SwapUp book review: The Wardrobe Crisis

Got no time to read books? Worry not, SwapUp got you covered. We are writing bi-monthly book summaries to help you stay up-to-date on current thinking and pass on some tips to help you stay sustainable.

Our second book in this series is the Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press, a fashion journalist and passionate advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion. 

In this book, Clare talks about how we went from Sunday best to fast fashion. It’s a great read for those looking to understand a bit more about fashion’s history, covering everything from couture, cult brands and ethical movements. 

Clare discusses how artisan clothing, made by highly-trained dressmakers, disappeared and was replaced by the $1.5 trillion ready-made global fashion industry.

Insane advertising (“crazy bargain every day!”) and celebrities who never wear the same thing twice help further this vicious cycle. People are made to feel bad for wearing a party dress twice too in case the repeat performance turns up on social media. Fast-fashion brands benefit from this as they ramp up fashion production from 4-season a year to 52, or even 104 seasons a year with new models coming out almost every few days. 

Over time, with clothes becoming cheaper, consumerism and fashion addiction become normalised — cute, almost, with shows like Sex and the City showing off its relationship with hollow consumerism. A 2001 survey by the Guardian found that “33% of consumers displayed a high level of addiction to rash or unnecessary consumption.” American shoppers bought 63 garments in a year according to the Wall Street Journal in 2013 — Australia is likely to be not far behind as we have the second-highest textile consumption per capita after the US.  

This was made possible by underpaying their workers, using excessive amounts of synthetic material and wasteful production practices. We all have heard about the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy, how farmers and animals died from insecticides, how leather production turns river toxic and denim blue and how luxury brands burn their excess products to keep their elite status. 

In the end, though, the book reminds us that while fashion has always been a big part of our lives, its production and consumption need to be responsible. As Simone Cipriani, an ethical fashion advocate says, “responsible fashion means being responsible towards people… but it also means being responsible towards the environment.”

People and brands have begun to speak up against this. Celebrity Livia Firth started her Green Carpet Challenge to get people to slow down and shop for fashion more sustainably. The US brand Inego sells linen-like clothes derived from corn syrup. Brands like Bionic Yarn (backed by Pharrell Williams) takes recycled PET bottles and turns it into thread. Crocheting is back on trend (thanks Tom Daley!), promoting slower production with less waste. Tamara DiMattina, a former consumer PR, started a national campaign called Buy Nothing New Month (BNNM) to actively promote second hand retail stores as one of the sustainable fashion choices.

SwapUp was founded to be part of this solution. Our online thrift store aims to reuse clothes, so we can produce, consume and waste less. We also want to support local production. Purchasing a made in Australia piece can be costly as the average textile-based worker is paid US $38.67 an hour — the second-highest after Switzerland. Our buy-and-sell platform distributes the cost across multiple people, making Australia-made garments more affordable. 

So what do you think? Are you ready to join us on this journey to make thrift shopping mainstream?

“I am no expert in sustainability, I’m just one person who thinks that through some very simple changes we can do better by ourselves and the planet.” — Tamara DiMattina, founder of Buy Nothing New Month campaign