10 tips to turn your back on fast fashion

In the UK we see a model of fashion consumption based on buy-use-dispose, which wreaks havoc on the environment and on workers’ rights.

This article gives you 10 tips on how to move away from this fast fashion model.

In the UK we consume clothing faster than any other country in Europe and produce around 206.456 tonnes of textile waste in a year, making us the fourth largest textile waste producer in the continent. 

This article looks at 10 simple ways you can move away from fast fashion and help reduce the impact on the environment. 

1. Make a second-hand pledge. Buy only second-hand for a year.

Producing new clothing has a significant carbon footprint: just one new pair of jeans is equivalent to driving 50 miles. Extending the lifecycle of an item of clothes by even just an extra nine months can reduce the relative carbon, water and waste impacts of that garment by 20-30%.

A second-hand pledge can be a good way to make yourself commit to no new clothing for a length of time. Extinction Rebellion is asking people not to buy any new clothes for a year. TRAID encourages people to take its #Secondhandfirst pledge and commit to sourcing a chosen percentage of their wardrobe second-hand rather than buying new.

2. Upcycle

On average, each person throws away eight items of clothing every year. In 2018, this added up to 300,000 tonnes of textiles just from the UK - which is equivalent to the weight of almost 30 Eiffel towers. 

Instead of throwing clothes away, you could adapt them. Or buy second-hand and alter them to fit you. For example, if you’re hesitant to buy items like jeans second-hand because you’re worried about getting the right fit, buy a pair that you know will be a bit too big and use an online tutorial to downsize them.

The Love Your Clothes website has lots of great information on upcycling and repairs.

3. Make a Pinterest board but only include looks that you can create with clothes you own already.

Sustainable fashion influencer Aja Barber said her biggest tip for learning to love your existing clothes “is to find your personal style.”

The Project Cece ethical fashion website suggests asking yourself before you buy whether you will wear a piece of clothing 50 times. If not, don’t buy it.

Pile of folded clothes of different colours

4. Swap clothes with friends - or lend them out if you don’t want to part with them permanently. 

If you have a group of friends who live near each other, you can hold a clothing swap party. It doesn’t matter if you have different styles, tastes or sizes as it might encourage someone to alter or upcycle an item to make it suit them.

5. Clear out your wardrobe.

If you find this hard to do, tie a piece of string to all the items of clothing you haven’t recently worn. Only take it off if you wear them. If the piece of string is still on them twelve months later, give them to charity or organise a swap shop for them. 

This will give you a sense of how much surplus you already have in your wardrobe, and an opportunity to feed back into the circular clothing economy. 

Lauren Bravo, author of ‘How to break up with fast fashion’ suggests that you should “Interrogate those unloved garms, and be honest. Is it the colour? The shape? The length? A fabric that has you sweating like old lettuce by lunchtime? Did you buy it for an invitation that never arrived, or a lifestyle you don’t lead? Is it emotional collateral, bought out of insecurity, sadness, hunger or boredom?” This way you can avoid a foolish purchase again.

6. Limit the number of items you have.

Another approach is to limit the number of items you have. Project 333 suggests wearing just 33 items for 3 months, and the Capsule Wardrobe Challenge is to never own more than 37 items. 

Setting a hard limit on how many clothes you own can be a good way to prevent yourself shopping, and also be a stress-relief: many suggest that minimalism and owning less can be a way to clear headspace as well as physical clutter. 

7. Spend an evening dressing up. 

The average person wears 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. Lauren Bravo therefore also suggests putting aside time to try on old clothes and create new outfits - you might discover new combinations and be able to pull out your style. 

It can be a good thing to do with friends, who will spot different options to you, and it might also be an opportunity for clothes swapping.

Person sewing button on shirt

8. Look after your existing clothing. 

Even if we love our clothes, we often replace them once they lose their shape, get holes or go bobbly. By buying higher quality clothes and washing them at a lower temperature (30 degrees) and less often, our clothing will last much longer. Some people actually suggest you should never wash your jeans (to maintain the shape, as well as the environment)!

If your clothing does wear out, check that there isn’t a way to fix it. Holes can be patched or darned, and bobbles on jumpers can be carefully removed using a razor.

Otherwise, use the material to make reusable cotton pads or dish scrubbers, or storage baskets, or bowl covers.

