According to Eileen Fisher, ‘The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world…second to oil.’ Whilst this claim is difficult to verify, given the scarcity of reliable data on fashion’s global footprint, we know for certain that our current fashion habits – of buy, barely wear, waste- are costing the earth. It’s time to reconsider our wardrobes and our fashion habits. Luckily, thanks to people like Tabby Bunyan – founder of the sustainable fashion company and upcycle service Re-considered– enjoying fashion in a sustainable way is not only possible, but easy!
I spoke to Tabby, who is also a third year Spanish and Film studies student at KCL (alongside running her sustainable business she set up in the first lockdown!). We talk fashion, breaking the waste cycle, ‘greenwashing’, access to sustainability, and how she manages to juggle uni and running her green fashion business.
- ‘If you’d have asked me last year what my fashion habits were, I was seriously obsessed with the High Street. I was a shopaholic.’
How did you get into sustainable fashion?
“If you’d have asked me last year what my fashion habits were, I was seriously obsessed with the High Street. I was a shopaholic. Every single week I needed a new piece of clothing and I didn’t really know about the impact I was having on the environment; I didn’t know all the facts. I learnt to sew when I was sixteen [but when lockdown happened] I got out my sewing machine again. My gran gave me a big box of her old stuff like tablecloths and some duvet covers, and I was using them, and found I really liked [upcycling them]. I started posting some of the stuff I was making on Instagram, and people liked what I was doing, and then I got involved with a community on Instagram of people upcycling and doing similar things. Through that community I then learnt a lot about upcycling and buying second-hand and creatively re-looking at your wardrobe, and making sure that you’re prolonging the life of lots of your items is important for the environment. It all happened very organically and by accident really. I’ve always shopped at charity shops, but I didn’t realise why I should be, and why that should be the priority over any other kind of consumption. And even not consuming, you know– not going out and buying/wanting to go out and buy stuff. And being happy with what you’ve already got. Then […] I set up this brand.”
- ‘…the most sustainable and radical thing you can do is wear what you already have…’
So you’ve always been interested in fashion then, but in the last year or so you’ve moved to a more sustainable ways of continuing that passion?
So how are you managing doing finals and setting up this business? How on earth do you run them alongside each other?
“[laughing] It is really hard. I’m not sure how well I’m doing– I can’t tell you yet. But I am trying. For me, I’ve always found that when I’m busiest I’m at my most productive. When you’ve got those deadlines and a list to do, you can’t procrastinate: you have to get them done. What’s been really nice about having Re-considered is that in my free time, that’s what I’m doing. And so when I’m essentially procrastinating from uni or not doing uni work, at least I feel a sense of accomplishment or productivity, because I’ve managed to tick a box off the Re-considered side. But yes, it’s really really hard to make that a good balance. I do find that after the weeks have gone by, I haven’t done enough uni, or maybe another week I haven’t done enough uni. So it’s a really hard balance, but I’m trying.”
They do say, ‘if you want something done ask a busy woman’. We can always fit it in. I’m understanding why you wanted to come up with Re-considered, so what is your ‘ethos’ of your company?
“I think the ethos is the idea of looking inwards at what we already have, rather than looking outwards. There’s a lot of amazing innovation going on in terms of lots of new materials that are being made that are sustainable, and lots of new ways of creating these materials and sourcing them. But it still plays into the narrative of making something from something in the earth into something new, rather than that ‘circular’ narrative, which is about: ‘What do we already have? What waste have we already created? Let’s make something “new” from that.’ So I think my main thing is I want people to look back into their own wardrobes, and find things that they haven’t worn. And then through my upcycling service, or through their own initiative, to make it into something new that they’ll then want to wear again. And just give these items lots of new leases of life.”
- ‘…it’s really important that things like sustainability and recycling become a trend– just so that it’s something that everyone knows about’
So you’re a business, but you’re also offering a service. It’s not just ‘come shop here’, it’s: ‘how can I help you re-evaluate your wardrobe?’. I think that’s unique. I’m starting to see that come up a bit more with apps like ‘Sojo’, which is great. But it’s so refreshing to see [a company] offering a service, rather than more consumerism. I think there’s a lot of ‘greenwashing’ and thinking sustainability is ‘in fashion’ (if you pardon the pun), which companies are participating in, yet they’re still operating with consumerism and consumption in mind. Or even High Street fast-fashion brands that are ‘greenwashing’, under the guise of ‘recycled materials’ means guilt-free consumerism. What do you think of that? Particularly the fast-fashion brands that are participating in this ‘greenwashing’?
