Clothes shopping used to be a rare event. You shopped when you outgrew your clothes, when the seasons changed, or if you had a special occasion. But in the past two decades, clothes have become cheaper, fad cycles faster, and shopping is seen as a ‘hobby’.
‘Fast fashion’ is a term used to describe very cheap, trendy clothing that mimics ‘looks’ from the runway and turns these into garments to be sold in high street shops at breakneck speed. The idea is that consumers get almost instant access to the latest trends on the market as soon as they become popular. And then, because they are so cheap, discard them after just a few wears.
Fast fashion plays into the popular belief that wearing the same thing is a fashion faux pas. For our planet, this is a toxic system that has made fashion one of the world’s largest polluters and consumers of oil; depleting non-renewable sources and using massive amounts of water and energy, toxic textile dyes and often inhumane production conditions.
In 2013, our reality check came in the form of the tragic Rana Plaza incident, where a clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed over a thousand workers. At that moment, consumers started questioning where their clothes came from and the ‘real cost’ of their $6 t-shirts.
Today, there is a growing army of fashion-forward eco-warriors who are fed up with their clothing purchases fuelling the darker side of fashion. But, what are you to do when you have a passion for fashion and sustainability?
Our most fashion-forward Cogoer, Elle Woods, shares how she gets her ‘fashion fix’ in a more responsible way.
“Since age 8, I’ve had an all-consuming passion for fashion. I was the kid who was always wearing not-on-trend things to class (like pink and purple plaid flares with a matching pink mohair jumper).
I looked forward to birthdays when we got to pick out new clothes or grandparents coming back from overseas trips with gifts (including a black and white shift dress - very Posh Spice) and anything I could get my hands on from my grandmother who lived in the UK.
I soon became obsessed with getting new clothes because growing up, we primarily wore secondhand clothes or hand-me-downs, which along with my pink and purple plaid flares, were considered ‘not very cool’ in the 90’s/00s.
My family have always said I have expensive taste, so I never succumbed to ‘fast fashion’, mostly because of my love for good quality. In my later teenage years, with the rise of indie culture and an increasing payslip, my views on secondhand clothing went from ‘embarrassing’ to ‘this is amazing and unique’, and ‘I can find things I desire for a price I can afford’.
I started purchasing from ethically made international brands and New Zealand designers, including Kate Sylvester, Twenty Seven Names and my absolute favourite Maggie Marilyn who famously produces ‘pieces you reach for, over and over’. The latter introduced me to the idea of sustainable fashion along with Aja Barber and her most recently published book, ‘Consumed’.
From Aja’s book: “The constant need to consume is built off the back of you, the consumer, and your lack of awareness about your habit, and the need you have built inside you to chase a better and improved version of yourself, which you can then project to the world.”
Aja challenged my model of buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, and justifying it by saying ‘it’s ethically made’ or ‘it’s secondhand’.
I knew I couldn’t go cold turkey on fashion, so at the start of 2022, I set myself a new goal. I would only allow myself to buy 12 items for the whole year, and if they were new, they had to be made out of natural fibres. I initially planned on buying eight secondhand items and four new items, but over the course of the year, I re-thought this limitation and decided that if I saw a new item that I thought would have good longevity in my wardrobe, then it was worth the purchase.
Flicking through fashion magazines, scrolling Instagram, and my regular Sunday morning coffee digest of British Vogue definitely make it harder to keep to my goal because I’m like a magpie when it comes to clothes. I see something, and I want it and dream about it for days. But now, I have also learnt to figure out how I could recreate a look or make it my own with what I have in my wardrobe.
Buying less hasn’t just been good for my bank account and the planet but also for my mindset and personal style. Suddenly, every item I want to add has to be considered. This year, I’ve bought some of the best pieces I’ve ever owned. From a gorgeous secondhand black silk, pistachio-lined smoking jacket by Martin Grant to an early 00s Prada number. And my favourite shoes ever, Ganni loafers with a little sparkle. These items will live in my wardrobe forever.
I feel like I’ve come to appreciate fashion even more by reducing my consumption and trying to buy second hand items, whether in stores like Soup in Wellington, or online through Designer Wardrobe, or potentially cheating the system by inheriting items from my boyfriend's extensive wardrobe.
Here at Cogo’s Wellington office, we are holding a clothes swap to celebrate ‘Second hand September’, which is another great way to celebrate fashion, save money and reduce waste, because the best place to shop is in your own wardrobe (or perhaps someone else's).
Outfit whilst writing: Aforementioned and adored Ganni loafers, secondhand shirt from boyfriend’s wardrobe, sample sale silk Twenty Seven names dress and my favourite vintage flower clip on pearl earrings.