Welcome back people! Long-term readers may remember I launched a “series” last year called Going Green, in which I tried to tie together my feelings concerning veganism, zero-waste and ethical living. It’s a complicated intersectional issue, and I think a lot of us are trying to live along similar lines without quite having the right terminology to bring us together. Anyway! I launched the series and then life got in the way. You know how she do. I’m relaunching today and there will be a new Going Green guide on the first weekend of every month. You can find all the past Going Green posts here, or in the link above (under features).
So, today’s instalment of my Going Green guide is covering clothes and high street shopping. My wardrobe is 99.9% not high street (pretty sure my sock drawer still has some Accessorize numbers hanging around). I reckon it breaks down to 60% vintage, 25% charity shops/hand-me-downs and 15% independent retailers. I’ve never been a big lover of the high street, but now I’m practically full-on against all high street shops. Most are riddled with all kinds of problematic behaviour I don’t want to support; the more I learn, the happier I am with my choices. I thought I’d write a little guide to show you what I do and why.
Er, what doesn’t seem to be the problem in the fashion industry? Let’s break it down here. Each of these could be a whole post in its own right and if you’re interested I HIGHLY recommend doing your own research on the fashion industry. I’m just going to acknowledge a few key points here and then crack on with my actual buying habits.
Bollocks Marketing: this can be anything from exclusively “green” ranges that are anything but, to saying something is faux fur/vegan leather when it isn’t. A lot of brands just generally present themselves as wholesome, caring ethical brands when they aren’t, by introducing “ethical” “fair trade” “conscious” ranges or whatever. Also includes shitty racist marketing like “ethnic print” or “tribal pattern” because wtf does that mean apart from telling us you’re racist af?
Lack Of Inclusivity: aka brands that don’t cater for certain sizes, brands that exclusively advertise on/for/to certain people, brands that only employ a certain “look” of person. Ever go into a shop and see exclusively skinny, attractive, tall people? Or try to found a foundation that wasn’t an underlying peach tone? What is that about?
Bollocks Messages: T-shirts that fat-shame, tote bags that victim-blame, stocking brands headed up by known racists, general offensive messages emblazoned on hoodies and so on. Remember the “eat less” urban outfitters shirt?
Inherent privilege: racist marketing, fatphobic sizing or using size 10/12 people to model size 18+ clothes (ASOS and Topshop, I’m looking at you, fuckers).
Straight Up Stealing: finding an image or logo made by a small independent designer and then literally taking it as their own design and passing it off (Zara you’re the reigning champs of doing this. Do you employ your own designers orrrrr?). Shout out to all the corps who wait for the original designer to sue and then BANKRUPT THEM into submission. Classy!
Cultural Appropriation: closely linked to the Bollocks Marketing point above, except actually in the products. Taking a meaningful item, symbol or any kind of design from a culture and recreating it for a white audience. Or, using images and designs from another culture in white-aimed clothing (this includes any and all items labelled as “Cherokee”, “Bollywood”, “Tribal” and whatever the hell else. Let’s not even start talking about “kimonos”)
Sweatshops: you don’t need me to go through this one again – and, yep, it still happens in 2018! Remember when there was a mass revolt against all companies using sweatshops and they lost profit and were forced to start making things ethically! No, me neither. Because it never happened.
Sweatshops part II: A new version is using migrant child refugees as unpaid or poorly paid labourers: the kids have often become orphaned in the process of fleeing (😞) so can be rounded up and treated appallingly with no adults to step in (shout out to H&M, Zara, M&S, and, obviously, my old arch-enemies ASOS). Sorry but imagine fleeing a war in terrifying circumstances, losing everyone and everything you’ve ever met, and then being shuttled into a sweatshop to sew cat faces onto denim? Wtaf.
Being a Dick To Workers part 1: Oh, what’s that, you’ve all been blinded due to years of exposure to toxic dye fumes because there’s no safety precautions in place? Oh, what’s that, your building burned down and loads of you are dead? Oh, what’s up, people are losing muscle movement in their legs because we keep you seated at a sewing machine for up to 18 hours a day? Yeah, we don’t care, and neither to our western clients, so suck it up, bitches, and sew those damn labels on.
Being a Dick To Workers part 2: you know, like pulling a classic Phil Green and firing 81738494 people from BHS before heading off to holiday on your personal island using your tax-haven money. They’ll find new jobs, lol! Or doing a classic ASOS and not allowing people to go to the toilets unless on their 15 minute lunch break. Why don’t they just stop drinking before coming to work so they can be cost-effective?!!?1!2?2!1!1
Using Animals: “aren’t clothes vegan?” AHAHA no. Some examples here are using fur identified as fur, fur identified as “faux fur”, carmine (aka crushed beetles), leather, silk, wool, suede, and so on.
Fast Fashion: shout-out to H&M and Zara for first starting off the six week cycle of fashion- it’s now four weeks as standard in the industry so we’ve all become slaves to just buying and chucking, buying and chucking. Companies cut every corner to meet demand, whilst also creating so many clothes that 70% of what you see in a high street shop goes straight to landfill. WHAT. You know when like one dream item sells out from somewhere and everybody shits themselves trying to find it on eBay? THINK OF ALL THE STUFF THAT DOESN’T SELL OUT yeah I know mind blown
Being A Dick To The Environment/Being A Wasteful Prick: disposing of harmful dyes/toxic waste in the environment, using harsh chemical pollutants in your factories, doing a classic Abercrombie & getting workers to cut up unsold clothes and put them straight into the sea. Because donating or recycling the leftover clothes would dilute the brand!!!!!2!3!2!1!1!1
There are a lot more issues, but I’m already in a mid-rage thinking of all the above which goes on. So that’s quite enough to be getting on with. This was obviously a light-hearted look about serious issues: again, do your own research guys. The truth is out there.
