No surprise, like most women, I love shopping for clothes, dressing up and having multiple options to wear. My twitter handle is @shoeshanista after all. But the fashion industry is very guilty of plastic pollution, especially in the current throwaway, fast fashion cycle we have all adopted.
The fashion industry used to operate off two seasons. Any fashion brand or retail fashion label would produce a new range of clothing for each season – summer and winter. Then we extended that cycle to include special edition ranges like ‘holiday’ or ‘Spring and Fall’ or ‘Festival Gear’. In addition a whole bunch of niche ranges we all buy into cropped up – like athleisure and sportswear. Now our favourite cost-effective weekend shopping destinations have new pieces coming into stores every month at least. Shopping for clothing used to be about what you needed, now it’s a pastime where we apply our entertainment budgets to acquiring more stuff.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am the worst of the worst when it comes to clothes. I’ve been featured in magazines because of my shoe collection (I’m not exaggerating – look here). I stock-piled more than 35 pairs of Converse sneakers when I worked at Converse and I have a massive collection of branded Coca-Cola and 5FM merchandise since fashion is a very popular platform that us marketers use to introduce our brands into people’s lives.
But in my effort to decrease my use of plastic I had to take a long hard look at plastic in clothing and footwear. Nylon, Lycra and Polyester are types of plastic. And they are in EVERYTHING in our cupboards and drawers. Take a look at any clothing label and see how much of that garment is made from these plastic materials. The alternatives that are plastic-free are super pricey – anything made of wool, leather, cotton, mohair and linen (all natural fibers) are not only very expensive per piece, but you won’t be buying more than one or two items in a year let alone a whole new seasonal look.
So here are my tips to reduce plastic dependency in shopping for clothes and dressing fashion-forward:
Where you can – buy natural. Socks, underwear, shirts and t-shirts are all buyable in 100% cotton (and they’re healthier for your skin). Jerseys and winter dresses are great in wool – and even if you can only buy the basics (black, white, navy) for that price, they are worth investing in. They last longer and they keep you warmer. Wear your stuff until it dies and then find ways of reusing it – I cut up old T-shirts to make cloths out of them that we wash our cars and floors with.
I certainly need no convincing when it comes to buying vintage. I have an awesome collection of second-hand dresses, skirts, blouses and footwear that I collect from awesome second-hand stores and markets like Huntress and Rags and Lace. When I attended the last Linden Market I discovered a splendid pop-up stall selling kimonos and wrap dresses made from recycled saris. They are called Sari for Change and, not only do they use existing fabric, they empower women by employing and training them to create these hand-made garments. I bought two! There are also lots of e-commerce sites for pre-loved clothing popping up all over SA. I haven’t tried it yet but this got served to me on my Insta fee recently.
Learn to sew
Fix things instead of chucking them away. Add patches, badges, sequins and other things to cover holes in things you love. Fix buttons, zips and hems yourself. I am taking embroidery lessons at the moment and I’m amazed at how things can become beautiful with a little love and colourful thread. Hobbyists are certainly back on trend and the return of crafting from knitting to silk screening is on the rise. My mom, who is a maternity nurse, tells me her super rich clients all think that hand-made clothing is the most prestigious gift you can now give a newborn baby. Everyone wants to knit and sew their baby clothes again.
Support the right fashion initiatives
I recently went shopping for a hiking buff at Cape Union Mart and was thrilled to see they stock a brand that makes these garments entirely from recycled PET bottles. Woolworth’s RE range makes everything from plastic bottles and natural fibre combinations and Adidas has made some incredible strides in producing athletic footwear from plastic ocean waste. H&M and even Pick n Pay Clothing have pure natural fibre or recycled and upcycled ranges. Support them!
It’s hard sometimes, because it’s become part of our fabric (ha ha see what I did there?), but shop less. The world buys over 80 billion items of clothing every year. The good news is that pretty much ALL our favourite fashion brands are well aware of this and are scrambling to change the way in which fashion is produced, consumed and marketed. This is an exciting and positive shift in the fashion business model. Read more here.
If you want to change up your wardrobe why not host a Switch and Bitch. I did this for my birthday a few years ago. I invited all my fashion-forward friends to a tea party at my house and asked them all to bring three things they never wear anymore. Then we could all choose things we liked and swop items. Nobody had to spend any money and everyone left with something new for them.
I’ve got to say, I have more than enough clothing. I’m not saying I won’t shop again but I’m going to be more selective in what I purchase. I’m going to look closely at labels to support the right brands doing all the right things to protect the environment and I’m going to improve my sewing skills. Switch and Bitch anyone?