Today marks the first day of Fashion Revolution Week as well as Earth day, so I’m going to dedicate some words having a yarn about this important calendar week.
Fashion Revolution Week marks the 6th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse which killed 1,138 people and injured many more in 2013. You may have seen the campaign ‘Who made my clothes’ across peoples social media over the past few years and wondered what this white sign with slashed black writing is all about. Fashion Revolution Week actively encourage millions of people to ask brands #whomademyclothes and demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. A great place to start, especially for active shoppers, is the Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide (you can find it here if you fancy a read - it includes New Zealand fashion labels from Kathmandu to Kowtow and grades them from A to F depending on the quality of information available publicly and whether they decided to participate in the survey). I highly recommend this excellent guide as a first port of call - you can even make a note on your iPhone notes of the brands you like and their grade to reference when you go shopping.
However, dig beneath the surface and you’ll find that there are more questions to be asked of our habit of fashion consumption. It’s about more than just how we restock our wardrobe - it’s also about keeping and using the things that we already have. As UK based journalist and consultant Katherine Ormerod said: “Sustainability is something we talk so much about these days and it’s great that we’re all putting pressure on brands to be more environmentally mindful and ethical. But when it comes to actually changing our own behaviour in regards to shopping, so much of it is about your mindset.”
Today, I’d talk about a few ways I try and make those changes in perspective in my own wardrobe. I am someone who has a wardrobe of mainly quality designers - and lots of pieces that have made appearance after appearance year after year. They’ve had cigarette burns, been worn through and even stressed at the seams due to a little unexpected weight gain (oops!). But there are three pieces that particularly stand out of me - almost all of which I’ve been wearing for 10 years plus.
I’d also like to acknowledge that the lovely clothes I own are a privilege and that I have lived a privileged life. A much loved garment does not have to be designer or even a dress. It could be a vintage leather jacket, a trusty band tee or some amazing shoes. The labels are not important here; the amount you wear an item (and how well it lasts) is.
I bought these two dresses in 2006 (a purple and blue Marc by Marc Jacobs dress) and 2011 (a Karen Walker pinky-coral dress). The playsuit was bought for particularly special New Year party (my first proper one) when I was 18 in 2008 (a Zambesi navy playsuit). I’ve basically worn them to death. Yes, they were expensive, but cost per wear, the best value of anything I’ve ever bought.
I first wore this blue and purple Marc Jacobs dress to my ball in 6th form. It was a very special gift from a family member and I was thrilled. I love the length, inspired by Lily Allen with her mid-length dresses and cool-kicks (at the time, bum grazing was the trend). The fabric it’s made from is truly amazing - a kind of taffeta - and has a lovely sheen. Mostly I still fit into it and it looks nice with a white tee under for casual. It’s a very lovely piece, and certainly was pretty nice for a young teenager (although considering how much a custom made ball gown from Kirkaldies & Staines cost back in the day, it probably wasn’t that bad). But the proof is in the pudding as far as costs per wear go. I’ve had many wild evenings in it - and can’t ever see myself throwing it away.
Similarly, the dress that I wore on my 21st has proved to be cheap as chips as far as cost-per-wear goes from Karen Walker’s collection Sound of Music inspired collection. It has a zip all the way up the back and has a lovely gathered waist. The neck has a crossed tie around the throat and I can just imagine running up the Wellington hills warbling “…the hills are alive!!”. When I turned 21 I wore this dress with all my family around me. And now, at 29, I still whip it out for a lovely summers day. I’ve probably worn it 50 plus times. Friends birthdays, nights out - the repeat wears have been endless.
And finally, this year I re-discovered the old playsuit that I wore all those years ago for New Year at the back of my wardrobe. This was my first proper ‘grown-up’ dress. I loved how I felt when I wore it and if you happened to traverse my Facebook photos, you would see there was rarely a day in the Summer of 2008 I wasn’t wearing it. I fished it out of my wardrobe, gave it a good look over, and decided to repair the rip in the silk down the side.
It might have been easier to just call it a day, because I certainly couldn’t have worn it out and about without exposing myself! (The crotch was ruined too).
But then there would be two jumpsuits (one in a landfill and another new one most likely). It’s obviously the most sustainable option. So I took it down to trusty Topline Tailors and asked my pal to see what he could do. A few rounds of overlocking later and it emerged, good as new, ready for another rally.
Getting my jumpsuit repaired also helps preserve the craftsmanship of repairing and ensure expert skills continue to be viable professions. I recently discussed this with Vijay at Dixon Street Shoe Repair in a blog post. I got to support a business I really respect (my mates at Topline) - they are the magicians as far as getting a garment fixed. I continue to wear and repair these outfits because I valued them in the first place. I most probably wouldn’t spend upwards of $60 repairing cheap dresses...which again makes you think about how you invest in your wardrobe.
Not replacing our entire wardrobe each season is one of the best things we can do to be more sustainable. It isn’t hard, but it does require a little forward planning, investment and re-aligning your values. Clothing creates huge waste! It also supports paying people low wages so that we can buy cheap clothes.
While some might say it is too much to spend $300 or more on designer dresses, I think if you know you’ll love something for years to come and it is quality made and the investment will pay itself dividends in how much you wear it. We’ve forgotten the real value of clothes. Our grandmothers simply didn’t have a stuffed wardrobe of skirts, tees and jeans. They had long-lasting well made pieces. Today, we’ve been sold up the river by the idea we need more, more, more. You can layby something, or save up. It actually makes it very special in my experience - delayed gratification can mean an extra buzz when you finally get your paws on that piece you’ll love forever.
Don’t forget to participate in Fashion Revolution Week. The more people who ask #whomademyclothes, the more brands will listen. Use your voice and your power to change the fashion industry. Together we are stronger.