Commit to sourcing a percentage of your wardrobe second-hand, rather than buying new
Maria Chenoweth-Casey, Chief Executive of TRAID – the British charity that works to reduce the impact of clothes on people and the environment – practices what she preaches. Ask her about her great sense of style, and Maria will reply: “It’s someone else’s; I’m always wearing second-hand.”
Coordinating a team of 70 people across a warehouse, 12 charity shops, TRAID’s reuse, education and international development teams as well as ethical fashion label Traidremade, Maria is the centre of an organisation that encourages consumers to make sustainable choices by increasing public knowledge of and interest in the conditions in which clothes are produced. “The garment industry could and should be a way of lifting people out of poverty, not keeping them there,” Maria says. “For too long, profit has trumped social or environmental concerns in the global garment industry, a sector which benefits hugely from the labour of some of the world’s poorest people. People suffer huge indignities bringing clothes to our high streets including poverty wages, bonded labour, abuse and violence in the workplace, land and communities poisoned by pollution and pesticides and endemic rights violations. As consumers of these clothes, we need to lobby retailers to take responsibility for the conditions in which these clothes are produced and make it clear that we consider exploitation of people, children or the environment to be unacceptable.”
Maria praises Twitter (you’ll find her @mariachenoweth) as a source of information and self-education, as well as TRAID’s international development partners – Pesticide Action Network, Labour Behind the Label and War on Want. “They are a mine of up-to-date information on all aspects of the garment industry including ways to take action,” she says. “I also recommend organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, Dressed and Stripped and the social justice film makers Rainbow Collective who made the film Tears in the Fabric, part funded by TRAID, about the collapse of the Rana Plaza Garment Factory in April 2013.”
But TRAID doesn’t just focus on clothing industry working conditions: another vital part of its mission is to grow the market for second-hand clothes by reusing and reselling them in its charity shops. And it was through second-hand shopping that Maria herself stumbled into sustainable fashion. “My interest in dressing sustainably began as an accidental act,” she says. “I come from a small town in England and, when I was growing up, there was literally nowhere to buy clothes. So I discovered charity shops and jumble sales from the age of 13, and 33 years later I’m still shopping in charity shops.”
Right now, Maria is busy planning a week-long celebration of using second-hand items to create a more sustainable wardrobe. TRAID’s #SECONDHANDFIRST Week runs from 17 to 23 November and puts a focus on lending, swapping, mending and donating. There is also a pledge to make: “I’d encourage everyone to take TRAID’s #SECONDHANDFIRST Pledge,” Maria says. “Commit to sourcing a percentage of your wardrobe – however big or small – second-hand, rather than buying new.” It is an easy step towards sustainable fashion consumption.
Words by Emma Lundin
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