A Year In My Wardrobe – Ethical Fashion in Practice
So another year has come to an end. This one faster than ever. As you know I am a big advocate for ethical fashion, and have been part of the movement for the past five years. It is not an obsession with fashion that makes me so passionate about sustainability in fashion, but the potential of change from that something we all take part in, that we can create. Whether you love or hate fashion, we are all part of this industry as we all wear clothes. For those who engage in fashion, it is about much more than that. The right outfit can literally give you the confidence to be the best version of yourself, or help you express parts of yourself. That’s why fashion is what it is.
At the start of this year, I did a feature with Ecouterre (who I now write for) called In the Closet and at the end of last year I started sharing my outfits on Weardrobe. The reason to share my approach to my personal wardrobe is to show that it is possible to dress ethically all the time. Even only a few years ago, I was a ‘happy shopper’ shall we say. I loved nipping into the shops and buying a few things (all the time). In fact even when I started my jewellery label, I still happily bought clothes not knowing where they came from.
When I started to really think about it, I realised that I had to lead by example. People always complimented me on what I wore, so I knew that I wanted each piece to have a story. We have the opportunity to communicate with our clothes every day, so I knew that everywhere I went there was an opportunity to talk about ethical fashion, and raise the issues.
I had started doing this naturally, and then a couple of years ago, decided not to buy anything that didn’t have a good/interesting story.
I also decided that I would buy no more then 20 things a year. In fact I haven’t been tallying things up over the year but guessing. For me the point of rules is not to restrict myself, but to make me think more carefully. (you may have picked up that by the Elegance Rebellion title of this blog) If it is 20 things, then I have to consider if I really want something, and why I want it.
When I tell people about the 20 rule, they are divided. Some say they probably don’t buy that much in a year anyway. Others admit to buying that much in just a week (especially during the sales, or from Primark, where you can do that for less then £100). For some people buying little is easy, for others you love that feeling you get when you buy and put on something new. When I was working in Covent Garden in the Autumn, I found it so horrible walking past all the shops, trying not to look through the windows to suppress that feeling of needing what was in them.
There are lots of myths about ethical fashion, that it is too expensive for example. I have managed to put my wardrobe together this year without paying over the odds. Of course I am at an advantage in that I know and am friends with a lot of the designers now having worked with them for years at the Ethical Fashion Fourm. What I miss the most about my strict approach is not thinking about what you buy and being allowed anything you fancy. I also wish I had gone on one last shop for some basics before I started this, but that would have been cheating! The truth is the feeling that you get from something you buy and makes you feel great, is amazing when you know the beautiful story behind it. The other myth is that it is boring, I hope that you can see from here, that it is anything but boring.
I think the hardest thing about ethical fashion is availability. It’s finding the things that you can buy. That’s why in the industry we are working with the high street, small designers and luxury brands to get them to clean up their supply chain. But it is also about us as consumers going that extra mile and seeking out ethically produced fashion, asking the right questions, and thinking about what we do with our clothes.
So here is my journey through my wardrobe over the past year, with a bit about what I have bought, and why I did, and of course what makes it ethical.
Total Bought in 2010: Clothing =19, Shoes =4, Hairbands =4 Bags = 0
I was in India in January, and I wanted something new to wear for the fesival Uttaryam, which is big in Gujarat.
I was impressed to finally be able to find some answers about how indian clothing has come to be. There tends not to be much information in India at this point on where things have come from. But it is starting to come, especially with the Western styles. Indian designer Anita Dongre, has created the first Indian organic range with Grassroot. Of course India is leading the way for ethical production with manufacturers like Aura Herbal and as demonstrated by the Shared Talent India project. This anarkali style punjabi has been made by the women of Gujarat’s largest slum through the Gramshi project. The project is run out of Gandhi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad, and supports the women in the slum opposite by running the gramshi label.
This month was all about Julia Smith for me. I borrowed some clothing for a photoshoot and walked away with two dresses for myself. One an old sample, and the other so soft and cosy it is a firm favourite in my wardrobe.
Hand made in Julia’s studio from Ethical fabrics, in this case organic cotton and hemp silk.
