For many people within the vegan community, they chose to go vegan for the environment. Animal agriculture is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, beaten only by the consumption of fossil fuels. Roughly a third of all of the Earth’s non-ice land is used to raise the 70 billion livestock animals needed to meet demand, and this in turn causes large amounts of deforestation to make enough space for these animals to grow. A study showed that beef consumption caused on average 1,984 pounds of CO2 emissions annually, and by swapping beef for plants, this cut C02 emissions by 96%.
But one of the other biggest drains on our environment is that of fast fashion. Fast fashion is a term used to describe fashion trends that quickly follow any new runway season. Large retailers, such as Zara, H&M and New Look are the most prominent in the fast fashion industry, as they churn out new collections at least 3 times a year. IN 2018, the fashion industry contributed 8% of all man-made greenhouse gases. While 8% may not seem like much, that is still more than both aviation and shipping combined!
The other issue that arises with fast fashion is that of sweat shops. Due to the cheap labour that can come from sweat shops, many companies will outsource their labour to places such as Bangladesh and Cambodia. The labour is cheap, so it keeps their overall costs down and means that they can turn a bigger profit. However the issue with sweat shops is that the workers are almost always in poor working conditions, with little to no health and safety protection and for very small wage. Everyone knows that sweatshops exist and that they are not appropriate working places for anyone int his modern world, but unfortunately our desire to constantly be consuming the latest fashion trends means that sweatshops remain open and in business. Sweat shops are also a cestpool for exploitation and wage theft, where people are forced to work in terrible conditions because they have no other option, and also do not have the proper employment infrastructure in place to adequately protect their interests while working for these industries.
Veganism itself is, by definition, a way of living that causes the least amount of harm. This does not exist purely for the animals. Do not get me wrong, I love fashion. I have had a subscription to Vogue since I was 14 and have spent so many hours admiring the beautiful collections that have been created over the years. I am also human, and sometimes there is no greater joy in the world than finding that perfect dress that makes you feel like a princess or a pair of jeans that fit both your hips, waist and your butt perfectly! But I cannot ignore the fact that those perfect jeans were made by exploited members of our world, and that by buying them I am undoubtedly contributing and perpetuating their exploitation.
But what can be done? In reality we cannot simply not buy clothes, because walking around naked is still illegal (or at least highly frowned upon) in almost every country in the world. And our bodies will also undoubtedly change as we go through life, from growing as children to adults, to pregnancy, to weight gain, to weight loss, to old age. Our bodies are constantly changing and therefore we will need clothes for each of these stages in our lives. The struggle is very real, because the main issue starts at the very top: Fashion designers and makers need to start creating collections that focus on sustainability and longevity, rather than items that can be worn twice and thrown away. Admittedly a lot of companies are now working towards this, with the Paris Agreement coming into force in 2015 and giving many companies, including those within the fashion industry, a good kick up the butt to get their sustainability plans in order to cut their carbon emissions to 0 by 2050.
But what can you do as a lay person?
In recent years the idea of ‘thrifting’ has become a lot more mainstream, but it also serves a very important role in society. I personally, have bought almost all of my clothing second hand over the last 2-3 years, with the only exception being underwear (for obvious reasons!). Charity stores, good will and even apps such as DePop and eBay can have beautiful items of clothing, in great condition that cost more than half the price if you were to buy it in store. The money also goes to charities, so in some cases it can be like giving a donation and getting a pretty little outfit in return. And what’s not to love about that?! It can also work in your favour, as any clothes that you have outgrown (especially children’s clothes) you can always use online places or car boot sales to sell unwanted clothing, therefore giving the clothes another chance at life while putting a little bit of extra money in your pocket.
A Miss Selfridge beaded dress that would usually retail for around £100, I managed to buy for £17 from a lovely lady on eBay. It fits me like a glove and lets me live my Gatsby Fantasy! It is beautiful and I love it and will never wear any item of clothing ever again. I will be married in this dress, I will be buried in this dress, and I will carry it with me into the after life.
Sometimes, no matter how much you love an item of clothing, you just outgrow it. Or you see the ideal outfit in a charity shop only to realise that it is the completely wrong size for you. In these cases, you can do what is sometimes called a ‘thrift flip’ and you can turn an item of clothing into a whole new outfit with just some basic sewing skills. Not only does this mean that you get even more wear out of your clothing, it will also teach you a valuable skill that means that you can personalise and save your own clothes from having to go to landfill. If you need inspiration, there are hundreds of incredible talented people on YouTube who can show you some ideas and teach you some of the more basic sewing skills to get you started.
3. Quality over quantity
Now I appreciate that I am saying this from a rather privileged position, in that I can chose to shop at slightly more expensive stores because I earn enough to do so. As much as I love Primark for it’s cheap vests and t-shirts, I know that it only costs £2 because it will probably only last me about 3 months before it starts to fall apart. One of the ways I shop is that I go for a well built item of clothing, even if it is not the cheapest item out there. For example, I have a knit jumper that I bought from H&M around 10 years ago and IT IS STILL GOING STRONG. I would honestly be lost without this jumper and it has gotten me through some seriously cold English winters without fail. One of my most expensive purchases was a Ted Baker cape coat, which I purchased 7 years ago, which I still break out every single winter because it is the warmest, most snuggly coat that I have ever found. Plus it is absolutely beautiful and timeless, which means that it never goes out of style and looks amazing with everything that I wear.
