Menswear is big business. So big, in fact, that according to a January 2016 report from Barclays, the value of the global men’s clothing market is expected to reach $40 billion by 2019.
It’s a figure that’s at odds with the well-worn notion that menswear moves slow; the idea that, because men’s trends allegedly shift at a glacial pace, we’re somehow immune to the allure of fast fashion – the industry that gives us up-the-minute clothing at a next-to-nothing price.
But of course, we’re not. (So much so that earlier this year UK retailer New Look announced its plans to open 20 standalone menswear stores.) And as tragedies like Rana Plaza have shown, the price of fast fashion isn’t negligible. Even if the tag suggests otherwise.
If popular opinion would have it that menswear moves slow, it’s still moving too fast. And set to speed up.
So – partly due to the response we received to our report on the aftermath of Rana Plaza, and partly to learn how to shop responsibly ourselves – we decided to compile a guide to shopping with a conscience.
These are the little things you can do to start making a big difference:
Retrain Your Brain
At its core, fast fashion marketing – and the marketing of all fashion to an extent – is a capitalistic machine that preys on your feeling of inadequacy, your insatiable desire to look better and thus be better. “Buy this T-shirt and you’ll be sexier/more manly/literally all of your problems will go away!” etc.
Instead of pandering to Bond villain-like marketers, get wise to the fact that – while clothing is essential and style does matter – you don’t need as many clothes as fashion’s fat cats tell you you do.
“Consumer demand for new trends, greater choice and increasingly competitive pricing has resulted in ‘faster-fashion’,” says Jacqueline Jackson, founder of Lost, Found and Loved Again. “[But the more clothing that’s made], the more resources are required, the more waste produced, the less margin passed on to workers lower down the supply chain, and the less money in your pocket in the long term.”
Put simply, the more clothes we want, the more clothes brands make. So it pays to know the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’.
Do Your Research
Arguably the single most important thing in slowing the fashion industry’s breakneck pace is learning about it, how it works and who it affects.
“Do your research online,” says Jackson. “Check out which labels publish clear details about their sustainability efforts, and look for reputable environmental credentials like eco-labels, organic certifications and recycled materials, as well as social credentials including welfare, Fairtrade and Fair Labor accreditations.”
Ethical brands like People Tree, Nudie Jeans and Patagonia put people first by ensuring fair labour practices are adhered to. And there are a growing numbers of smaller labels like Tom Cridland, the British ‘slow fashion’ brand that offers crew neck sweatshirts, T-shirts and blazers with a 30-year guarantee. (See also Everlane and Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal.)
Elsewhere, at the likes of H&M, Nike and Primark, getting to the bottom of things isn’t easy. Driven by profit above all else, many brands – and not just high street, but high-end too – are reliant on labyrinthine supply chains that lack transparency.
These brands choose to manufacture in countries like Bangladesh where labour is cheap, with little to no regard for the fact that manufacturing might sometimes be subcontracted – meaning their wares are produced at least in part outside of the officially sanctioned working conditions.
“It’s harder to know where exactly the clothing is made and what the working conditions are like for those who put it together when shopping at faceless, corporate fast fashion brands,” says Tom Cridland. “So think beyond what you’re buying to what the brand you’re buying it from actually stands for.”
Something of a no-brainer, buying second-hand means you’re not only extending a garment’s lifespan, but also sidestepping the fast fashion cycle, ensuring your money goes to a charity or small, local business instead of a massive corporation.
Know Your Size
Online shopping has revolutionised the way we buy our clothes, granting us access to a huge array of options, all ready to be couriered direct to our doorstep with as little as a couple of clicks.
But fashion e-commerce comes with its own baggage. “Buying 8 items, trying them on and shipping them back for free might be convenient, but someone is paying for it – and that is the environment,” says Jackson.
The packaging, plastic and carbon emissions involved in the delivery of clothes bought online all take their toll on the environment. Which means knowing your size not only saves you time and money, but the planet too.
Take Care Of Your Clothes
Pick up a T-shirt for the price of a packet of quilted toilet paper and it’s only logical you’d deem it just as disposable. But the less you care for your clothes – no matter what they cost – the more you’ll find yourself shopping.
“Stuffing clothes in your wardrobe, throwing them on the floor and wearing them to do housework is all unnecessary wear and tear,” says Jackson. “As is washing.” Jackson recommends washing at 30 degrees, washing less often and hanging your clothes properly to avoid unnecessary ironing.
It stands to reason that the more you value a piece of clothing – regardless of whether it was £5 or £500 – the more you’ll care for it, and the less likely you’ll need to replace it. Which not only saves you money, but also slows the fashion cycle.
“Treasuring everything you own lends itself both to establishing your signature style and being ethical in not contributing to the huge amount of clothing that ends up in landfill,” says Cridland.
There was a time not so long ago that you couldn’t buy a pair of jeans for the price of a few pints. And the solution to a torn seam or fraying hem wasn’t to chuck the garment in the bin, but to learn how to fix it instead.
Extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use would lead to a 5 to 10 per cent reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints involved in the manufacturing of clothing.
Luckily, you can be semi-lazy and still be ethical. “If you’ve got a jumper you love and you inadvertently tear a seam or the elbows wear out, take it to a dry cleaner to repair the seam or stitch an elbow patch on,” says Cridland.
Or take advantage of repair services offered by labels like Nudie Jeans and Patagonia, both of which will mend your worse-for-wear wares completely free of charge. (See here and here for full details.)
Despite fashion rhetoric that tells you ‘investment’ pieces will last a lifetime, clothes aren’t built to last forever. But just because you’ve worn something out doesn’t mean you should just dump it.
“Lots of brands such as Marks & Spencer offer take-back schemes for old clothes,” says Jackson. “These then get recycled, repaired or, if they’re really dead, reused as materials for other industries.” (See Recycle Now to find out where you can recycle your clothes in the UK.)
Watch The True Cost
Still unsure what all the fuss is about? Cridland suggests a wake-up call with 2015’s The True Cost, the first feature-length documentary to expose the ravages of fast fashion.
“Andrew Morgan’s documentary is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen, and sheds light on what really goes on behind the scenes in this industry,” he says. “If you have a conscience, The True Cost will certainly encourage you to shop more ethically.”
Do you make the effort to shop ethically? Are there any ethically minded brands we should know about?
Let us know below.