I spend much of Autumn feeling a bit chilly, as I eek out the wearing of my summer skirts and shorts (accompanied by woolly socks in the privacy of Wise House HQ :-)).
Up until my early 30s a new season meant a trip to the high street for a splurge on new clothes with the mindset that I 'needed' new boots, a new summer dress etc. It's the behavioural norm for most of us, and explains why we often run out of storage space for clothes and have items in our wardrobe that have seen little wear!
For a number of reasons, I've stopped this kind of impulse buying. I don’t like to have too much stuff for a start, as it means less space, more decisions and more waste. At the age of 42, I have plenty of clothing to meet my practical needs, and I still like most of the clothes I have bought over the years.
Most fundamental of all, I have become far more aware of the high environmental and social price paid for fast fashion;
‘The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, causing human misery, enormous cost of life and gigantic environmental devastation.” Vandana Shiva
Most of us are aware that fast fashion isn't great, but do we really stop to think about our purchasing decisions? When we buy a piece of clothing, we're casting a vote in favour of everything that went into making it. The trouble is, we don’t exactly know what that is most of the time. Flicking through the latest Autumn/Winter brochures might show me what I'd look like gallavanting through the British countryside in a mack and skinny jeans, but it tells me nothing about the integrity of those same clothes. Where were they made? And by whom? Are the workers treated well? What fabric was used? Was it grown sustainably? What effect does its production have on the environment and local communities?
If we could see the story behind each piece of clothing that we buy, would we buy differently?
Ex fashion designers like Lucy Siegle (The One Show's ethical expert) continues to raise awareness of an industry where people and the planet come second to selling the latest trends at an increasing pace and volume. But there is still a lack of transparency that keeps us in 'blissful' ignorance.
'In my opinion, this is a crisis. Mainstream fashion is dogged by a paucity of ideas and a failure to commit to deep sustainability and activate real change.' Lucy Siegle, Businessoffashion.com
Siegle's book ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World’ is a sobering read. From the example of a shopper dropping her Primark bag in the rain and not bothering to pick it up, to the drying up of the world's 4th largest lake, the Aral sea, used to irrigate intenstive cotton growing fields. Our disposable approach to fashion in the west is inextricably linked to this level of exploitation.
‘The exposure of the bottom of the lake has released salts and pesticides into the atmosphere poisoning both farm land and people alike. Carcinogenic dust is blown into villages causing throat cancers and respiratory diseases.’ Tansy Hoskins, The Guardian
As consumers, we have the power to make better choices when shopping for clothes. Fashion is hugely evocative, but dressing well and looking nice should be something we can acheive without the need to over-stuff our wardrobes. The best thing we can do is buy less and treasure the clothes we do have. Charity shops are abundant, and are another way to buy new clothes without buying new.
I can see no reason why clothes should ever end up in landfill. Charity shops, fabric recycling, local friends and family, are all options for passing on clothes that you no longer wear.
On my journey with The Wise House I have discovered some fantastic fairtrade and ethical fashion companies, with sustainable practices at the very heart of what they do. Buy less, shop ethically, go for style and substance over fast fashion. It's a start!
A forward thinking online shopping platform selling second hand high street and designer clothes. It works just like any other online clothes store, with easy to follow categorisation of clothing. They tell you the condition the clothing is in. They also make it easy to donate clothes. You simply order a free bag, posted out to you next business day. You fill it up with clothes and find a free local drop-off point (Collect+) or arrange next day collection from your door. After theyhave charged a small selling fee, proceeds of successful sales are split equally between you and your chosen charity.
My daughter also alerted me to Depop, which looks to be for a younger audience. Similar to Thrift, you can buy and sell items on this platform.
One of my favourite items of clothing bought earlier this year came from People Tree; a beige jumpsuit made from thick 100% organic cotton. It’s so versatile and has been worn on evenings out and for daytime events. On a balmy evening in London whilst sitting at an outside bar with my bestie, I was very flattered to be asked by a trendy young lass as to where it came from. I was happy to point her in the direction of an ethical company of whom she had never heard!
I currently have my eye on their Marlowe Apple Shirt £59; gorgeous colours for Autumn. I love their new Corduroy culottes and shirt dress too. You can see in the product details (as is the case with all of their clothes) where, by whom and with what the shirt is made:
'100% organic cotton, made by Assisi Garments, a social enterprise in India. The skilled artisans at Assisi transform Fairtrade and organic cotton fibre into beautiful handmade garments.’