March was the launch of the Think Act Vote campaign, which meant that I got my very own Think Act Vote T-shirt. I didn’t buy them, but for the campaign, I did get to wear the Think Act Vote Refashioned pieces by leading UK based ethical fashion designers Ada Zanditon, Tara Starlet, Traid Remade, Ciel, Beautiful Soul,Junky Styling, Nancy Dee and Miksani. You can find out more about the project and read the stories behind each of the designs here.
In addition at the Fashion Fusion event, I picked up a couple of samples from Frank and Faith. A bamboo grey dress, and a little black cardie, all made with eco materials in the UK. I wear the dress all the time, but don’t have a photo of it right now.
In April, Tesco announced their collaboration with up-cycling eco-fashion designers From Somewhere and Goodone. Both these labels create fashion from what others regard as waste. Both brands worked with Tesco to upcycle their textile waste into new pieces. I picked up this dress by From Somewhere.
In May I found myself in Singapore for longer then expected, and working on a film set. I had packed for a beach holiday and so needed two things to be on set. First, you have to cover up your toes, so I needed some trainers. The other thing that I needed were hairbands, Singapore is a very humid place, and so I needed to find a way to get my fringe away in a tidy fashion. If any of you have been to Singapore, you will know that it is made up of a series of Malls with the same kind of big shops. I found out some little boutiques, and was happy to find some TOMS shoes. Sadly not in my size, so I got myself some converse, as they are owned by Nike who are doing some impressive things with sustainability. I also found a little boutique that sold hand made hairbands, and got myself three to mix it up.
June and July
I think that time in Singapore had got me in the mood to shop. As June saw me buying three pairs of shoes and three items of clothing! Although I made up for it with no shopping at all in July.
With festival season well on it’s way, I needed a couple of bits for for my festival wardrobe, a new pair of clack leggings and a comfy skirt to wear with my Think Act Vote tee whilst working the campaign. So I popped into American Apparel, who are useful for basics like leggings and tights. Usually I like to support the smaller ethical fashion brands who are more ground-breaking in terms of what fabric they use, but American Apparel does make everything in their factory in LA, paying attention to workers rights and sustainability in production.
On my way to speak at an event in August for Think Act Vote, I was cold as the summer Day had got a bit chilly, and needed some leggings or tights on the go. This is where shopping ethically gets hard, as if you need something last min. I popped into Aubin and Wills, and all they had were these Marino wool and Lycra leggings.
September was more of a clearout month then a shopping one as I had just moved house. In the process I donated lots of my wardrobe, things I hadn’t worn for ages to TRAID in thier clothing banks or to swishing parties. TRAID are great and will use all fabric, if not good enough quality to turn into a TRAID Remade masterpiece, then they will shred it and use it as rag for cushion stuffing and things like that.
Whilst at Ethical Fashion Show Paris, I did pick up some of the amazing paper eyelashes (made on FSC paper) by Paperself that I had been coveting since seeing them before they launched at The Bigger Picture. I then bought another 2 pairs in December.
Still loving the hair accessories, I found this beautiful handmade piece from Her Curious Nature. In addition I got a few pieces from the ASOS Green Room. I went to the site to check out the new ASOS Africa collection made in the Kenya at fairtrade production factory SOKO. Whilst there I picked up a couple of pieces from the Green Room Sale by Fin Oslo.
In November I was heading to a party, and just really wanted to treat myself to a special new dress. I didn’t have time to look online in advance and was working in Covent Garden at the time frustrated I couldn’t get anything. I tried a few vintage shops in East London, but couldn’t find anything. On the night of the party, at 6.30pm I went into Junky Styling on the off chance they would have something perfect. And they did. I saw this beautiful blue sparkly dress hanging up and tried it on. They were recently on the Apprentice, and also made my coat last winter.
The suit is made from a cool blue shiny mens suit. I would love to meet the man who owned it, clearly a man with a fun side. I wonder if his wife has told him it is in the attic whilst secretly taking it to the charity shop. Or if he has passed away. The dress it has transformed into is exquisite. With the signature Junky style it has room for putting my own spin on it, and I have already worn it 6 times since I got it with different accessories. A dress like this is a real investment, something that I know I will cherish for years.