“It’s a difficult one, because it’s really important that things like sustainability and recycling become a trend– just so that it’s something that everyone knows about. But obviously, there is that issue that you can read that slogan that says ‘organic cotton’ or ‘recycled range’ and then you go: ‘oh my gosh, they’re an amazing company. That’s amazing, I love them’, and then you suddenly buy into their whole [greenwashing] thing. You’re not aware of the reality of all the other stuff that they do. They’re still a large corporation who take advantage of a lot of people, and exploit their workers and promote consumerism. It’s something that I’ve really struggled with, even selling my clothes– I feel slightly like a hypocrite because I am promoting people buying my clothes. But what I hope is that they can be bought because they’re all made from second hand clothing; we’re trying to reduce the waste. But [I also hope] they’ll be an inspiration: so somebody will see a blouse that I’m selling made from a shirt, and someone will go: ‘oh I’ve got a shirt that could be made into a blouse such as that’, and that will be the consequence, rather than just the buying [of new items of clothing]. But yeah it’s a really tricky one, the whole ‘greenwashing’ thing because it’s important that companies start to think [more sustainably], but it’s whether they’re doing that in all areas of their company, which is the difficulty.”
- ‘I think my five-year plan would definitely include pushing the up-cycling service’
What are your longer-term plans for Re-considered? I know that you’ve recently launched a website, with blogs being uploaded there too. So where do you see yourself in, say, 5 years?
“I think my five-year plan would definitely include pushing the up-cycling service. Now, during ‘Covid times’, everything has to be online. But how I envision it, and how I see it working, is having a kind of space– a sort of shop I guess –where people can come and bring their stuff and get it upcycled by seamstresses, and have other up-cyclers showcasing their stuff and selling their items that are made completely waste-free. That’s where I see it, but obviously that’s not five years, that’s probably twenty years [laughing]. But I see it as a place– and even if that place has to be online– where people can use it as a service to get their stuff. But it’s a really tricky thing logistically. Sojo has amazingly done that at the moment, but I think what I’m looking at is maybe not so much alterations and repairs, but more like: how can we literally turn [clothes] into a new thing for you? But yeah Sojo– I’m in so much awe of [Josephine Philips’] app, I think it’s so cool, and I really hope that becomes a normal thing to do.”
- ‘It’s important that people use Instagram and tools like it to find the right brands, because then your feed suddenly turns into something that’s really inspirational’
I’m seeing that ‘Sojo’ is an inspiration perhaps? Who are your other sustainable fashion influences, or good people you would recommend following on social media, to raise awareness and change people’s minds about slow fashion?
“I think there’s so many! There are sustainable brands and ethical brands, like ‘Lucy and Yak’: they make these amazing dungarees – it’s all very ethical. But then that’s still buying into that whole ‘consumption’ thing. There are a lot of very small creatives out there on Instagram that I’m really inspired by all the time. They have very small shops, but the stuff they do is amazing. There’s a girl called ‘Ree Bee clothing’ and she turns old duvet covers into really cool co-ord sets. There are lots of independent shops that are selling on Etsy and they have their own websites. There’s a girl called ‘Abbie-Louise clothing’ too. They’re usually just one-woman brands, making their stuff and selling it on Instagram, and the stuff they make is so so cool. If that could be more of a norm: where you go and seek out small independent creatives, rather than going to the big conglomerates, then I think that would be really cool”
Instagram is the platform you started showcasing some of your work. So was that on your own personal account, and then you set up Re-considered after you got some interest? How did it work?
“No, I just set up [an account] – I think I called it ‘Tabby’s sewing’ or something– just as a sort of portfolio. I followed my friends on it and they followed me back. I was just posting that, and following other people who were doing similar things, and that’s how I found out there was this whole world out there. Now I think I’m so bombarded with sustainable brands and circular fashion, so I see it as the ‘norm’. But I know that before starting that Instagram [account], my Instagram was full of ASOS ads, and Boohoo, and all that kind of thing. It’s important that people use Instagram and tools like it to find the right brands, because then your feed suddenly turns into something that’s really inspirational.”
Instagram is a site of fashion fads, and trends, and ‘outfit of the day’. It promotes the fear of outfit repeating and the desire for a varied feed: nobody wants to see or participate in outfit repeating on the ‘gram’. So as somebody who promotes their business partly on Instagram, do you feel pressure to create a varied feed, with lots of different clothes? How do you square sustainability and recycled clothes with an app that promotes the opposite?
“That’s really interesting! I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I remember my parents used to tease me, they’d always be like: ‘we’ve never seen that outfit; we’ve never seen you wear the same outfit’. I was obsessed with the idea that every single day, the outfit had to be new. I know there’s a hashtag now that’s going around that’s #OOOTD: old outfit of the day.”
Oh I love that!
“Yeah! And I think there’s also one that’s #repeatedoutfit, or something like that. There’s definitely a lot of influencers now that are promoting that. So [outfit repeating] is definitely becoming a thing. But yeah I definitely feel that pressure of having to show a ‘new’ upcycle that I’ve done, and not repeat them. And I think that’s definitely something I should be thinking about, in terms of maybe showing how one upcycle can be worn in several different ways and create several different outfits. One thing I tried to do is I made a couple of reversible tops, and I wanted to show that if you have this you can wear it one way, then turn it round: it will be one [side] for the evening and one [side] for the daytime – you don’t need to buy two tops (and they’re also made from old [material]). And if you were to buy a co-ord set, you could wear the shorts with a different top, and the top with different trousers and whatever. But yeah I think that’s definitely an issue: constantly trying to create more things, and keep everyone’s engagement, and that definitely does work against [sustainability]. Yeah, it’s really hard. I have no answer for that, I’m sorry [laughing].”
