A Guide to Shopping for more Ethical & Sustainable Festival Outfits

24 Apr, 2020 | Festival Style

Today marks Fashion Revolution Day 2020 but I’ve had this post in my drafts since Fashion Revolution Week last year! I was a bit scared to post it because I didn’t have all the answers and felt my buying habits weren’t good enough – but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s better to risk being called out for some hypocrisy if you’re getting the ethical fashion conversation going.

To quote someone else, “we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste ethical fashion perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” If this post can make a few people question where they’re choosing to put their money then I’m happy!

I’ve been on a journey over the past year and a half with reassessing the way I consume clothing and can proudly say that I’ve now broken up with fast fashion for good! Hopefully, this guide with its four steps of purchasing and heaps of tips can help you navigate the minefield of being more sustainable and ethical in your fashion choices, whether that’s in festival fields or day today.

Why is pushing back against fast fashion so important for the planet & for people?

Need some convincing that the fashion industry poses a big problem? Fashion Revolution started to commemorate the Rana Plaza disaster where 1,134 were killed in the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, a tragedy that could have been avoided by better workers rights. They died making OUR clothes, for US to buy from high street chains.

Here are some more facts about the global industry from Fashion Revolution & Oxfam that will hopefully inspire you to make a change:

Fashion’s impact on People:

  • Over 90% of workers in the global garment industry have no possibility to negotiate their wages or conditions.
  • 77% of UK retailers believe there is a possibility of modern slavery in their supply chain.

Fashion’s impact on the Planet:

  • Around 150 billion garments are now produced annually. Let that sink in for a second.
  • The clothes sent to UK landfill every year weigh the same as the Empire State Building.
  • Producing plastic-based fibres for textiles uses around 342 million barrels of oil a year
  • It takes between 10 and 100% of the weight of fabric in chemicals to produce that fabric.
  • Dyeing and finishing garments can take up to 200 tonnes of water for every tonne of fabric – it would take 13 years to drink the amount of water needed to make one t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

Why “Festival Fashion” can be one of the worst fast fashion offenders of them all:

  • Festival outfits are often clothes people buy for one weekend or to fit a specific theme… or even worse ‘just for the ‘gram’.
  • As festival clothing becomes a more mainstream independent designers’ ideas are more and more frequently being ripped off and made badly in cheap materials by wholesalers.
  • The materials that we favour for our festival wear, like lycra, sequins, glitter and feathers aren’t planet friendly, they contain lots of plastic which get into our water streams. Read more about the impact of sequins here.

But there are some simple steps that we can all take to lessen our festival wardrobe’s environmental and human impact – and indeed the impact of everything we choose to clothe ourselves with!

The Festival Wear Buyerarchy of Needs

Shop less chart
Adapted from the original concept by Sarah Lazoric.

If you work your way up the pyramid, prioritising the bottom options, every time you’re looking for a festival outfit you will dramatically lessen your impact on the planet. You’ll also save yourself money, time and wardrobe space!

Let’s Start the Festival Fashion Revolution!

Working our way from the bottom to the top of the pyramid in order of priority… here are some hot tips for shopping for your most ethical wardrobe. I’ve also included some bonus actions for each one if you want to explore them to the next level, get your inner activist out and convince others to do the same!

Love your existing wardrobe graphic

Re-wear & Love what you already have!

This is one I have to repeat to myself as a mantra! This means being inventive with what you already have, for example maybe that silk kimono also doubles as a headwrap or maybe you can wear that catsuit under a dress like a pair of leggings? Go all Gok Wan capsule wardrobe vibes on your outfits and you’ll come up with a load of new lewks I’m sure!

This also means mending… I’m lucky to be quite nimble with a sewing machine but if you’re not then ask a friend to help. Or if it’s really worn out then maybe you could try upcycling it into something else?

If the number of times a garment was worn were doubled, the greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime would be 44% lower.

Bonus Actions and Ideas for Loving Your Existing Wardrobe:

• Use the #OOOTD hashtag to share your ‘Old Outfit Of the Day’.
• Create a Fashion Love Story using the hashtag #LovedClothesLast with a piece of treasured clothing like I have in this Instagram post!
• Do Love Not Landfill’s #BigTryOn challenge to explore what’s already in your wardrobe.
• Once you’ve done that make a pile of everything that needs mending and set up a Stitch & Bitch!
• Download the 30 wears app to track what you’re wearing and make sure you wear anything you buy new at least 30 times!

Swap and borrow graphic for sustainable living

Swap & Borrow

This one is something me and my friends have been doing a lot more recently – it’s especially useful for fancy things that you might only wear for one occasion. If you’ve got a specific theme to dress for do a shout out on social media and see if someone has that cowboy hat / 80’s ballgown/dinosaur tail/mirrorball catsuit/pair of neon platforms / other ridiculous thing that you absolutely need for the weekend before you buy it never to be worn again.

Or why not rent something? The rental market in the fashion space is something that’s been getting more popular recently. My friend Jess who is behind Kokomo Design makes incredible dresses out of perspex discs, they’re understandably pricey and a real statement piece so she’s started a rental shop for them. Self-confessed former fast fashion addict the amazing Luinluland on Instagram has a service where you can rent from her epic wardrobe. And there are heaps more services popping up online!

