Swishing: Ethical Fashion and Clothes Swap – 31st July 2012

Swishing – swapping and up-cycling unwanted clothes – has been the focus of a national WI campaign against ‘fast fashion’. ‘Fast fashion’ refers to most of the clothing readily available on our high streets – mass produced and readily ‘disposable’ clothing that often causes huge environmental and social impacts. You can find out more about the campaign here.

Our July meeting kicked off with a talk from Megan Streb, one of our members with a lot of valuable experience in sourcing ethical fashion (amongst other things!). Megan even spent a year buying nothing new in a stand against our culture of disposable consumerism (read the article about here in the Daily Echo here).

As part of her talk Megan encouraged us to look at the way we shop;

  • What do you already have?

The classic ‘capsule wardrobe’ idea. You can create a huge range of looks from only a few items if you think about what you have and how to put looks together before buying something new!

  • Can things be fixed or altered rather than being thrown away?

Look after what you already have, fix things before they get too badly damaged. Also, a few simple sewing skills could help you find new life in an old item.

  • Can you try to buy nothing for a month? Or at least less?

Now for some of us, this might sound like a complete impossibility, but Megan claims it’s really not that bad! Do you really need it now – or at all? Plus, getting used to not impulse buying might change the way you shop forever.

Now, Megan doesn’t expect you to never buy anything ever again – but there are better, more ethical ways to go about shopping than just heading to the usual high street mainstays.

  • Buy Second hand

Second hand shopping can be really easy. There is a huge range of charity shops around – locally, Portswood, Shirley and Eastleigh are particularly rich sources!

However, if you don’t feel like traipsing between charity shops and rummaging through rails, then there’s a whole world out there on the internet. eBay is an almost endless source of second-hand clothing, shoes, accessories and pretty much anything else you can think of. Do pay a thought to where you are buying from on eBay though, getting a t-shirt shipped over from Australia might not actually be so great for the environment, even if you are stopping the top going into landfill!
Oxfam also have an online shop where you can buy online and still support a good cause.

For some inspiration on buying second-hand and upcycling, check out New Dress A Day, a blog from a girl who spent a year buying and altering second-hand clothes.

If you’re still thinking of buying new, you don’t have to wave goodbye to all your good ethical intentions. Have a look for items made from organic or fair-trade materials, or even fabrics made from less environmentally damaging plants like hemp, bamboo, linen or Tencel. Now, sometime these items can be a bit pricey but think of them as investments and start off with the basics, like pants, socks or camisoles. Small changes add up!

Ethical shopping on the high street is a bit of a challenge. Labour Behind the Label produced a report detailing how many high street shops are tackling the issue of poverty and fair wages for those producing their clothes – no high street shop scored more than 3.5 out of 5. The better retailers included Marks & Spencer, Monsoon, New Look, Next, Primark and Zara. H&M also have a collection using organic and recycled fabrics, their website also provides information about the fabrics they use.

Shopping online opens up more options for ethical shopping. Some of the shops Megan mentioned included; People Tree, Fashion Conscience, Annie Greenabelle, Komodo, Faith & Frank, Braintree Hemp, Gossypium and Bishopston Trading Company.

If all else fails – you can always have a go at making your own clothes! Fairtrade Fabrics and Organic Cotton are both online retailers selling ethical material for you to have a go at some DIY fashion. There are also local services that can help you learn how, including Craftizan and Recycle and Sew.

After Megan’s inspiring talk we were all set loose on the massive selection of clothes that had been brought along to be swapped! We had rails and tables full of everything from trousers to dresses, bags to shoes. Everyone managed to keep their cool and (thankfully) no fights broke out! Everyone seemed to have a really good time, rummaging, trying things on in the toilets and I think pretty much everyone left with something new (to them).

In fact, the event was so successful, we’re thinking of making the Sotonettes clothes swap an annual event!

For more photos, see the event gallery.

Did you all have fun? What did you pick up? Have you worn your swaps yet, or made any alterations?

Thank you all for coming along and getting involved,