OUR EDITORIAL FEATURE BLOG



An exclusive piece written by Alexie Kalenga

Alexie Kalenga is a marketeer, model and sustainable fashion enthusiast. Her expertise lies in purchase intension and retail consumer behaviour. Her passion for helping people understand all aspects of sustainability flow through to her passion for saving the environment

“It’s going to charity”

The scene is set. All the latest trends have filtered down from the runways to our fingertips.
We are inspired by top-to-toe fuchsia pink seen by the Kim Kardashian and Balenciaga collaboration, and the denim micro mini brought back by Diesel at SS22 Milan Fashion week.
Hence, it’s time for a new wardrobe!! With an overload of constant inspiration, we crave new clothes, yet we have NO space. So, we decide to do something good for the environment, and for our community too. Afterall, it’s going to charity right!
Did you know that one in three young women in the UK think that a piece of clothing is “old” after they’ve worn it once or twice.
When you decide to make a charitable donation, do you ever consider where your clothes eventually end up? We tend to imagine that the clothing charity process is quite simple: you drop off your bag full of clothes at your local Oxfam or British Heart Foundation, a fairy-like volunteer whisks them off to the nearest rack, someone buys your pre-loved and boom, your clothes have new lives in new homes, right?
In part, yes, however there’s quite a complicated process that actually occurs behind the scenes. Here’s a glance into that process. Unfortunately, not every piece of clothing makes it onto the shop floor. Results from Statista showed that UK households bought around 57.63 billion British pounds worth of clothing in 2021. According to clothes aid, we the UK public, send over 700,000 tonnes of clothing to textiles banks, clothing collections and charities every year. To put that into perspective, it would be enough to fill 459 Olympic-size swimming pools!!! Get your rubber arm bands ready and imagine diving into that.
 However, 350,000 tonnes, which amounts to £140 million worth of used wearable clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. Here you’re thinking, the math doesn’t add up, where do the rest of our clothes go? Well, according to Brooks, “as little as 10-30% of what is given to UK charities overall actually ends up being sold over the counter.”
 
Redial! Remember when we touched upon the complicated selection process at charity shops a minute ago? When your clothes aren’t bought in shops, they are more often than not sold to textile merchants, who then sort, grade, and export the surplus garments. So, a lot of our donations do not make the cut and if they haven’t been sent to a landfill in the UK, they make an international trip. Final destination, the warmer and sunnier climate of Sub-Saharan Africa. The magical moment of your donation is turned into a commodity. Since the 1980s and 90s, second hand clothing from Western Countries such as the UK has gained a significant market share across Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. However, today we’re going to zoom into Ghana’s capital Accra. Van Lunn and Binotto said that “in the West, clothes are disposed of when they are no longer considered useful, desirable or valuable.” In fact, over 15 million used garments flood the streets of Accra every week from Europe, North America, and Australia. This weekly influx of clothing fuel Accra’s markets and create a micro economy that supports over 5,000 retailers, all selling unwanted clothing from the west. Now, I know what we’re thinking, “that doesn’t sound too bad, at least the clothes are creating jobs…” However, the people who sell these clothes, many of which are women, earn an average of £3.70 a day; and they unfortunately are the last point of contact in this transaction.
In Accra, the used clothing market seems to be quite profitable with an average of 60 cargo ship containers full of clothes arriving every week, and this market is said to have created over 2.5 million jobs, but it is equally quite risky. You never know what a container will include until you open it up. With the ever-changing fast fashion micro-trends and a lack of quality in modern day clothing, what was seen as lucrative business venture for many in Accra, is not anymore. Some clothing arrives with rips and tears, missing buttons, sweat stains and even blood stains. With that being said, close to 40 per cent of the clothing arriving in Ghana are of such low quality they are deemed worthless on arrival and end up dumped in landfill. In the lively Kantamanto Market, within Accra, about 6 million clothing items are dumped as waste every week. Sadly, these clothes are dumped in overflowing landfills, that are now ingulfing neighbouring slums where people live and work and raise their children. And as if that isn’t enough, when monsoon season hits, tropical storms sweep enormous volumes of clothing into the city’s sewers. These heaps of now wet garments suffocate the drainage systems which create drain blockages and folding. What follows next is stagnant waters, and a breeding ground for rodents, insects, and diseases.
 
So, you’ve got all of this information now, and it’s a little bit overwhelming, right? What can we do to create solutions rather than encouraging a problem?
 
Well, your first solution is lying in your old biscuit tin, at the back of a dark cupboard somewhere. That’s right, it’s your sewing kit. We probably have one for that just in case moment and this is your reminder to use it. If something gets a hole or a tear, sew it up. You don’t need to be at a seamstress level to do this. Perhaps you don’t know where or how to start, that’s okay, just YouTube it like the rest of us or join a sewing social media or real-life community. Which brings us to the second point. Join a sustainable fashion community that works for you. Whether it is sewing, knitting or even upcycling, join a community where you can learn a new skill and create something for yourself. Yes, it will take time, but trust the process.  All good things take time, and you are worth the time. The third piece of advice revolves around time. In a fast-paced world that feeds off fast fashion, why not take a breath and shop slowly. It may not sound that exciting, but you won’t regret it. Slow fashion is a movement motivated by taking the time to look for quality pieces that last longer. Look for long lasting staple pieces and take the time to define your own signature style. It’s time to give your clothes a longer life in your home.
 
Now, this piece is not meant to discourage you from donating to charitable organisations. These organisations support a lot of communities and families. Let the stories of Ghana and many other countries encourage you to opt for quality and be a catalyst for you to redefine and create your own unique style.

