A dress should be for life, not just for Christmas. Hannah Clugston goes in search of festive style that won’t damage the planet or exploit its workers.
Tis the season for a new wardrobe because, despite already having two buckling clothes rails, Christmas requires a new array of party dresses, a shimmery top for Christmas Eve drinks, themed pyjamas for Christmas morning and a garish knit for the office Christmas Jumper Day.
It’s not just me with a festive fashion shopping list. We’re all at it. In the UK, Fashion Revolution predicted that in 2018 we spent £220m on Christmas jumpers – a quarter of which went straight in the bin post December 25. According to Oxfam, we are a nation that purchases two tonnes of clothing every minute.
Come January 1, 2020, we might have forgotten all about the musical jumper and the sequin skirt but – as Extinction Rebellion has been reminding us – the planet won’t. With 350,000 tonnes of clothing hitting the landfill in the UK every year and the fashion industry producing more carbon emissions than international flights and maritime shipping combined, I have to wonder whether there is an alternative to my usual Christmas shopping spree.
For Izzy Butcher, a senior landscape architect from Sheffield, the alteration to her regular fashion consumption came at the office Christmas party when she turned up in exactly the same outfit as a colleague. “It was so embarrassing,” she said. “We both had the same top from H&M and we were both wearing a pair of jeans and sparkly heels.” It was the impetus she needed to dig out the sewing machine and polish up the skills she had learned as a child when sewing with her mum. “No-one else has these clothes,” she says of her rail of handcrafted garments. “I really like how unique it is compared with buying something off the high street.”
Izzy enjoys numerous other benefits from making her own clothes, including the creativity, the fact she can sew to her size, the social element of creating with friends and the sustainable credentials of not buying into fast fashion. “It is so much slower than buying things, which makes me more intentional and conscientiously aware of what I am going to wear and make,” she said. “It is about having less that works well for you.”
Of course, stitching your own clothes requires talent and time, neither of which is readily available to everyone. Another antidote to the seasonal haul would be to reuse the garments gathering dust in the wardrobe. Husband and wife Mark and Beth Willoughby decided that 2019 would be the year to challenge themselves to not buy anything new. “I have actually found it surprisingly releasing,” said Beth. “I previously found it far too easy to wander to the shops on my lunch break to pick up something I thought I needed. I was usually totally overwhelmed by the choice and would buy sale items that ended up not being quite right. It turns out I don’t really need all that much anyway and can make do with what I have.”
Sometimes, new is necessary. Even Extinction Rebellion acknowledges this, stating on its website: “For those who have to purchase items made from new resources, we ask them to carefully consider the most ethically and environmentally sound options.” When necessity demands, the Willoughbys have either borrowed, gone second-hand or purchased clothes from “retailers with very clear, sustainable and transparent ethics and codes of practice,” said Mark. He lists Ethletic, Veja, Silverstick and Patagonia as brands he has happily frequented this year.
Another name on Mark’s list could be Lucy & Yak, an ethical fashion label wrapping customers up in organic corduroy dungarees and recycled woollen coats this winter. Originally from Barnsley, Lucy & Yak co-founder Lucy Greenwood is certain that any new clothing must be viewed as a long-term investment to reduce polluting the planet. “We are not saying it’s easy, especially at Christmas when we all want a new outfit,” Lucy said. “But no one can remember what you wore last year. If you really have to buy something new, think about choosing something with the lowest environmental impact or something that empowers the people that made it, as opposed to keeping them in poverty.”
People Tree has been at the forefront of sustainable Fair Trade fashion for the past 28 years. In addition to producing a range of chic essentials and beautifully patterned dresses while upholding the highest ethical and environmental standards, People Tree also explores ways to keep items fresh and functional for as long as possible. Creative director Tracy Mulligan said: “Our organic denim is long-lasting and durable. My favourite jeans are the Heather Slim Fit Jeans. The less you machine wash them, the better – try putting them in the freezer as an alternative.”
Perhaps it’s never the season for a brand new wardrobe, regardless of how many parties I have coming up. This Christmas, I’ll be borrowing a festive knit from my sister, wearing a party dress from 2018 and making some sustainable shopping resolutions for 2020.