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Fast Fashion brands can actually help us become more SUSTAINABLE!

My daughter started secondary school , just as the second lockdown came into force, and moved from mufti to uniform.  Who knew you really had to purchase the uniforms months in advance, or face the dreaded uniform queue! Which, could stretch back a mile, and that you might have to visit more than one of the few designated uniform shops to get the full ensemble, as last minute ‘buying on line’ was not an option due to demand!

Mission accomplished and Lesson learnt, I proceeded to removing the labels attached on the outside to pre-wash before first wear. one of the labels read

– MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC NOT CRUDE OIL-

Now to a mother who is on an Eco anxiety free sustainable journey, this information was very comforting, because unlike her primary school clothing, I now had no say in which materials constituted uniform. – Albeit knowing that most polyester comes from PET bottles that could have been recycled numerous times as bottles, but once they become clothes, recycling is halted due to the mix  of other materials involved – I was still comforted by the fact that these uniforms, which I would have to replace over the next severe years was in some small way, part of the solution. As it happened, her school also had a second-hand sale every summer, so I will be returning them to that initiative.

The surprise,  however, came, when I looked inside the blazers and discovered a spare button attached to the washing instruction label, as well as a matching square patch of fabric in a little bag!

Pondering on this discovery, I realised that  I couldn’t actually recall the last garment I purchased with a spare button or patch on the inside. This used to be standard on most clothing, and some  brands went as far as including a little roll of matching cotton, to sew on the spare button. If you were lucky, you got two buttons!  

Pondering lead to curiosity, and curiosity lead to research. I took to the fast fashion shops in London and a few abroad, looking on the insides for any spares, and drew a blank. I knew many high end and independent brands still attached spares, so why was this no longer the state of play? This lead to a revelation – just by attaching a spare, fast fashion brands actually have the ability to help us cultivate slow fashion habits -but the real question was, could they go further?

It’s promising to see many FF retailers finally committing to some sort of sustainability target to reduce their pollution levels by 2030, but cop26 has informed us that time is of the essence. 

Found these in my mens wear trousers from A days march

Whilst those targets are slowly being met, producing, polluting and selling to us the consumers continues at an alarming rate. The choice to be sustainable is passed down to our conscience, but realistically as humans, we all still need to consumer. Admittedly, the Climate Emergency is everyone’s problem, but why should we be made to feel guilty for it, when the brands are causing the most damage to our environment? 

I’ve always been of the school of thought that believes If fast fashion brands produce less, it’s unlikely that we will take to the streets to protest, instead we will probably adjust according to supply.

I’m also acutely aware that the fashion supply chain consist of a complex system of operations that turn fibre into fashion, and until a financially viable renewable material becomes available to replace plastic,  which is the main material in garments, accessories and packaging, they will have to find alternative solutions to slow down the amount currently going to landfills.

Assuming, FF brands are genuinely concerned about our environment, and working towards becoming Planet positive , there are simple initiatives they can set in motion to help us  slow down the amount we consume and accelerate their targets.

We need help to prolong the life of our day-to-day shoes!

Majority of FF shoes are made from pure plastic,  and when discarded will take millions of years to breakdown in the soil , and although like (FDRA) [Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America released an environmentally preferred materials (EPM) guide for shoe manufacturers establishing that footwear made with synthetic fibers, polyester, nylon and spandex, must be made from at least 50 percent recycled content, with the goal of increasing this number to 100 percent by 2035] – The industry is slow to take this on board.

Granted some of our shoes are keepers due to design, comfort or sentiments, however we need help to prolong the life of our day-to-day shoes and brands should consider factoring this into their concept design.

Reheeling shoes can cost up to £30 the equivalent of a new pair!

For starters, provide spare heels where possible, after all they are readily available during the manufacturing process. Include QR codes with simple and time saving instructions on how we can DIY attaching  spare heels. Reheeling shoes can cost up to £30! the equivalent of a new pair, making it a big deterrent for us consumers to repair and opt for a new pair instead.

Go even further on the QR Code information, and include instructions on how to care for our shoes, pre-first time wear.

Go even further on the QR Code information, and include instructions on how to care for our shoes, pre-first time wear,  as well as details of who made them. This will, add a sentimental value and perhaps encourage us to give them a new lease of life, when they are worn out.

Partner with established shoe repair companies to create incentives that will encourage us to repair our shoes at a more affordable price. Consider using their off-cuts for some of our heel replacements, and where a more sustainable way of recycling exist, jump on board, as it saves you starting from scratch.

