How would you define ‘sustainable fashion‘? Do you think it is an oxymoron?

While I’m not particularly interested in shopping for clothes and accessories, I am conscious about what I buy. After all, I want to look good and steer away from mindless consumption.

TIP: Buy less, choose more deliberately, make it last 

I appreciate well-made clothes, especially leather shoes – my favourite brands are trippen and Heschung. I also prefer to buy from shops such as Simonne & Lisa b. in Paris that carry creations by up-and-coming designers and are run by people who are passionate about their business.

These may not be as affordable as what you might get from fast fashion brands such as H&M and Topshop. But I rather spend a little more for something that has been carefully produced on a smaller scale than a mass-produced article that was churned out by the minute in a factory where the workers are paid peanuts.

Side note: If you have the time, please view this sobering documentary on The Guardian about the Rana Plaza disaster and the Bangladeshi garment industry. 

I also prefer classic or unique designs over whatever short-lived trends that appear in fashion magazines. I don’t want to wear the same dress as another woman at a party nor do I want to have to go shopping every other month to update my wardrobe!

Space Invaders & I in a Flying Cat coat by Ambrym (www.ambrym.fr)

It wasn’t always like this though, as AB would like to remind me from time to time.

Back in 2009, I had questioned his suggestion to buy a winter coat from an independent designer: “Are you sure they would have anything that I would like or of a good quality? Why don’t we go to Zara instead?”

He had to convince me to check out l’espace des createurs (which used to be on the top floor of Les Halles shopping mall) instead of looking at a mass-market brand.

It didn’t take us long to find a grey coat with a gorgeous pink and orange lining. I was converted.

Five years later, the coat has seen some wear and tear, particularly the inner lining which needs to be replaced, but the woollen exterior remains in excellent condition. Plus, I’ve not met anyone else wearing a similar coat.

W Paris - Opéra - Light box

I suppose the nature of the fashion business, in order to be profitable, makes it difficult for it to be sustainable. This is especially so for fast fashion brands which push out new collections every six weeks or so (instead of once every season) and spend enormous amounts of money on marketing to encourage people to buy.

But wouldn’t it be better if they cut down on advertising and spend more instead on making better-quality clothes and paying their employees and suppliers more?

Sale in Barcelona

TIP: If you really like something, go for it. Don’t settle for something less. 

I recently came across a women’s magazine, The Gentlewoman, and there was an interview with Vivienne Westwood. I was not familiar with the magazine nor with the designer. After flipping through The Gentlewoman, I was impressed by its editorial content as well as by Westwood’s point of view on the fashion industry.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Here are two Westwood quotes that I liked:
“What I’m trying to do with my company – I think it needs it – is just to sell my really, really best things more and cut down on the quantity. That’s what I would like to do. And I feel that it is more environmentally friendly as well, to have an operation that’s really neat and not wasteful and not expanding out of control.”

“I think if you really like something, then you should try to buy it. And if you can’t afford it, don’t get something that is half the price but that you don’t really like. Don’t do that.”

When I was at Linva Tailors in Hong Kong to look for a cheongsam, I found one that I liked and fitted me to a ‘T’.

La nuit de Prince de Galles - me03c

When I saw the price tag, I whispered to AB, “Wah, this costs more than five hundred Singapore dollars (around 350€)! That’s very expensive, no?”

His reply: “Not really considering the workmanship…”

I bought it.

Linva Tailor 年華 @ 38 Cochrane St03lf

TIP: Eat healthy and move more often

AB used to think that I was joking when I told him that I’m mindful of what I eat so that I don’t gain weight and don’t have to buy new clothes. He now sees the wisdom of my words: I fit comfortably into my clothes from a decade ago and still wear many of them today (excluding those in bright fuchsia pink and overly short tops) 😉

Taken on July 2014: Denim jacket bought in Hong Kong 10 years ago

I don’t follow an exercise regime nor diet. I eat sensibly and in moderation – for instance, I enjoy a square of dark chocolate almost every day.

