Fixing Fashion to Fix the Planet: A look into Sheffield’s thriving culture surrounding recycled fashion.
By 2050, the UN suggests that in order to preserve a liveable climate on planet earth we must reduce all emissions of greenhouse gases to zero. To achieve this, society has 30 years to alter the way it consumes all commodities which produce a carbon footprint. Vegan cuisine and electric cars are expected to make a significant contribution towards reaching our net zero target, whilst the responsibility of recycling has quickly become accepted across households nationwide. However, the negative impact fast fashion has on the planet receives little recognition, with even less awareness of the sustainable alternatives. So how is fast fashion tearing up the planet, and what can we do to turn the tide on climate change with our choice of clothing?
Demand for the latest fits and threads has become so massive it has retailers such as Primark and ASOS amassing over 700 supplier factories in mainland China alone. Statistics from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) suggest the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions each year. Across the UK, vintage stores and independent retailers are offering a practical solution to the crisis; buy second hand, “make do and mend”, or even better, learn the skills to build your own fashion dynasty!
Sheffield is fast becoming the epicentre of recycled fashion in Britain, closely contested by other English cities like Bristol and Manchester. Across the UK, the sale of second-hand and recycled fashion offers a pragmatic solution to sustainable shopping and design. Louisa Froggatt, CEO of ‘Freshman’s Vintage’, Sheffield says,
“The way we can invest in second hand clothing and save the planet at the same time, is by actually having a conscious mind about what we’re purchasing in the first place. Thinking about the product we want to purchase and seeing it in person, rather than just shopping online, opens up a world of sustainable and creative expression.
We have to be mindful of what we buy, and who we buy from. We have to use shops like mine, not to boycott fast fashion but to offer an ethos that we aren’t into the ‘you must purchase now’ mindset.”
Independent stores like Freshman’s Vintage have a tiny customer base compared to the fast fashion giants. Nonetheless, Louisa is confident that people are gradually realising the benefits of buying from second hand and independent stores. Not just for the planet, but for their wardrobes as well.
“People have become aware of our business because of our authenticity and originality. The fact that people can see a range of personalities in our staff, as well as in the clothes on our hangers, is so important. We offer promotions for students at the start of term, with discounts and give-aways, and we’ve started getting a bit of a cult following on Instagram which is helping make people notice we’re here.”
Some of the items at Freshman’s Vintage date back to the 60’s and 70’s, to the epoch of our grandparents. Prior to the mass production of polyester fibres, this was a time when designers such as Chanel and Givenchy built their empires in Paris using much finer and more organically sourced fibres than we use today. These great clothes and fabrics have been preserved through time; repaired, resold and reloved. The “make-do and mend” attitude of our grandparents offers a practical response to today’s climate crisis.
Reworking is the technique of taking old clothes or pieces of fabric from charity shops, the back of your wardrobe or wherever you can find them, and crafting them into something new and exciting. This is a practice which Heather Wright-Purrell from Sheffield has turned into a sustainable, and greatly rewarding venture.
“There are endless mediums for reworking, and making sustainable fashion. It doesn’t stop at clothes either. I’ve seen people making furnishings for their house. Reworking allows me to knit fabrics together, which were made years ago, to make new and unique designs. I don’t need big factories when I’m reworking either, charity shops have got plenty to work with. I started out by making dresses and corsets from my bedroom, sometimes with beautiful materials which people were just throwing out.”
Not so far removed from the ‘make-do and mend’ era of our grandparents, Heather’s preferred medium of reworking is patchwork. Heather explains,
“Patchwork is finding a bunch of old textiles, cutting them down into squares and then sewing them together. I’ve made so many things; bags, trousers, coats, jumpers. With patchwork, I can make absolutely anything I like. The best part is, everything that I’ve made is completely unique to me.
Apart from anything, reworking can be cheaper than buying from shops and from following fast trends. I think this appeals to younger people, because they are always striving to be individual. Reworking is the perfect way to be creative and unique at the same time.”
For those with little or no skill set present behind a sewing machine, taking up the practice of reworking can seem daunting at first. However, do not despair, there is a solution. Most cities and towns have haberdasheries which offer beginners sewing classes at modest cost. Here you can pick up the basic skills required to use a sewing machine, or just how to fix a hem with a needle and thread.
Cathie McCartan is passionate about textiles and design, and she encourages people of all ages and experience to come along to her classes at ‘Cathie’s Creative’, Sheffield. Cathie says,
“I can offer classes to anyone, from beginner to experienced sewers. I used to work as an alteration hand. People often come in to pick up these basic skills so that they can repair the clothing they love. Some people start by making simple things like a pincushion or needle-case, and end up working with me on their own shirts and dresses!
I’ve had people come in to make their own wedding dresses… they obviously had a bit more experience but the results were wonderful. I’ve also recently made a ball gown out of upcycled designer denim. Once you get started, and have the skills, then the opportunities for design are endless.”
Cathie is also aware of the effect the fashion industry is having on the environment.
“I think one of the most important things about learning to sew is that it teaches people how long it takes to make something. There’s an important lesson to be learnt there for everyone. When people go to Primark, they pick up whatever they like without thinking about where it came from or who made it. This lack of thought devalues all the effort that went into making the product in the first place.
When you make something for yourself, without following fast trends, you can have clothing made from materials that don’t have a negative impact on the environment. A lot of the fabrics that are used in the shops selling fast fashion are polyester, this means they’re petrol based. When you make your own clothing, you have a range of resources to use – all of which are less harmful to the planet. Organic fabrics like linen and wool are wonderful fabrics to work with, and are both much less damaging to the planet’s environment than polyester.”
Understanding the process of clothing manufacture will be key to changing our habit of unsustainable shopping. If we are to succeed in our 2050 target of zero CO2 emissions, then preserving, mending and making from scratch, will play a huge part. Others are taking more radical action in order to raise a wider awareness of the damage to our climate caused by the fashion industry. The protests of XR Fashion Action (Extinction Rebellion Fashion Action) have brought to light the inevitable need to change how we consume fashion. As a result of XR Fashion Action protests, people across the world are taking the XR52 pledge not to buy new clothing or textiles for a year. If you are looking for a way to change your relationship with fashion, this is a great place to start.
A link to Heather Winter-Purell’s Depop shop can be found here: https://www.depop.com/loverlilith/ and more information on the XR Fashion Action XR52 pledge here: https://www.xrfashionaction.com/xr-boycott-sign-up-pledge
Louisa Froggart, CEO, Freshman’s Vintage: interviewed on 09/11/21
Heather Wright-Purell, Reworker: interviewed on 09/11/21
Cathie McCartan, Owner of Cathie’s Creative: Interviewed on 07/12/21
Written for: Vogue
Headline: Fixing Fashion to Fix the Planet
Sell: A look into Sheffield’s thriving culture surrounding recycled fashion