Since the publication of her book How To Break Up with Fast Fashion, Lauren Bravo has become an advocate for the slow fashion movement. Her relatable and witty commentary on our somewhat psychological relationship with our clothes draws you in and really makes you question your shopping habits. Her ability to document her sustainable fashion journey in a non judgmental way is why she is such a amazing person to follow and aspire to. After reading her book back in March, I found it a such an amazing book to refer back to on my own secondhand sustainable journey and I can't recommend it enough to others who are beginning to question the state of fast fashion. So I wanted to chat with Lauren to find out what she took away from her 'no fast fashion' pledge, the complicated relationship we have with our clothes and our constant need for 'more', and obviously I couldn't chat with her and not find out her personal secondhand shop recommendations!
What made you decide to write your book, ‘How to Break Up with Fast Fashion’?
"Well the short answer is that my publishers asked me to! But my shopping habits and I had been on a bit of a journey over the past few years, as I learned more about the massive environmental and humanitarian problems with the fashion industry and attempted to, essentially, ditch fast fashion like the toxic boyfriend it had become. I was determined to shop more sustainably, but I felt there was a big gap in the market for a book that helped people do that while also celebrating the sheer love of fashion – and acknowledging that it's often a very complex, tricky psychological relationship, for women especially, and for anyone who uses clothes as a tool of self-expression or self-definition. Plus I wanted to make it funny, accessible and non-judgemental, because... well, I wanted people to actually read it. There's no point preaching to the choir on sustainability; you have to find a way to reach the people who might not really want to know."
After a year of not buying new clothes, do you miss anything about fast fashion?
"Honestly not as much as I thought I would! I definitely don't miss the endless traipsing around shops, standing in horrible hot changing rooms or schlepping all my ASOS returns back to the post office. I don't miss the way those clothes only looked good for a couple of wears, then inevitably got boring or lost their shape in the wash. But I do miss the ease and accessibility of fast fashion; knowing that I could walk into Zara and pick up at least one dress that would fit me (which is still a huge privilege in itself) – and I used to love the thrill of the chase, seeing someone wearing an item I loved, finding out where it was from and then buying it myself. But these days I get my kick from hunting down great vintage instead. It's harder, but it's a hundred times more satisfying."
What was your biggest takeaway from your ‘no fast fashion’ pledge?
"I think it was realising the extent to which I used shopping as a coping mechanism. It was about so much more than just following trends; I used to shop as a kind of reflex reaction to every emotion you can think of. Happy, sad, bored, stressed, tried, hungry. After I quit fast fashion, it took me a long time to turn off that impulse. Even now, I sometimes catch myself in the chemist or the corner shop or wherever, eyeing up the displays and thinking "ooh, maybe I should BUY MORE STUFF." But ultimately I realised that the clothes themselves never lived up to their promise. They were only ever a very temporary fix. The thrill of a new purchase would wear off so quickly... and that's just how the brands like it. To keep us forever feeling incomplete, and craving more."
What advice would you give to someone who is new to secondhand shopping?
"Take your time; it's a marathon, not a sprint. I always advise people to look at every rail in the shop twice, because somehow you never spot the really good stuff on the first time round. And although ultimately it's nice to hop off that treadmill of trends and be led by your own personal taste, I think if you're new to vintage, there's nothing wrong with starting off by looking for clothes that are similar to the trends you've seen on the high street. Right now, for example, there are so many great secondhand prairie dresses out there to be snapped up, often for much cheaper than all those cult Instagram brands – and they're the real McCoy. Of course there's also the sizing issue to consider: for older items always go by the measurements, never the size on the label (a 70s 14, for example, is more like a modern-day 10). Vintage sizing sucks, there's no point denying it. It can be much harder to find larger sizes, which is why I never try to sell it as a silver bullet solution for sustainable shopping. Not everyone has the privilege to be able to buy all their clothes secondhand. But that said, don't be put off buying vintage altogether. There is great stuff out there in bigger sizes, especially from more recent decades, and thankfully we're starting to see lots more vintage traders trying hard to make their selections inclusive. The Gem app is great because it allows you to search for vintage across the whole internet at once, and filter by size, so you're not forced to trawl site after site feeling disappointed when each dress turns out to be the size of a thumb. And remember, secondhand doesn't have to mean looking retro from head-to-toe. In fact, personally I think it looks best when you mix up your decades and references, keep things fresh. Secondhand can also mean buying barely-worn trends on eBay and Depop, finding clothes in your local consignment store that are only a year or two old, or even just borrowing a dress from a mate instead of buying a new one."
Do you have any favourite tips or tricks for alternatives to fast fashion?
