Fashion Insider Clare Press on our global Wardrobe Crisis

Our society is overloaded with stuff. In this context, the vintage wardrobe makes perfect sense: because it’s re-using a resource that is already in existence, and uses no virgin materials.

Clare Press, who urges us ‘not underestimate the power of vintage, thrifted, second-hand and upcyled fashion’, is a fashion insider who has decided to use her knowledge of the industry to interrogate fashion ethics and sustainability with her acclaimed book Wardrobe Crisis. She dropped by Victory Lamour to chat about her book and the power of vintage:

Thank you for chatting with us today, Clare. What prompted you to write Wardrobe Crisis?

Wardrobe Crisis is a non-fiction book about fashion’s ethics, and how the industry has changed over the last few generations. It’s now an enormous global business, both one of the word’s biggest employers and polluters. We’ve increasingly lost that connection, once so deep and obvious, with how our clothes are made.

At risk of sounding earnest, I wanted to make a difference, to use my powers for good for a change – instead of just promoting the latest must-have boot. Sustainability has long been a hot topic in food culture. Now it’s fashion’s turn. The idea is gathering critical mass. Discussion around fashion’s ethics and eco credentials, or lack thereof, is moving into the mainstream.

I’ve been a fashion journalist for many years, working for magazines like Vogue, InStyle and Marie Claire, but while researching this subject was surprised to find out how much I didn’t know. I thought, if I don’t know these things as an industry insider, I bet other people are in the same boat. We want to make better fashion choices; we just need more information to do so. Brands have been getting away with murky supply chains and a lack of transparency in general – the ethical fashion movement is about shining a light on that.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the fashion system being “broken”. But what is the fashion system? What does it do, and why should we care about it? My book seeks to explain that, while being entertaining as well as, sometimes, shocking. There are jokes! My idea was to parcel up the difficult issues in an accessible way. Fashion does have great power to entertain.

Textile waste is a huge contributor to the environmental crisis. Just how big an issue is it?

It’s enormous. Fashion is the second largest polluting industry on the planet after oil.

But of course fashion is not the only polluter. I’m drawing attention to the downside of the industry I love (and I do love it) because it’s what I know, but who is out there writing about how wasteful and chemical-drenched the mass-produced furniture industry is, for example? Or the building industry? I have nightmares about cheap leather sofas. Where’s the Aussie interiors journo blowing the whistle on that?

Worrying about the environment can be a black hole. The death of the Great Barrier Reef, Trump’s denial of climate change, our polluted rivers and plastic-choked oceans… it can be overwhelming. I think it helps to focus on one particular issue that’s chimes with your values, and try to make change in that area. So at the moment I’m trying reduce single-use plastic in my life. That’s not a fashion issue, but actually fashion was my entry point – I wrote about a company that recycles ocean plastics into polyester fibre for use in the garment industry.

What can the average person do, as a person and as a consumer, to help make change or stop contributing directly to this very real wardrobe crisis?

As consumers we have power. Vote with your wallet. Google! Educate yourself about which brands and designers were either founded on responsible principles, or are making serious attempts to be more sustainable – and support them. I always suggest downloading the free app, Good on You as a great starting point. Once sustainability becomes good for business, more brands will follow.

Ohhh, I’ll download Good on You now!

But let’s not underestimate the power of vintage, thrifted, second-hand and upcyled fashion, which I know you love, Tara!

As a vintage lover, I’m interested in your thoughts on vintage and retro, and the sustainability, mending and recycling movement in vintage?

I was a vintage fan long before I started to think about the word sustainability. In my teens and twenties I wore vintage because it was cheap and unique. Often it’s not so cheap now; the good stuff has become rarer as demand has soared, but 20 years ago you could buy old designer pieces and genuine Art Deco dresses for a few bucks. It’s still possible to buy a ‘50s frock in a flea market for $30 today, but it helps to be able to sew if it needs repair or alteration.

Tara, I am so excited that you are encouraging people to learn! It’s such a great skill to develop – empowering and creative, as well as useful. My mother is an incredibly sewist (I got your memo re “sewer”) so as a kid I got away with letting her make and alter my clothes. I wish I’d paid more attention. I admit I suck. I can just about handle a button, but I’ve been known to fix hems with sticky-tape. The bit I’m good at is the rummaging through flea markets and opshops. I had good vintage radar.

Actually, I used to own a vintage store in Sydney. In 2009, after I left my job at Vogue, I launched an indie fashion label based on reworked vintage dresses. I was upcycling but I didn’t know that word. I used to talk about “renovating” a vintage frocks. I graduated to making new collections, but those first pieces were all one-offs, basically fixed-up vintage garments. I valued their history and quality, as well as their romance – the stories (which I made up, because unless you’re talking about a family heirloom you can never know) of their previous lives.

Looked at through the lens of sustainability that idea has become very modern, hasn’t it?

Our society is overloaded with stuff. In this context, the vintage wardrobe makes perfect sense: because it’s re-using a resource that is already in existence, and uses no virgin materials.

Thank you, Clare. I look forward to following more of your writing on sustainable style, vintage and more…

Check out more from Clare at her website Clare Press, on Instagram at www.instagram.com/mrspress and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MrsPress.

4 Comments

  1. Victory

    Dear Tess, I adore the term seamstress, though seamstress and tailor both sound quite professional, which I am long way from. Perhaps ‘amateur seamstress’? What do male sewers/sewists call themselves? Does it have to be ‘tailor’? It is gendered and sounds so specific to suits and cuffs and the like, and again, it sounds in today’s vernacular that they’d own a shop where they work as a tailor. The dictionary refers to ‘tailor’ primarily as an occupation, rather than a hobby or private skill, while it refers to ‘seamstress’ as a woman who sews, ‘especially one who earns her living by sewing.’ This is why, though I love the term seamstress, I don’t use it to refer to myself.
    Best wishes, Tara AKA Victory

  2. Abrinth

    Sewster is a rather jaunty, obsolete form of seamstress, and if you are feeling especially pleased with a project, it’s also spelled ‘sewstar’.
    I love the sound of the old guilded trades like cordwainer and lorimer. Imagine being able to tell people you are a bespoke cordwainer…
    The heteronym of ‘sewer’ reminds me of being taught to write up diagnoses, and needing to use ‘purulent discharge’ because you cannot write that particular discharge the way people say it. Or at least not without causing confusion.

  3. Victory

    Dear Abrinth,
    Ooooh, I love ‘sewster’. What a fabulous term. And we don’t hear enough about cordwainers and lorimers these days…
    Best wishes,
    Tara AKA Victory

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