Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Grace Kelly, Daisy from the Great Gatsby- what do all these women (real and imagined) have in common? They were born into an age when your favourite dress came from a shop down the street, or was tailor-made for you and worn for years. It wasn’t mass produced in a factory across the world, where the people who worked on it are payed less than your lipgloss cost you. It didn’t fall apart after a couple summers. It stayed beautiful for years. Maybe this is why we can still buy dresses from the 40s, 50s, 60s- even 20s- today, and continue to wear and enjoy them.
Vintage shopping is nothing new, but it’s gaining popularity with trendsetters from Taylor Swift to Violet magazine creator and star stylist Leith Clark (who has dressed Kierra Knightley, Clemence Poesy, Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams to name a few).
One designer who is vintage inspired is the iconic Orla Kiely. In a video on her collaboration with ethical clothing producer People Tree, Kiely talked about “fast fashion” vs. quality designs: “The race to buy cheap clothes…and you know, they don’t last, they fall apart, and I just think there’s so much to be said for quality now.” Kiely encouraged customers to “invest in pieces that they love and that will last,” and to “think about what they’re buying.”
Of course, we often don’t think they have the luxury of buying ethically, because of how much we think it will cost. On her blog, Wildfox Couture designer Kimberly Gordon gave us some advice about this. “When I was younger I shopped at places like Forever 21, now I realize what that company has to sacrifice to keep their prices so low, including low pay for their employees, bad fabrics (in many ways), cheap factories, and the stealing of other people’s creativity and hard work,” she said.
As an alternative, Gordon suggested “looking for local brands or vintage.” “If you regularly shop somewhere cheap check out its history and make sure you aren’t supporting something you don’t believe in!” she warned.
Those things that you may not believe in include art theft, in other words, when brands like Anthropologie and Forever 21 steal a struggling artist’s work and use it for their own profit. As the sister of an artist, that does not sit well with me.
An even bigger problem with high street fashion, is that the less you pay, the less wages and rights someone on the other side earns to get them to you. According to the Guardian, hundreds of people have been involved in making the shirt you are wearing. Many of them were paid $2 a day. Last year, the Rana Plaza Disaster in Bangladesh made use realize the impossibly high cost of of high street brands like River Island and Primark. Though most of the brands whose clothing was being created in the factories have signed The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, many are wondering if they will actually change their ways. Horrible things like Rana have happened before- fires, the discovery of factories without washrooms, of children working long hours…and little to nothing has changed.
Here’s the thing- by investing your money in quality pieces, you actually save in the long run. You won’t have to buy as much, or as often, since your clothes won’t fall apart. Get creative, and wear what you have, adding a fair-trade statement piece or a new pair of recycled sole shoes.
Quality is another pro of second-hand shopping: if a dress is in a vintage shop, chances are its been loved enough that if it hasn’t gone to piece by now, it’s not going to for another long while. Plus, there is always that shot in a million that it once graced the beautiful frame of one of your fashion inspirations.
Buying used clothing is also a way to keep our planet beautiful. The process of making your t-shirt the colour of your favourite flower is actually one of the most serious threats to that flower. You know the sweet “Fabric of My Life” ads with a celebrity twirling in a cotton sundress? The industry that made that dress is responsible for 25% of the insecticides used worldwide. That’s a lot of chemicals going into the plants and animals around us. By buying a similar dress at a vintage store, you cut down on those chemicals and save our natural resources. Plus, you look unique and adorable doing it.
Grace once said, “ If there is one thing that is foreign to me it is shopping for pleasure. On the other hand, I believe that it is right to honor all those who create beautiful things and give satisfaction to those who see me wearing them.”
In buying cheap products, are we really honoring those who made them? Or are we saying, “My desire to look pretty and own pretty things is more important than your life?” Do you, like Grace Kelly, want to be remembered as someone who did her best to help others, or as someone who just looked pretty?
This is what Grace’s Way is about- following the example of women like Grace Kelly. It is about resisting the urge- and the incessant marketing- that pushes us to buy more, at cheaper prices (and lower quality), rather than save up and spend more for pieces that will last long enough to become our favourites. It’s about acknowledging the beauty of the world and people around us, and loving enough to protect them.
I believe that beautiful things can be ethical too. Starting today, Earth Day 2014, I am making a commitment to the earth and the people on it. I commit to buying only vintage and sustainable clothing for this year. Will you make the pledge with me, and believe that beauty can do good? If you will, tweet or post on Instagram with the hashtag #gracepledge2014. Let’s join the movement of fashion for good!