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How retail therapy is damaging the planet more than your bank account

Fashion’s environmental impact is on par with the oil industry. As an ever-growing issue, this is no longer an excuse, and our global impact may be simply deep rooted in our wardrobes. We are blinded daily by the effects of marketing on social media, tempting emails, and luring window displays, to the straining effect fashion is having on our planet. As a result, this lack of exposure in the media prevents consumers understanding the scale of damage our mass consumption is contributing to the planet.

There are summits for global warming, taxes on plastic bags and sugar, but fashion? It seems to be hiding within the cracks. Sure, brands like H&M and Monki have recycling incentives in exchange for store credit, but there are few long term eco- friendly production methods shared amongst the industry; notably, to reduce water usage or chemical waste. Our insatiable appetite for fashion in this fast-paced industry struggles to face the environmental impact head on. As a result, Indonesia and Kazakhstan, just some countries where production is cheaper, suffer significantly.

Along the Citarum River, Indonesia, over 400 textiles factories are established. They release toxic chemicals into the waterways every day, contributing to the ‘the dirtiest river in the world’. 28million people rely on this heavily polluted water for drinking, bathing and washing clothes. The heavy metals found in the water have the potential to cause long term health problems such as disturbing the function of the brain.

In Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea has tremendously shrunk due to the diversion of water for irrigation and developments in cotton farming. Cotton is “the most used fibre in textiles produced in the EU and totals 43% of all clothing sold” However, it is largely water intensive causing significant shortages. Staggeringly, it takes up to15,000 litres of water to grow the cotton for a pair of jeans. To put this into perspective, 450 million jeans are sold each year in America alone. With population growth estimated at 8.5 billion by 2030, we are looking at a water scarce planet.

However, hope is not lost. With the modern technology of today, some companies like Renewcell and Worn Again have developed methods to turn used cotton into biodegradable pulp, new fibers and fabrics. Swedish company Renewcell is making this a reality. Their, “process of recycling cotton fibers and viscose fibers uses less water and chemicals, emits less CO2 and prolongs the usage of the world’s resources.”  Essentially, they strip the garments made of cotton and viscose from their original form: shredding, de-buttoning and de-colouring them to form a semi liquid mixture. Next, the contaminants are separated and the mixture is ready to be dried. Once dried, it forms a pulp which can be packaged in bundles, ready to enter the textiles production cycle.

It is clear that sustainability is within our reach and can be implemented into our methods of producing. But, it is at the power of brands to promote this forward thinking and lead many others in this collective effort to drastically redefine textile production.

Living in London, a fashion capital, retail therapy is simply at your doorstep. Yet, sometimes forgotten are the eclectic side streets hidden within this dynamic city. Dalston, Brick Lane and many more are home to an array of vintage and charity shops. There are a mass of  opportunities to bargain iconic or limited pieces whilst contributing to a good cause. Some places like East End Vintage Clothing, offer buying reclaimed garments by the kilo, making the most of your money whilst promoting fashion sustainability.

Atika, formerly known as Blitz is a vintage store located in the heart of Brick Lane. Bursting with character and charisma from its staff to the endless variety of clothing found in store, I was interested from an immersive industry perspective, their approach to fashion sustainability. I met with the manager Jordan and asked him a few questions:

Is there a target market you aim for, or is there a particular age group which shop at this store?

No. Which is what I think makes us different from other vintage stores, because our target audience is literally everyone. We get so many tourists come in (picks up item from rack) and they don’t care about cropped cycle jerseys. They think this is a super cool shop so they come in and buy! We have stock for everyone to buy, experimental style, and some that are a bit more edgy, and then we have basic knitwear.

Do you feel that vintage wear is becoming a trend?

I don’t think its necessarily a trend, even though strangely in a way it is. As a whole, we don’t feel like people are aspiring to follow a trend when they come into our shop, they’ll go to Topshop and their vintage section which isn’t necessarily vintage.

What can be done by retailers to promote fashion sustainability to change the attitude of consumers?

They need to stop getting rid of things because they’re out of season! I get it won’t always sell, but here for example we keep getting people in. Men for example asking for denim shorts, we would sell that product if it hadn’t have sold out, whereas Topshop, Zara etc, as soon as it hits mid September, summer stock is gone (off the shop floor) and it’s all Autumn Winter stuff. I think it’s annoying because people want to buy the clothes they want, not just because they’re ‘going on holiday’. If someone wants a silk shirt, they want a silk shirt, not because its summer. Places are too afraid to pack their shops, take all your stock out and you will make more money. Our stock room is full but the shop is heaving.

Contributing my part, I created a series of outfits each embedded with at least one item that is vintage, from the charity shop, or previously worn by my parents.

look 2 pt 1
look 2 pt 2
look 1 pt 1
look 1 pt 2
look 3 pt 2
look 4 pt 1
look 4 pt 2

Outfit 1: pictures 1 and 2

Jumper: previously owned by mum

Jeans: Warehouse

Shoes: Dr Martens 1461s

Bag: Vintage Fendi

Outfit 2: pictures 3 and 4

T shirt: Topshop

Trousers: Columbia Cargos from the charity shop

Belt: Calvin Klein from the charity shop

Shoes: Nike TNs

Outfit 3: pictures 5 and 6

T shirt: Charity shop

Mesh top: Zara

Jeans: Weekday

Shoes: Nike TNs

Bag: previously owned by mum

Outfit 4: pictures 6 and 7

Suede Bomber Jacket: Urban Outfitters

Trousers: Vintage from Hereafter Vintage, Bricklane

Belt: Chain from the fabric store

Boots: Office

All photos taken by Selin Sahinoglu



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