"I really love the small fashion businesses we're seeing cropping up on Instagram, where designers make clothes in small batches or completely to order, often using deadstock fabric. LoftyFrocks is a brilliant example, she makes gorgeous dresses that feel completely current, using fabulous vintage bedsheets and curtains. By Megan Crosby is another – her clothes wouldn't look out of place in Topshop, but they're made really sustainably with absolutely minimal waste. It's hard to deny Instagram has played a big part in driving fashion over-consumption in recent years, but it also has a really great community of slow fashion advocates striving to do things better. I also really recommend getting up close and personal with your own wardrobe. It sounds obvious, but all too often we forget what we actually own – and you'd be surprised how often you can scratch what I like to call 'the trend itch' with something you bought a few years ago."
Do you have any secondhand shop recommendations?
"Oh gosh so many! One of my very favourite IRL vintage shops is Somewhere in Hackney – it's a proper treasure trove, and the owner Mel has the most amazing eye. Her stock is always gorgeous, unusual and really affordable. I love Reign Vintage in Soho, Snoopers Paradise in Brighton (my first vintage stomping ground), W. Armstrong in Edinburgh and Beyond Retro nationwide. Online I love One Scoop Store for their beautifully-curated mix of recent pieces and vintage. A Virtual Vintage Market, which was set up by two vintage traders during lockdown, has been an amazing place to discover new sellers on Instagram – The Pansy Garden, Peony Vintage and BMuse are some of my recent faves. Then I have to give a shout-out to Crisis Finsbury Park, where I volunteer. I'm biased but they really do have the best stock in London."
What inspires you creatively?
"Old films, especially musicals. And by 'old' I suppose I mean anything before about 2005 these days. I follow a lot of those 'girls of the seventies'-type Instagram accounts and they're always full of incredibly strong vintage looks. But as far as sustainable fashion and activism goes, I'm learning so much from so many brilliant women online – Aja Barber, Emma Slade Edmonson, Florence Given, Pip Jolley, Sophie Benson, Kalkidan Legesse and Venetia La Manna are all great follows."
What are your go to secondhand items in your wardrobe?
"Right now I'm mainly wearing a couple of vintage cotton shirts with fantastic balloon sleeves (I'm a sucker for a statement sleeve), and a lot of vintage sundresses in garish colours – red, orange, candy-pink, tie-dye – which I've picked up in charity shops and at vintage markets over the years. But I'm hopelessly sentimental about clothes, so anything with an emotional connection tends to earn a long-term place in my wardrobe. There are clothes I've pinched from my Granny, who is still a fashion-lover at 94, and clothes I bought when I was at uni (before my fast fashion days I wore mostly vintage) which I still love now. And there's a great 80s midi dress – floral sprigged, button-down, flared skirt, fits like a glove – which I bought the day I got my book deal for How To Break Up With Fast Fashion, and it's turned into a bit of a lucky mascot as well as one of the most useful things I have ever owned. I wear it at least once a week, all year round, it goes with everything and somehow looks appropriate for almost every occasion. Must be witchcraft."
Where do you think the future of fashion is heading?
"That's a big question! I really, really hope we're slowing down and heading somewhere more positive for all involved. It certainly feels like change is in motion and this is a really pivotal time; while the pandemic has put many garment workers in an even more devastating situation, it has also forced many people to reexamine their priorities and question where and how they want to spend their money. But we're still a long way off, and while individual consumers are waking up to the impact of their shopping habits, nothing will really change until the huge, billion-dollar corporations who run the fashion machine decide to overhaul their business model. Recycling schemes and eco-friendly fabrics aren't enough; we need them to slam a foot on the brakes, stop producing such huge volumes at such a breakneck pace, and risk their profit margins for the sake of building a fairer industry. I want to see fashion that represents and respects everybody, instead of just an elite rich, white, skinny few. I want fashion that gets creative with the materials we already have, and creates jobs that way instead of exploiting the world's poorest people to produce more. The secondhand market is getting bigger, which is really exciting, and I'd love to see a future where vintage shops and consignment stores sit alongside 'new' shops on the high street, or where we can walk into Zara and choose to buy a dress from three seasons ago. Here's hoping!"
What do you think is next in your sustainable journey?
"I'd love to get back into sewing again! I've always altered clothes (badly) but it would be great to get confident making things from scratch. And now that I've quit fast fashion, there are many other areas of my life I need to take a look at... I'd like to be more sustainable in all of my consumption habits, so cutting down on animal products (cheese, *sob*), wasting less food, using less plastic, flying less (when that's actually an option again) and generally thinking more about the impact I make on the world. But I think my wardrobe was a pretty good place to start."
Buy Lauren's book How Tor Break Up with Fast Fashion
Follow Lauren on Instagram - @laurenbravo
And check out her website - www.laurenbravo.co.uk
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