Monday, 24 April 2017

How To Be A Conscious Consumer Without Opening Your Wallet

This week (24th-30th April) is Fashion Revolution Week , marking four years since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which 1129 workers lost their lives. When talking about conscious consumerism, there's often an emphasis on changing our buying habits, so I wanted to show that we can take meaningful action without spending any money. Here are my tips for taking a thoughtful approach towards your existing wardrobe and the fashion industry that supplies its contents.  

  • Love your clothes!: Don't just see the contents of your wardrobe as irritating pieces of fabric you have to wear in an arbitrary order to avoid getting arrested on your way to work, try to see them as the contents of a fantastic dressing up box that will help you to be whoever you need to be today, or at the very least will help you to feel comfortable in your skin.  Your clothes can be armour, a comfort blanket, a disguise, an advert. Seeing my clothes as possibility rather than dreary, disposable items encourages me to look after them: wash them carefully, mend them where possible, wage war on moths that might try to eat them and look forward to wearing them again. 

My wardrobe is an adventure, and I love it! 
  • If your clothes aren't 'you' any more, swap them! : With the best will in the world, we all have clothes that don't really fit with our current style, and might work much better in a friend's wardrobe rather than our own. At my recent clothes swap, two friends had put aside several items for one another and ended up having a swap-within-a-swap, both going away with some fabulous new outfits. I often swap clothes with my sister (I say 'swap', usually I take her unwanted clothes away and hoard them, I tend to get very attached to my clothes!) and we borrow clothes and accessories from one another too. As long as you trust one another and are careful with your clothes, this can be a great way to avoid spending money for certain occasions, or to get to wear something a bit different. I sometimes 'forget' to bring an extra jumper when I go to stay with my parents so I can borrow one of my mum's collection of amazing hand-spun, hand-knitted jumpers, made by my great aunt. I have to give it back at the end of the weekend though, the jumpers are amazing for country walking in the winter, but too warm to wear in a centrally heated house! 

Swap buddies! Your friend's unwanted clothes could be your new favourite outfit

  • Ask 'Who Made My Clothes?':  Most of us own high street clothes, made in factories overseas. I have plenty myself, and although I may make different purchasing decisions now, I’m not going to get rid of perfectly good clothes, that just generates more waste! Big brands aren't going to change the manufacture and pricing strategies that have made their CEOs so incredibly wealthy unless consumers put pressure on them, so during Fashion Revolution Week  this week we can all ask Who Made My Clothes? Either write to your go-to high street brands asking for more transparency in their supply chain and a better wage for workers, or take a selfie in your favourite piece of clothing with the label showing, then contact the brand on Twitter with the hashtag #whomademyclothes to show your support for the garment workers who made the clothes we so often take for granted. 

On Monday morning I asked H&M Who Made My Clothes on Twitter
  • Reuse and re-wear with pride: Incredibly, to me, there is still a stigma attached to wearing clothes over and over again. It's ridiculous, since we all do it with our workwear, and the comfortable clothes we wear around the house and to see friends at the weekend. Occasion wear is expensive, and shaming people (usually those who wear dresses, as suits seem to pass under the multiple-wear radar without comment) who wear the same outfit to different events is thoughtless and unkind at best, and at worst classist and deliberately exclusionary; dismissing people based on a dress code is the worst kind of old-fashioned, petty snobbery. We can all help by pushing back against this outdated attitude wherever we see it, and admiring outfits we've seen before. It's easy to change the appearance of an item of clothing by changing your hairstyle or accessories, but you don't even need to go that far if it's something you felt fabulous in the first time around. Your value as a guest should not lie in your disposable income, true friends will have invited you for your conversation, personality and because you're a pal, not a fancy prop!

Taking part in the Six Items Challenge meant I couldn't be fussy about wearing the same thing to several different events! 

