These Cork women gave up fast fashion for a year - see how they are getting on so far...

LAST November, a group of UCC students pledged not to buy a single fast fashion item for an entire year. Emma Connolly finds out how they are getting on
These Cork women gave up fast fashion for a year - see how they are getting on so far...
Niamh Guiry (22), Bishopstown.

LAST November, a group of UCC students pledged not to buy a single fast fashion item for an entire year.

Eight months into their project, Emma Connolly checked back in with the members of the university’s environmental society to see how they were getting on, if anyone had slipped up, what were the challenges and if they were going to continue…

Rebecca Doocey
Rebecca Doocey

Rebecca Doocey, aged 21, Conna, 2nd year

International Development

Before this, I would buy clothes when I was sad in order to make myself feel better. I saw clothes as increasing my own self-worth, but now I realise that when it is at the cost of another human being not being paid enough to provide food for their family or the devastation it causes the planet, that it was only a shallow means of making myself feel better. I now see clothes as being something that I am privileged enough to be able to own.

My shopping habits have now changed drastically and I’ve only bought from charity/vintage shops or sustainable suppliers and borrowed from friends. I also bought way less clothes, I think I purchased only four or five items this year.

I’ve been surprised by how much more of an appreciation I now have for my clothes. I truly cherish them and feel more confident now when I wear them, I have now decided to boycott fast fashion for life. Thankfully, I am in a position to be able to do so, as I know this is not possible for everyone.

Caoimhe Flynn, aged 22,

Carrigtwohill, just completed BA International in English and German

I have found that most of what I need, I already have. In general, I also prefer having a smaller volume 

Caoimhe Flynn (22), Carrigtwohill
Caoimhe Flynn (22), Carrigtwohill

of clothes. When I open my wardrobe I can see at a glance what I have and daily decisions around choosing what to wear usually take mere seconds. This has made it easier, as I rarely struggle with impulses to buy new clothes.

My main purchase over the last few months was a lovely jacket which I found during the Environmental Society’s Charity Shop Crawl late last year. It only cost me €10 and was in great condition. When I do need something, I always like to try charity shops first. You know that your money is going towards a good cause, you are reusing perfectly good clothing instead of buying new, and you often also save money yourself.

I have also recently discovered an interest in mending clothes. Usually, if a favourite top or pair of trousers got torn I would have attempted to sew the tear or hole before getting rid of it anyway. I have been extending that to all my clothes, though thankfully it does not happen too often! My next challenge for myself is learning how to darn socks, because some of mine are starting to sport holes.

Soon I will either have to choose to buy more socks or to mend those I already have. Ethically produced plain socks are more difficult to find than other clothing items, and if it can be fixed, why throw it away? I currently have the luxury of time due to the lockdown, so I may as well put it to good use.

I hope to continue my boycott indefinitely. I expect that there will be slip ups along the way, but it is important to me that I make an imperfect attempt, rather than not try at all.

 Isobel O'Connor Sealy (19), Tallow.
 Isobel O'Connor Sealy (19), Tallow.

Isobel O’Connor Sealy (19), Tallow, going into 2nd year, English and French.

Before our boycott I mainly shopped second-hand because I already loved the charm of unique and vintage pieces, but I also shopped a lot on sites like Aliexpress or Wish, which were cheap and addictive.

I will admit that while it has gone well overall, I did indulge in a little bit of online shopping at the beginning of quarantine purely out of boredom, and I did have to buy a new pair of tights during the winter, but otherwise I can count on five fingers what I bought first hand in the last 10 months or so.

One aspect of the boycott that I love is swap-shops. Before quarantine, my friends and I would get together with bags of old clothes we didn’t want anymore, rummage through them and then find bits we loved amongst each other’s rubbish. They’re a great social thing and they’re far cheaper than buying clothes from shops.

Having said that, charity shops have also been a great source of clothing for me and I have found some of my favourite pieces there.

Another thing I learned from boycotting is upcycling. I’ve been painting on jackets, and embroidering jumpers and dresses. This really gives an old bit of clothing a new life, as well as making it unique to you.

It’s been surprising really, just how pleasant and easy it is to boycott fast fashion. It’s become a lot more than just not going into a fashion chain. It’s become a social and friendly thing with meet-ups and clothes sharing; it’s become an artistic thing with paints and embroidery threads; it’s become a sentimental thing where I’ve grown to love the clothes I have a whole lot more, or alternatively the clothes I get from friends are a lovely memento and piece of them I can carry with me and wear. I really can’t recommend this enough and I’m definitely going to keep this up for as long as I can.

Síofra Richardson, Cobh, finished 2nd year in World Languages.
Síofra Richardson, Cobh, finished 2nd year in World Languages.

