COULD you commit to not buying a single item of clothing from fast fashion outlets for an entire year? To only buying clothes from charity shops, second hand shops, or swapping or borrowing items?
That’s what seven members of UCC’s Environmental Society are undertaking as they feel so strongly about both working conditions for people in the garment industry; and the fact 60% of all clothing ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being produced.
All seven say they love fashion and insist their 52 week boycott of fast fashion won’t be about them turning their back on clothes. Instead, it will be about getting creative and finding sustainable alternatives.
We caught up with them as they embarked on their challenge…
Studying: Microbiology (fourth year)
“I’ve decided to boycott fast fashion because no one should suffer so you can look ‘trendy’. I’m always trying to think of new ways that our society can promote sustainability and the issue of fast fashion has been on my mind for a while.
“I had been reading about the atrocious human rights violations that occur in this industry and the amount of pollution and waste it creates and I decided that I wanted to try to make a difference.
“I thought that pledging to only buy sustainable and second hand clothes for a year could be a good way to do that. I went into one of our weekly committee meeting and asked if anyone wanted to boycott with me. I was beyond thrilled when six hands shot up in the air.
“Over the coming year, I’m going to buy as few clothes as possible. If I want to get ‘new’ clothes I’ll go to charity shops, to swap shops, I’ll ask my friends if they have anything I can borrow.
“I have plenty clothes (the same as the vast majority of people) I don’t need any more.
“I will admit that I absolutely love clothes and I love expressing myself through the clothes I wear.
“Over the next year, I’m going to continue doing just that. You can live and shop sustainably and look good at the same time.”
Studying: BA International in English and German (final year)
“Reports and news coverage have exposed time and time again the human rights abuses on which the fast fashion industry is built.
“In the midst of the climate crisis, the mass production of ‘disposable’ clothing is also not sustainable. It results in the use of vast quantities of water, burning of fossil fuels and strain on already limited resources.
“I aim to avoid increasing the amount of clothing I currently own. I will, however, replace items which are no longer wearable, particularly those that are necessary.
“In the last two years, I had already begun to shop more in the many second hand and charity shops in Cork.
“If I still cannot find what I am looking for, I will allow myself to buy from brands and companies who are dedicated to sustainable practices.
“I do not envisage encountering many difficulties along the way, though I have to change my habit of taking the easy way out when something breaks suddenly.
“Not popping into fast fashion retailers to buy little things like socks will probably be more difficult than I imagine! In the end however, I know that what I own is already more than enough.”
Isobel O’Connor Sealy
From: Tallow, Co. Waterford,
Studying: Arts International (first year)
“I’m boycotting fast fashion because I find it sickening that people work in slave-like conditions making clothes for people like me in developed countries just so we can look fashionable.
“I’ll be buying from charity shops, taking hand-me-downs from family, exchanging clothes with friends, and going to swap-shops or kilo-sales to get myself new clothes during this boycott (and hopefully forever more!).
“I enjoy knitting and sewing so perhaps I’ll make a few things or spice up some old pieces I have lying around.
“I’ve always loved fashion and I find it’s a way for me to express myself.
“I’ve also been a big shopper but recently, as I’ve become more aware of the negative impact the fashion industry has on both people and planet, I’ve mainly stuck to charity shops or swapped clothes with friends.
“I imagine the allure of online shopping will be a challenge for me, but the knowledge I have now definitely outweighs the convenience of cheap clothing.
“Basics, like underwear and socks, could potentially be a challenge too, but sustainable brands do exist should I need anything like that.”
Studying: World Languages (second year).
“I’ve long been aware of the ethical and environmental violations of the fast fashion industry — I started a boycott myself when I was about 15, though I have since on and off allowed myself to buy various items from high street stores for different reasons.
“It felt like the right time to start a proper boycott again, as there is massive momentum for climate action at the moment, and as a group we have the opportunity to have a bigger impact, using the Environmental Society platform where we are a little more visible to our university community.
