4 Sustainable Fashion Hacks We Can All Learn from Baby Boomers
Britons buy five times the amount of clothing they bought in the 1980s*, so environmental charity Hubbub and natural knitwear experts WoolOvers have come together to look at the generational differences in attitudes towards fashion among British women; To explore how attitudes differ by age and what knowledge can be shared.
The survey of 2,000 women by Censuswide, alongside a series of focus groups found that younger women can learn a lot from their mothers’ and grandmothers’ about what makes a good quality product, and how to extend its lifetime through care and repair.
Women aged 54 and above take a much more mindful approach to fashion, spending £49 each on average per month but spreading the cost and only buying a new item of clothing every 3-5 months. And almost two thirds (62%) expect their clothes to last for several years.
Whilst British women aged 16-37 (Generation Z and Millennials) spend on average £81 each per month, with 26% of Generation Z buying new clothing between 2-3 times per month. But not even half of these young women (47%) expect their clothes to last many years, with the quality of the design being prioritised much lower than price and fit.
So what is influencing this difference in attitudes towards buying and caring for clothes between the generations?
One of the biggest impacts is likely the shopping experience itself. A third of Baby Boomers (54-72 year-olds) and the Silent Generation (73 year-olds +), shop seasonally, only 18% of Generation Z do the same, as more regular fashion drops allows them to shop 52 ‘micro seasons’ a year.
With the introduction of online shopping in the late 1990s, young women have gone from being influenced by their mothers and grandmothers on where to shop to having multiple avenues of influence via their phone from apps and social media. Generation Z’s spending is impulsive, with social media and the media playing a big part in influencing them on what to buy. They admit to feeling guilty about the money they have spent and are left stressed that they have spent more than they can afford.
Cheap fashion items, which are produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends, are then consequently falling apart, and when clothing become damaged only 30% of Gen Z will repair it themselves, with a quarter asking a friend of relative to fix it for them. Whereas more than half (51%) of Baby Boomers repair their own clothes. This was explored further in the focus groups, which resulted in women admitting that fashion had become so cheap that even sewing a button back on seemed like a useless skill. The main reason for not knowing how to repair clothing being down to whether or not they were taught how to by a family member or at school.
“In a world where sustainable living is so high on the agenda, the fashion industry is somehow still getting away with a ‘business as usual’ approach. While some retailers have introduced ethical lines, people still do not feel educated on the environmental impact of the industry and so are prioritising price and convenience over sustainability. Our research shows that the Baby Boomers and Silent Generation seem to hold the secret to how to buy good quality items and if needed, repair them to extend their lifetime. We need to get women across the UK talking and sharing these invaluable skills and insights, in a bid to tackle the damaging effects of fast fashion.” – Heather Poore, Creative Director at Hubbub.
To help pass the knowledge on, Hubbub and WoolOvers have collated some of the Baby Boomers’ fashion advice in a series of tips – see below. They are also encouraging people to speak to their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties for advice on quality, care and repair.
Baby Boomer Sustainable Fashion Hacks…
1 – Buy Less
Unfortunately, we can’t buy our way into sustainability. The best thing to reduce fashion’s impact on the environment is to buy less in the first place! It’ll save you money and you might just fall in love with something you already have. Put time aside to have a root around your wardrobe, knowing what you already have will also allow you to shop more mindfully when you do need something new.
2 – Choose Better Quality Clothes
If you need to buy something new, try to invest in good quality clothes that are made to last. Here are some top tips on what to look out for:
- Check the label: Look out for clothes made from responsibly sourced fibres. Words like “recycled” or “organic” are good things to look out for. Natural fabrics like wool can be good as they need less washing and are longer lasting
- Avoid multi blend fabrics. Clothes made of mix blends are more likely to break down quickly and are difficult to recycle
- Not keen for a sheer look? Check if it is see-through by holding it up to the light. No one wants to realise that they have to find special nude underwear just to wear their new dress
- Check the stitching, hems etc if they are fraying or look shoddy put it back
- Do the patterns match up at the seams?
- Choose clothes with metal zippers, plastic don’t last
- Does it come with spare buttons etc? That’s a good sign it’s been made to last and means you can easily repair it if needed.
- Think about your wardrobe before buying. Will it go with other things you already have? Can you imagine wearing it 30 times? If not, best to leave it on the rail
3 – Make Your Clothes Last
- Sometimes the lazy way is the best way! The more we wash our clothes, the faster they break down. Avoid over washing by spot washing small marks and airing your clothes by a window to freshen up smells
- Use the Delicate or Wool wash on washing machines rather than hand wash as its better for clothes
- Check the fabric care instructions e.g. Merino wool should only be washed every 3 to 4 months. This will help you avoid shrinking or fading your clothes
- Avoid the tumble dryer and air dry instead. Your clothes will last longer
- It takes two minutes to sew on a button or repair a snag or small rip. Invest in a sewing kit for emergencies. There are quick YouTube instruction videos on how to repair just about anything online and at FashionCapital HQ / the Fashion Technology Academy we regularly run taster courses in stitching and making click here for more details. Or ask an older family member for some tips on the following:
- How to sew a button
- How to repair a zip
- How to sew up a hole in wool
- How to repair a rip
- Find your local cobblers to get shoes re-soled and re-healed when they need it. This won’t cost you a lot but will allow you to wear your shoes for longer.
4 – Pass It On
- Have a look through your wardrobe. If there are items you haven’t worn in the last year, it might be time to pass them on. Organising a swap with friends, dropping items off at local donation banks or selling on online marketplaces are just some of the ways you can give forgotten items a new lease of life
- When clothes and accessories get beyond repair don’t chuck in the bin, cut up and use as rags for cleaning, old fabrics for cushion covers, head scarfs etc or recycle them in a clothes bank