What Vintage Has Taught Me
I recently had the pleasure of helping my friend Lee create a lookbook for her online vintage clothing shop, Ox Eye Wild. She invests a lot of hard work into searching for amazing vintage pieces. After spending the day dressing up in all her spectacular vintage wear it got me thinking, how much importance does vintage and used clothing have in this modern-day? I remember when I first started to become intrigued by fashion growing up. I had always been engrossed in the art of film, especially ones older than I was. Film was a way to time travel into another era and relish in all the great trends of decades before. Everything from the adorable collared dresses of the 60s, the funky pattern flares of the 70s and straight onto the shoulder padded blazers of the 80s. I was totally hooked on it all. I dreamed of the day that I would be the commander of my own closet, so I could dress like the people in my favourite films. Now I sit here and see that style and trends are not the only thing that has changed. Fast fashion has changed our mentalities into thinking there should be no restrictions. When we see those $20 price tags at places like H&M, there is little reason to restrain our impulses.
For years I did not consider my wardrobe when buying new pieces and would come home with multiple versions of the same thing. I never considered the quality or longevity of an item when shopping because I knew I could replace it in 3 months at a cheap cost. With most fast fashion brands creating 52 micro seasons, by that 3 month point a lot of items would feel “out-dated” anyway. The more I delved into some of the deeper meanings and evolutions of fashion, the more vintage clothing started to feel like a life style choice. I have never considered style a stagnant or a conventional thing, so seeking different alternatives has always come first nature to me. When we consider how clothing has changed throughout the years we don’t only see the trends change, but what clothing means to our generations. The current state of the fashion industry both worries and inspires me simultaneously. We have never been so integrated on a global level than we are today. When fast fashion first upended the fashion industry there wasn’t as much known information, like we have access to now. This open information, puts the power for change in the hands of the individual. If we want to see changes being made in these industries for the sake of the environment, human rights and culture itself we can’t be afraid to explore the facts. We often forget as consumers how much power we have when it comes to the supply chain.
Looking to vintage clothing for more inspiration than just style, I often dream of the world taking a step back and again inhabiting the lost production and consuming practices of the era before fast fashion. When we start to consider the ridiculous leaps in volume that clothing production has made in the last 15 years, the only real solution is to reconsider how we curate our closets. You may not have any control over the amount of clothing produced but you can control from where and how much we consume. Therefore, we can also control where our pieces go when we are truly done with them.
I recently came across an Aeon documentary called Unravel. In only 14 short minutes this documentary helped me put a lot more of our clothing life cycle into focus. The short film follows the life of our clothing even after we have donated it. If I am being honest, I used to live in a world where I didn’t consider clothing as a waste issue. By this I mean that I lived with the impression that all our unwanted clothing ended up with someone less fortunate or even in another fashionista’s closet. Second-hand thrift stores acted as a kind of safety net for all our undesired clothing. It is much easier to be unashamed of our over consumption if we are “doing it for the benefits of others”. The unfortunate truth is that second-hand stores and their consumers can no longer keep up with the high volume of cast-off items being sent their way. Most people are shocked when they find out only about 10 percent of used clothing gets sold. Watching documentaries like Unravel we see a more accurate depiction of where our clothing ends up. Bundles and bundles of clothing is being shipped over to the Kutch district of western India to be recycled. The Women working at this recycling factory are so shocked by the amount of clothing wasted by the west. They even joke that water must be so expensive over here that it must be cheaper to just throw our clothing away and buy new. When I first finished watching Unravel I was left with some form of hope that a portion of the unsold used clothing is being recycled, but is this the truth in most cases?
Annually, the recycling factory in Unravel receives 100,000 tonnes of discarded clothing, and this does not even make up 1% of the unsold clothing sent away overseas. A huge reason for the lack of fabric recycling is the high cost and difficulty of recycling blended textiles. Even with places like second-hand stores and fabric recycling programs we are still finding 85% of PCTW (post consumer textile waste) in our landfills. According to the EPA that 85% works out to be over 10 million tonnes of textile waste, although this exact number can not be truly known. This is an example of how our consumerism has reached such an all time high, that there is no way to truly keep track of our own foot print. At this point it can start to feel extremely discouraging, because I know that’s how I have felt but it’s also when you should start to feel the most empowered to make a change. Now is the time to take a lesson from vintage fashion not just in style, but in our lifestyles. We can start by building our closets around pieces we love and not just trends! As a fashion lover myself it is often tough to hear, but buying less will always be the eco-friendliest option. Adopting an already made piece of is certainly the next best thing we can do for the environment. Even though we may not agree with the ethical standards of all our used clothing, choosing vintage/used will always use less resources than buying new no matter how sustainable. Once a piece of clothing is unwanted the resources used for making it have already been wasted. This is the most important reason to support your local thrift store and try to never purchase something new, if you can get your hands on it used. Most of all don’t let numbers or facts make you feel discouraged when trying to make more ethical/eco-friendly choices. Every time you spend money you are making a vote on what matters to you and this should never be underestimated. Get inspired, get informed, support the people you believe in and you will start to make these changes with ease.