The time has come for fast fashion to slow down.
With the rise of online platforms such as Depop, e-Bay and Vestiaire Collective, who promote the ethos of reusing and rehoming preloved clothes rather than buying new, the fashion industry has seen a shift to a more ethical outlook on sustainability; whether it be designing better quality clothing, promoting a fairer wage for workers or focusing on reducing waste.
According to the UN, the fashion industry, including the production of all clothes which people wear, contributes to around 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.
The industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined, and it has been revealed that a single pair of jeans can take as much as 20,000 litres of water to produce.
Belfast’s Lord Mayor Kate Nicholl recently took to Twitter to promote a monthly environmental challenge which she has been undertaking, promoting the re-wearing of outfits, as well as borrowing and buying second-hand clothes.
She said that buying second-hand clothing is a “great way of recycling and helping our planet”.
The challenge is set by Haru, a new e-commerce site which helps charity shops to sell more profitable items online.
It is currently collecting for Afghan refugees.
Kate said that she was invited to Haru’s warehouse to learn a bit more about their work and from there, the challenge was set.
“We got talking about fast fashion and the impact it has on the environment, and they suggested I do a Lord Mayor’s environmental challenge around it,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“The environment is a key focus for my term in office, so every month I ask a different organisation to set me a Lord Mayor’s environmental challenge.”
She explained that for her first month in office back in June, Translink challenged her to ditch the car for a month and use public transport, and in July, Kate and the Belfast Climate Commissioner went plastic-free.
“So, August has been all about fast fashion – not buying anything new, raising awareness about the impact fast fashion has on our planet and trying to remove some stigma around buying second-hand clothes,” Kate said.
“I have always loved fashion; I think it’s a great form of self-expression and it always amazes me how wearing an outfit you feel nice in can lift your mood and confidence, but there are lots of things the fashion industry needs to do to improve the environmental impact it has.
“I think promoting second-hand clothing is great because it’s giving clothes a second life and reducing the amount in landfills.”
The 33-year-old is no stranger to buying second-hand and said she used to buy preloved clothes from charity shops when she was a teenager.
“When I was younger, we didn’t have much money, so I would buy in charity shops, but I would never tell my friends where I got my clothes because I was a bit ashamed,” she revealed.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like I did, so I am keen to help remove this stigma – because there’s nothing to be ashamed about! Plus, it’s recycling - so you’re helping the planet. Really, second-hand buying should be celebrated.”
The Lord Mayor said that she wants to promote the benefits of sustainable fashion through her political platform.
“Ultimately, real environmental change will come from government and targets set in law, but I think in promoting personal responsibility and the need to protect our planet on the agenda, that helps put pressure on decision makers,” she said.
“I plan to wear as many second-hand outfits to high-profile events as I can during my term in office.”
Kate said that, in addition to swapping clothes with friends and purchasing second-hand online, some of her favourite places to shop in Belfast include Deja Vu on the Lisburn Road, as well as Marie Curie and Oxfam shops all across the city.
“In addition to getting lots of different outfits quickly and sustainably, it is also a very cost-effective way to shop; you get a brand-new outfit at the fraction of the price and you’re supporting a good cause - what could be better?”
Manager of the Oxfam clothing shop on Botanic Avenue, Chrissi Ferris, told the Belfast Telegraph that she has noticed an increase in people from all walks of life and all ages shopping second-hand.
She also added that, throughout her three years working in the shop, she has not bought a single item of new clothing.
“I do think that awareness into the dangers of fast fashion has always been there, but there is a real increase recently, especially in the younger generation who are becoming a lot more environmentally-conscious,” she said.
“This is part of the reason that our ‘Second-Hand September’ campaign launched just three years ago, and it has been really successful ever since.”
Each year, the charity sets shoppers a challenge to only buy second-hand or preloved clothing for the entire month of September.
Chrissi explained that this time of year is always a busy time for buying new season clothes for autumn, but the challenge is aimed at changing people’s shopping habits which will last beyond the 30 days.
She also adds that it helps make people aware of the “treasure trove” which charity shops can be.
“We have gotten such amazing and quirky items over the years, you just have to be lucky with your timing and know where to look,” she said.
“You can have 200 of the same dress in a high street shop, but only one in a charity shop, and you are supporting a great cause - it’s a win-win.”
The thrifty fashionista said that there have been a number of high-end designer labels which have passed through the doors of the Botanic Avenue shop.
“We have had the likes of Vivienne Westwood shoes, a Burberry leather jacket and even a vintage Chanel pillar box hat with black netting, you never know what bargain you might pick up and you will know that you have done your part to help eliminate the environmental impact of fast fashion,” she said.
Fashion expert and founder of Belfast Fashion Week, Cathy Martin, said that more needs done in the industry to change people’s shopping habits.
“I think we all need to be more aware of the impact that our everyday choices have on the world around us, including what we wear,” she said.
“The pollution caused by ‘fast fashion’ and the unethical production practices that many fashion producers use, has led to the fashion and textiles industry having the worst reputation for climate damage; it brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘a crime of fashion’.”
Cathy said that the rise in popularity of resell sites, such as Vestiaire Collective, HEWI, Depop and e-Bay highlights a big shift in the fashion industry.
“Maybe through this pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, we’re realising that we don’t actually need as much newness as the flashy marketing teams lead us to believe?” she said.
“Either way, the growth in circular fashion is a good thing - and long may it continue.”
In addition to supporting these online platforms, Cathy explained that one of the biggest changes she has contributed to making the fashion industry more sustainable is a total revamp of the format of Belfast Fashion Week.
“I am going to be changing the format from a collection of catwalk events to a resale ‘Rail Sale’ event promoting sustainable fashion,” she said.
“I think it’s important to say, however, that I still love creative design and fashion, and will still buy clothes; but I will do so more consciously.
“I will seek ways to celebrate my passion while protecting the planet; I will check labels, I will purchase fewer, and when I do purchase, I will do so with the planet and long-term effects in mind.”