Culture corner #6

Like most of my generation, I have grown up in a culture of fast fashion; in a society that not only allows it, but encourages it. From a young age we are lured into the notion that we must always have ‘new’, a desire that is made suspiciously easy thanks to the cheap prices boasted by retail chains.

In school we become desperate to keep up with the trends that our friends adopt, saving pocket money and cash earned from poorly paid weekend and holiday jobs to invest in the current fad (for my era this was a rotation of Jack Wills, Superdry and Hollister).

Until we are old enough to start learning and questioning the choices around what we buy, we have already been sucked into the thrill of shopping sprees in Primark, getting as much as we could possibly cram into those weak paper bags.

I would deliriously anticipate a rare Cardiff trip to spend the entirety of my small budget on anything inexpensive I could get my hands on; returning home and parading my purchases around the house, only to wear the poorly made items for a short period of time before the excitement faded and the urge to replace my wardrobe engrossed me like a reptile preparing to shed its skin.

Online shopping was a game changer: I could now browse the internet as soon as I got paid and shift products around in my basket until they matched what I could afford. Practically every pound of my teenage income was instantly wasted on outfits that were destined to be donated or doomed to a life hid away in a drawer.

Honestly, I don’t even think I liked half of what I bought, but if it was in the sale and just my size, I had to have it. This addictive attitude initiated an unhealthy relationship with consuming, coincidentally defining my ‘style’ as confused and eclectic (this hasn’t changed much although my buying habits certainly have). I never questioned how or where these garments were made – why would I? The process was convenient and the discounts were enough to prevent me from educating myself on other options.

I suppose fashion – if you can call questionable leggings and an armful of tacky bracelets that – has always been my way of expressing myself. Looking back at old photos I cringe at the combinations I would proudly adorn, however in the moment I felt unfalteringly confident, which is an important yet complicated emotion to grasp whilst growing up.

Fast fashion preys on our innocence: the less we (the consumer) know, the better. The companies assume we are stupid, but really they just shelter us from the truth. I think one of the main challenges surrounding a sustainable lifestyle is the amount of individual research required to discover the ethics and morals behind a business putting people off.

The allusive nature of the fashion industry also makes it difficult to know who to trust. There are hundreds of amazing brands out there built on a truly environmentally friendly ethos, however many names are attempting to redeem themselves of notoriously harmful practices by producing a token ‘sustainable’ collection. This is a half-hearted effort to entice customers by advertising products manufactured with fabrics that may be marginally better, but that continue to be mass produced and feed into the exploitation of factory workers, many of whom are People of Colour. For more information on this check out @sustainable_jess Instagram post.

I didn’t catch the charity shop bug until I was in sixth form and, while I’m tempted to convince you that the reasoning behind my second hand pursuits was a conscious commitment to saving the planet, the original purpose was linked to the fact that it offered me access to even more low-priced clothing.

As a skint university student my vintage ventures progressed from an intermittent outing to becoming my main source of investment. Sure, I still shopped on the high street (and very occasionally do now if I am totally besotted by an item), however a combination of wising up to the devastating impact fast fashion has on accelerating climate change, the evolution of my style leading me in the direction of more unique and retro pieces, and the incredible selection of charity and vintage shops in Nottingham, persuaded me to increasingly seek the treasure-hunting contentment linked to second hand pieces.

Since then my sustainable journey has grown to accommodate supporting small businesses where possible, investigating the manifestos and practices upheld by organisations before even considering placing an order, and strictly limiting the proportion of my wardrobe that is ‘new’. I have stripped back my consumption to a bare minimum, adding ideas to a list and scouring charity and vintage shops to try and locate pieces (obviously pre-corona).

This dedication extends to other areas outside of fashion, including toiletries, homeware and food, although as clothes are my main vice, this is the key focus for me. I erupt with excitement each time I think about getting my own home and having the authority to completely take ownership over rituals – my biggest overhaul will be to scrap single use packaging by refilling lots of glass jars with cupboard foods bought at zero waste shops, as well as collecting furnishings from local preloved stores.

