GRR

6 easy ways to embrace sustainable fashion

25th November 2022
Hannah Rochell

Revive & Thrive speaker, Hannah Rochell gave up buying clothes for a year. But why, and what did she learn?

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I was a fashion journalist and editor for 12 years, writing for newspapers and glossy magazines. I got into writing about fashion because I loved clothes, not because I wanted to sell them to people. But around four years ago I realised that I’d become increasingly uneasy about making a living from pushing newness and trends onto readers, and essentially being part of the fast fashion machine that’s always encouraging people to buy, buy, buy. 

Including myself, because I was certainly buying more clothes than I ever had before. 

Somewhere along the line I had got swept along with the fashion tide and become someone who felt like they needed new stuff all the time. The old me knew what she liked, but working in fashion helped me lose my personal style in pursuit of the latest trends. I would say I had nothing to wear when really, I had too much choice. It was time to do something drastic, so I gave up shopping entirely for a year. It was one of the best things I have ever done.

I’m not saying that I think everyone should do a shopping ban. But if you think your shopping habits might have got a bit out of hand, I really recommend doing some kind of restraining experiment. Perhaps change the time limit of a shopping ban to one month, or three. Or follow Second Hand September’s directive: limit yourself to only buying second hand for a period of time. 

Of course, doing the job I did meant that I came to my shopping ban from a place of privilege and a large wardrobe, and I appreciate that made it a lot easier. Curiously though, the very first tip that I will give you in your quest to change your shopping habits is to have a good clear out.

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Only wear clothes that make you feel brilliant

I was about to get really familiar with my wardrobe, and there was no room to be bored, so I needed to make sure that I loved everything in there. I needed items that would work hard for me, would make me feel great and could be styled loads of different ways. I had to be honest about which items I actually wore the most and I learnt SO MUCH about my personal style doing this. 

When I evaluated the things I sent to the charity shop and sold after my clear-out, it was the impulse buys that were out of my sartorial comfort zone. Ask yourself what you feel most comfortable and confident in, and be happy wearing that. Because nothing says stylish like someone who really owns their look. 

As a result of my clear-out, I know there is nothing in my wardrobe I have forgotten about, and everything is easy to find. Sometimes I think the urge to buy something new comes from feeling overwhelmed with what you already have. Curating your wardrobe means that every time you get dressed, you know you’re going to feel brilliant in whatever you choose.  

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Get to know your wardrobe better

Next, I needed to make the remaining clothes work really hard. To do this, I set myself another challenge, stolen from a brilliant Instagram account called Not Wearing New. The challenge was to carry one item of your outfit over to the next day, every day. For example, one day I might wear a skirt with a top, the next day I might wear the same skirt under a shirt dress, leaving it unbuttoned so the skirt peeks through. Then, I’ll wear the shirt dress with a tank top, and so on. Doing this made me think about styling some items I’d had for years in a way I would never have tried before and made my wardrobe seem far more exciting, too.

Remove temptation

Wardrobe, curated, it was now time to enter the big wide world of temptation. Because don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to buy new clothes. After years of doing it, breaking this habit wasn’t going to be plain sailing. But there are lots of things you can do to be a bit easier on yourself. 

Try unsubscribing from brand emails, especially fast fashion brands or the ones that you know you will find it hard to resist. See also Instagram and other social media platforms. I unfollowed brands for that period of time, and many I never went back to. I also unfollowed influencers who might be a bad influence, both in terms of the types of brand they supported and frequency with which they touted new stuff. Comparison can be a strong driver for reaching for that credit card. I even changed the route I walked to work so that I didn’t pass five Zaras on my way. I haven’t actually set foot in a Zara since.

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The cooling off period

The year-long shopping ban went surprisingly well. I used my time to research the brilliant sustainable brands that I was going to shop at in the future to replace the easy high street fast fashion ones I had come to rely on. I made lists of the items I was going to need (it wasn’t many) and the few items I was going to treat myself to which came to a total of just six (excluding underwear which I admit, did become a bit of a problem eventually!). 

I had essentially given myself one massive cooling off period, which is something I have carried forward into my non-shopping ban life.

A cooling off period is basically the complete opposite of impulse buying. When you see something you like that you’d like to buy, it gives you the time – I’d recommend trying a week – and space to assess a few things. Do you really need it? Does it work with your personal style? Can you think of at least five items in your existing wardrobe that you could style it with? Do you have something that already does that job in your wardrobe? If the answer to that one is yes, is it an item that you rely on and wear a lot – if so, maybe the purchase would be really useful. If not, move along. 

You also have time to think about who you are buying from. Does this brand produce thousands of items every week? Even if it’s promoting a capsule sustainable collection, it’s simply greenwashing if it hasn’t addressed the sheer volume of other stuff it produces. Does it give details about who makes its garments, and where, and whether they get paid a fair wage, and if they work in safe conditions? Does it have any information about its environmental impact, whether that’s using safe dyes, or renewable energy, or natural materials rather than plastics like polyester? 

My cooling off periods are often really, really long. Endless, in fact. Because usually, after a few days, I completely forget about the thing that I thought I wanted to buy. More often than not, it turns out I didn’t want it as much as I thought I did.

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Check your labels

I am also a serial label checker, and I don’t mean labels of the designer kind. Something that started me out on this journey in the first place was learning more about fabrics and fibres and their impact on the planet. So, before I buy anything new I check the label to see what it’s made of. 

I avoid polyester and nylon altogether if I can. For certain stretchy items like sportswear and underwear, I look for brands that use innovative alternatives, like Econyl for swimwear, which is made from recycled fishing nets. And I embrace natural fibres that have a lower environmental impact in terms of irrigation, pesticides and soil health, such as organic cotton, wool, TENCEL, which is a great sustainable alternative to traditional viscose, and my all-time favourite, linen. 

Find brilliant people doing brilliant things

I mentioned that I spent my shopping ban deciding on the brands I would be happy to shop with in the future. So how did I do that when small independent brands don’t have the budgets for advertising? Unfollowing regular fashion brands on Instagram was a good start, but as I followed more sustainable brands, the algorithm started to suggest more and more similar brands. I have found some of my favourite independents this way, as well as discovering them through likeminded influencers who promote and wear them on their own accounts.

Thanks to Instagram, I found some brilliant people doing brilliant things. Side hustlers like Freya Simone making beautiful dresses out of thrifted bedsheets and padded jackets from old quilts – she has since gone full time with her upcycling and has been stocked in Selfridges. And small batch operators like Roake Studio which produces lovely linen and cotton trousers, jackets and jumpsuits on a made-to-order basis, reducing waste – most items are designed to adapt with your changing body to last longer and can be worn multiple ways, so they work harder in your wardrobe.

The beautiful thing about discovering these niche businesses is that your clothes have a story to tell. When someone compliments your outfit or asks where you got it, you have something far more interesting to say than ‘it was only a tenner in the H&M sale’.

Inevitably, I do sometimes find myself slipping back into my old habits. But on the occasions that I feel the need to buy just for the sake of it, or I realise I’ve bought a few, albeit well-researched items in a row, I stop and remind myself of my top six tips. 

This year’s Revive & Thrive community will be sharing their Make Do and Mend wisdom throughout the year, all the way to the 2023 Revival where you can learn how to repair old clothes, work with thrifted materials to create new ones and refresh your wardrobe. Book your tickets now to join this community of inspiring individuals.

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