“I absolutely love clothes, though for years I’ve tried not to buy fast fashion. I prefer vintage pieces. I like to think of buying clothes as investments. I use Eco Age’s & wears challenge as a kind of a decision maker as to whether or not I should invest — is it something I will wear 30 or more times? Can I dress the piece up or down, and can it be worn year round?
“For my boycott I am going to attempt to buy no new clothes for the year. If I just feel like jazzing up my wardrobe, I’ll take part in a swap shop: bring clothes along to an event where I’ll leave them for someone else to pick up and love hopefully, and find something that was pre-loved.
“If it comes to it, I will buy from second hand stores or from ethical companies that are 100% transparent and traceable — this means before investing in a piece researching the company, where it’s based, their human rights record. There are plenty of ethical companies out there though, a little pricier but personally I think it’s worth it.
“The challenge I predict right now is formal wear — it’s not impossible to pick out formal dresses from second hand shops but it’s a bit more of a process!
“Obviously, if something doesn’t fit you can’t just move up or down a size, so it’s either start all over or if it’s not far off you can get it altered. I have a few formal occasions this year so I’m looking forward to getting creative!”
Studying: International Development and Food Policy (second year)
“Being able to express myself through what I wear is inherently important to me — but I realised I couldn’t keep doing it at the expense of the planet and the people who worked to make the clothes, so I decided to boycott fast fashion.
“Personally, for the next 52 weeks, I want to challenge myself to avoid buying clothes at all, and if I do need something I will only try buying second hand or from a sustainable source (Lucy & Yak are a great online producer of sustainably made clothes in a non-exploitative way).
“I used to be a blind consumer, buying whatever I wanted just for the sake of it, until I ended up with a mountain of clothes I neither liked nor needed.
“Though we’ve only pledged to give up fast fashion for a year, I plan on changing my consumer habits considerably for the future, buying only the necessities as I’m becoming more interested in a minimalistic lifestyle.”
Studying: Environmental Science (4th year)
“I’m boycotting fast fashion in solidarity with people that suffer at the hands of mass producing unnecessary clothing for Western society.
“The fashion industry must switch to a circular economic model, be transparent and take responsibility in ensuring compliance with workers’ rights and in having minimal environmental impact in its production processes.
“If I need to buy something, I usually shop in a second hand store first.
“There are some items I prefer to buy new such as sportswear and shoes, but there are plenty of brands that are transparent and sustainable in their production processes.
“However, a lot of these brands are pricey, but I think this will help me in putting more thought into it before buying something — although I know I am privileged to be able to do this.
“I don’t think I’ll find it too challenging, to be honest, I’ve been conscious of this and shopping in second hand stores since I was about 15.
“Most of my favourite clothing is second hand.
“The majority of fast fashion items I have bought recently have been with vouchers that I was gifted for birthdays and Christmas.
“I think what I will find hard is buying basic items like vest tops, underwear, socks, and clothes for work.”
From: Bulgaria, grew up in Spain
Studying: Nutritional and Food sciences
“I’ve been invested in a fast fashion boycott for over five years now, during which time I’ve been learning how to to minimise generic consumption.
“I was brought up in an entrepreneurial family, my father a carpenter and mother a tailor, so producing necessities for myself is not unfamiliar to me.
“Avoiding waste is part of the Slavic culture. I always had handmade and unique designs to wear as a kid. I grew to love fashion, but endurance and quality were things I struggled to find in many brands and fashion-houses.
“My advice to anyone thinking of following us would be to start from the community education perspective of re-building our habits and lifestyle: use, re-style customise and recycle. Borrow from friends and family, swap in pop-up events locally, learn to fix and sew at Vibes and Scribes workshops and lessons (not only handy but great craic as well) or find your city’s professional tailors (Zipyard, or others). If you really do need to buy something, make it a last resort and do so in a more conscious and aware manner. Buy from charity and second hand shops, donating to meaningful causes or from NGOs such as Oxfam who work preventing clothing ending up in landfill. Buy from small and local outlets, choose organic cotton or recycled and sustainable fibres.
“And for more advice, follow the Society’s Instagram page where I’ll feature a Cork guide to sustainable fashion.”
We’ll check back in with them in a few months to see how they’re getting on!