  • Spread the word, gently: If you're on a low income, you're following the 'new' rules of conscious consumerism without a second thought, and always have been. Planning purchases, shopping around, carefully considering what you spend your money on and wearing your clothes until they wear out is second nature, not a revelation. Those of us who currently have enough disposable income to splash out on the odd impulse purchase can probably remember a time in the not-too-distant past when we didn't. Conscious consumerism is about making choices, and sometimes, due to any number of factors in our lives, our choices are more limited. Talking to friends and colleagues since I started this blog, I've realised that most of us are making more eco-friendly and sustainable clothing decisions without really realising it. By exchanging or offering tips and advice about repairing, reusing or recycling our clothes we can reach out to people in a non-judgemental way. I'd far rather use my energy to convey my enthusiasm for the money-saving and creative aspects of sustainable fashion, than waste time condemning other people's purchasing decisions. Fashion is a complex and messy intersection of many issues and I am aware that I have the luxury of making choices that someone else may not be able to make. 

I firmly believe that everyone can be a conscious consumer even when we might feel we have a bare minimum of purchasing power. Putting pressure on brands can have a really positive effect. More brands have released details of their supply chains to the Fashion Transparency Index, thanks to the actions that Fashion Revolution has encouraged consumers to take over the last four years. There is always more we can do to help minimise the toll fast fashion takes on the environment and the people who make our clothes, and some of them really are as simple as signing a petition or sharing a photo.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Alternative Outfit Inspiration Part 1: The Personal (Style) Is Political

I've just come to the end of my  Six Items Challenge raising money for Labour Behind the Label, and over the Easter weekend I've gone from only being allowed six different items of clothing (five dresses, one cardigan) to having the entire contents of my wardrobe available to me again. The possibilities are endless! Except.... sometimes they feel like they aren't, and it would be all too easy fall back into wearing the same comfortable, familiar combinations of clothing, and the things I told myself I absolutely would make an effort to wear continue to languish at the back of the wardrobe. 

There are plenty of ways to get the most out of your wardrobe: regular tidying and sorting so you remember what's in there, swapping unwanted items with friends or taking them to a charity shop, trying to stop the endless cycle of buying new things that look a lot like a lot of the old things. One of the things I've always found brings out my most creative and thoughtful side is some sort of clothing challenge, whether it's to raise money for charity (like the Six Items Challenge) or just for my own amusement, to make me think about the contents of my wardrobe and how I can put them together in new and exciting ways. 

The 'Suffragette' themed outfit from 2015 I shared on Instagram as part of the Eco Fashion Challenge

I am currently participating in the #ecofashionchallenge on  Instagram , and Facebook started reminding me of a challenge I set myself in 2015; to wear outfits inspired by aspects of the British political system in the run up to the General Election. I joked that I was "cosplaying the election", but apart from putting together a 'femme' version of the eerily similar outfit all the party leaders wore to look 'casual', I didn't dress as any specific person. Instead my outfits (accompanied by a little bit of fairly impartial commentary when I put up photos on Facebook) were inspired by campaign talking points (the NHS, the Welfare State, the EU) and the idiosyncrasies of our political system, right down to the physical structure of Parliament itself (did you know they have falcons to keep the pigeons off the roof?). Some of the outfits worked better than others, some were a bit too silly ('Mer-people of the Firth of Clyde Against Trident' sadly didn't make it out of the house), but I wore and enjoyed some clothes that hadn't seen the light of day in a while, and having to write the captions helped me to consolidate my thoughts about certain political issues. 

Too much activism? Or too much glittery tail? 

At this point in the original draft of this post, I headed away from politics and started writing about the style inspiration I take from my favourite fictional heroes. But the day before I was planning to post this, a General Election was suddenly called, and a re-write was needed. I'll be singing the praises of 'closet cosplay' in part 2 of this series of posts, because right now I need to talk about rights, and how ours are more closely linked to those of the garment workers I have been raising money for over the last six weeks than perhaps we would like to think.

In the past I have tried to keep my posts and social media activity politically neutral, for fear of offending anyone who held different opinions, but the time for that is long gone. Our complacency over the rights and privileges we have (the right to vote, free healthcare, employment rights, paid holidays and sick pay for employees, beautiful countryside to enjoy on our days off) has led us to devalue them and take them for granted, assuming they will always be  here. The rights we enjoy now were hard-fought, hard-won and the things we value will only continue to exist if we fight for them. Politics affects everything in my life, worrying about it having an effect on my wellbeing is not overreacting. We have a Prime Minister, intent on increasing her majority in parliament, who doesn't care about employment rights, access to healthcare or the environment.