This is the company that I frequent the most, as they sell a fantastic range of well designed practical clothing for men, women and children. They operate on a truly circular supply chain, with all products made from natural and recycled materials, using renewable materials and designed to be sent back when worn out. New products are made from recovered materials.
Their factory is on the Isle of Wight, and the t-shirts rather amazingly are made in real time, after they are ordered. They only make what people actually need, when they need it.
I can also personally vouch for the organic cotton knickers. They are cut really well, making them comfortable and flattering. I have my eye on this oversized coat, perfect for dog walking!
Beautiful, bold skirts, dresses and other clothes designed in the UK by the charismastic Kemi Telford. This quote sums up the company - The clothes we design and sell are more than just stylish clothes; they are loud, bold and tell the whole world, “Look at me, I am fabulous.”
They work closely with smallscale manufacturers, ensuring fair pay and excellent working conditions. They are transparent about their sustainability values, and improving all of the time with intiatives like using remnant materials to make accessory products, and sending orders in paper packaging and paper tape.
A totally inspiring website! This is me in my Kemi Telford shirt ealier this year.
TwoThirds, located in Barcelona (international shopping available) design a sustainable clothing line made ethically in Portugal. They place great emphasis on the materials they use, constantly analysing and searching for better alternatives that will reduce environmental impact. They also carry out a great deal of work on marine preservation.
I bought two jumpers from them last year, the yellow stripy number you can see below and one of the cute whale jumpers. They are really well made and warm, and I wear them all of the time. I really love the Sibu knit pictured below left (62.40 euros) - this may well make it onto my birthday list (October)!
Bibico is a small sustainable clothing company based in Bath. The clothing is designed by its founder, Snow, and made ethically by producers that they know and trust.
‘I had been designing for major high st clothing brands for over 10 years and had become disillusioned by the industry how it had changed in 10 years from producing 4 collections per year to churning out new collections every week. The clothes were cheaper but the quality was worse and there was no consideration for the people producing these clothes.’
Bibico is new to me, and I am yet to try any of their clothes out myself. A couple of my favourite items from this season’s collection are the Gracie Floaty Skirt (£59) and the Elena Organic Pinaford Dress (£49).
Celtic & Co
If you’re at outdoorsy person and are looking for clothes and boots to keep you really warm this Winter, then Celtic & Co is a great place to start. Almost all of their products are manufactured in Great Britain, using organic or natural fibres. ‘Celtic & Co. has been an eco friendly company since it first began and we run every aspect of our business in the most responsible way we can.’
Whilst their clothes are on the more expensive side of affordable, I would definitely consider investing in a really warm jumper dress that I know I would wear for years to come. Their boots are handmade in a purpose built factory in Cornwall by a team of skilled craftspeople.
Supersoft Slouch Dress £98
The Essential Leather Ankle Boot £145
A similar offering to Celtic & Co, the mens clothing is particularly impressive. They are also in the process of swapping all of their packaging over to plastic-free. This is a great company for a quality, timeless piece of clothing that will basically last for many many years.
They have just launched a Zero Waste clothing collection, and I love the stripy tops. A great gift for the man in your life!
Nancy Dee Clothing
Another new and exciting discovery, I find this collection to be the most edgy and stylish of all those mentioned. The clothes are designed and made in Great Britain using eco friendly fabrics. Inspirational stuff!
In addition to my top picks, here are a number of other brands that are also on my shopping list;
The Wise House (yours truly) - basic organic cotton tops and t-shirts that can be used for day and nightwear. Organic cotton slogan ‘WISE’ sweatshirts, with £5 from each purchase going to ‘Surfers Against Sewage’.
Finisterre - practical outdoor wear, originally designed for surfers and now extending to a range of warm clothing for men and women. All sustainably made.
Patagonia - another outdoor clothing company
Mayamiko - gorgeous African inspired fabrics with a modern twist, ethically handmade in Malawi.
Thought Clothing - sustainable organic clothing. I do rather like the Bamboo Slacks.
Noctu - Gorgeous organic cotton nightwear and lounge bottoms, manufactured in the UK.
I will also give a mention to big brand Tommy Hilfinger. When you have teenagers they generally want clothing by the big brands. TH is the only one I have found whose tees, underwear and tops are organic cotton as standard, and their packaging has less packaging than other brands. This is a good compromise!
If you know of any other ethical fashion brands that you can add to our list, then please leave in the comments section below or on social media and help to spread the word.
A MUST SEE! The Wardrobe To Die For - Lucy Siegle. TED Talk. https://youtu.be/YglyHzvBqpA
Stella McCartney, Desert Island Discs BBC Radio 4 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08vxjth