So, my “Going Green” story with the high street begins selfishly, with myself. Right at the beginning of my teens. Obviously, teenagers are self-absorbed and obsessed with their own “individuality” (at least I was). Way before I cared about any of the above issues, I cared about myself. I wanted to look as different as possible – really, I felt like a total weirdo and wanted to look it. My version of expressing that was to wear bizarre outfits, mostly based on my favourite film characters. I concocted weird outfits of random items from charity shops and carboots. It made me feel interesting and unique, and I saw it as a bonus that in the process I spent very little (this teen was broke), had a totally unique wardrobe, and was able to help donate to charity.
Aged 14, I’d regularly trawl the local charity shops for treasure, and loads of my best finds are still things I regularly wear now. I was 17 when I began to care about other issues, and basically I just eradicated a shop at a time. Zara were the first shop I boycotted, almost as soon as they appeared on my local high street. I want to say here that my “boycott” doesn’t mean I’ve been marching in the streets. Sure, I may have signed a petition on a specific issue, but when I say “boycott” I mean, I would never shop there, or buy something indirectly from them. My thinking is that ultimately a brand doesn’t give a shit about one person’s ethics or moral beliefs, and that the only thing that talks is money. And I’ll be damned if employing any of the above shitty techniques means you get my hard-won cash.
Anyway, Zara were the first on my boycott list for using dangerous toxins in their clothes chain and then just dumping them into the ocean. NO, BYE. Topshop were next on my boycott list after a video of angora rabbits being farmed for Topshop jumpers emerged after Topshop had said their animals were kept in safe and happy conditions. BULLSHIT. ASOS were next in response to their use of child refugees as workers, racist marketing, crap workers policies, fatphobic marketing, and horrific customer service. You probably already know I detest ASOS: I think they are one of the most deplorable brands out there. I genuinely don’t understand why more people aren’t livid with them for profiting from horrific decisions the way that they do. (I did a thread on this here if you’re like “not my beloved ASOS” and sorry but they are the lowest of the low). And so on.
Eventually, I got to a point where there were about two high street shops I would actually go in. In 2015, I decided to cut out the high street altogether. It was a kind of low-grade New Years resolution. As about 80% of my shopping was already non-high street, it felt like a natural step. Throughout this time I continued to shop via independent businesses, Fairtrade organisations (Oxfam, Amnesty), in charity shops, and vintage markets and outlets. A lot of the independent brands I like are also stocked in shops I now boycott, so it was easy enough to research the individual brand and then just buy from them directly.
Slowly but surely. Choose a specific issue you really care about and avoid the worst brands or corporations for exploiting that issue. Or try cutting out a shop you rarely go in, followed by a shop you occasionally go in and so on. It may seem easier once you’re well on the way to finding alternatives. If you read this post carefully you’ll have clocked that it took me 11 years to go from “charity shops are cool” to “I am high street free”. Not overnight!
Build up your own directory. Payday around the corner and you fancy a browse of a “New In” section? Start bookmarking ethical shops, vintage sellers and just generally places you do want to support, so that when you feel a quick window shopping sesh coming on you’re not defaulting back to your problematic faves.
Get your hunt on. Seen a blogger wearing a must-have piece? Search out your own ethical version via charity shops, online or etsy and try and grab a vintage version.
Think about how you shop. Do you buy clothes you need/will need or do you buy clothes literally only when you need them? If you wait until the weekend before a wedding to purchase a dress you’ll be chancing it from a charity shop. If however, you spot a gorgeous-fitting dress for £6 at a car boot, buy it, even if you have no idea when you’ll wear it. You might not find it again!
Read into the issues and developments with various companies. Wise up, especially with brands you like. Then, next time you feel tempted you’ll be more likely to recall what you read about and help you leave the temptation behind. (At least, I think you’ll more likely to recall something you’ve directly learned about rather than something you saw some irate blogger tweet about one time 😉).
Cut emotional ties to companies and brands. This is a MASSIVE one. Yes, okay, you spent your first ever pocket money on a t-shirt from Topshop and it was your everything. But now they culturally appropriate like crazy and hate everyone over a Size 12. It’s not an old friend, it’s a corporation. Run by rich white men who like profit off the fact that you think of them as a friend.
I could bang on but this post is already long enough! I’m very lucky to live near some banging charity shops and some great markets, but I know that regionally the quality of your local car boots and vintage outlets might vary. True vintage and independent retailers tend to be a little bit more than what I would like to pay; so for me, those purchases have to be investments coz it’s not cash I can just afford to drop on a whim. And again, I’m not saying you should make all these changes and cut everything out, although if you want to, that’s what I’ve done and it’s definitely more than achievable (even if you’re skint coz join the club). I’m not in any way trying to dictate what you do. I’m just explaining what I personally do, and why, and if you’re not interested, THAT IS FINE (although you’re still reading so whattttt?).
What do you think about high street shopping? Eager to read your thoughts (and obviously answer any questions) below. I already had a few Qs come in on this subject. Any further Qs leave them below, and I’ll post up some As later in the month. X