Thanks in part to the recent recession, a greater understanding of ethical and environmental issues and the surge in popularity that vintage fashion has experienced in recent years, British shoppers are a more switched on bunch than ever before. While not for everyone, many fashion-conscious consumers have become focused on their consumption of clothes. Fairtrade, ethical, organic and pre-loved are the buzz words of the moment and along with charity shopping, clothes swaps are becoming an increasingly popular way of finding cheap new threads.
In recent weeks Bristol has seen Oxfam’s Big Swish come to town, as well as the Goldmine clothes swap I blogged about back in January and last month I was inspired to hold my own frock swap. Although small it was a huge success with everyone cleansing their wardrobes while giving old clothes a new home. At the end of the night we were left with so much stuff , below, it took two pairs of hands to take it to the charity shop!
Hosting your own swapping session couldn’t be easier and one organisation that supports this is Labour Behind the Label. LBTL is a campaign that supports garment workers across the world in their fight for better working conditions and is based right here in Bristol. Ship-Shape was lucky enough to chat with LBTL’s Campaigns Coordinator Anna McMullen, who, when she isn’t organising mass protests or flying around the world hosting events for garment workers, writes newsletters and meets with companies to discuss LBTL’s demands. Read on to see what Anna thinks about clothes swapping and the Bristol fashion scene…
Ship-Shape & Bristol Fashion: In the last five years the vintage/second-hand/clothes swapping industry has experienced a huge surge in popularity, why do you think this is?
Anna McMullen: The UK fashion industry has grown an active ethics and eco fashion focus. Off the back of this, I think vintage has become a key thread. The economic downturn has also played a major part, with shoppers challenging the excesses in fashion and considering new and different ways to approach their look. Clothes swapping is also just plain fun. It has become popular because people have started doing it and just can’t stop!
SSBF: Do you think consumers today are more switched on about where their clothes come from and the production behind them than five years ago?
AM: I’d like to say this is the case. People have a very black and white view about the goodies and the baddies of the fashion industry, whereas perhaps ten years ago, they wouldn’t have even considered that some companies are better than others. However, we’ve got some way to go to influence the public consciousness on shopping.
SSBF: Consumers are arguably more informed about the garment industry than ever before – have you noticed a shift in the amount or type of shoppers buying second-hand?
AM: It is certainly a market that has grown recently, yes. Although I think it’s a uniquely British thing. Charity shops don’t exist in the same way in most of the rest of Europe, and second hand is looked down on.
SSBF: Bristol has a great mix of charity shops, vintage boutiques and community projects focused on regeneration and recycling, how do you think it compares to other fashion-forward cities in the UK?
AM: Manchester too is very forward in vintage and fashion recycling initiatives, and there are niche areas of London, Leeds, and a number of other cities, with great vibes in recycled, remade and vintage fashion, and some really creative businesses promoting these agendas. Bristol is matching these.
SSBF: How do clothes swaps and buying second-hand garments help sustain and ethically support the fashion industry?
AM: Swapping and buying second hand interrupts the cycle of ‘fast fashion’, which is so destructive. And this isn’t just an environmental message. Since the birth of ‘fast fashion’, production in garment factories has become more frenetic, workers are paid even less in poverty wages, and to cope with the speed and volume of demand, factories have outsourced to use smaller, unaudited units who employ vulnerable people groups such as migrant workers and sometimes children. Swapping and secondhand fashion promotes a ‘slow fashion’ agenda which could see workers paid more to use skills to make more durable and complex garments, causing better employment.
SSBF: Finally, if you had one piece of advice for someone considering hosting a clothes swap event, what would it be?
AM: Use Labour Behind the Label’s amazing pack and have fun!
Thanks so much to Anna and the rest of the LBTL team for this interview. Please visit their site and download the clothes swap pack if you’re planning an event of your own and let me know how you get on organising your swaps!