True Vintage Clothing: For The Conscious Era
Last month I had the pleasure of debuting my fashion conscious talk, ‘More Issues Than Vogue’ at the Northern Fashion Revolution week, organised by the wonderful Melanie Kyles and the local sustainable fashion brand, Uncaptive. The week long event at Ampersand Inventions and B&D studios were filled with an exciting lineup of talks and workshops that explored the future of fashion in a more conscious era.
During my talk, we dove into some thought-provoking discussions on the imminent issues regarding sustainability across the fashion industry from unethical manufacturing processes to the implications of human exploitation in the garment supply chain.
While reflecting on the event and the many stimulating conversations I had with attendees, I have come to the conclusion that brands with more conscious business practices will ultimately take charge in leading the way towards a more sustainable fashion industry. With this in mind, I’ve decided to look deeper into the issue and explore how the inherent challenges of sustainability are being dealt with in my own area of fashion - the vintage market.
Is the modern vintage industry contributing to a sustainable future of fashion? Or is it beginning to resemble fast fashion?
Because of the implicit ‘make do and mend’ attitude long associated with vintage clothing, the concept of purchasing from our local vintage stores satisfies the ethical guilt often experienced when lusting after a new outfit. I mean, purchasing pre-worn items saves clothes from landfill, so it must be more sustainable, right?
Essentially, yes, buying vintage is more sustainable than purchasing the new collections on the high street. But this does not mean that the current process of the vintage fashion industry is an exemplary model for sustainable practice. In fact, like all industries, the vintage market has extensive issues that need to be recognised and addressed, such as wholesale buying culture, and exploitation in overseas sorting factories.
Let’s break down the key issues and see how we can begin to fix them to move towards a successful, sustainable business practice within the vintage market without having to give up our love to shop.
The Commercialisation of True Vintage
Our love for flicking through the rails of our favourite local vintage clothing stores to locate a rare gem, like a Moschino Silk Shirt, has a variety of origins. If we look back far enough, we can find stories of past generations flicking through endless second-hand shops and flea markets to find treasures from yesteryear. Think of the beatniks and their penchant for 1920s fur coats and Edwardian blouses that reflected their rebellion against 1950s fashions!
The vintage trend rose from bohemian subcultures and the desire to be seen as individuals through dress. Before long this ‘trendy’ way of shopping made the leap into large retail landscapes such as Selfridges, Topshop and Urban Outfitters to appeal to a younger audience of consumers seeking the ‘hip’ status of vintage garments. Since large high street retailers capitalised on the burgeoning culture of shoppers seeking a wardrobe filled with true vintage clothing; carbon-heavy wholesale purchases of vintage from across the planet and the re-labelling of newer garments as ‘true vintage’, have resulted in a pattern of unethical practices within the vintage fashion industry.
A Culture of Mass Consumption Is Finally Going Out Of Fashion
Since the vintage fashion market regained popularity in the late noughties and early 2010s, the culture of vintage stores has become less about investing in true quality vintage items from the 20-70s, and more about rebranding bulk bought nineties denim and leisurewear as ‘retro’.
For a retailer, this business model was a thrifty little goldmine to capitalise on, as the mass market of consumers did not care for the repercussions of sustainability or the meaning of investing in true vintage items. Yet, as we stumble into the 2020s, customer behavioural patterns are shifting, and consumers across the fashion industry are becoming more conscious of their buying habits and a lot more savvy in knowing where their clothes come from and how sustainable their purchases really are.
A Conscious Education
Fashion is no longer an industry that can freely divorce itself from politics and term itself a safe haven from difficult global issues. As consumers, we should be making conscious efforts to normalise sustainability, by voting with our feet, our keyboards and our wallets.
As independent retailers, we need to be taking on the role of educators in the subject of sustainability. That could mean raising awareness across social media of these crucial challenges, educating customers through personal messages on your biodegradable packaging, or simply being more mindful about your business practices, no matter how seemingly small. We can no longer take shortcuts by opting for unsustainable sources to save a pretty penny and expect customers to blindly follow us as we do so.
While Trendlistr grows, so does my responsibility. As a modern-day fashion brand, I have to be conscious of every process that goes into developing Trendsetter’s products, working closely with local businesses to provide unique vintage and vintage inspired clothing that ultimately distances itself from fast fashion’s damaging practices.
As summer approaches, we’ll be looking to continue these positive practices and expand on our UK-made vintage inspired in-house collection.