Want to learn about ethical shopping? Gabriella Clark shares her journey from super-consumer to only buying secondhand clothes…
In my 20s, I was working in London as part of a marketing team for a beauty brand and in pretty much every way possible, I was living a high-consumption lifestyle.
It was the norm to pick up a takeaway coffee on the way into work (rarely remembering my reusable cup), once or twice a week I’d treat myself to lunch at Pret-a-Manger, and if meetings and workload allowed, a few of us would make a lunch break trip to Zara or H&M.
Naturally, working in an industry as fast-paced as beauty, the office was filled with stylish women who were always wearing a beautifully put-together outfit, perfectly on trend and rarely wearing the same thing twice.
Seeing one of the PR girls in the kitchen looking great in a pleated midi-skirt would often see me browsing websites on the train home for something similar.
Of course, with all this inspiration and temptation around, things became very old, very quickly. That skirt I spent my entire commute searching for was often replaced only weeks later with a dress or jeans I then wanted more.
Making more ethical shopping choices
So what changed? Well, I was made redundant. It was during these initial weeks after the announcement that I started to question the sort of lifestyle I had, and the sort I wanted.
A year earlier, I had taken a three week trip to India, travelling to places that were a world away from anywhere I had been before, and quite simply, I fell in love.
The food, the culture, the sights, the sounds – everything about it awoke in me something I couldn’t ignore.
Although I returned to work at the end of the trip, I felt something had changed. But sucked back into London living and working, I put it out of my mind. I was working long hours, book-ended by an hour’s commute each way and becoming more and more detached from what I’d gained during that trip.
So when redundancy was announced, I knew it was time to change. There had to be more. And also, there had to be less. Less pressure, less stress, less stuff.
Living with less stuff
My partner and I made the decision to travel around India for six months and fully immerse ourselves in the country that we hadn’t stopped thinking about.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words what we experienced in those months – our souls were set on fire by a country that taught me more in those 140 days than I had learnt in my 29 years before.
And the biggest lesson? That it was time to start living with less.
Visiting rural villages, staying in local homestays and living out of a back-pack with the same tiny cube of clothes for months on end made me realise that the life I had left behind was filled with possessions that were serving absolutely no purpose – a short-lived buzz of a new outfit surely wasn’t worth the impact it was having on my bank balance but more importantly, on the environment.
Sat on the beach in South Goa on New Year’s Eve, I wrote a list of things I had learnt that I wanted to take home with me, and top of that list was ‘no more buying new’. I pledged to go a year without buying any new clothes.
No more purchases from fast-fashion brands and no more impulse buys. If there was something I wanted or needed, I would have to source it secondhand.
One year on, I can honestly say I have enjoyed this challenge more than I ever thought possible. I buy only the things I truly want or need, and the time it takes for me to source them ensures I love and wear them far longer than before.
The truth about fast fashion
As part of this journey, I started to educate myself on the truth behind the fast fashion I was buying and was shocked to find out just how exploited the people making the clothes were, and the effect it was having on the environment.
That cotton t-shirt you just bought? On average, it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton to make it – enough for you to drink three litres of water every day for nearly two and a half years. Suddenly, £9.99 doesn’t seem like such a good deal.
There are so many amazing resources out there to help us understand the truth behind what we are buying.
My favourite is Venetia La Manna – a broadcaster and fair fashion campaigner whose Instagram page is filled with insights into the industry that are truly eye-opening. Global movement Fashion Revolution.
My wardrobe may be smaller than ever before, but it’s filled with unique pieces I truly love and wear time and time again.
I recognise it’s a privilege to have both the income to buy clothing at all, and also the time to source them secondhand, but if you’re able to make even small changes to the way you buy clothes, the positive impact it can have on the planet and its people is truly vast.
5 Tips For Ethical Shopping
1 Don’t buy for the sake of it
Don’t be tempted by the lower prices of buying secondhand – the aim is still to buy less, so make sure you’re seeking out things you truly love and will wear.
2 Sell on things you don’t want
Be prepared to resell – sometimes things arrive and aren’t quite how
you imagined they’d be. Having your own account set up to resell is an easy way to ensure this item ends up back online, in the hands of someone who
will love it, rather than landfill.
3 Shop local
Support your local secondhand shops – be it charity shops, vintage stores or local pre-loved sites. Often these items have been lovingly sourced or sorted through, so spending with them will ensure these businesses stick around.
4 Check the reviews
Look for seller reviews online – this is a great indication of the condition the item will arrive in and ensures you’ll be happy with it once received.
5 Search wisely
Use search filters to help narrow down results. For example, showing only those that are in brand new condition can help you find items that sellers haven’t even worn – this is great when searching for shoes for example, where you might prefer not to wear pre-worn. On sites such as eBay, these are often labelled by sellers as BNWT (brand new with tags).