“The fashion industry has to be revolutionised, it’s completely unsustainable”

19 May 2019

Photograph: Preloved Kilo

More than 20 shops in Glasgow are selling second-hand, unique, and low-priced, clothing to take a stand and reduce carbon emissions caused by clothing production

Fashion has become such a competitive industry, with people not wanting to be seen in the same outfit more than once, that it has created it’s very own sub-industry, fast fashion. Whilst it has enabled consumers to purchase fashionable goods at low prices, it does mean that somebody wearing the exact same outfit as you might just stroll down the street alongside you. As well as this obvious fashion faux pas, the industry is damaging to the environment.

So fashion lovers are now looking for more unique and sustainable ways to buy clothes, and some shops are trying to change the vogue by taking a stand against fast fashion.

In Glasgow city centre there are already more than 20 charity and vintage shops selling second-hand, unique, and low-priced options.

On the other side of the Clyde, a seven minute walk from Rutherglen train station, there is a little second-hand and swap shop called R:evolve Recycle. The shop is part of LEAP, a charity providing services to older people in South Lanarkshire. The project started in 2015 with one shop based in Rutherglen and has grown into two more shop boutiques in Cambuslang and Hamilton.

Victoria Johnsen is the carbon literacy coordinator of the project and is responsible for R:evolve activities. She said: “R:evolve Recycle is an ambitious and innovative circular economy project, aiming to get people to think differently about their clothing, reduce consumption, cut landfill waste and minimise our carbon footprint. We are on a mission to bring back sharing, swapping, and a make-do-and-mend culture, creating a sense of togetherness and community spirit.

“We currently have nearly 6,000 members using our shops and attending workshops, and we are averaging 400 swaps a week across our shops – that all adds up to over 20 tonnes of textiles diverted from landfill every year.”

But how does the swapping work?

Anyone can join for free as a member and start swapping unwanted clothing, shoes, and accessories for points. Johnsen said: “The swapping system works on a simple 1,2,3 basis; all children’s wear is 1 point, men and women’s [clothes] are 2 points, dresses and coats are 3 points. You earn points for everything you donate and can then use it to ‘spend’ on other preloved items.”

Swapping system at R:evolve. Photograph: Sofia Teixeira Santos

Besides just swapping, you can also have a go at changing and fixing your clothes at R:evolve shops with repair, sewing, upcycling, and textile craft workshops that help people learn new skills.

“We charge a very minimal cost for these workshops, just enough to cover costs for us, as the important part is passing on skills from one generation to the next, and teaching people to care for their clothes and keep them in circulation for longer,” said Johnsen.

Craft workshop in Rutherglen. Video: Sofia Teixeira Santos

She added: “We generate a small amount of income ourselves through our classes, and by holding pop-up sales of stock. But the bulk of our funding comes from the Climate Challenge Fund, a Scottish government fund designed to support carbon reduction projects.”

One year ago, R:evolve Recycle participated in an eco-friendly fashion show to showcase second-hand clothes.

“The fashion show was very successful in helping us reach a new audience,” said Johnsen.

She added: “People love the idea that they can donate their clothes and get something in return! A lot of our customers are initially attracted to us by the look of our shops or our window displays and actually come in to ask how much something costs – when they learn everything is free they can’t believe it!”

Although buying second-hand has become a trend in recent years, the majority of the population still buy clothes in fast fashion shops. Johnsen considers it important to “encourage people to look back at the skills and love involved in hand making or upcycling a unique garment. Fashion should be about developing your own style, and creating beautiful garments that will be loved and reloved.”

Some campaigns like #5waystowear or #30wears are now encouraging people to use the same clothes more than once. “[It is] great because they show that you don’t need a new cheap outfit every day,” said Johnsen.

“The more we can encourage people to buy less the better. For this to happen, sustainable fashion needs to be seen as accessible, as mainstream, and as desirable. We’re really excited to work with as many people as we can to build a really strong network across Glasgow and Scotland, and show people that sustainable fashion is the future,” she added.

