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Embracing Slow Fashion & Upcycling

Covid-19 has given us all a lot of time to consider the impact of our lifestyle choices on the planet – and not being able to spend time outdoors has made many of us appreciate the environment more than ever.

Emily Southcombe reflects on clothes, fashion and the environment – as part of Sustainable St Albans series of  #LockdownBlogs

Even before we had ever heard of the coronavirus…

..many people had been trying to have a sustainable Christmas in 2019, with some reaching agreements to only buy gifts from charity shops – whether it was for colleagues at work or presents for family. Many people then took on the ‘no new clothes’ challenge for 2020 including Deborah Meaden from Dragon’s Den.

photo by Volha Flaxeco-unsplash

Photo by Volhar Flexico from Unsplash

Divert clothes from landfill through charity shopping and alterations 

The Charity Retail Association states that on average, every charity shop diverts 29 tonnes of textiles away from landfill per year. Charity shops are therefore a vital part of the effort to reduce waste in the clothing industry.

Last year Oxfam launched their #secondhandseptember campaign to draw attention to the fact that buying new clothes can have as much impact on the environment as flying, and since then many fashion retailers have looked to adapt their range including John Lewis who have recently launched a sustainable fashion line.

“We have become too dependent on the fashion industry”

Emily Southcombe blog photo - navy cotton dress upcycled with ivory lace detail to the neckline

Who made my new jacket?

In her book How to break up with Fast Fashion’ Lauren Bravo brings to light the fact that we have become too dependent on the fashion industry. People used to make clothes themselves, or from patterns, but in recent times cheap mass-produced clothes and constantly changing fashion trends has led to people losing touch with how or where their clothes were made. Unethical production methods have given rise to campaigns such as #whomademyclothes by Fashion Revolution – an organisation which publishes an annual ‘Fashion Transparency Index’ assessing fashion companies on a number of social and environmental issues.

Environmentally conscious people are looking to charity shops and second-hand outlets more and more – seeing buying second hand as a win-win situation for both their pockets and the planet.

Buying natural fibres will help protect marine wildlife 

It is estimated that 35% of microfibers in the oceans are from synthetic clothing and home furnishing textiles, making the case for natural fabrics stronger than ever. Although certain fashion houses have brought out clothing lines using recycled plastics, in an ideal world we’d like our clothes to be made of natural fibres such as cotton. The Soil Association suggests organic cotton as opposed to non-organic cotton, which has been touted the ‘world’s dirtiest crop’. Organic linen, silk and wool are good alternatives.

ocean clean wash

“Cambridge Dictionary Word of the Year was Upcycling

Another alternative is upcycling. The Cambridge dictionary’s word of the year 2019 was ‘upcycling’ and it has taken off not just for clothing and accessories but for homeware.

Sewing for the NHS

Upcycled clothes are not yet mainstream, however with more and more sustainable shoppers shunning fast fashion they are bound to look for products with a smaller carbon footprint that reuse existing materials. Many people have been sewing to provide PPE for the NHS and crafting to get through the long days of lockdown and hopefully people will continue to use their sewing machines long after it has finished.

scrubhub herts

It is a big shift that will be needed for us to reduce the impact of our fashion buying habits on the environment but if lockdown has taught us nothing else it is the difference between the essential and the non-essential.

Hopefully coming out the other side we will consume more sustainably and be better off for it!

written by Emily Southcombe

Slow Fashion Resources

Where to shop

Charity shops St Albans & Harpenden


Buying second hand online


For more information on the impact of fashion on the environment: 

  • Follow on Twitter:
  • @laurenbravo
  • @TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development)
  • @CharityRetail
  • @Fash_Rev
  • @SoilAssociation

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