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.

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