9. Use our rankings.

If you do need to buy new, use our guides to choose the most ethical brands.

In our guide to sustainable high street clothes shops we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 44 brands like ASOS, H&M, Next and Primark. We look at issues like fast fashion and workers' rights and give our Best Buy recommendations.

Our ethical clothing retailers guide reviews 44 ethical brands you won't see on the high street but which are all deliberately taking a stand on issues such as sustainable fabrics, animal rights and fair trade. All the brands in this guide are good options if you do need to buy new clothes.

10. Use clothing apps.

Although ethical clothing is a step in the right direction, and some brands are beginning to address the need for a circular economy, they can’t solve all the issues.

The clothing apps we highlight below support buying second-hand and moving towards a truly reusable circular model.

a) Depop

What does Depop do?

Depop is a platform for buying and selling second-hand and handmade clothing. The app was founded in 2011 and has 18 million users. Available clothing ranges from pre-loved designer and branded items to home-made pieces, as well as accessories such as bags, shoes and jewellery. 

Clothes available on Depop are often made by fast fashion brands that do not use sustainable methods of production in the manufacture of their clothing. There is concern that buying second-hand therefore indirectly fuels the fast fashion industry. However, Depop is still a useful app for extending the life of garments. 

Possible problems with the app:

  • Some sellers stock up on unused fast fashion items in order to sell them.
  • Some clothing on Depop can be more expensive than it’s worth. It is common for users to buy up clothing from well known brands only to ramp up the prices and profit from clothing that they know will sell well.
  • If you’re buying high street brands you’re arguably still voting with your wallet and promoting designs that are energy and water intensive, and therefore contributing to the problem.

So what can you do to avoid these issues?

  • When using the app you could buy exclusively from sellers that only sell worn clothing.
  • You could search for quality clothing that is produced by ethical brands on the app rather than feeding high demand for short-lasting fast fashion clothing.
image: sojo app repair seamstress josephine
Sojo founder Josephine Philips

b) Sojo

What does Sojo do?

Sojo is a London-based clothing alteration service that collects and delivers to your door. The service aims to increase the lifespan of pre-existing clothing and the company has been designed with people and planet in mind.

When you enter your postcode, you select your seamster from a list of local tailors. You get to know who’s tailoring your clothes through the ‘about’ section, as well as their price list. From that point onwards you effectively describe what you need doing to your clothing using a series of dropdown boxes that provide you with options for alterations.

The fact that Sojo ‘onboards’ local seamsters means that by using the app, you’re supporting local businesses that have been running for years. It’s great that the app uses this model rather than using new entrants and undercutting their business.

The downside of Sojo is that they’re London-based, and don’t do alterations outside of the London area. Still, the app is a good example of what could be done to draw more business to local tailors. Clothing could last much longer nationwide if the model was to be replicated in other cities.

Last November Sojo founder Josephine Philips commented, “once I’ve proved the model works, I’d then love to grow to Brighton, Bristol, and throughout the UK!”.

Sojo is a black-owned, female-owned business. Under the heading ‘Our community’, Sojo says that it seeks to promote other female-owned and black-owned businesses.

When asked what is most important to her about Sojo being a black-woman-owned company, Philips answered “I can build a company that emulates my values, create the company culture that I believe in, and hire people that aren’t the typical tech employees (cis-straight-white-men) in the true knowledge that diversity is a power instead of a box-tick.” 

c) Good On You

What does Good On You do?

Good On You allows app users to look-up ethical brand ratings in the fashion sector. They also publish articles that highlight sustainable clothing labels and promote better practice for the environment. However their rating system isn’t necessarily very robust, and some brands score better than they would do with our ethical ratings.  

Though a similar concept to what we do at Ethical Consumer, Good On You has a rating system that is somewhat simpler than our 20 point scoring system. The app uses a five star system, and offers discounts for brands that score 5/5 (Great) and 4/5 (Good). 

Good On You only considers the issues of people, planet and animals, omitting issues that come under politics such as tax avoidance. Furthermore, they aren’t very transparent about how they rate companies. Instead of reporting on each individual rating and setting out the impact that this had on the score, the app offers a brief summary of findings under the headings ‘environment’, ‘labour’ and ‘animal rights’. 

Additional research by Sophie Billington.