Redirect some of your ear-marked budget used to pay influencers way more than the garments are worth

Redirect some of your ear-marked budget used to pay influencers way more than the garments are worth, and consider collaborating or taking on in-house artists who specialise in customising  and actively promote them . These artists will create a more individualistic look on new and old shoes and an opportunity for our shoes to benefit from a second and perhaps third lease of life.

The white shirt is probably one of the most loved and worn garment in our wardrobes hence we don’t want to discard them after a few wears. The Challenges we face however, include unravelling stitches under the arm, seams coming apart or lose of shape after a few washes.

FF brand designers can help us by reworking their concept design and come up with a pattern between the four way seams under the arm, to include a thicker patch, and reinforced stitching overall. Yes, it will add to your production cost per garment, but then invest in fair pay for garment workers so they are empowered change their lives and communities.

I recall buying trousers for my then 10 year old son that got knocked out in the knee area after just a few wears. I then discovered  the ones with reinforced patches and the trousers lasted the duration of that growth spurt, and I could pass them on to others and they were in good condition. Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Whilst I think sewing/darning should be taught as part of the school curriculum, not everyone has the time, nor the inclination to do so and life gets busier.

Personally, I can be quite lazy about these things as is evident in my shabby chic look. Nine times out of ten, I will cover a hole with a badge, or reattach a missing button with a safety pin behind a button to hold it in place.

We all know that our favourite pair of jeans is the one that fits like a second skin and gets complimented on every worn occasion, regardless of how much we paid for it. Needless to say, most of us don’t want to discard them due to a ripped crutch or knee prematurely created as a result of a cheap mix of fibres.

Much as you may be working on finding a more sustainable and financially viable material and dyeing techniques for your denim, you can help right now by providing matching patches from your off cuts and end of rems for those of us who are adept at mending.

You can also help us parents, by reinforcing the knees and elbows on children clothes or provide customised iron-on or plain patches. Allow extra material on the inside hem lines, so we can lengthen the trousers and leggings after a growth spurt. This little gestures will create opportunities to educate our younger generation on how to Reduce Reuse & Upcycle.

Sew adjustable waist bands into our denim and leggings so we can adjust when our weight fluctuates, without having to buy a new pair

We love your garment collection programmes, but are mindful that majority of the clothes cannot be recycled due to the mixed fibres used in production. Furthermore some of us want to keep hold of our old clothes for longer. Until you are able to make your garments from a solo fibre and authentically recycle, take a leaf out of brands like nudie jeans who offer free repair services that are easily accessible. 

Consider training some of your shop floor staff or hire experienced seamstress for some of your bigger branches, and set up a drop off and pick up service. This will create jobs, reduce landfill dumping,  and help us hold on to our clothes for longer.

Partner with well established alteration/Dry cleaning chains to negotiate cheaper prices that will motivate us to patronise the chains and get our clothes mended.

Most of you currently have ambassadors/influencers who create style content, but consider collaborating with trailblazing influencers who are putting a creative spin on how to mend and come up with strong hashtags encouraging us to follow suit. Their content is equally engaging and will bring balance to the prevailing culture of ditching an outfit after just one wear, and instead make us proud and comfortable to post pictures of ourselves wearing a piece of your garment that we would have otherwise relegated to the bins.

Niamh Carr a mix of organic cotton & candiani denim in her final year collection which pre-mends in areas to increase life span (image Niamh Carr)

Reach out to the fashion institutes, and create avenues for them to approach you. They might not be big name designers yet, but fashion students are not afraid to push boundaries hence often come up with simple yet practical design concepts, that can help you save money, attract a different type of customer, or accelerate your sustainability targets, which we in turn become beneficiaries.

Reach out to fashion schools, and create avenues for them to approach you. They might not be big name designers yet, but fashion students are not afraid to push boundaries.

Plaire Chaiphet integrated electronic waste into her embroidery to create her final year collection (pic Aynrand Ariel)

There is also the small issue of our underwear – the seamless knickers I acquired in the last year suddenly started coming apart at the seams, at first I put it down to my laundering habits, even though I put them in a mesh laundry bag, before I pop them into the washing machine. However, upon careful inspection, I realised that the seams were being held together by glue, not stitches. If you are sticking our knickers with glue, consider an sustainable alternative that will stand the test of time.

The Boxer shorts have come along way with fun and interesting prints, but the same cannot be said for the quality of the fabrics which fall apart after a few wears — until organic cotton becomes the order of the day, reinforce the stitching to make them last longer.

AND FINALLY, BE TRANSPARENT WHEN SHARING YOUR CLIMATE ACTION JOURNEY, REGARDLESS OF HOW LITTLE OR HOW MUCH YOU ARE DOING. WE DON’T EXPECT YOU TO GET IT RIGHT OVERNIGHT, BUT WE DON’T APPRECIATE THE GREENWASHING.

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