Dreaming of shopping sustainably on the High Street.

sustainable fashion Feb 28, 2020

This week was my first trip of the season to London, slightly later in the year than normal but I have had to supervise my recovering pup, who wasn’t allowed to go play rough and tumble with his girlfriend at the dog sitters; confined to restricted exercise post op. It’s not easy keeping a dogs enthusiasm for adventure and playfulness subdued for 12 weeks! At half way through his recovery I thought I could chance a little getaway to research and browse this seasons high streets finds for you.

With only a few exceptions it wasn’t a very uplifting experience. In the week after London fashion week stores are usually brimming with delights. Instead I found poor quality, disappointing fabric choices, a sea of rail upon rail of unsustainable clothes, hanging lifelessly in fashion giant’s stores.

Disheartened by what I was seeing I decided to pretend I was a customer, not a sustainable style fanatic researching for products to love and cherish.

Ms. Kay finds herself in central London and has a little down time between meetings. Embracing my newly adopted persona my immediate thought was, ‘How fun, I get to go browse in the shops for an hour!’

Next immediate thought.

‘I might pick myself up something lovely to wear to the event I’m hosting next week. Or maybe, a new top to go out with the girls for supper this Saturday.’
Swiftly followed by, ‘After all, I only really have one winter going out outfit and I’m a bit bored with black, plus I wore it last time I went out.’

Does this type of chatter go through your brain cells too? Shopping with a friend this dialogue is verbalised and even endorsed to justify a new clothing purchase.

‘You deserve it, you’ve lost a bit of weight, you haven’t bought anything for ages!’

Sound familiar? I hope so or I need to go see a shrink! I know I’m not alone, a brief eavesdrop confirms the base level of conversations being carried out on shop floors and changing rooms. It’s a strange culture we have become familiar with, that there is an edge of justification already required to make a purchase, even before considering modern matters such as sustainability issues.

I didn’t find anything that I’d consider purchasing even if I did need it. I must have looked at hundreds of items up close, thousands at a distance and in doing so found the grand total of three sustainable labelled items. I should correct that. I found three items that had sustainable credentials.*
Shopping for sustainable items within the brands that dominate the high street and many online is a minefield of greenwashing, plus it ranks very low on most current consumers purchasing behaviour. That behaviour hasn’t evolved much in 50 years of ready to wear fashion. If it looks appealing, it fits and the price is right, it’s a purchase. Attempt to add ‘sustainable’ to that criterion and suddenly your options decrease to less than 1% of the stock available.

To pick myself up I headed off to Selfridges to have a quick browse of the designer collections and reacquaint myself with what I call real clothes. Beautifully made, in dreamy heavyweight fabrics with detail and craftsmanship in abundance. It was like walking out of a fast food joint and then finding myself in a Michelin star restaurant. From pile ‘em high and over stuffed rails, to space to appreciate each individual creation.

Identifying sustainable fashion in this arena was still a challenge, but at least the nausea and overwhelm of too many terrible clothes passed.

Fashion marketing at all levels sells hope. Hope on a hanger. Hoping you or your lifestyle will be magically transformed by that new purchase, at least for a little while. And there in lies the issue. Fashion always wants you to consume, style however is about curating pieces you know you will wear on repeat.

Let’s make it a real story of hope.

Let’s only buy items that show you care about what you are wearing for today and the planet of tomorrow.


* one or more processes or components had been carried out sustainably but no guarantee to the sustainable credentials of the entire product or supply chain or that workers were earning living wages in the processes.

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