Two years ago, when the pandemic first hit, I began to spring clean every aspect of my life. From disinfecting cupboards and food items, to streamlining book collections, my whole life had an overhaul. But the last thing to get the chop was my wardrobe. I soon realised that, like many, I was sliding into the same pair of jeans, then joggers, and the occasional pair of shorts during the first lockdown, so what was the need for all my unused clothes? Without realising it, I had taken on board the buzzword “circular”.
Circular fashion offers a way to minimise waste in production, but it also promotes the idea of buying less to reduce the amount of materials in landfills. At its core, circular fashion is intended to produce clothes that will be used for human consumption for as long as possible. And, when the owner of said clothes is done with their garment, they will either donate it, sell it, or upcycle it.
If lockdown taught me anything, it was that you don’t need to spend money to look great. It forced me to take a step back and re-evaluate the clothes I already had in my wardrobe, the amount of items I had bought on a whim that were just taking up space. Coming out of lockdown and into a financial crisis, my sartorial choices were even more under scrutiny, and I decided I needed to curb my impulse buying habit. Promising myself to sell and donate my backlog of unsuitable items, I vowed to only shop pre-loved too.
I began to get into the re-selling mindset, and with time on my hands, I was able to assess my whole closet. Being my own wardrobe warrior was a tough gig, but I felt quite smug as my outcasts pile grew bigger. The result was a much more streamlined wardrobe, and rediscovering some hidden treasures that I had forgotten. Overall, it was surprisingly satisfying.
The fashion industry has jumped on the circular fashion train in recent years too, with rental companies loaning designer garb, and ethically made clothing brands becoming more popular. Seasonal fashion has been disrupted and it’s no longer essential to update your wardrobe every quarter or get a fast fashion fix. The pandemic kick-started a topsy turvy view on dressing and encouraged us to be more creative, rather than simply throwing something away as it was out of season. Here’s how to join the circular fashion club:
How to embrace circular fashion
Donate your clothes
More shops are offering recycling bins, so you can drop items off for a discount on your purchases. If you’d prefer to know where your clothes come from, swapping parties have become increasingly popular in recent years, as the appetite for dressing inexpensively and sustainably has boomed.
Over in FashionLand, fashion designer Patrick McDowell collaborated with Global Fashion Exchange to host The Swap Shop to promote circular fashion at London Fashion Week in 2020, and for the first time ever, industry insiders were able to get their mitts on castoffs from their colleagues.
Re-wear your garb
As the likes of Kate Middleton has shown, it’s no longer a faux pas to wear something more than once.
One look at Tik Tok and Instagram, and it’s clear that everyone is a stylist when it comes to wearing clothes they already own, and they’re outspoken about fashion’s problem with slave labour too. These influencers may not realise their anti-consumerist motives in their quest for more likes, but Gen Z’s environmental concerns about slave labour and the future of the planet, have contributed exponentially in summoning a resale market, and inspiring others to get their look.
Be conscious about where you buy online
Several high street stores stock customised and pre-loved clothing; Urban Outfitters has a range which reflects Americana nostalgia, and even eBay is sponsoring Love Island for the first time, with the contestants wearing pre-loved and second-hand items, rather than a fast fashion brand which dominated the wardrobe in previous seasons.
Fast fashion giant ASOS is jumping on board too. Earlier this month it launched its second circular design collection alongside a trial partnership with Thrift+. Apart from their circularity, the pieces behave like any regular trend-led fashion collection and come in a full range of sizes — albeit each piece is unique.
If you have a favourite style of Levi’s, check out Levi’s Second Hand, which stocks exclusively vintage and secondhand denim, most of which were purchased from customers or sourced in vintage shops; and there is a boom in tailors who have items that you have at the back of the closet but never got round to getting fixed.
Go second-hand shopping
Thankfully the myth that you have to spend money to look good has been debunked. Yes of course you have an outlay and charity shops are becoming more canny to “hot” labels and pushing their prices up, with several of my local Brighton stores having “designer’ rails. But if you are a label lover, wouldn’t you rather give your money to the British Heart Foundation or Mind charity rather than TKMaxx?
For me, it’s the most practical way to shop if you want to combine retail therapy with caring for the planet. Used fashion means clothes get a life for longer and promotes a win-win of circular fashion, and highlights the benefit of previously-worn clothing, both from a style and sustainability point of view.
If you’re more of an online shopper, there are a number of places to buy second-hand clothes from the comfort of your couch. Die-hard vintage fans will already be acquainted with secondhand search engine Gem, which is the bible for tracking down secondhand specifics. But why not try Depop or Vinted for size? Rebelle, ASOS Marketplace and Vestiaire Collective, are also great options.