Think Piece: Have We Become More Sustainable Consumers?
Updated: Aug 29
For the past year, the entire world has been living under some form of lockdown. The act of purchasing occasion wear and "dressing up" for events is a hazy memory and the term "office casual" has taken on new significance in the form of a smart blouse paired with our favourite pyjamas and slipper socks.
High-street stores across the globe have been forced to close their doors and the non-existence of social gatherings has meant people have far less incentive to purchase new clothes.
We simply have no need to put on an elaborate outfit only to spend an hour at the local supermarket or take a walk around the neighbourhood. Loungewear is the name of the day; as retail giant ASOS reported its profits rose by 329% during 2020 as lockdown boosted the demand for casual clothing.
The sale of premium brands also increased by 31% last year, which suggests Brits are taking a more sustainable approach to fashion and opting for quality over quantity.
Over the course of 2020, I can't have worn more than 10% of my wardrobe; I bought less than £200 worth of clothes which is unheard of for a pre-corona millennial. These days, I consider myself "dressed up" when wearing a pair of jeans. And no, there is rarely an accompanying "nice top" (jeans & 'nice top' gang, i see u)
Instead, the monotony of lockdown encouraged many people to spring clean their wardrobes; preloved brands had never enjoyed such popularity. Depop, for example, reported that traffic was up 200% year-on-year and turnover doubling globally since 1 April. Agains this backdrop, there appeared to be an endless stream of fast-fashion scandals emerging; from Boohoo's £3.50 hourly rate in unsafe working conditions to PLT's Black Friday sale which featured items for as little as 0.08 pence, offering deals of up to 99% off. The problematic ethics of these brands and their blatant encouragement of unsustainable fast-fashion consumption finally entered mainstream media and many generation Z/millennial consumers began to rethink their excess consumerism,
I began to realise how 90% of my wardrobe is only trotted out biannually; and felt guilty over the volume of single use occasion outfits I had cultivated. Around this time, Instagram users began petitioning to normalise the recycling of outfits and I started to reflect on my own consumer habits. It was starkly obvious when clearing out my wardrobe that every single item I was selling or giving to charity belonged to a fast-fashion brand. Most items were a fad or of such shocking quality that they did not outlast two or three seasons. I found Nasty Gal products were the main culprit; a pair of black jeans from this infamous brand were grey and tired looking after only TWO washes!
Disappointed and feeling more than a little guilty, I vowed to shop only at preloved stores such as Depop and Vinted from then on. Besides, I could buy more unique and quality garments for significantly less money, all whilst caring for the environment. It was a no-brainer to be honest. I began to notice TV ads featuring Vinted or other preloved shops; and noticed brands such as Zalando were dedicating a section of their website to preloved items. Since the pandemic began, more and more of us have been considering the volume of clothing piled up in our wardrobes and opting to save our money in future. Alongside the rise of minimalism, I discovered the concept of a “capsule wardrobe”; of timeless, high-quality pieces that can be worn all year round... I have been building a capsule wardrobe ever since.
If the reports of consultancy company Accenture are anything to go by, then the future of consumerism certainly looks greener. Accenture reported that over lockdown, consumers "have dramatically evolved", and that 60% were reporting making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the start of the pandemic. UK children's clothing firm Frugi makes its clothes solely from organic cotton and recycled plastic, and also reports that it saw sales rise 60% last year, led by online orders.
However, Professor Tim Cooper, head of Nottingham Trent University's clothing sustainability research group believes that the rising popularity of preloved garments is not enough. "I think as long as we have cheap fast fashion goods we are going to have a problem. The issue with clothing consumption is the sheer volume of garments produced which end up in landfill".
We have a long way to go and a myriad of issues to overcome before the world of fashion is a more ethical and sustainable industry. But this green revolution at the heart of fashion suggests we are heading in the right direction. The pandemic has moulded us into more conscientious consumers, it has demonstrated what we truly need to survive. Granted, an £0.08 LBD is not one of them.
Have you thought about switching to pre-loved clothing? If not, what's holding you back?
Let me know down in the comments :) ...