Síofra Richardson, Cobh, finished 2nd year in World Languages

While I try not to buy from fast fashion brands, I have always had the habit of browsing charity shops and retailers like TK Maxx who will sell off the last of high-end stock at lower prices and picking up pieces that I like just for the sake of it, but this is something I’ve stopped doing since we started our boycott. I’m now trying only to buy clothes when I need them. So far, I’ve successfully managed to completely avoid fast fashion outlets for the duration of the boycott. The hardest part was genuinely stopping myself from going into second hand shops to have a look around as I really do love new clothes, but right now I don’t need any more.

The best approach I have found to this is swap shops. I’m not actually accumulating more clothes as I’m swapping mine too but I do get some pieces that are new to me!

There were just one or two occasions during the year where I found that there was something specific that I needed. It can be difficult to find specific clothing items that you really like when you’ve limited yourself outside of fast fashion.

I spent a long time looking for a dress to wear to a wedding. I actually started looking for a new dress because I didn’t think I’d find one second hand, so I was researching some ethical brands online. I found that it was difficult to gauge the legitimacy of these brands; claims on ethics and sustainability. Many of them were also relatively expensive, and well out of my budget as a student. At this point, I decided to take a chance on looking around some of the charity shops in the city, and found the most gorgeous dress for a fiver!

I definitely plan on continuing to avoid fast fashion retailers, but I also intend to stick with my new rules of only buying what I need and trying where possible to purchase those things second hand. I am aware I’m in a privileged position to be able to avoid fast fashion. I do have the means to purchase essentials from verified ethical and sustainable brands, a luxury that not everyone has.

Niamh Guiry, aged 22,

Bishopstown, finished a microbiology degree and starting an environmental law masters in

September.

I organised this boycott last year to challenge myself and to raise awareness of the horrific human and environment impacts of fast fashion.

It got a lot of attention when we first publicised it and that was a great way to open up this discussion, not only among students but with the wider community.

During this past year, I haven’t bought many new clothes and when I did purchase something, it was always from either a vintage/second hand shop or from a sustainable fashion brand.

I definitely bought a lot less and I have really come to value and look after the clothes I already own. This boycott has helped me to appreciate what I have and it has really opened my eyes to the costs of fast fashion.

I’ve come to realise that I don’t need lots of new clothes to live my life and although it may be difficult to break your shopping habits at the beginning, in the long run you will be happier for it. Material things only bring you short-term satisfaction and despite the constant messaging from the media and big businesses that if you buy that new shirt or dress that you’ll be more attractive and happier, it’s simply not true.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love expressing myself through the clothes I wear but I believe that conscious and thoughtful consumption is the only way forward. Buy what you need and what will last you for years to come. The solution to these problems lies with us as consumers and with the businesses who produce clothing.

We must demand transparency from the brands we shop from with regards to how they source their textiles and how they treat their workers.

At the very minimum, businesses must pay garment workers fairly and provide them with safe and just working conditions. Accountability is key.

To ask everyone to boycott fast fashion is unrealistic and classist, but what I would ask is for people to rethink the way you consume clothes and next time you’re out shopping, stop and ask yourself; do you really need that new jacket?

Asha Woodhouse (23), Cork city, final year Environmental Science
Asha Woodhouse (23), Cork city, final year Environmental Science

Asha Woodhouse, 23, Cork city, final year Environmental Science

I’ve always tried to make a conscious effort to only buy what I need or shop second hand, but I wanted to make more of a commitment to it and bring awareness to the issue.

Before starting, I didn’t frequently buy clothing but when I did I tried to shop in charity shops. However, I would have moments where I’d buy a few bits in fast fashion outlets.

The only slip up I had really was a pair of tights I bought, but tights are something I definitely use and wouldn’t throw away unless they tore so I don’t think it’s something to beat myself up about! I think it’s hardest to find more sustainable and ethical alternatives for these items, without paying an arm and a leg for them.

I’ve bought six items of new clothing over the last year; a pair of gym leggings, a pair of cycling shorts, a sports bra, two t-shirts, and a pair of tights. The sports clothes were things that I really needed to replace in my wardrobe, I bought them all from Tala which is a sustainable and ethical sportswear brand based in London. Their products are made from factory cut-offs or recycled plastic bottles in Portugal, they’re one of the most transparent brands I’ve come across, which I think is really important for any brand going against the status quo of the (fast) fashion industry.

I bought one t-shirt for an organisation called Abolish Direct Provision as part of a fundraiser and the other was from one of my favourite Irish bands (The Mary Wallopers). Both were bought through Everpress who print t-shirts made-to-order to avoid mass producing (which tends to generate a lot of waste from unsold items), and both are made from 100% Organic Cotton and are Fair Wear certified.

Lockdown helped in the sense you couldn’t wander into a shop and mindlessly pick up a few bits. On the other hand, because of lockdown I turned to online shopping which is something I’d never really done before and is something I’m wary of getting too comfortable with! However, one great online platform for shopping second hand is Depop.

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