Bonus Actions & Ideas for Clothes Swapping:

• Set up a group chat or a Facebook group with your festival friends, list the threads that you rarely wear and have a swap system in place for those amazing pieces.
• Use Fashion Revolution’s amazing resources to organise your own Clothes Swap event in your community!

Second hand vintage and thrifted graphic

Shop Second Hand, Vintage or Thrifted

It’s a no brainer why buying second hand is better for the environment than buying new. It’s a great way to find unique pieces and give them a second life whilst being pretty sure you’re not going to be dressed the same as the next person you see at a festival.

Find second-hand shops or vintage boutiques where you live or online (Etsy has a huge vintage range!). Head for a rummage at the charity shop or get involved at a kilo sale or market. Check out Depop or eBay.

If you’re already at a festival there are often really great vintage shops there! I picked up an amazing vintage Levi jacket at Download last year and have had quite a few unusual pieces from festivals over the years, the Oxfam festival shop is always one of my favourites.

Bonus Actions & Ideas for Shopping Second Hand:

• Raid your mum / grandma’s wardrobe – bet they’ve got some corking pieces getting dusty at the back!
• Set up a jumble sale! My housemate set up Bzzaar, a jumble sale in Bristol, when she was sick of there being no good ones and it is now an amazing social event where you can find some really amazing clothes.

Make ad repurpose graphic for sustainable living

Make it! Upcycle it! Repurpose it!

If you’re that way inclined, why not try your hand at making your own clothes or accessories? Think about where your materials come from when doing so, and to lessen your impact consider up-cycling something you already have or using old materials.

There are so many blogs and tutorials online for inspiration and advice. I love the simplicity and chicness of Collective Gen’s altering ideas, Rachel Burke’s makes and processes are always super inspiring, make-up goddess The Skulstress has headpiece tutorials alongside her incredible make-up tutorials if you’re keener on videos.

You can find a post by me on how to upcycle your old tote bags here and I’ve been thinking for a while about doing some tutorials on how to make stuff for festivals like easy headpieces & that sort of thing! Would that be of interest to you? Let me know in the comments if that is something you’d like to see!

Consciously buy new graphic

Buy New – but do it consciously

Failing the top 4, your last resort is to buy new. There are a few things you can keep in mind when considering an ethical festival wear purchase…

Questions to ask before buying new clothes:

Who made it?
What do you know about the supply chain? The living and working conditions of the garment workers? Are they paid a fair wage and allowed to join a union?

Where was it made?
Does it have loads of air miles from travelling around the world? Is it made somewhere that has a poor record of workers rights?

What is it made out of?

What are the impacts of the fabrics you’ve chosen? Is it recycled or recyclable? Will it last you? What will you be able to do with it when it’s no longer wearable? If it’s sequins, tassels or faux fur (all of that good stuff that’s actually just awful plastic) is it good quality or will it shed leaving a trail of microplastics?

Do you really need it?
Can you do any of the first four steps instead of buying it? How many years will it last you? How many wears will you get out of it?

Buy it because it makes your heart sing and your eyes sparkle! Buy it because you’ve been dreaming about it! Buy it because it will make an independent business owner do a happy dance! Buy it because you’ll wear it forever – and maybe even pass it down to your children!

Don’t buy it as a quick fix, for a dopamine hit or in a rush without trying it on.

I gave up buying new but I have still been shopping small and independent from brands who are transparent about their policies and have great ethics! Stay tuned for an update on this post about ethical festival wear designers to see some more of the amazing brands I like. Yep, I have been spending more on my clothes than I used to, which I am very privileged to be able to do but I’m probably still spending the same amount as before I made this lifestyle change – just buying less!

Bonus Actions & Ideas when Buying New:

• Hold your favourite brands accountable, ask them about their supply chains and policies! Email them or ask them on socials #WhoMadeMyClothes & #WhatsInMyClothes. Read Fashion Revolution’s guide to Digital Activism here.
• Shout about your favourite ethical and independent brands. They are small fish in a big pond and anything you can do from a little comment on social media or sha+ring and leaving them a nice review makes a huge difference.

Want to Learn More about Ethical & Sustainable Fashion?

This issue is so much more complex than what I’ve covered in this post… But we all just need to start somewhere – and that’s with getting informed and staying curious.

Keep a keen eye out for big brands & greenwashing. There are zero big high street brands that are truly ethical. The seasonal approach alone and the number of clothes that they create negates anything that might be achieved by using slightly more sustainable fabrics in one swimwear collection for example!

If you want to educate yourself on the issues more get following some of the most interesting people & blogs I’ve found on the subject; Aja Barber, Sophie Benson, Venetia La Manna and Tolly Dolly Posh. Get involved in the Fashion Revolution, not just on Fashion Revolution Week, but with the events and resources they offer all year around.

If you do nothing else, watch the True Cost documentary (it’s on Netflix!) it really gives an incredible overview of the complexities of all the issues and makes sense in a way I hadn’t seen before.

Please let me know what you think in the comments! I’d love to hear about your buying habits and your relationship with your wardrobe.

Pin it for later!

A guide to sustainable ethical festival outfits

1 Comment

  1. Gloria

    Thanks for sharing this post! Interesting post.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *