What inspired you to write your latest book?
I’d gradually been buying less and less new and more secondhand over the course of a couple of years – partly because I’d become disenchanted with fast fashion, spending too much time and money on clothes that never really delivered what they promised, and partly because I’d been reading more about the environmental impact and humanitarian problems of the industry and felt too guilty to keep on shopping the way I was. But the biggest wake-up call was probably moving flat when I was suddenly faced with five years’ worth of shopping mistakes.
Sifting through pile after pile of sad, crumpled polyester was the push I needed to make that final break. So I challenged myself to go a whole year without buying anything new (or new-new – I was allowed secondhand), in an attempt to end my toxic relationship with fast fashion and fall back in love with the clothes I already owned instead. And then, a few months into the challenge, I was approached by my publishers to write a guide to breaking up with fast fashion. There were some brilliant books out there that looked at fashion's problems from an academic, analytical perspective but not much that felt super accessible, or – dare I say it – fun.
I wanted to write a book that celebrated the joy of fashion while also being brutally honest about the issues. I wanted to give people helpful, practical solutions rather than simply overwhelming them with scary stats, and I wanted to discuss the emotional side of clothing as well as the cold hard facts. Hopefully How To Break Up With Fast Fashion ticks those boxes!
What are some top tips for those who are keen to shop more sustainably?
There are so many different ways! That's the first tip: don't feel you have to follow the same path as everyone else. If you feel ready for a shopping ban, they can be a really great way to hit 'reset' on our relationship with fashion, and challenge yourself to make the most of the clothes you already own. If you're not up for trying a whole year, start with a month and see how you go. Or alternatively, ease yourself in with a rule like #secondhandfirst. Before you buy anything new, always look to see if you can find it secondhand.
Check vintage shops, charity shops and resale sites like eBay and Depop – you'd be amazed how often you'll find the exact thing you wanted, or close enough, for much cheaper than you would have paid new. I also recommend swapping and sharing as an alternative to buying; investigate some of the brilliant new rental platforms that are coming along now, or just put the call out on WhatsApp and see what your friends are willing to lend. And re-familiarising yourself with a sewing kit is a brilliant thing. If you're prepared to alter clothes and repair them as they get worn, it breathes so much more life into your wardrobe.
What do you think is the future of the fashion industry?
The industry has to change and fast. We need to see the big fashion brands slam on the breaks and seriously slow down their rate of production – to take the pressure off factories and garment workers, as well as reducing the number of surplus clothes that end up in landfill (300,000 tonnes each year in the UK alone). We need to find better ways of working with the materials we already have, recycling old clothes into new, and move towards a circular economy where much less is wasted. We need brands to be open to alternative models of consumption; rental, resale, repair. I'd love a future high street where you can buy a preowned dress from the same shop as a new one, and have an old garment repaired next door. And crucially, more sustainable fashion needs to be accessible to everyone – whatever their size, style or budget. It can't only be the preserve of the thin and rich.
What are your favourite vintage/second-hand pieces in your wardrobe?
It's usually the ones with the biggest emotional connection. So I have two coats that belonged to each of my grandmothers – one a fabulous faux astrakhan, one a really classic navy pea coat – and wearing them always feels really special. There are a couple of vintage dresses that I wore to death in my first year of uni, and they're knackered now but I'd never part with them because they remind me of being young and fun and free. And then there's a dress that I bought from Beyond Retro on the day I decided to write the book. It's a casual, floral-print 70s midi in really soft cotton and it fits like a glove, works in all seasons, goes with everything, and has become a bit of a lucky charm over the past year. I must have worn it about twice a week, and I'm showing no signs of stopping.
What would you advise for those who are new to vintage shopping?