Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Quantity or Quality?

Last week was gorgeous. The hottest March since records began, they say, and I think everyone's been pretty thrown by the sudden change in weather. I haven't even had time to pack away my woolly jumpers and all of a sudden the sky clouds over again and now we're in the midst of some predictably average weather. It's made me think about investment buys, because I was all ready to go out and buy a load of cheap summery clothing from Primark or one of the other fast fashion High Street sinners. Now that I've been forced to consider otherwise by the changing skies, I'm thinking it would be more beneficial to purchase one or two high-quality pieces which are suitable for all kinds of weather.

But what is the point? When we live in a world where cheap and stylish clothing is readily available and there is an emphasis on the thrill of shiny new clothes in shiny new bags - who has the time or inclination to build up a wardrobe of lasting garments? The benefits, however, are extensive. For a start, when you have to buy your clothes for a higher price, you really tend to take some time over the decision. I have personally been on the hunt for some mid-rise, straight-leg white jeans for a while now, and I'm feeling the advantage of the lessons learnt from my last pair. They were made in the style that the majority of denim seems to be these days - skinny and low rise. They didn't quite fit right, the zip never stayed up and they were only flattering if I wore a long top to hide the disaster at the top. More than that, the quality of the material meant they were never going to last long, and I probably knew that. But I bought them because they were cheap. It was a bad decision which I would have considered more carefully had the price been higher. So one advantage is that this approach can prevent reckless impulse buys.

The idea though, isn't just to accumulate a load of expensive clothes to wallow in and never wear. It is also to try to make responsible decisions and buy ethically made clothing. Now this can come in many forms: organic, vegan, fairtrade, home-made (by which I mean made in your own country rather than exported). It isn't always possible to achieve all these things in one garment, but just by thinking about where something comes from and what it's made of, you can decide what kind of consumer you want to be. Personally, I have decided that I want to support brands which trade fairly and ensure that conditions in the factories which supply the garments are up to standard. This decision was mainly made by reading To Die For by Lucy Siegle which alerted me to the problems with fast fashion and the impact it's having on people worldwide.

I don't mean to attack cheap clothing at all. Or at least, it would be pretty hypocritical if I did, because I have a load of cheaply-made and cheaply-bought shoes, dressed and tops. While most of them aren't particularly good quality, I have got a decent amount of wear out of them and I wouldn't say that they are all prone to falling apart at any second. I think that part of the problem is that whenever we buy cheap clothing, we assume it will be OK to get rid of after just a couple of wears because it won't last any longer than that. This has increased as standards in clothing appear to get lower and a culture of disposable fashion emerges.

I don't know how well I'm going to fare in my quest to build an ethically sourced capsule wardrobe, but I hope that by avoiding just going to the shops all the time out of habit, I can change how I find clothes. And let's not forget that there are so many other ways of finding affordable clothing - vintage, second-hand etc.

How do you feel? Are you always conscious of what you're buying? Would you like to change your shopping habits?

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