Make do and mend. Photograph: Sofia Teixeira Santos

Lara McLarnon is a 35-year-old care worker from Dunbartonshire and decided to try the craft workshop for the first time because she wanted to fix, change and reuse some of her old clothes.

“Apart from underwear and socks, all of my clothes, including footwear, I either buy second hand in charity shops, car boot sales or vintage markets, or swap in R:evolve or Govanhill Swap Market,” she said.

A lot of people are now using the Marie Kondo method to declutter and give away the clothes that they don’t need, usually to charity shops. McLarnon did not say if she is considering using that method, but she said that her “goal over the next year is to reduce [her clothes] to the essentials only, to declutter and help reduce unnecessary spending.”

“It seems [sustainable fashion] is gaining momentum and popularity. The massive rise in ‘make do and mend’ culture and veganism also helps draw attention to this, and these trends probably complement one another well,” said McLarnon when asked what she thinks about sustainable fashion.

She added: “As more people opt for lifestyle changes such as veganism – very well accommodated for in Glasgow – the more they realise it is affordable and the more popular it will become.”

McLarnon thinks people would start buying more if brands “emphasise the affordability of this lifestyle choice. If people can be made aware that it could help them cut back on spending, it may even boost morale and help people feel more empowered as consumers, with the feel good factor of making conscious lifestyle choices!”

Preloved Kilo sale. Photograph: Preloved Kilo

Another way to find unique clothes for an extremely reasonable price are kilo sales. Preloved Kilo is a kilo sale company that “started out with the managing directors picking up items from charity shops and selling them on Ebay,” said Paul Procter, marketing manager of the company.

As Procter explained, the company members handpick “every single one of the items” worldwide and then sell them on at their events across the UK.

Procter said that the concept of the company is based on “purchasing second-hand clothing via weight instead of individually priced items.” He added: “We run over 100 events a year [and] visit two cities every weekend. When the stock arrives to our warehouse, we wash and grade it, we then re-pack it ready for our events.”

Preloved Kilo, a small family-owned company, stopped 200 tonnes of clothing going to the landfill in the last year alone.

“Now just imagine if the kilo sale was a widely appreciated concept. The only reason people don’t want to shop with us is the stigma of second-hand clothing,” said Procter.

He added: “If something has been produced (leather, denim) and has already had its effect on the environment then why not keep it in circulation. If you shop with us we can give you the closest to brand new clothing you will see, a lot of items that come to us still have their tags on and you can buy it at a fraction of the price.”

If the price is lower, the quality is higher and the clothing is unique, then why aren’t people buying more items at kilo sales or second-hand shops instead?

Procter said: “The stigma of buying second-hand needs to be overridden, people know that they want a bargain, they just don’t want to be seen finding the bargain.”

“One of the companies that has best got over this is Primark, nobody likes to be seen shopping at Primark (…) but people will because they know it’s cheap. We, as an industry, sell better quality items at around the same price mark, it’s just the way the kilo sale/charity shops are perceived. [The only way is] changing the way that people think,” he added.

The fashion craze has disastrous consequences for the environment and, according to the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries Study, in 2016 the apparel and footwear industries contributed an estimated 8.1% of all global climate impacts (3,990 million metric tons CO2eq).

“The fashion industry has to be revolutionised, it’s completely unsustainable. There are countless stories of companies burning their clothing because they don’t want to devalue the brand rather than see it go to second hand or outlet stores, labour conditions that many people have died in, animal cruelty… The list goes on and all of it has a huge impact not only on people’s lives, but the on the environment,” said Procter.

He added: “If we want to continue to harm people and our planet then carry on producing items in these ways, but if people care as much as they say they do then we have to change our buying behaviours.”

Fashion is for fun, however it should not be a danger to the environment in any way. The fashionistas of Glasgow are waking up to this, which is why there is such high demand in the city for clothing that is made or sourced in ethical and sustainable ways. Some of the best Glasgow based shops want to give already existing garments a new life and in the process create more unique and sustainable wardrobes in the city. It’s looking good for Glasweigan fashion, let’s hope the sustainable fashion trend continues.

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