Well, here we are again. I’m sitting here in my office which is cooking me from the outside in, waiting to see if my landlord feels like turning up with some viewers or not. Who knows? They’re a lot of fun, my landlord. So, to sustain me throughout the will-they-won’t-they-turn-up suspense, I’m going to embark on the N-Z portion of the maybe, possibly comprehensive A-Z of sustainable fashion. Let’s see how this goes.
N – Never throw your clothes in the bin. Don’t do it. Millions upon millions of garments end up in landfill every year in the UK alone. It’s a blight on our planet. Donate them, recycle them, gift them, rework them, cut them into rags to clean your bike with, do anything but bin them.
O – Organise. Sometimes people jokingly ask me to come and organise their wardrobe, as if I wouldn’t actually jump at the chance because organisation sustains me. Folding and labelling and stacking is my life force. It runs through my veins, radiates out through my fingertips and pours into my immediate vicinity. But even if you’re not in a committed relationship with organising like I am, you should still organise your wardrobe. If you can see that you’ve got five absolutely killer jumpers, you’re less likely to think you need a new one. If you can see what you have, you can see that you don’t need any more.
P – Post about it. Some people might like to get on at others for being ‘do-gooders’ or ‘banging on’ about their lifestyle. Those people can fuck off. If you’re trying to make the world a better place and you’re not hurting anyone along the way, then share it. Not for bragging rights, but because you can genuinely make a difference. People have messaged me on Instagram telling me that my posts have taught them something new or made them rethink their wardrobe; that they’ve stopped shopping with fast fashion brands or have taken a shopping break. That’s the absolute, 100% best thing I could wish for and I like to remember that when I’m having a bad day.
Q – Quality. Go for quality. I’ve written before about the fact that, despite what people say, cheap clothes don’t always fall apart. In fact, some of the most expensive things in my wardrobe (cheers, retail discounts) have split at the seams, torn and worn out, while ancient Primark relics are still going strong. That’s not to say you should all run out to Primark, of course, but that you should look for quality in a garment, wherever you buy it from. To overcome disposable attitudes, we need to buy things that last for years – or even a lifetime – not just for one season. So check the seams, check zips, check the fabric and prioritise quality.
R – Rewear everything over and over and over and over. Be an outfit repeater. Literally no one gives even the most minuscule of shits if you’ve already posted something on Instagram. In fact, I make a point of posting the same items again and again on mine because if you love something and you feel like an actual queen in it then why not wear it all the time?
S – Sustainability isn’t a trend. It’s a necessity. H&M et al. might throw the word around like it’s a fun strap line, but it’s not a trend. Or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s too important to fall by the wayside with last season. We can’t allow brands to co-opt it as a cool buzzword without putting in the work. Sustainability should be the foundations from which fashion is built.
T – Take a shopping break. One week, one month, one year; doesn’t matter how long really, what matters is that it’s the right amount of time to break a habit. I took three months off shopping last year and it helped me redraw the line between want and need. Many of us are privileged enough to have far more than we need anyway and you’re definitely not going to die from not shopping, so do it and see how you feel.
U – This is where the alphabet starts getting tricky. How many words do we really say in normal conversation that start with the letter U? Umbrella? Uvula? Absolute garbage starter letter. How about… Use your voice. If you’re lucky enough to have a platform, use it. Use it to highlight the plight of garment workers (but don’t assume they’re passive victims, plenty of garment workers mobilise, unionise and campaign – it’s just the more voices the better), use it to tell the world about the atrocious things big fashion is doing to our planet, use it to call out brands who don’t pay people, use it to spread the word about brands who are doing things right. OK, that’s U done, an easy one next?
V – Oh fuck off. Ummmm. Value. We need to value our clothes. We need to understand the time that goes into each garment. We need to realise that £3 for a t-shirt isn’t a bargain, it’s a gross misrepresentation and undervaluation of labour.
W – Wash your clothes less. Once upon a time, someone tried to make me feel like a gross individual for not washing my clothes after every single wear. That person was, I’m afraid, an idiot. Washing comes second only to extraction (producing fibre for fabric, essentially) in having the biggest impact in the life cycle of garments in the UK. So wash your clothes less and maybe tuck a napkin under your collar if there’s any ketchup involved in your meal.
X – eXpect more. (Sorry, that’s the best I can do – can’t make xylophones relate to sustainable fashion.) Don’t settle for “we’ll aim to pay a living wage within the next five years” or “we’re looking into ways to reduce our water usage”. It’s tactics. They already have enough money and the technology already exists. Expect more. And then demand it.
Y – You cannot be perfect. This is something it’s better to realise early on. Unless you’re hand knitting jumpers from sheep that you’ve reared not to emit greenhouse gases, you’re not going to be perfectly pure. It’s not a reason to throw the towel in and give up on the whole thing, but sustainable fashion has to be sustainable for you too. Don’t guilt yourself into spending £75 you don’t have on an organic cotton t-shirt and don’t twist yourself into knots over the fast fashion shopping sprees you used to do. We can only do so much as individuals. Do what you can and call upon government and brands to pick up any of the most impossible slack. You’re trying and that counts.
Z – Zero in on what you care about. Fashion is a big old industry and it’s going to be pretty hard to fix the whole thing. If you’re dying to see a tangible difference, zero in on something specific. Keep on and on at a repeat offending brand, learn everything there is to learn about wool, get onto your council about fabric recycling facilities. If everything feels too big, look at one thing and start there.
And there we go. That’s the full A-Z. How many people have come round to view? Zero! Will the landlord ring me the moment I’m an awkward distance away from my flat? Definitely! Let me know if you have any N-Z suggestions in the comments and I’ll read them as a stranger saunters around my home, quietly judging every decorative choice I’ve made.