 

 editorial feature blog 

Photo Credit @tasha.h_film. You can follow Tasha and Alexia on Instagram @alexie_kalenga

 

An exclusive piece written by Marcelo Marino

Marcelo Marino is an Art Historian and the Director of “Estudios de Moda” (Fashion Studies), a series of books on Fashion History and Fashion Theory published in Spanish in Buenos Aires and Madrid by Ampersand.

"Fashion is not always about the future"

Talking about the future of fashion has always been a fashionable obsession. Fashion, by definition, is expressed as an idea of future. One collection succeeds another, one style replaces the previous one, the new becomes old. Even each year has a Pantone-designated colour that displaces the previous one. The colour of 2022 is called “Very peri” and that of 2023 will be “Digital lavender”. Both are from the purple family -two different shades of purple- and for me there are no big differences between them. What will make “Digital Lavender” the new trending colour will be the speeches and narratives around the idea of the new colour the year and suddenly, the poor “Very peri” will be forgotten. The truth is that both shades of purple somehow already existed, always existed, and will continue to exist.

The same goes for fashion. Although we think that fashion is the future, in reality fashion is the past and above all it is the present in which some parts of the clothing styles of the previous years and decades are recreated.

However, the discussion of the future of fashion is always present and above all, it takes the form of the apocalyptic announcement of its end. During the first year of the Covid pandemic and with the successive lockdowns that reached every country in the world, including the great fashion capitals, the ideas of the end of fashion began to be discussed again. Actually, what looked like The End was that the process of commodification of fashion had stopped. What is normally confused with the future of fashion is fundamentally linked to its commercial aspect, the next collection, the next sales season and so on. But the truth is that during the lockdowns we were not left without clothes. Quite the contrary, we realized that we had too many and most of those clothes in our closet we don't use them because we forget they are there or because we are too lazy to refresh them and bring them back to life. Nevertheless, it was at that moment that many of us rescued an old jumper or some jeans from ten years ago and still in perfect condition. Others were more courageous and transformed, disassembled, intervened, redesigned and recreated new garments with fragments of others. I do not want to romanticize the moment of the pandemic, nor do I want to recite an ode to needlework. What I intend to point out is that something in fashion always remains alive, even if we are told that it is going to end. There is a mainstream fashion that we have all consumed and continue to consume. But there are also other individual actions that can become fashionable for us and spread collectively.

Take for example the JW Anderson patchwork knit cardigan worn by Harry Styles that recently entered the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. That cardigan would not be in the National Collections if it had not been popularized during the pandemic by the version that a young American knitter, Liv Huffman, made of it. Harry Styles wore that cardigan to a concert rehearsal and Huffman decided to recreate it and teach how to knit it via her Tik Tok account. Hundreds of fans began to knit their own versions and it went so viral that JW Anderson released the patterns and instructions to reproduce it according to the original design. Such was the popularity of the cardigan that the V&A now exhibits, Harry's cardigan alongside the knitted one by Liv Huffman in the Fashion and Textile galleries. The full story can be seen in the documentary series Secrets of the Museum on BBC Player and versions knitted around the world can be easily traced with the hashtag #HarryStylesCardigan. Examples and anecdotes like this were innumerable during the pandemic and show that the creative power of fashion is what is important. Not all of us need to start knitting to create a positive change, but we can all find imaginative solutions to reduce unnecessary consumption.
Fashion that matters is built in the present. Approaching the materiality of clothing, knowing textiles and their creation processes, valuing quality, sustainability and good design are good guides to review our wardrobe. I do not mean that we should have a nostalgic look and recover the past to relive it in the present. Nor is it about going back to needle work or sewing and not buying new clothes anymore. Rather, it is about giving meaning in the present to what we bought in the past and giving our creative abilities a chance to build a subjectivity for ourselves. It's not about wearing old clothes; it's about developing a style that admits the incorporation of what we already have. It makes no sense to go against the grain of the times. That's not fashion either.
This new way of relating to fashion should also be applied to our purchases and as responsible consumers we have to demand that sustainability is not for the rich or a prerogative of luxury brands. All brands should offer sustainable alternatives for a wide variety of audiences. Clearly this is a utopia but when we talk about inclusive fashion brands, the question of class is as important as that of gender, identity or sizes. The great Italian fashion theorist, Maria Luisa Frisa says that “fashion has become an insular phenomenon, which is dangerously positioning itself outside of society”. This is an alert so that individually and collectively we make sense of fashion practices. The communicational power of fashion is fascinating, and we have to master it in our own ways. The “Harry Styles’ cardigan phenomenon” was a phenomenon of global communication. If it hadn't been for a Liv Huffman, that cardigan wouldn't be a museum piece today. Many media outlets highlight now JW Anderson's gesture of making patterns available but quickly forget that the main link that unites the chain was Huffman's video on Tik Tok.
Fashion is more vital than ever and truly takes centre stage in our lives. Fashion is in our Instagram accounts. We all follow at least one influencer, we watch fashion shows and adverts, we follow our favourite brands or wait for the big sign of Sale on the feed. Fashion is a complex system that connects us with the world. We have to know how to use it for our benefit and according to our wishes. And if the Pantone colour of the year for 2023 will be “Digital lavender” but you actually like the plain Green, well just choose your plain Green and make it the mark of your identity.

Marcelo Marino is an Art Historian and the Director of “Estudios de Moda” (Fashion Studies), a series of books on Fashion History and Fashion Theory published in Spanish in Buenos Aires and Madrid by Ampersand.

You can follow Marcelo on Instagram: @thebestfashionbooks and @marcelomarinow