I don’t run and dislike going to the gym but I make it a point to walk instead of driving and I take the stairs whenever I can.

This way, I stay healthy and in shape, and don’t have to buy new clothes because the old ones don’t fit. Which means more money for something else such as a book, holiday or bottle of single-malt whisky!

+++

Many of my comments above would apply for other industries and products too – be it cameras or kitchen appliances. For instance, it is not uncommon to hear people lament about how the quality of certain household products that used to last for decades has deteriorated.

P.S. I have not touched on the ecological/environmental impact of the fashion industry and how this is handled within ‘sustainable fashion’ as I am not an expert on this subject. 

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21 replies on “Sustainable fashion: Does it exist or is it an oxymoron?

  1. Reblogged this on Chosen and commented:

    “I think if you really like something, then you should try to buy it. And if you can’t afford it, don’t get something that is half the price but that you don’t really like. Don’t do that.”

  2. You are spot on about the fashion industry, but the worst sector of all, I think, for this is the electrical ‘white goods’ business. Boring, but essential stuff, washing machines, fridges etc with built in obsolescence. I couldn’t believe it when a repair man explained it to me saying, “Of course you do know they can manufacture a fridge that will continue working for over 50 years, but that would kill the industry”!

    I think a new economics is needed not more new models of fridges.

    1. Indeed! After all, what’s the point of earning more money – if one is in the electrical appliance industry, for instance – only to have to use it to buy more appliances to replace those that were made to not last? Might as well earn a little less and save oneself from the stress of dealing with broken machines and shopping 🙂

  3. If I was to spend 100 pounds on a pair of jeans then I would expect them to last longer than one season like my River Island jeans I bought 6 years ago, yet most shops offer low quality for low price making us think we are getting a bargain, yet we have to buy new clothes each season to those we replaced the season before. A neat trick to keep the profits rolling.
    In the camera industry although models become obsolete within 2-3 years sometimes less they still work well enough. I do have a feeling though with tablets and phones there is a built in kill switch, slowing them down making you think you need a new model.

    1. I prefer quality over quantity (or the newest) anytime. Agree that with cameras, an ‘outdated’ model could still work just fine and one could take good pictures with it. After all, one could have the latest camera but it doesn’t mean that the photos taken with it is better than someone using an older camera!

  4. My favourite jeans ( a present) are about 6 or 7 years old. I know they were expensive but they are simply the most comfortable pair ever. Slightly soft and just a little stretchy – perfect for flying. I buy few clothes but Mrs. Ha regularly comes home with a good shirt or tie. Zegna or Armani normally. You can feel the quality. I did buy something from GAP last year but what a disaster. And white goods – shocker. We have just repaired a 4 year old washing machine. I refused to throw it away. But the sales people in ‘Service’ kept telling us we could buy a new one for not much more. My phone is 3 years old. So is my iPad. The tablet is definitely grumbling and may die soon. I find that depressing. 3 years is nothing but I too sense there is a built in die by date. So yup, buy quality, pay what you need to, buy classic, unique or near unique. All good sense.

    1. I vividly remember the first time I touched a leather woven Bottega Veneta purse. I was surprised to feel how soft the leather was and was smitten, though not enough to want to fork out several hundred dollars for it 😉 I guess there’s some truth to the saying ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’! My laptop is still doing fine after four years though I really should backup my files more regularly lest something untoward happens to it *touch wood*

  5. No, I don’t think it’s an oxymoron, we can make it happen if we follow your tip: Buy less, choose more deliberately, make it last, and be more considerate consumers. On another note, thanks for the intro to ”The Gentlewoman” – I hadn’t come across it before! I see it’s online too; will check it out!

    1. We shouldn’t compromise on quality. Buy less, yet more ethical and longer lasting. Some of my boots and cloths are older than me. As for the “Gentlewoman”, it can be found in many of my collages.