4. By sale items or from outlet
Following on from my Ted Baker coat, I also bought this from an outlet store, so while I still paid a decent amount of money for it (around £120 if I remember correctly), it was way cheaper than if I had bought it directly from the store as soon as it was released. The joy of outlets and sale items is that it saves you a lot of money overall, while also preventing clothing from ending up at landfill. Recently, if I have had to buy anything new, I only shop during the sales and only buy it if it is on sale. If I can stop at least some clothes from just being sent to landfill, then I might as well save myself a few quid in the process!
5. Buy timeless items of clothing
Again, not everyone has the privilege of buying items that are timeless: Kids for example will outgrow an item of clothing as soon as you buy it. But if you are just shopping for you, buy items that you know will never go out of style or that you know you will never fall out of love with. Most fashion trends are cyclical, and will no doubt come back around in a year or two. If someone had told 5 year old me that those jelly shoes I adored would still be really cool when I was 25, I’d have laughed at you! I only buy clothing that fit my personal style and that I know that I can wear multiple times, for multiple occasions, that fit with multiple other outfits. For example, I have a Topshop blazer that is pink check (Think if Clueless and Legally Blonde had a fashion baby) that I bought about 2 years ago for £60, and to this day I still get a stupid smile on my face when I put it on. It is preppy but sophisticated and also makes me feel like an absolute dream when I wear it. And since the majority of my wardrobe is either black or pink, it goes with everything else that I own!
6. Invest in a capsule wardrobe
Now this one will take a while, and there is a lot of research and trial and error that needs to go into one. Again, you can find inspiration on YouTube and the wider web. A capsule wardrobe is essentially a wardrobe that consist of around 30 items of clothing that are interchangeable with one another, meaning that you no longer have to think about what you are wearing. If you wake up late for work, you can throw on any skirt with any top and know that it will look amazing. You can wear the same dress to a wedding one weekend, to a work do the next, to drinks with friends afterwards. The idea of a capsule wardrobe is to not only take out one stress in your life (such as spending most nights planning what you’re going to wear the next day) and also cut down on your consumption of fashion: If one of your shirts is beyond saving, you know that you only need to replace one top, rather than changing up your entire wardrobe. Capsule wardrobes are also really flexible and personal, so can work for anyone. Granted they do take some time to sort out, but the process can be a fun and creative process that allows you to truly develop your own sense of personal style.
7. One in, one out
Another rule I follow is that if I buy a new item of clothing, I have to donate/sell another item. One great incentive for this is that if you see a dress that you absolute adore, and know that you will get a lot of wear out of it in the coming years, then have a look through your wardrobe to see if there is an item of clothing that you haven’t actually worn in a while. My favourite way to do this is to turn all of my hanger hooks around at the start of the year/month. I go about my life as normal, and if in 3 months, I realise that I haven’t worn a few items of clothing I take them out and reassess. Why haven’t I worn them? At the start of this year I did a massive clearout and sold/donated at least half of my wardrobe. I have now spent the past 6 months finding items of clothing for my own capsule wardrobe and don’t feel bad about having an overstuffed wardrobe because I already removed so many items that were just wasting away.
8. Look after your clothing
This one may be obvious but it does pay to learn how to properly look after your clothing. Dry clean what needs to be dry cleaned. Hand wash what needs to be hand washed. Now granted, I have been the same size since I was about 13 years old (give or take a few pounds!) but the majority of my wardrobe I have had for years: I have some tops that I have owned since sixth form that still look brand new today, and dresses that I have worn to countless social events over the years that never go out of style. I have also learnt basic clothing repair and alterations: If a dress becomes too short or no longer hangs right, I can turn it into a skirt/top combo instead and wear the pieces separately. Needless to say, the better you look after your clothing, the longer they will last you and the better for the environment this can be.
Side note: I will be the first to admit that my wardrobe is probably not 100% vegan. I’m certain a few of my jumpers contain wool and I also have a pair of leather Doc Martins that I have owned since I was about 17. But as with all things, veganism is not an all or nothing: If you do own something that contains animal products, if it something that you wear everyday and you love it, then keep wearing it. Wear it until it literally turns to dust. The worst thing to do would be to simply be wasteful with it. As I said, I have items of clothing that I have owned for years that I am certain contain some form of animal product, but the clothing is still in perfect condition, it still fits, and I still love it. I will not just bin it, because then it means that the animal was wasted. It just teaches me to be more mindful of what I am buying and to double check where my clothing is coming from.
I hope this helps and if you need any more information let me know. I can point you in the direction of some of my favourite YouTubers or tips for bidding on eBay. Also let me know if you have found any other tips that help you buy clothes in a more sustainable manner so I can implement them into my own life. Happy clothes hunting lovelies!