I am in no way trying to shame people that rely on low-cost shops for essentials. There is nothing wrong with treating yourself here either (I certainly still can’t afford to splash out on designer clothing). However, if we are in a position to, we can choose to disperse our wealth wisely and fund businesses that are making a difference.

As Aja Barber mentioned on an Instagram post, a helpful incentive to save for higher end items from sincere businesses is to put away however much you would typically spend in say, Topshop, every time you feel tempted, and soon enough you will have amassed enough to pick out a luxury, satisfying reward. Otherwise, swapping your normal circuit for a mooch in the charity shops could see you leaving with some gems that are impressive value for money and in wonderful condition. You will ultimately be contributing to a good cause while recycling so it’s a win-win!

As a customer in 2020 we have the power and responsibility to educate ourselves on where our products come from when buying first-hand. We can channel the vast amount of information available to us on the internet into discovering and championing brands that are inclusive, pay their workers fairly on every step of the supply chain, and incorporate eco-friendly methods. Unfortunately this path is typically more expensive, but even consciously acting on this to supplement one area, such as switching to green energy or ditching plastic by bringing reusable tote bags, makes waves.

While I would love to suddenly drop every negative factor filtered into my shopping habits and adopt non-polluting ways of living, it would be outrageously pricey and awkward to do so. Instead, I pace myself by making small adjustments as and when I can. For example, I am stocking up on reusable face cloths to remove my makeup, but if on a certain evening they’re all in the wash I reach for my stash of Simple’s biodegradable wipes, as these are still marginally better than the standard ones known to cause major waste problems. The same applies for period products – I try to remember to order biodegradable sanitary towels from Time Of The Month (TOTM), however if I forget I supplement them with average pads.

Trying to make sustainable choices has been tricky whilst in lockdown. With only vital stores remaining physically open and the relevant etiquette advising us to quickly collect what we need and leave, there is a lack of inspiration or opportunity to transform our routines.

Safety during the pandemic is evidently priority, however as Greta Thunberg recently reiterated, climate crisis is as urgent an issue (and eventually a disaster that will affect far more people if nothing is done to stop it) as COVID-19.

My latest endeavour on the sustainability front is knickers. A fundamental everyday staple, but also one I want to look cute and feel my best in. With the abundance of extra time in isolation that would normally be spent at the pub I have been able to carefully consider where I am spending my money, and pants are a topic I hadn’t got round to exploring yet.

Most of my lingerie was previously picked up from a store such as H&M, without a second thought about the materials it was made with. I tend to go for briefs although they need to fit perfectly and stay snug to my skin. Quite frankly, I was very complacent with the assortment I had accumulated (lets be real, we all have our absolute favourite pair) but sadly they can’t last forever or be mended in the same way as other garments, so I decided that when I do dispose of underwear I want it to be in the greenest manner possible.

A quick Google search pinpointed lots of fabulous sustainable alternatives (such as Organic Basics and Everlane), but most were fairly boring and contradicted with a hefty price tag. Scouring my brain for any revelations, my attention was brought back to an advert I had heard on The High Low podcast. Queue Stripe & Stare, a fun and colourful company that stands out from the sea of standard sustainable pants and that kept my purse satisfied!

Stripe & Stare’s natural underwear, loungewear and sleepwear is crafted from Lenzing MicroModal, a soft fibre sourced from Beechwood Trees. As a result, 95% less water is used in production than with cotton. It’s also great to know that the company is rigorous when it comes to inspecting factories, and really values its employees. You can read more about the processes and principles here.

Depending on whether you’d rather spend less and gradually build up a collection, or are desperate to integrate them into your daily regime, you can buy either a single pair or a funky themed box set. Each design is framed with a delicate lace trim and there is a multitude of patterns, from neon to leopard print, to suit all personalities.

I ordered the ‘Spring Pastels’ parcel for £40, featuring lovely bright hues in yellow, pink and blue. I received an email shortly after purchase informing me that the green was out of stock, which surprisingly worked in my favour as I was able to opt for a classic black pair in replacement.

