In January, 2019, I made a New Year’s resolution to stop buying brand new clothes. I was going to source my ‘new’ clothes from vintage shops, charity shops and online platforms like Depop, a second hand clothes app.
This month is #SecondHandSeptember — a campaign led by Oxfam to encourage consumers to reject fast fashion and to embrace sustainable style by buying from charity shops.
I fell in love with vintage and second-hand shops during a summer in New York in 1999. I found a 1960s turquoise wool coat by American designer Bill Blass that fitted me like a glove and was at a price point I could actually afford as a poor student. It’s a bit frayed in places but I’m still wearing it 20 years later!
The joy of a vintage shop is that when you find something that you love and it fits, it is almost like the Universe endorsing your purchase. You can’t leave it behind because it is one of a kind. There aren’t rails and rails of the same item in multiple sizes that you will see being worn around town by half of Cork. This vintage item is meant for you!
Or so I tell myself.
You’re also getting superior quality clothing for a fraction of the price you would pay today. Clothes that have lasted for decades and still have years of wear in them.
I don’t know why, but vintage wool or cashmere jumpers and coats are warmer than anything similar you will buy on the high street nowadays — despite the fact that many of them are 50 years old!
Not all vintage items fit like a glove at the start, but a talented tailor can fix that. My wedding dress was a vintage mint green 1950s cocktail dress. It was three sizes too big for me but had the most exquisite beading, lace and silk and I knew it had potential.
A talented tailor in Blarney worked her wizardry and transformed it into my dream dress — at a fraction of the price of a new wedding dress. I’ve even worn it to black tie events since.
So I’ve been a fan of sustainable fashion long before I knew the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated that 10% of the world’s global carbon dioxide emissions are from the fashion industry, more than air and sea travel emissions combined.
The production of 100 billion tonnes of clothes uses 1.5 trillion litres of water annually — often in countries where water resources are poor.
A Channel 4 documentary, The Dirty Secrets of the Fashion Industry, calculated that 4,500 litres of water are required to grow the cotton to make one standard hoodie. That documentary was one of the reasons I pledged to stop buying new clothes.
The reason a cotton T-shirt can be sold for €5 is because the true cost to the environment has not been factored into the price tag.
And that’s before we even start talking about the human cost and the working and pay conditions that people in countries like India, Pakistan or Bangladesh endure.
The Rana Plaza disaster, when 1,300 garment workers died in a building collapse, should have been a wake-up call. It wasn’t. Closer to home, a Sunday Times undercover journalist revealed last month that garment workers in Leicester making cloths for billon pound brand Boohoo were being paid £3.50 an hour in a non-Covid19 compliant environment.
Yet still people continue to spend their money on throwaway clothes made by oppressed workers.
This is not something high street retailers want to hear and I have great sympathy for shops struggling with mounting stock and falling revenue, but the industry was broken long before the coronavirus.
Shopping (particularly impulsive online fast fashion shopping) as a hobby is not reconcilable with a sustainable world: 80,000 tonnes of textile waste is generated in Ireland every year.
High rents and overheads also make it difficult for independent shops selling quality, long-lasting clothes to compete. Unfortunately, many of Cork’s vibrant vintage retail stars have been driven from beautifully designed stores to online platforms.
My favourite bricks and mortar store ever was Miss Daisy Blue in the Market Arcade. A stunning space full of architectural heritage, it was a joy to browse the rails and find vintage clothes full of history, personality and quality. Sadly, that store is no more but you can now find a new iteration of Miss Daisy Blue in a showroom on Patrick’s Quay by appointment and on Depop and Etsy day and night!
Mercury Goes Retrograde on Drawbridge Street was another big loss to the city centre vintage trail but can now be found on Etsy.
According to an Oxfam Ireland survey, 62% of people buy pre-loved clothes and accessories. Charity shops are great places to find ‘new’ clothes, I’ve found some gems in the past year but it does require some luck and rummaging.
If I want something particular I check out Depop, an app were ordinary citizens (and bona fide vintage shops) sell pre-loved clothes — if you get a thrill out of a bargain on a Saturday shopping spree, you might get a bigger buzz from Depop!
However, the real key to sustainable fashion is to move away from our obsession with clothes and the next shiny new thing.
So, for the month of September, make a pledge to say no to new clothes and help save the planet.