- ‘I think accessibility to sustainability is my main goal here’
So as you say on your website, ‘inclusivity is at the heart of sustainability’. And as you know, the climate issue is also a racial justice problem, and also a class issue. A lot of sustainable fashion is quite ‘white-washed’: a lot of well-off white people thrifting because its ‘fashionable’, and then re-selling it at extortionate prices on Depop, for example. So what do you envision for your company? How will you make sure that it’s not participating in this, and that it’s different?
“A hundred percent! I think it’s one of my main goals for the foreseeable future. At the moment, all I’m doing is making things that fit me, and modelling them on me because that’s all I have at the moment.”
Especially in lockdown: you can’t get loads of models!
“Yeah! But I’m so aware of that, and I’m conscious of the fact that it discriminates and excludes. It’s really important that we represent as many people as we can so that everyone feels included. And I also really strongly agree with the point about [slow fashion] being unaffordable, and a middle-class thing that’s possible for only us. And then there’s this kind of guilt or shaming on people who can’t afford it, because they’re not doing the ethical thing – or whatever. It’s something that I really want to address, and I think up-cycling is the answer to that. Just because it can be affordable, it’s also an easy skill to learn: I’m self-taught in sewing, and I want to show that it’s a skill that everyone can do. And I think the service that I want to offer is not a ‘luxury’ or ‘bespoke’, or all those words that come with it. It’s not luxury, it’s for students and young people, and people who can’t afford to buy those amazingly expensive, sustainable brands– and just come and get their clothes made up a little bit differently. I think that’s really at the heart of what I’m trying to do. Make it affordable. And I think up-cycling is the only possible way. Because all these sustainable materials are all really expensive to produce and to source, and so yeah: upcycling is the way we can get that done– and for the most amount of people. I think accessibility to sustainability is my main goal here.”
Amazing! That partially answers my next question which was about slow-fashion pricing out a lot of people. There’s a brand that I’m thinking of in particular called ‘Birdsong’ – I had a look on their website and [some] items are hundreds of pounds. I understand it – it takes them a long time to make, and they’re made sustainably. They do show you where your money is going– but that’s going to price out a lot of people! On the flip side, there’s ‘scandals’ like the £1 Boohoo bikini, or the PLT 99% off sale. Whilst we can all sit here and go ‘that’s awful!’, there’s so many people who would rely on massive sales like that, or really cheap clothes to get their clothes. They can’t afford to buy these ‘investment’ pieces.
“Yeah, exactly! And even to get their essential items, you know? I saw when the first lockdown ended that people were shaming all those people queuing outside Primark. But a lot of those people were going there to buy their essential clothes that they hadn’t been able to buy over lockdown, because they can’t shop online – Primark is the place where they get their clothes. And to shame those people for that is really wrong, and that is not what the sustainable movement should be about at all.”
- ‘Fashion is a huge, huge industry! And it is causing a lot of damage. But you don’t really learn about it in school…’
How can we as a movement make sure that it’s not exclusive, and it’s not just slim, white, middle-class women that are involved in the sustainable fashion industry? How can we make it accessible?
“It’s an important question! I guess a lot of the things that brands are already doing: making sure their models are representative of lots of different sizes and skin colours, and people from different backgrounds. That’s super important– point blank just having photos of people who look different [to the ‘norm’]. I think a second thing is introducing things like services that are affordable, and information – educating people about this. Fashion is a huge, huge industry! And it is causing a lot of damage. But you don’t really learn about it in school – you don’t learn about consumerism in school really (maybe if you do Geography you might, but I didn’t)– I don’t remember ever talking about this kind of thing at school.”
No, me neither.
“I wonder whether that’s something that could be done: introduce it into education systems. Like I said, trends are important, but then you get the flip side of trends, and that’s fads. I think at the moment, the climate movement is a good trend, based on a lot of fact. I think my answer to that would probably be: education. It’s something that took me so long to find out the effect [my fashion habits were] having!”
Is there anything that you came here to say, that you haven’t, or anything you wanted to promote?
“Probably my up-cycling service: it’s the thing I’m finding hardest to get out there and explain. On my website you can see how to do it: there’s a form you have to fill out. You don’t have to agree to spend any money: it’s literally just a ten minute zoom call with me: we’ll look at the piece you want upcycled. Even if you don’t have something in mind, I’m happy to have a ten-minute chat and go through some stuff in your wardrobe you don’t really wear any more– that kind of thing. I want to show people that [upcycling] is an option too!”