Until the 1990s, most major fashion labels produced two main collections a year. In an attempt to compete for market share and capture fashion trends as quickly as possible, most fashion retailers like H&M, New Look, Topshop etc now offer up to 50 collections per year. This is commonly referred to as the ‘fast fashion’ industry. Globally, this industry makes roughly one billion garments yearly, making fast fashion second only to oil as the world’s largest polluter. As part of the Learning Waves TY Media Week Program in association with The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, transition year students decided to tackle the topic of fast fashion during the special 2-hour broadcast ‘Young People in Ireland Today’ on WLR FM.
The average person only wears 20% of the clothes in their wardrobe. Therefore, recycling clothes that are of no use to us and shopping smarter, with sustainability in mind are necessary to help curtail the vast amounts of pollution that the fast fashion industry is causing. Charity shops are a good way to achieve both of these aims. The students interviewed Catherine O’Regan, who works at the Deise Animal Sanctuary Charity Shop in Waterford.
Catherine has noticed a lot more donations and a lot more customers to her shop since environmentalism became more talked about in society. When asked if she believed if people repurposing or donating their clothes to charity shops was important, Catherine responded: “Very important, both for the environment and for the charities they support. I would always tell customers that if at all possible, to buy recycled. But if they are buying new stuff, to buy things that are done in countries that have sustainable environments. Try not to buy 100% cotton because it’s not good for the environment.” She then went on to list countries that, to her knowledge, have a good record for producing sustainable clothing. “South Africa has. China does not. Nor does Japan. Ireland, yes we do. What clothes we make in Ireland, which is very few, they do use sustainable materials.”
Many young people are now preferring to shop around for cheaper and more sustainable clothes. The students asked Catherine if the Deise Animal Sanctuary Charity Shop would be a good place to go for that. “Very much so.” she responded. “All charity shops would be because most charity shops would only be putting out decent, recyclable clothes. And not only are they good for the environment, they’re good for the charity as well. We personally look after animals. We treat over a thousand animals per annum. And at any given time we have roughly 65 animals in our shelter. So any money that’s given to us goes directly to the care of those animals.”
While donating used clothes to charity shops is a good thing, only 10% of donated clothes actually get sold. The rest goes to landfill. This means that people must also think about sustainability when buying new clothes. Bébhínn McGrath owns a shop on The Quay, Waterford, where she makes her own designs from sustainable materials. Although slightly more expensive, she says her clothes are made to last.
“It’s all Irish linen and Marino wool,” Bébhinn explained to the students. “so the linen is from Wexford and the wool is from Donegal… the ethos behind the brand is that it’s an ethical, sustainable brand. And made to order, made to last is the ethos behind it.” Since opening her business in 2017, Bébhínn has received great support from local people. “I think that in this day and age we’re moving back to a more kind of buy local, support local, even with your food shopping. People are trying to keep the money locally or if they can support small businesses.”
Bébhínn also finds it very important to work with brands that share her eye toward sustainability. “Over the past year or so, from launching my brand and spending so much time promoting that, I have come across other likeminded brands based in Ireland. All of the brands that I stock, all of their produce is made in Ireland. I’ve got 8 jewellery designers, 4 ceramic artists, 3 illustrators, some candles, blankets, there’s a great mix. It’s kind of gifts and general homeware, but all independent makers and designers like my own brand with a similar ethos and aesthetic.”
As climate change becomes more of a living reality rather than just a looming threat, sustainability in all aspects of life, including fashion, will be more of a necessity for people to think about in their daily life.