A HIGH street fashion giant drew plenty of online comment with its spring-summer catalogue, which featured models in some laughably ludicrous poses.
One East Cork businesswoman has been replicating them on her Instagram account. Slumped headfirst on her sofa, moodily clutching a potted plant, or peering through the neck of a sweater: Katie Sloane’s photo shoots are endearingly silly.
But even Katie’s light-hearted jibes at the fashion world’s idiocy has a more serious message.
“I want to get a clear message out to stop buying fast fashion, to reduce your waste, and to shop sustainably and locally,” Katie says.
Fast fashion refers to the mass-produced garments sold so cheap that it’s considered ‘fine’ to ditch them instead of repairing them, or when trends change.
Fast fashion is one of the most enormous environmental catastrophes of our times. A hundred billion garments are now sold each year, yet an international survey of 20 countries revealed that over 50% of our clothes, and probably a lot more, aren’t worn within a 12- month period.
The fashion industry is responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions, and between 10% and 20% of pesticide use, and one fifth of industrial water pollution.
Artificial fabrics are made from petrochemicals, take hundreds of years to decompose, and are responsible for between 20% and 35% of the microplastics now known to be polluting our oceans.
The problems in the fashion industry don’t stop there: well-documented issues of sweatshop labour, highlighted for decades, continue unabated: at present, 93% of brands aren’t paying their workers a living wage, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign NGO.
For Katie, who owns Peach Vintage, a local online vintage and pre-loved store, the answer is clear: we have to stop buying new clothes, and start valuing, swapping and repairing higher quality garments that are built to last.
Katie started setting up the funny poses on Peach Vintage’s Instagram account at the start of January, when business took a downturn due to the third Covid-19 lockdown.
“All the clothes I’m using in the pictures are clothes I have to sell, but I’m not selling them at the moment because there are other things going on in the world,” she says.
“People aren’t buying clothes right now. I just think there’s much more important things to be doing. So I’m just having a laugh and trying to get a message across at the same time.”
Peach Vintage began as a Facebook page where Katie sold her own collection of vintage and pre-loved clothes, she explains.
“I started Peach Vintage in 2018, but for a year before that, I was in India,” she says.
“It was your classic ‘woman in her thirties finds herself,’ but I swear to God I’d never read Eat, Pray, Love or seen the movie! I’d just always said I’d go if I got the opportunity.
“Before that, I had been living in America and vintage is so easy to get there. You can get the most beautiful items for a dollar in a Salvation Army store. Over the years, I’d picked up all these clothes. They were all different sizes, and the only reason I’d picked them up was because I loved the colours and the textures.”
When Katie decided to move back to Ireland, a friend who was also moving back was shipping a container of his belongings with him, and he agreed to bring her boxes of vintage clothes with him.
Katie, originally from Midleton, is currently living in a mobile home near Inch Beach with her partner Mario, while they build their own house. It was moving to the space-restricted mobile home that first caused her to start selling off her clothes.
“I was conscious of the amount of clothes I had that I wasn’t wearing,” she says.
From there, the bug for the vintage trading world bit deep and Katie started selling at markets. But the ingrained Irish stigma about second-hand being associated with poverty is hard to shift, she says: it took a year for customers to become comfortable browsing her rails, in part because of a growing awareness of the problems of fast fashion.
“For whatever reason, in the back end of 2019, there was this massive switch and people were going, ‘we have to wear second-hand,’ which was brilliant,” she says.
“I’m so grateful that I got into it just beforehand and learned how to price properly and things.
“I have friends with kids in school that would buy things for them in charity shops but wouldn’t tell them.
Plenty of people think fast fashion is fine, as long as they donate their discarded threads to charity. But unfortunately, there’s plenty evidence that this does more harm than good. Over 70% of discarded clothes are shipped to Africa, according to Oxfam, where they destroy local textile industries and often end up burned or buried in landfill when the clothes are of such poor quality that they can’t be resold.
Half a million people were employed in textiles in Kenya in the 1980s, before the sale of cheap hand-me-downs began. Today, that number is just 20,000. In Ghana, where charity cast-offs are known as “Obroni W’awu” — dead white man’s clothes — 40% of them end up rotting in landfill sites.
Katie is very aware of these global implications.
“Some of those clothes that go out are also being shipped back, I’m convinced of that,” she says.
“I don’t buy bales of vintage clothing, but are they sometimes being resold back? Nobody knows the answer to that. If you think of the waste of all that shipping, there’s an enormous carbon footprint of them travelling around the planet.”
Peach Vintage gives a 40% cut to the person who donates their clothes, and sells both vintage and pre-loved clothes.
“I sell pre-loved clothes because I know people are going to continue to buy and I want to be part of that circular economy,” Katie says.
For Katie, the third lockdown came with a slump in sales on her website: with weddings and events off, her high-end vintage offerings are not flying off the rack.
Here lies another problem: in the rush to move online, small local businesses have been pitted against the vast global corporations profiting from the forceable shift in shopping habits driven by lockdowns.
But Katie is philosophical about the challenges she faces.
“I just want to ride this out, the same as everyone else,” she says. “I try to do local as much as possible. I’m not buying at the moment, and I’m guessing my customers aren’t either.
“There’s nowhere to go,” she says with a shrug.
“You’re not going to be wearing a vintage dress to be going for your walk on the beach. So I’m just trying to stay busy, and in the moment. And have some craic.”