The day after New Year’s Day in January 2015, I took this photo. It’s the drop off area at my local Op shop. I felt sad and overwhelmed at the sight of this pile of clothes and I’ve found it really difficult to make it part of the conversation in my business. It’s stirred my understanding of the industry that I’ve enjoyed working in for so long, so I did what most people do when faced with something that’s too hard…… I ignored it.
I’m a maker and creator at heart and I’ve always appreciated how something is made. My very first trip to a Chinese factory only helped to re-inforce this appreciation, but over the last 5 years I’ve seen many changes in the textile and fashion industry both locally & globally. Turn-around times of 12-18 months from idea to shop floor have shrunk to less than 2 months in some cases. In the pursuit to make more, make it faster and make it cheaper, I fear that ‘fast fashion’ is making people care less about the clothes they buy.
In starting my styling business I’ve always known I wanted to help others have a more conscious and purposeful approach in their wardrobes. At the time I took this photo I had a growing awareness of wanting to simplify my life, and generally have less ‘stuff’. The image kept coming back to me over the past couple of years, so I knew I had to at least make it part of the conversation within my business, especially when I know how some of our clothes are made and I’ve been to the factories they’re made in.
I openly admit I don’t have all of the answers but I’ve come to realise it’s a problem that can’t be ignored. In fact, I made a conscious choice not to include a physical 1:1 personal shopping service in my offerings, because I believe there are better ways to make the most of my knowledge and your time. Knowing what to buy and where to find it is the key ingredient to shopping, and my online styling service can help with this.
I do what I do because I love good design, craftsmanship, beautiful fabrics & great quality. These are the things I value when I buy clothes, and more importantly when I produce clothes. I’ve always been drawn to pieces that are good quality and versatile as they can be valuable for years, not just one season.
I think I’ve also found it difficult to explore this issue because I recognise the paradox. Buying less contradicts what business intentions set out to do, which is to encourage more spending, so there’s company growth and sustainable profit. And if businesses are accountable to shareholders, that’s very much the priority. Encouraging less spending and still making a profit; that seems counter- intuitive.
In a bid to know if anyone else was stuck in this paradox, I googled, and found an article about Patagonia’s approach. It sums it up beautifully….. Other “companies might now be asking themselves how Patagonia’s approach can resolve the conscious capitalist’s paradox that all for-profit businesses face. How can for-profit businesses grow while actively lobbying individuals to buy less? “. Reading the article will give you the best insight, but Patagonia seems to be the business leading the way in the clothing industry.
Like I said, I don’t have it figured out. And there’s no denying, it’s confronting and complex. On a personal level, I love beautiful clothing, and I like to look modern and current in what I wear, which means adding new pieces each season. And I can appreciate so deeply what it takes to create great product. On an industry level though, I know the problem is invisible for some companies and too big to know where to start.
For me, I think experimenting with what I already own is a great place to start, and buying great quality that lasts is also worth the investment. Giving myself permission to not know the answer, has sparked my curiosity to find out more. I’m reading, listening, observing and gathering. And if I can help others gain a better understanding of where their clothes come from and appreciate the time and effort involved in making them, then it’s one small act that can help change our relationship with our clothes and change our buying habits.