      1. Yes, I’ve got clothes that are older than me too, either found in second hand shops or from family – my mom and aunt are such good hoarders, there’s always a treasure to be found in their wardrobes. I’m not so successful with shoes though… I shall have to try with Trippen and Heschung!

        Aha! so that’s where the ‘Gentlewomen’ went! That’s a great upgrade! 🙂

    2. What bothers me is seeing certain brands market their products as being sustainable when the foundation of their business model is nothing close. I’ve not see The Gentlewoman in the shops in Brussels – it was by chance that I came across a copy in Parlor Coffee at Chaussee de Waterloo (it’s one of my favourite cafes in Brussels and they have a good selection of magazines for browsing).

      1. That’s yet another issue, and one that we have no means of checking, most of the times. I mean with all the merging, outsourcing etc., we can hardly ever know who is really behind the facade.
        Don’t worry about The Gentlewoman, I found her in Dan Kelly’s. ;-D
        Haven’t been to the Parlor Coffee yet – to rectify asap!

    1. Thanks! Sometimes I wish I had gotten two of the same coat/shoes/bag/etc. so that I can enjoy more of something that I like for a longer time – though this would mean less variety 😉

  6. I try to do this too — and also to buy secondhand, since I’m not concerned with trends, and secondhand clothing is cheaper, more eco-friendly, and often more interesting (if it’s vintage).

    1. I didn’t buy secondhand clothes/accessories when I was in Singapore – I don’t know if there was a general preference for all things new back then. But ever since I went into some secondhand shops in Europe, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection and quality of some of things that are for sale – just need to be patient to sieve through to find that something special or interesting!

  7. I teach a class in which my opening gambit is indeed Sustainable Fashion: An Oxymoron? 🙂
    I think while the masses continue to expect 3 t shirts for $5, it’s pretty much an oxymoron. But there are more and more companies reacting to the Bangladesh tragedy and other documented incidents and as a result are bringing manufacturing back home. Initially this will drive up costs for consumers but studies have shown that shoppers like to feel good about their purchases, to know they are contributing in some way, when they buy a piece of clothing. All it takes is for this to spread. Over time I think it will.
    I too hold onto clothes from decades ago and still wear them. I rarely buy fast fashion as I prefer to reward companies who respect their workers. And I don’t expect things to fall apart in a few weeks. If they do, I will return them, no matter how inexpensive they were.

    1. Ah hah, what a coincidence that your class is titled as such 🙂 Hopefully things will change for the better if there are enough consumers (i.e. critical mass) who demand for their clothes to be made in a sustainable and fair fashion (pun not intended). As long as the manufacturers or companies keep their promise and do not cut corners – for instance, employ illegal immigrants in the city to make products bearing the tag ‘made in the U.S.A.’.

      Good point at the end too – sometimes I don’t bring things that have fallen apart after just a few days or weeks back to the shop as I find it a hassle to have to convince or explain to the shop person what went wrong. I need to follow your example more often.

  8. I came across your website on wordpress.com and was impressed by the sincere nature of your writing and the points you make here. I have a keen interest in sustainable fashion/textiles business and I think what you wrote here is a practical way for how people in general could pursuit the path of a more sustainable future easily. I also don’t want to buy new clothes often because I am lazy, and I like classic wardrobes, and I think your strategy on walking and getting in shape is really inspiring. cheers 🙂

    1. Hi Kamonnart, thanks for taking the time to visit my site and commenting. Am happy that you enjoyed this piece.

      I was reading an article on Marie Kando about de-cluttering and shopping – if something doesn’t give you joy when you touch it, don’t buy it (or get rid of it).

      I recently read an opinion piece on The Guardian that I think you might find interesting: “Fashion Week in New York: when will the industry address its toll on workers and the environment?” http://gu.com/p/4c7yn/stw

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