In addition to this November was quite a shopping month as it was the Foundation Agency sample sale. Imagine a room full of things I can actually buy at discount prices. I picked up a few classic pieces. A vintage dress, a Nancy Dee Odette dress (I had the one in black and love it, so got a pink one), a People Tree handwoven silk purple dress and some Komodo shorts. In additon I picked up a handmade waistcoat from a market stall from Brick Lane.
So the last month of the year. I treated myself to two amazing timeless pieces. A Minna vintage lace and peace silk dress and a pair of amazing vegan Beyond Skin boots made out of recycled plasticbottles!
So that is a year in ethical fashion. But there are a couple more bits; gifts, returns, borrowed and of course tips for the new year.
Being a jewellery designer, I don’buy any. My designs are built to last and not to be ‘on trend.’ So I have been wearing the same gorgeous pieces for years. This year I did come out with a new collection ‘The Five Elements’ which meant there are a few new pieces I have been wearing.
So one of the perks of working in the industry is very occasionally picking up a gift. At EFF I shared an office with Pants to Poverty, so they gave me these lovely organic cotton knickers for my birthday.
As well as my Think Act Vote tee shirt, I also got given a pair Post Tagsof Levis Curve ID jeans for taking part in Shape Whats To Come. I haven’t worn them, as am hoping to swap them for a pair of their new waterless eco jeans.
A lot of Ethical Fashion shopping still has to be done online which leads to some problems. I bought this Katharine Hamnett Bikini from Yoox and it wasn’t the right size, they have a strict 7 day return policy and I was actually away when I ordered it. Despite countless emails, they have refused to swap it for another size, so I have put it on Ebay if you are interested.
I also bought some lovely Beyond Skin boots, and they were a little high for me. I can’t wear high heels due to an accident I once had, but I wore them in a photoshoot and the sole got marked making them un-returnable. So they too are on Ebay now.
I hope both gorgeous pieces find a loving new home!
Of course you have to borrow a few pieces every now and then, from friends or with my work from designers. My faves this year have been from the wonderful Mark Liu, who has left me to mind and wear a few of his samples, and this lovely Sika dress I borrowed for a photoshoot.
I like to wear ethical designers when I go to events and in photoshoots to get their work out there. Next year I am thinking I might start using the dress rental services provided by Girls Meets Dress and Lucy in Disguise. It gives you a chance to wear a dress you could never afford and takes away that worry of always wearing the same dress to every wedding/party.
New Year Resolutions
So there you have it, an honest account of an ethical wardrobe in practise over a year. Next year I will give a month by month account so that I can go into more detail about the story behind each piece of clothing. Hopefully you have picked up on some tips of great ethical designers out there from this post.
But here are some New Years Resolutions for your approach to your wardrobe. If you can work one or all of these into your life for 2011 you will be contributing to a really amazing change that is happening in the world.
1. Ask yourself if you really need something new, or if you can wear something in a different way to make it seem fresh. If you are buying it, think about what you have that you can wear it with so you don’t need any new accessories.
2. Try and set a limit for how many things you can buy a year. Make it the right number for you, think of how many things you usually buy every month or year and then take off at least a quarter.
3. Research new ethical designers. (Ethical, Eco, Sustainable are generally interchangeable words)
4. Support small UK based designers.
5. Buy something organic, or made from a new fabric such as from Soy Bean or Milk.
6. Do a wardrobe clear-out and give your unloved pieces to TRAID or hold a swishing party.
7. When buying something new, ask the shop/designer where it was made and who by.
8. Get out your sewing machine and customise something old (maybe two or three things) into something new.
9. When buying something new, think of how long you will like it for. Is it a keeper or something you will wear once.
10. Buy something that is fair trade.
11. Rent or borrow something instead of buying.
12. Have fun with it. Ethical fashion is all about discovering the stories behind the fashion and changing lives not to mention helping our planet. So explore, experiment and enjoy yourself.