Buy less, Choose Well

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Buy less. Choose Well.

It was not so long ago that shopping for the new addition to your wardrobe was considered an event. Savings were taken from accounts to make careful, considered purchases that would last. Wardrobe additions were kept under plastic, cleaned appropriately and treated with a sort of reverence and respect that has since been obliterated in the age of ‘fast fashion’.

‘Fast fashion’ is the term given to the method of quick response production that the fashion industry adopted in the 1990’s by brands like Zara and Benneton. It is method of production that was modeled off the ‘Quick Response’ technique developed in the 1980s by managing the supply chain to meet consumer demand. Now in the 21st century we seem to be experts at it. Companies like H&M use the model so effectively that with 2,200 stores worldwide they can design, produce and deliver garments to shop floors in as little as three weeks. Garments are ordered in the thousands, manufactured using cheap overseas labour and low-grade materials, which in turn keeps the prices low so customers return week after week for their cheap, trend inspired fashion fix. However, the real cost is borne in two ways; the human cost of people producing the garments thousands of miles from western high streets, and the cost of the environment.

But it seems now that fast fashion giant H&M is on high alert. Quickly after the devastating fire at Tazreen Fashions in Bangladesh, H&M were very quick to reaffirm its commitment to fire safety awareness for their workers in Bangladesh and their commitment to the environment. Last month they launched a global clothing collection initiative, making them the first fashion company to do so. In February stores in all 48 of its markets will be collecting used and worn-out clothing (of any brand) for reprocessing. For each bag H&M get, the customer will receive a voucher to spend in-store and the used clothing will then be reprocessed by I:Collect.

“Our sustainability efforts are rooted in a dedication to social and environmental responsibility,” says Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M. “We want to do good for the environment, which is why we are now offering our customers a convenient solution: to be able to leave their worn-out or defective garments with H&M.”

While this is a step in the right direction is it really enough? Surely by providing a store discount for donation is a contradiction in terms of recycling?

There are still downsides to H&M efforts. Firstly, because the low-grade fabrics are largely made from non-biodegradable, petroleum-based polyesters, there is still a huge question mark over the recyclability of cheap, low-grade “Frankenfabrics”. Secondly, H&M are still using factories in Cambodia who pay their workers around €45 a month. That’s 25% of the living wage there. The workers who make the clothes for the fashion brand are paid so little they have to borrow money for food. So, does that €14.95 dress really look like good value now?

In Ireland over 93% of all textile waste is sent to landfill and it is now beginning to have a detrimental affect on the environment. In the UK textile waste that goes to landfill isreferred to as the ‘Primark Affect’ (or Penny’s here in Ireland), the disposal of cheap, low quality garments.

Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion says that even the used clothing market is becoming saturated with ‘fast fashion’ items that are now driving up the cost of good vintage. There is now a shortage of clothing being made from natural materials and its making fabrics such as wool, a luxury textile.

Dame Vivienne Westwood, veteran designer and champion of the environment speaking to reporters after her Autumn/Winter 2012 show at London Fashion Week said; “We just consume far too much. I’m talking about all this disposable crap. What I’m saying is buy less, choose well. Don’t just suck up stuff so everybody looks like clones. Don’t just eat McDonald’s, get something a bit better. Eat a salad. That’s what fashion is. It’s something that is a bit better.”

I’m sure there are thousands of women up and down the country with wardrobes bulging with cheap high street fashion, maybe even some of it unworn. Wardrobes that leave absolutely no space for long lasting quality, let alone individuality. How may people do you know currently wearing replica Isabel Marant Beckett wedged trainers?!

Internally renowned graphic designer Massimo Vigelli, now aged 83, in a recent interview gave his own personal definition of junk. It’s (junk) “something which is trendy, which is not lasting value, something which is just phony, something which is just insensitive in the details, something which is not elegant, something which is not strong”.

So we all try and ditch the junk, buy less and choose well. Who knows, along playing your part for the environment, you may even start your own trend.

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