that no longer suit you (maybe never suited you!), but these mistakes were made in the past, the garments have already been made, so the situation isn't going to get any better if they sit in your wardrobe unworn. It's much better to let these items go and move to a more conscious way of stocking your wardrobe in the future.
2. Shop your Wardrobe - set yourself a time period during which you are only going to wear what you already have and buy nothing new. I promise you, you will surprise yourself with your creativity!
3. Make Impulse Buying a thing of the Past - never buy on the spot again. Promise yourself that when you go clothes shopping, or browsing on the internet, you will allow a clear 24 hours between seeing an item and buying it. Plan, Research, Wait, Invest.
Styling Consultation - one way of achieving 2 and 3 once you've done your initial wardrobe purge, is by investing in a consultation with a personal stylist, as I did this recently with Francesca Cairns. My wardrobe was already clutter free and organised but I had a niggling feeling that I could be cutting it down even more. I was right, my hunches about styles and colours that suit me and those that don't were confirmed, I began to realise that there were good reasons for the fact that I wear some things over and over again and other items rarely (even though in theory I loved them). I was able to let more go and move on (free from the guilt of keeping things I don't wear). I now know my colours, I know my styles and armed with that information I'll be making more informed choices in the future. Kettlewell is a company which enables you to shop with "your colour season" in mind and creates ethically produced garments. Buy less, choose well, a stylist will help prevent "mistake buys".
4. Pledge to Mend & Refurbish - wear out don't waste I've talked about waste and moving items on so that others can make use of them, there are plenty of ideas in my blog "Don't Let It go to Waste", but the fact is with clothes, recycling and reusing isn't going to deal with the bigger issue of over production. We have to look at the whole picture and change our thinking and habits all the way along the line from the raw material stage, to the end of the garments life. During the lifetime of the garment a few stitches, replacing the elastic, or re heeling, may be all that is needed to prolong the usefulness of an item and we need to take responsibility for making that happen. Timpson provide a great shoe repair service, The Zip Yard for clothing repairs and alterations and The Restory for all leather goods.
5. Pledge to buy secondhand (and not just vintage), borrow or rent - there are so many advantages to buying second hand, not least the fact that there is far less chance of someone turning up in the same outfit as you! There are some amazing companies out there, like Nearly New Cashmere, who specialise in making sure that perfectly good jumpers are saved from waste, by restoring them to their original glory and selling them on. Could you borrow a dress for a special occasion, or maternity clothes that will only be worn for a defined period of time? Bundlee provided a baby clothes rental service. Your child could try out a new sport without you having to fork out straight away for new kit by buying sports equipment through pre loved sites. Read this recent article in the Independent for more clothing and accessory rental service ideas.
6. Start Asking Questions - adopt a more conscious way of clothes shopping. Don't buy more than you need and ask questions (or research online) to uncover the ethics and values behind a company and the back story of the item you are buying.
Pledge to buy from ethical retailers. What I mean buy this, is companies who a) commit to making or sourcing their range, from only sustainably produced fabrics, b) manufacturing only in garment factories where the workers are guaranteed a fair wage and safe, comfortable working conditions c) making better quality and therefore longer lasting items (often this is a result of a and b).
There are many companies striving to do this today, but not surprisingly we've never heard of most of them, that's because they're not the ones with the big marketing budgets. They're quietly working away, staying true to their values and they need your support.
Expect to pay a bit more because by sourcing ethical materials and ensuring that factory workers are paid a fair wage, they have higher costs to absorb, but's that's OK isn't it because we'll be spending the same budget, but on buying fewer, better quality items. On the Make It British website you can search by "clothing" and then by various sustainable criteria. Good On You gives sustainable and ethical fashion brand ratings.
Buy less, choose well, invest in your values.
Jo Hall is a Berkshire based Declutterer & Organiser
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Disclaimer - Jo was not paid to mention the companies featured in this blog and the Styling Consultation was not gifted.