The Story Behind Your Clothes, And The Price of Fast Fashion
9th November 2015
"It’s no longer enough to simply give away an item when you’re done with it – clothes have a story, and it’s up to you to find out what that is."
In preparation for Love The Future of Fashion: Party On After TEDx this Wednesday November 11th, Love The Future caught up with event headline sponsors Bristol Textile Recyclers - you can also view this blog post over at Love The Future.
It’s easier than ever before to pop into the shops and get a brand new outfit for a bargain price. But, just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as true quality bargain clothes. You’ve probably revelled in a new purchase only to find that within a month or so it has fallen to bits, faded in the wash, or simply wasn’t in fashion anymore.
Most of us do the right thing when we’ve grown tired of our clothes – drop it into our local charity shop, or one of the big clothing bins at the supermarket. And we assume that’s the end of our good deed – a charity gets the profit, the item finds a new home, and you’ve saved the landfill from getting fuller.
In reality, the life of your clothes long after you’ve finished with them is decided way before you choose to donate it to the local hospice. The rise of ‘fast’ fashion – low quality, poorly made, cheap clothing – has found the textile reuse and recycling business in a sticky situation.
Getting Stuck In To Clothes - Our Visit to Bristol Textile Recyclers
We visited Bristol Textile Recyclers to find out what happens when you donate your unwanted clothes.
Founded in 1972, Bristol Textile Recyclers is a textiles reuse and recycling factory in St Philips Marsh, Bristol. They receive 100 tonnes of unwanted textiles a week from charity shops, schools and local councils. That's 20 tonnes a day - enough to fill your living room top to bottom! By the time they reach Bristol Textile Recyclers, these clothes are at the end of their life – unwanted by most sellers, BTR are in charge of finding new ways for them to be used.
It’s a side of the clothes industry that not many have heard of, not least Aimee Campanella when she first started her job as marketing manager at Bristol Textile Recyclers. “I loved getting my fashion magazine every week and buying new clothes whenever I could. I was completely immersed in that lifestyle. But when you realise that every new item you buy may one day add to the huge surplus of unwanted, unusable clothing, it makes you want to take back autonomy over your habits and choose not to contribute to it.”
The BTR factory is treasure trove of vintage pieces, the forgotten noughties of fashion, and retro items. They provide a service for vintage traders, upcyclers and recyclers from Bristol all the way to London to come along and dig out the best of the bunch, and they also host open days so members of the public can find forgotten gems or just have a tour of the factory to learn more about the textiles recycling industry.
Less happily, they also receive completely unusable items. Fast fashion has had negative impact on the textile recycling industry, with more nad more low quality garments being produced, which have limited shelf life. Poorly made items are often non-biodegradable and completely un-reusable, leading to shocking figures like the one tonne of dressing gowns that arrive in the factory every week that cannot be reused.
“There’s certain items that aren’t useful to our international markets in Africa, South Asia and Eastern Europe – so they end up with nowhere to go.” Aimee notes that dressing gowns in particular are a huge problem, which is yet to be solved.
Fast fashion is a problem at every stage of the clothes cycle. While it may be cheap, it comes at a price. Has the worker had safe working conditions? Are they being paid well? We often talk about food miles, but it may be time to consider clothes miles, too. But fast fashion retailers simply don’t give out this information easily. Aimee explains: “I haven’t bought anything new for over a year now – shops don’t have the transparency to see where something has been made, and by who. If we take autonomy over our purchases, we are more in control of the impact of our clothes”.
BRISTOL TEXTILE RECYCLERS' REGULAR FASHION SALVAGE EVENT
"Fast fashion should be because someone has made it for you down the road - not because it's been made in Bangladesh and it will fall apart after one use."
The answer to the problem of fast fashion is complex – but it starts with anyone who loves to buy clothes. Buying second hand pieces and quality, new items ensures that the lifecycle will be elongated – the slowing down of fashion is key to ensuring that textiles have a lower impact on the environment.
If you fancy checking out Bristol Textile Recyclers, appointments can be made to have a rummage through the vintage and retro items that come into their factory. Get in touch to make an appointment.
You’ll also catch a glimpse of Bristol Textile Recyclers at Love The Future of Fashion: Party on After TEDx Bristol – Bristol designer Sue Fyfe-Williams will be exploring the relationship we have with denim as a working textile and our perception of the workers who make ‘fast fashion’ items, using unwanted materials from Bristol Textile Recyclers. Inspired by Labour Behind the Label, she has worked with local designers and volunteers to create a collection that raises awareness for where our clothes come from, and demonstrates the creativity that can be achieved.
Also catch Bristol Textile Recyclers on the day, showing how you can convert your unwanted clothes into a tote bag and during the night selling quirky, vintage, retro fashion and accessories at 33% off for ticketholders, at only £6.74 a kilo.