Fashion Revamp: How To Be An Ethical Consumer Without Buying Anything New
I get it. You want to be sustainable, but you also want to dress in the latest trends. And it feels that it’s impossible to have both.
Here’s the thing - sustainable fashion companies design clothes to withstand the fashion season, but they don’t typically offer runway-inspired pieces. Sustainable brands focus on timeless design and often drop trans-seasonal clothing styles, like a white linen shirt, that’ll never go out of fashion. This encourages ethical consumption - which is awesome if you want to buy ethical products but might be slightly disappointing if we want it to fit in with the fashion industry trends.
So the dilemma of wanting to be an on-trend ethical consumer and having something new to wear remains. Fashion is all about having fun and experimenting with your look, right?
what if we stopped seeing clothes as only having one ‘style’ life?
Besides, the difference between last season’s pant style was that the waist dropped 3 inches a-la ‘90s, Paris Hilton. Does that constitute purchasing a new pair of jeans? You only invested in a high waist pair last season. There’s no shame in it! Admitting we did some binge shopping and hunting down the perfect pair of jeans that accommodate the curve in your back and has the perfect washed-out look is totally okay.
Apart from this season’s waist drop - the jeans are perfect and your but looks great in them. But now you’re going Sherlock Holmes on the internet (when you’d rather be out), tracking down the (basically) same pair of jeans from last year to spend your hard-earned dollars on. Not fun!
What is fun and clever is an ethical approach to taking the last season’s jeans to a local tailor and asking them to recut the waist. Same same, but different.
What if clothes could mold and transform with the (fashion) seasons?
I call this fashion modification
That is - modifying an existing garment to fit a new need. It might sound like upcycling, but it’s not.
Upcycling is turning one item of lesser value into a new one of greater value. Think of upcycling as a complete makeover and fashion modification as a nip’n’tuck.
I've broken it down into two types of fashion modifications:
Cosmetic - how it looks
Construction - how it's made
If the modification is cosmetic (how it looks on the surface), some simple DIY hacks can spicy up last seasons purchases. Styles (usually) don't drastically change from one season to the following. Minor tweaks like shortening hems, adding ruffles to skirts, embroidering a sweater or dyeing a shirt could be all you need to go from 2021 fashion to 2022 fashion. Make a night of it, empty your shopping cart, invite your friends, and get creative.
If the change is construction based (the construction means the shape of a garment and how it sits on the body), it’s more complex than shortening a hem or cropping a t-shirt. Take it to a tailor and explain what you want to a professional, so you don’t butcher the dress.
Something like changing a balloon sleeve into a bell sleeve (or vice versa) is easy to do for a professional and much better than buying an entirely new garment just for the sleeves. You'll probably get on a first-name basis with your tailor quite quickly, so don't be surprised if they give you a special discount soon ;)
What are the benefits of conscious consumption?
You save money - it’s much cheaper because you're paying for a few craft supplies or a tailoring service (at most), not an entirely new outfit.
Reduce your environmental impact - Less waste will go into landfill and there'll be fewer carbon emissions - you keep the product in circulation for longer and save it from being dumped or burned in a pit somewhere. Yay to solving the climate crisis!
Wear your clothes for longer - the garment's lifecycle extends as you find more uses to wear it.
Have a rotating wardrobe - your wardrobe can evolve with the styles you already have without adding new items.
Conscious consumption - stay on-trend, keep up with the latest shopping guides without buying new clothes (even from sustainable brands).
Rock unique styles - you might be the best of shoppers, but by modifying your clothes, you’ll end up with fashion pieces no one else has.
Engage with ethical fashion - there's so much corruption in the fashion supply chain, with issues such as garment workers not being paid living wages, dangerous working conditions in the garment factories, revamping what you have means you're not supporting lousy industry practice.
What clothes can be modified? The choice is yours! But here are my top picks:
Pants - typically, it's the length, leg width or waist that changes in style. All things that a tailor can help you with. Remember, you can't turn banana pants into a wide-leg style - but you can modify the other way around.
Shirts - modify the fit or the sleeves, buttons or even add some embodiments if that's what’s in. You get the point.
Casual tops - this usually has minor changes from season to season. Why? Because they're a wardrobe staple, brands know you want a fresh update, so they change the design (ever so slightly) to coerce you into buying a new one. Now, you can revamp it up yourself!
Jeans - is there anything they're not suitable for? Chop, change, rip, stick stuff on them. Go wild with these! The more, the merrier! They can handle a beating.
Dresses - they look fab turned into cropped sets, or revamp a maxi into culottes.
Skirts - maxi skirts make great culottes! There’s lots of fabric to work with; that is why long skirts have major transformation potential.
Is there anything I should keep my scissors away from?
Leather products - reconstructing leather and unpicking seams leave holes. Stick to surface modifications for this one.
Tailored pieces - These are timeless investment pieces, so if you do minor changes like alter hems here, I recommend not cutting them but just creating a wider cuff or folding the excess materials into the hem in case you want to let it down again in the future.
Knitwear - it unravels - so just don’t! Or take it to a professional; there are techniques they can use to hold it together.
Silk - stay away from it unless it's a surface decoration. It's slippery to sew and cut, and mistakes are super visible with hole punctures.
There's more than one way of being an ethical shopper and informed consumer
Try modifying is your maxi skirt from last season. Yes, it was great to lounge around in it during the lockdown, but things have since opened up (yay!), and you want to put those pins on display.
Ethical shopping doesn't have to look one way - whip out those scissors and get chopping, since this season, the length of skirts are dropping faster than our politician's credibility.
There’ll be a moment where you can't modify your clothes anymore. Hello, maxi turned mini turned micro skirt - there’s only so much material you can chop, and yes, this isn't the perfect solution to being sustainable, but perfection is unattainable.
Even if you manage to modify your clothes 2-3 times, you're already saving 2-3 items going into landfill. Suppose you do this to 10 pieces. That's a saving of 20-30 garments. Now that's a positive impact!
Sometimes the idea of becoming a ‘conscious consumer’ feels too tricky, and there seems to be a false perception in society that once you decide to shop sustainably, you need to burn your fast fashion purchases and only buy sustainable products for the rest of your life... or, you'll be an ‘eco-fraud’!
Luckily, just because you want to dabble in ethical shopping and be more mindful of your environmental footprint, your shopping habits don’t have to completely change in one day. You can start with a new approach to consumption by shopping from ethical brands, transforming existing products and mixing them with the amazing brands already in your wardrobe.
Every decision, big or small, matters. Fashion modification is a step in a positive direction and means you can enjoy products from brands and extend the life cycle of the clothes you already own at the same time.
And you might be surprised by who you also inspire to give it a go.
Join the conversation about fashion modification over on my Instagram - I’d love to know what you think about this ethical consumer movement!