I confess: this is not easy!
A summer of clothing hell gives way to the sweet joy of Second Hand September
Thank God the summer is over. It's been a nightmare. I know this bulletin is here to cheer us all on and find the solutions to just buying five new things - and I will come to those - but I'd be lying if I told you this summer I'd been enjoying my new found Puritanism.
Far from it. I decamped to Ibiza in June to work in my (sustainable clothes) shop and packed for the Mediterranean weather like a bitch. One suitcase, half of which I didn’t wear as it was entirely inappropriate. Three sundresses I completely tired of within days. My lovely new white shirt was too hot for the baking climate and I left without resolving my flat sandal issue (on my feet all day, what was I going to wear - last year’s platform espadrilles?). Then my teenage daughter left my flip flops on the beach. I thought I was going to cry.
Meanwhile, my daily was helping people into new clothes: “Oh that looks brilliant on you, you must get it! Don’t forget to make it last!”
My response was to join the Ibiza hippies and wear nothing. When I wasn’t in the shop I was on the beach in a pair of four year old bikini bottoms, my secondhand sunhat and nothing else, much to the horror of my 11 year old son. But what else could I do? God’s own birthday suit was all I had left.
I had to buy shoes, so I went for a pair of Of Origin biodegradable jute and rubber sandals, in black.
Perfect, right? I knew they were comfy as I bought a pair two summers ago, but here’s the thing: like most eco shoes, the performance is not there yet. I know they are going to disintegrate soon. Plus they are entirely inappropriate for daily life in rainy London. Purchase number three may have been a necessity but it is something of a fail. With only five new things, I cannot afford failure.
Rule of 5 is a campaign to reduce our fashion consumption. Why only 5 new things? That’s what the climate scientists say. You can read why here.
To top it all off I went to Shambala this weekend, a British festival where over 10,000 people spend 3 days in fancy dress - you've never seen so much spandex, sequins and acrylic in your life. I thought I was going to come out in hives. But if you wanted a reminder of the joy of clothes, it was right there, in all the purple wigs, nylon corsets, lime fake fur and purple hotpants (I’m not exaggerating). Cross dressers, fancy dressers, star spangled raver dressers, it was a parade of disposable fashion. Which was a shame as the festival itself was dedicated to environmentalism, being entirely vegan, promoting car shares, hosting mending workshops and a particularly interesting talk on non hierarchical power structures (in between the drum and bass).
So I’m three down and autumn is setting in. What to do? Thank God for second hand September. The editor of the Financial Times How to Spend It Magazine rang the other day for a sustainability quote for her column, (see next week’s Its Not Sustainable bulletin), and wanted to know if I was doing it ‘the British way’ or the ‘American way’. In other words was I allowing myself 4 second hand purchases on top of the 5 new. You, my friends, may well be much better at this than me, but frankly I NEED those 4. (I bought a hat from Sign of the Times in June, so now I only have three).
In honour of second hand September, I am about to splurge on Vestiaire Collective. I want something to make me feel special, to spoil myself, that crucially will last. If it’s five things for the rest of my life (or the climate crisis ends, and there’s no sign of that), this purchase needs to really count. Which designer do I most admire? Who is my desert island fashion choice?
I interviewed Gabriela Hearst earlier this summer for a piece on eco shoes, and she is obsessed with English men’s footwear, “Because you can always get them fixed! They last forever. The idea of quality, resilience and craftsmanship runs through them.” She told me her teenage daughters wear vintage cowboy boots they picked up in the mid west for $20-30, and those are her inspirations. “When I create a product it’s with the idea of a hand me down - it’s how I grew up. My mum didn’t have a huge wardrobe, but all her clothes were made by the family seamstress. I’m still doing something that is special and pushing craft, but I don’t think our shoes will end up in a landfill because of the quality.”
I have a Phoebe Philo sized girl crush on Gabriela, as everything she does is guided by best practice for people and planet, and besides that her clothes are heaven. I cannot afford them, but if you look second hand, and feel like treating yourself, you know you will be buying something that should last you a lifetime. Or if you want to trade it in at a later date you know Gabriela Hearst will hold value: many of her pieces are carried over season to season (her chunky knits, for instance). We discussed the shoe problem - that 23 billion pairs are made and sold each year, and 22 billion of those go to landfill, (those numbers are shockingly correct). “The best option with shoes is to have less,” she counselled. Well I qualify on that now my flip flops are leaching micro plastics into the sea and my sandals are getting ready to biodegrade. You can see where I’m going… look at these:
Now old me, last year, would have bought all three, in a greedy supermarket sweep. New 2023 Rule of 5 me is only going to buy one. Tell me which one:
Meanwhile, a word on the politics of second hand - and why we can only buy four, maximum. Our clothes consumption is rapacious and out of control. Shifting that consumption from primary clothing to second hand is not going to slow it. Indeed, there is absolutely no evidence that the rise of second hand sites like The Real Real and Vestiaire have slowed down primary fashion consumption at all. Secondly, the idea that when we are finished with our clothes we can dump them at a charity shop for someone else to wear is misguided. More than 50% of clothes donations end up shipped overseas to markets in the Global South, where they clog up landfill and stifle local business. The Business of Fashion reports this week on the decision of the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, to ban used clothing imports. Also known as ‘waste colonialism’.
So please do embrace second hand September, and get used to shopping second hand (ideally from charity shops). It forces you to locate your style (it hasn’t been curated, or merchandised, or decreed ‘on trend’), and it is way cheaper. But, as with all our actions this year my friends, go easy. Four a year is our limit.
Five is hard. Or I think it is. How are you finding it?
Rule of Five is a campaign to reduce consumption in the fashion industry. To support this work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.