The complexities of the fashion industry are not going to be ironed out and solved, but each aspect can be worked on and improved. There is no single quick fix and no perfect solution. The main goal is to work towards a circular fashion model across the industry. Every action at this stage has a positive and negative component, however, a step in the right direction is better than no step at all.
We have an excess of clothing available to us that don’t involve further consumer pressures on supply chains: secondhand and donated clothing; this includes shopping at thrift stores, vintage markets and clothing swaps for example. Cue eco-stylist Alex van Os from Op Shop to Runway, who was able to turn her childhood obsession with finding clothes in opportunity shops to a passionate sustainable fashion and lifestyle business.
“Throughout my accomplished styling career in television and fashion, I have witnessed the copious amount of textile waste various industries and individuals go through in the name of fashion and the stigma that comes with shopping for, and wearing, pre-loved goods,” the Australian eco-conscious stylist explains. “My job is about changing peoples’ perceptions and to help them understand that killer style doesn’t have to cost the earth.”
The eco-driven Sydneysider answered some questions for EWP on what it means to shop thrift and how to get started.
EWP: What does a circular model of fashion mean to you?
Alex van Os: Circular Fashion to me means a process where all resources utilised in the creation and subsequent lifespan of a garment is considered. From the recycling of water associated with production to the upcycling of cutting room floor waste, the promotion of wearing pre-loved clothing to extend the garment’s life or the regeneration of fibres from the existing materials. Any fibres not regenerated must naturally decompose in a compostable environment.
EWP: Why is it important to utilise our excess garments rather than buying new?
Alex: Due to the popularity of the fast fashion model, society has had a dynamic shift in the way we consume and the mindset behind it. Sadly it is not about buying one good quality item, wearing and repairing until it literally falls apart; it is now the norm to purchase more clothes of lesser quality and dispose of them after only a few wears. This behaviour has subsequently caused a significant influx of pre-loved clothing entering circulation with a large percentage ending up in landfill. When items are donated and purchased from charity stores these garments are given a valuable life extension. The more we purchase secondhand, the more we save from being sent to landfill. It may sound idealistic and grand schemed but shopping at op shops can actually have a positive impact on altering the course of consumerist focused, mass-producing brands. If consumers demand more fast fashion, brands make more; it’s as simple as that. We must remember that we have the power as consumers to vote with our dollar and that together we can make a difference.
EWP: What advice can you give someone who hasn’t shopped secondhand before and can find it overwhelming to approach?
Alex: Firstly go through your wardrobe and make a list of items you are missing, or look at the current trends for visual references for a particular item or style you desire. Make sure you bring the list of clothing or style references with you to the op shops. When you enter your charity store or vintage shop, go straight to that particular section of clothing such as dresses, jackets etc and start looking in the intended colour palette. If there is nothing there then it is time to move on and look for your next item or garment. Once you become comfortable with this method it’s time to shop the whole store and you must try everything on as labelling and sizing can be deceptive.
EWP: Do you think there is a misconception that people can’t find pieces that represent their style if they buy secondhand?
Alex: Definitely not! I truly believe there is a wide range of varied styles available when shopping secondhand. You can find anything from pre-loved high-end designer wear, to high street fashion pieces. Sourcing these clothes is possible in a large variety of marketplaces either online or in store. It takes some time to figure out where you prefer shopping; ie op shops, vintage or consignment stores or online vintage shops etc. However; once you understand, and are comfortable and become accustomed with the process of shopping in this manner, you can definitely find pieces that are your own style or from your favourite brands.
EWP: What is something everyone can implement immediately to reduce their fashion impact on the environment?
Alex: Having a conscious mindset. Reflecting on and understanding your personal consumer habits, and questioning yourself as to why you are shopping. Is it because you are bored or unhappy? Does the act bring you pleasure (usually in the form of a quick, short-term dopamine hit!)? Or is it something you do socially with friends? If it too often strays from the need of necessity to habitual, mindless consumerism, I believe the mindset needs to change. As a society, we need to slow down our consumption rate for the sake of our environment. The more we purchase, the less we wear our existing wardrobe. As a result, each piece of our clothing’s lifespan is greatly shortened to an average of only seven wears, before it is thrown away. This leads to garments disposed in landfills or donated to op shops at a much faster rate. Slow down and breathe! Shop consciously and buy secondhand as your first choice!
Op Shop to Runway provides wardrobe edits, commercial eco styling for workshops, parades and events or group op shopping tours. To view tour dates, visit opshoptorunway.com. You can also follow the talented stylist on Instagram here @ op_shop_to_runway.