By Aoife Prunty
College. A time to start fresh. For a lot of us, that can include how we dress. The days of school uniforms, small towns, and online college are (hopefully) behind us, so maybe you feel it’s time to update your wardrobe, whether you want to start dressing older, brighter, bolder, or continue with your current style. Now we’re all in Dublin – and more importantly, Trinity – and it’s time to dress how you want to. But where to start?
When looking for new clothes, it’s easy to lean towards fast fashion sites. They are advertised everywhere: Instagram, TikTok, magazines, TV. It’s impossible to watch an episode of Love Island without being shown an ad for PrettyLittleThing every ten minutes. The main appeal of brands like Shein, Boohoo, and Bershka is their convenience. These companies are able to roll out vast amounts of trendy clothes for a low price and in very little time. This means I can go online and buy five pieces of clothing, spend very little money, and have it arrive at my house in a few days. Sounds great, right? But these low prices come at a high cost.
Fast fashion brands are notorious for having poor working conditions for those who make their clothes. Workers are underpaid and overworked – some of the reasons why these clothes can be sold for such low prices. The clothes are made with cheap materials and are not made to last, resulting in tons of clothes ending up in landfills every year. Factory emissions and chemicals which run off of materials in the manufacturing process pollute the environment around us, causing further damage to our planet. There is an overwhelming amount of negatives that come alongside the fast fashion industry. Now that we understand what some of these are, it’s time to look at how we can improve.
How can we be better?
When we think of sustainable fashion, we often think of brands like Patagonia, who use recycled materials and ethical practices to produce their clothes. These brands are great but can often fall into a higher price bracket (which isn’t always student-friendly). Fortunately, other methods of sustainable shopping can actually save you money!
If you know where to look, second-hand clothes can make for a fabulous addition to your wardrobe. Dublin is home to many vintage stores, including Tola Vintage, Dublin Vintage Factory, Lucy’s Lounge, Nine Crows, and more. These stores sell vintage and sometimes reworked clothes for a range of prices to fit everyone’s budgets. For example, the Dublin Vintage Factory prices their clothes by weight, with 1kg costing €20.
There are also plenty of charity shops in Dublin which sell second-hand clothes. It takes a good eye, but sometimes you can strike gold and find some stylish pieces at a meager price- while also donating to some great charities such as the Saint Vincent de Paul, Barnardos, and Liberty.
Depop is another way to source second-hand clothes. The app allows users to buy and sell each other’s clothes, shoes, jewellery, and more. Some small businesses also use the platform to sell their handmade products. Before purchasing a brand-new piece of clothing, I find it is a good idea to search for it on Depop first. This way, I might find the exact thing I am looking for at a lower price while simultaneously contributing to a more sustainable fashion industry. You can often find items that are brand new or in perfect condition on the app.
Upcycling is a fun and creative way to change up your wardrobe. Whether it’s some old clothes you don’t wear anymore, or a charity shop find that doesn’t fit quite right, a needle and thread (or even just a pair of scissors) are your new best friends.
Trousers can be shorts, t-shirts can be cropped, a dress can be a skirt, and almost anything (with a few extra supplies) can be transformed into a tote bag or a bucket hat! Rather than throwing away clothes with tears or holes, learn to fix or cover them up. If an article of clothing is faded or maybe stained, dying it a new colour can give it a whole new life.
If you feel like your sewing skills aren’t quite up to scratch, bringing your clothes to a tailor is a great way to ensure they are repaired correctly and that they fit perfectly. Upcycling saves you money and also allows you to add a more personal touch to your outfits.
Another way to craft a sustainable wardrobe is to share clothes. Now I don’t mean to go and ask your flatmates if you can borrow their socks, but think of more exclusive items. Say, for example, you’re going to a wedding. Do you need to buy a brand new dress that you’ll only wear that one time? Or is it possible that your friend has the perfect dress for the occasion? Again, swapping and borrowing is an easy way to keep your wardrobe fresh and exciting without making unnecessary purchases.
At the end of the day, the number one way to reduce our fashion’s impact on the environment is to buy less. I’m not saying we need to stop buying clothes altogether. But we need to make smart decisions about what we buy and try to refrain from impulse purchases. We can do this by only buying pieces we know we will wear more than once or twice. Look at the dress you’re about to purchase and ask yourself, will it still be in fashion in six months? If not, is it worth buying?
Most importantly, we need to take good care of our clothes. This means washing and drying, as it says on the label. This way, we can stretch out their lifespan and keep them looking good and new.
In short, your wardrobe is an investment. Not only do your purchases affect you, but also the planet.
Remember; nobody is perfect – I’ve fallen victim to a Zara sale more times than I’d like to admit – but the main idea here is that we are aware of the impact of our fashion choices and that we make an effort to be better. In my experience, I feel much more satisfied when I buy second-hand, or upcycle, or make my own clothes than when I grab a few bits in Penneys out of boredom. The pieces which I didn’t buy on impulse or in a sale happen to be the ones in which I feel the most comfortable (and receive the most compliments). The lesson here is that shopping sustainably isn’t difficult, it just requires a little bit of extra effort for a much higher reward!