Charity shops fighting fast fashion
Show the planet some love
Having procrastinated with a vaguely manic Marie Kondo-inspired clear-out this week, I ended up ditching half of my wardrobe. The Hospice in the Weald charity shop subsequently became the site of an impassioned discussion between myself and the elderly lady who took my binbags off me, on the ethical and financial impacts of disposable fashion. To my surprise she sorted through my donations in front of me, as charity shops have been so overrun with poor quality garments that they’ve had to start turning them away, to avoid the cost of sending them to landfill themselves.
This problem has only surfaced over the last ten years. The convenience of online giants offering cheap fashion delivered to your door, cutting costs in terms of staff and shop overheads, has destroyed the familiar ‘season’ system, accelerating trend turnover and decreasing the realistic wearable lifespan of each garment. With a new top available for the same price as a coffee, how can we be expected to value what we’ve got?
It’s naïve to believe that retailers care about the image they capitalize on. The Instagram-perfect lifestyle that they are selling exists only in the dimension of the shop, webpage or buyer’s imagination, so once the transaction is complete, the retailer loses its invested interest in the ideal, and the product loses its ‘buy me!’ aura. Capitalist thought champions infinite growth, yet this is based on finite resources: private fashion conglomerates, therefore, in order to overcome this, sell products with in-built obsolescence. In simpler terms, they could make a pair of shoes that lasts ten years, or a pair that’ll fall apart after a year. It doesn’t take an expert to understand which puts more cash in Mr Primark’s pocket.
Craftily, what this cycle relies on is the allure of cheaper, quick fix buys over the lasting quality of a more expensive product. With entry-level retail jobs, predominantly filled by young women and Saturday girls rarely paying more than minimum, let alone the living wage, effectively the corporations that are employing them are pricing them out the lasting investment of higher quality apparel, attracting them into a cycle of short-term fashion thrills that, in the not-so-long term empty wallets and fill landfill sites.
But we shouldn’t be completely disheartened. Fashion companies are still restrained by the necessity of a supply-demand relationship, so we as buyers retain the power: by decreasing our involvement in disposable 10-minute-trends, we can stop landfill sites being filled with cheap chemical fibers that, unlike their natural, hardwearing (more expensive) counterparts, don’t biodegrade. Vivienne Westwood’s mantra of, “buy less, choose well, wear more” is weirdly true: having less in your wardrobe makes it far easier to choose what to wear, maximizing the wear you get from each item of clothing you own. Buying better quality clothing is not only an investment that ultimately works out cheaper, but also supports designers, artisans and retailers that genuinely care about the industry. If charity shops were stocked with more attractive clothing, they could even market themselves more towards the young people that would otherwise look to disposable fashion, a sustainable solution that raises more money for charity and encourages sartorial individuality. Nicer clothes, a clearer conscience and a sustainable future—surely it’s a no-brainer?