Forty quid may seem like a lot, but in normal circumstances I’d grab a single pair of pants for around £8 so in terms of cost it evens out, especially if you tend to buy lingerie from somewhere like Boux Avenue. I don’t mind dishing out a little extra as the quality is exceptional, bringing hope they’ll be long lasting, and I’m safe in the knowledge that the material will be kind to the planet by breaking down faster when worn out.

Claiming to sell the world’s most comfy knickers is a bold statement, so I was very cynical about putting them to the test as a comfy knicker connoisseur myself. After trialling the set for over a month now, I can wholeheartedly admit it has been a dreamy experience.

The fabric is flattering and smooth, with no dodgy VPL, itching or sagging. I settled on a size medium, measuring UK 10-12 on the clearly outlined size charts, which fits like a glove without being too tight. If Goldilocks were involved, these undies would be the third bowl of porridge: just right.

They remain resilient and springy after washes and mould to my body so much so I genuinely forget I’m even wearing them! The gentle and supportive nature complements my sensitive skin, which is crucial as this is the attire I live most of my life in!

Of course I had to coordinate the knickers with matching tops and accessories to demonstrate exactly how vibrant they are! It’s cumbersome finding a pair of briefs that exude sexiness, but that’s exactly how I feel when I slip these on.

Another exciting everyday update I wanted to share with you is the arrival of my Estrid. Ever since I started shaving I have relied on shoddy plastic razors; the cheap hot-pink multipacks notorious for their unreliability that are relocated to the bin after only a handful of uses.

While there are plenty of options targeted at men, it bugged me that there was a distinct lack of eco-friendly shavers on the market designed specifically with women in mind. Like magic, the lovely team behind Estrid very kindly sent me a starter kit (PR – product sample) to trial, which I have been eagerly awaiting! If the pretty packaging doesn’t sell it to you, then please allow me to explain…

The formation of a heavy steel handle makes this razor robust and durable, unlike the pathetically flimsy versions I have been let down by for so long. The five-blade cartridge is lined with aloe vera and shea butter, with the addition of Vitamin E promising a sharp and silky shave while the vegan ingredients simultaneously avoid animal cruelty. I’ll hold my hands up and admit I didn’t even know this was common practice in most brands, so thanks to Estrid for the inside scoop.

The affordable £7.95 starter kit contains your razor, cartridge and a super cute wall holder (I’ve positioned mine on the bathroom mirror), with a service to deliver four additional blades as often as personally needed coming in at £9.95 with free, climate-compensated shipping.

Presently there are four groovy colours to choose from (would it even be me if I hadn’t gone with ‘blush’?), as well as travel cases and body care lotions. The directions included in the box, which is recycled and recycleable again, concisely walk you through how to get the most out of your new shaving buddy.

Review wise: so far so good. The scratchy element is eliminated by the protective, glossy barrier that feels like tiny fairies dancing across my freckled skin. Despite the dainty armour the blade is fierce, effectively removing hairs without a snag whilst leaving behind a glowing, moisturised surface.

Believe me when I say I ~ never ~ thought I’d describe a razor as ‘cool’, in fact it’s an element of my beauty schedule I hardly discuss for that precise matter, but this is exactly the vibe that Estrid exudes. Rather than an object best stowed away in a drawer, the scandi-chic style is basically an adorning accessory in its own right.

If you needed another reason to persuade you, a percentage of each purchase is donated to female charity partners. Follow Estrid on Instagram for wholesome, body-positive content and more info.

Whilst on the topic of sustainability, I wanted to include a list of Black-owned vintage stores that I have been made aware of during the last few weeks and will be looking into as I continue my transition to a greener lifestyle.

Black-owned vintage stores
BLK MKT Vintage
Washington Ave
Retro Rhapsody
Subrina Heyink Vintage
NXC Vintage
Atijo Store

For more UK and US based black-owned eco-friendly companies, this article from Curiously Conscious is a great starting point.

Please let me know your thoughts and any other brands you may have come across!

Lily x

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