Sunday morning trips to car boot sales were what I grew up on. My clothes were hand me downs or were found in charity shops. I felt like I stood out in all the wrong ways and all I wanted was to blend in.
Under stimulated by my clothes and thanking God daily for the invention of the school uniform, hope came in the form of a part-time job when I turned 16. No more 'I can take this in a little and it’ll be perfect' and no more awkward hemlines. I was finally free of second-hand clothing and had the independence to make my own sartorial choices. I became known as 'that girl who shops a lot'.
I’d hold my friends hostage for hours while I tried on garment after garment...
Every afternoon was spent in Forever21/Miss Selfridge, taking up temporary residence in the changing rooms. I’d hold my friends hostage for hours while I tried on garment after garment. Checking the “new in” section of Topshop’s website became routine practice over breakfast. The staff at my favorite stores and the UPS delivery guys became my acquaintances.
I was addicted.
Often I would read about the horrors of sweatshops. The awful hardships workers would have to endure. Hours on end bent over a sewing machine. They’d often be tired and hungry but still were committed to making our cheap clothing. My thoughts never stayed with them very long. Soon I would be opening another tab, gloating over a new chiffon dress and wondering if it would go with the black strappy shoes I had bought a week earlier.
It was the Rana Plaza tragedy that really helped put things into focus. The garment factory crumbled and crashed, killing over one thousand people. Most of them were women. It took this event to make people aware of the extent that some suffer for our disposable fashion addiction.
I inspected my wardrobe and it overflowed with greed. Half of the items were hardly worn and some still had price tags intact.
I inspected my wardrobe and it overflowed with greed. Half of the items were hardly worn; some still had price tags intact. It forced me to consider my spending. I had played a part in all this. People’s lives were being lost as a result of my purchases. But it wasn’t just that, I realised I didn’t appreciate clothes anymore. I just wanted something new and as soon as that new item had been worn and banished to the back of my wardrobe, I was out there, clawing at the rails in search of my new fix. I had become a magpie, only interested in the shiny.
It was then that I became more thoughtful about what I spent money on, researching brands before committing to buy. The silly assumption I made was that the fancy high-street shops that sell better quality clothes have decent working conditions. But that's not necessarily the case.
Burdened by the unsafe working environments for workers in poorer countries and the guilt I had from not appreciating my clothes, I put an end to my fast-fashion habit. This choice led to a renewed love for my existing wardrobe. Sometimes I still scan eBay and pop into a charity shop but now my wardrobe is my favourite place to look for clothes because I challenge myself to get new experiences from the clothes I already have.
My mind-set towards fashion and clothing has changed. I no longer associate 'new' with shopping. Plus, those hand me downs and charity shop finds I disliked so much as a kid have taken on a whole new appeal.
Written by Lola Byatt