For someone who is passionately concerned about reducing my impact on the world by making choices that might not be the easiest but will benefit the world in the long run, politicians playing selfish, costly games for short-term gains is  horrifying to me. I truly believe we can find a balance where we can all learn to tread lightly on the face of the earth while dismantling the damaging dichotomy of "strivers vs skivers" that keep us divided and fighting amongst ourselves.

So I'll carry on fighting for eco-friendly, sustainable fashion. I'll fight alongside anyone who shares my values. But I might also be adding some new political-themed outfits to my Instagram feed, and this time, I'll say what I really think.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Spring Cleaning My Wardrobe: a thoughtful approach to repurposing, recycling and re-evaluating (and maybe downsizing a little bit)

My partner and I moved into our flat seven years ago; it's not a large place and we've both accumulated a lot of stuff, so over the last few weeks we've been having a bit of a clear out.  Since I've been taking part in Labour Behind the Label's Six Items Challenge at the same time, it seemed like a good opportunity to look over my wardrobe and think realistically about the things I never wear, and the best way to give them a new lease of life.

I've seen a lot of articles recently about the benefits of minimalism, and I can see how cathartic it would be to rid yourself of everything that doesn't make you feel like your best self in one fell swoop. But I think that approach addresses a symptom rather than a cause, and that getting rid of surplus possessions slowly and thoughtfully helps us to address some of the (possibly uncomfortable) reasons why we owned so much in the first place.

A barrage of adverts inform us every day that the acquisition of stuff (or rather, this stuff in particular) will make us attractive, successful, happy. If you're able to recognise that and change your mindset that's fantastic, but it's an ongoing task when ads are specifically targeted for you online. We also live in uncertain times, so our tendency is to hang on to things, 'just in case'. I have good sewing skills and can alter or mend my clothes, but I do need tools and haberdashery to to this, so living a truly minimalist lifestyle is never going to be an option for me. I don't think this is a bad thing; recognising that we can't just get rid of things when they are no longer pristine and learning to fix things reminds us that it's not just the item itself that has value; the raw materials it is made out of are not in infinite supply and we do not have an endless, bottomless landfill in which we can discard anything that isn't 'on trend'.

The idea that we could throw out all our clutter and replace it with a few sleek items that will revolutionise the way we live is appealing, but what happens when those items fall out of fashion in a few years? Do we just repeat the process over again? And what about all the things we reject?

I love shopping in charity shops; I'm grateful to everyone in my local area who has given away barely worn, good quality dresses! Charity shops do a great job, but they need to be able to function as businesses to make money for the charities they are part of, and can't just be a place for us to dump all our unwanted, threadbare or broken clothes without a second thought. If you wouldn't wear it yourself in that condition, the charity shop probably isn't the place for it.

I have an ongoing repairs/alterations pile, and I have recently discovered the joys of 'visible mending' from Tom of Holland. This creative approach to fixing clothes means that your mends don't have to be perfect, they can be part of the ongoing 'story' of your clothes. Agy  creates beautiful embroidered patches to embellish her clothes as she mends them, illustrating that mending can be an enjoyable and practical way to practice crafting skills rather than a chore.

Claire Louise Hardie, aka The Thrifty Stitcher, runs sewing classes online and in person at her studio, including alterations, and you can also find free 'how to' video tutorials on her website. All her handy hints are beginner friendly and will help you carry out professional standard alterations!

If your clothes really are at the end of their lives, your local council should have textile recycling facilities. Alternatively, you can carry on recycling them yourself; I use clean but threadbare socks, or t shirts and leggings cut into squares, to clean shoes and boots!

I am running a Clothes Swap and Alterations SOS on Saturday, to give friends a chance to find new homes for clothes that aren't right for them anymore, or to ask questions and get some help with sewing projects that could transform unwanted clothes into something they'd look forward to wearing again. Living with a big bag of 'unwanted' clothes in my hallway for a month has made me reflect on my buying habits, and has made me more determined to stick to my 'thoughtfully replacing' policy and avoid impulse buying on the high street. Funnily enough, nothing has made it out of the bag and back into my wardrobe, although I can't promise not to re-home a few pre-loved items on Saturday!