Oxfam wants us to give up shopping for a month. Stella Tennant has taken the pledge. Will you?
However much you love fashion, it's got some ugly features. In addition to being one of the most polluting industries in the world, it's also one of the most wasteful. In the UK, some 11m items of clothing end up in landfill each week. The culture of single-use clothing is disgustingly high: a report by the charity Barnado's found that Britons would purchase more than 50m outfits this summer that would only be worn once before being discarded.
In an effort to raise awareness, next month will see the launch of Second Hand September, a UK campaign for which Oxfam are asking consumers to abstain from buying new clothes for 30 days and shop, ideally, in its charity outlets instead.
It's a ballsy move. The drive coincides with one of the industry's busiest, glossiest, most acquisition-heavy months — slap at the beginning of the show season, when magazines are stuffed with autumnal bounty and stores are at their most back-to-school lustrous. Shopping in September is one of my favourite activities. But if anyone can persuade me that second-hand shopping is a jolly good alternative it is Stella Tennant, the model who has signed up to the pledge, and taken part in a shoot to promote it alongside her 14-year-old daughter, Iris. It has been styled by Bay Garnett, a fashion editor, Vogue contributor and Tennant's friend, using some of the clothes that contribute to the £6m raised by Oxfam fashion every year.
"It's such a brilliant idea," says Tennant with brisk erudition from the corner of "some field" where she is attending a festival with her children. She signed up straight away. "When you think of what Movember did to raise awareness of men's health issues, I think it's very exciting indeed."
Tennant, who is co-creative director of Holland and Holland, a prestigious heritage label and purveyor of very fine outerwear which, one assumes, will still be available in October, has little need to shop anyway. "I've got more clothes than anyone should have," she says of her accumulated cache. "I've been very spoilt, and I've worked with all the best designers so I have bought quite a lot of designer clothes." Among her own vintage favourites are the Comme des Garçons pieces and "a beautiful Chanel jacket that's a total classic and is never out of fashion. I find it quite hard to get rid of clothes," she confesses. "But a lot of things which disappear into the back of the wardrobe then come out again."
As the granddaughter of the famously thrifty Mitford sister, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, who inhabited one of the finest stately homes in England and wore the family jewels to feed the chickens, one imagines Tennant has long been accustomed to the idea of a hand-me-down. Sadly, her older sisters beat her to all the best stuff in her mother's collection, but Tennant's children (Cecily, Marcel, Jasmine and Iris) all wear each other's cast-offs. "My kids all swap between themselves," says Tennant. "We have quite a communal wardrobe in our house."
Tennant hopes the campaign will provoke a wider conversation about the way we shop, especially among younger consumers who might be more susceptible to single-use shopping. "Doing this job with Iris has really made her think about what she has, what she wants, what she buys, and what happens to those items," says Tennant, who has warned two of her children, whose birthdays fall in September, that it will be second-hand presents for them this year. "I think this whole campaign is about raising that awareness, that if you're looking for something new, maybe you need to go and find something that's new to you, and not just buy new clothes off the high street," she continues. "Bay has very successfully found fantastic outfits from Oxfam that would cost you less than £20."
Just as surely as Second Hand September is about awareness, it's also about celebrating, as Tennant puts it, "the sheer pleasure of finding something that's a total bargain." Garnett in particular is passionate about the joys of rootling in a charity bin and has long preached the gospel of thrift. One of her earliest projects was to reimagine a series of big fashion campaigns as charity store advertisement in which Yves Saint Laurent became a poster for the Salvation Army and Calvin Klein was retooled as "cancer care". But it was by dressing Kate Moss in a vintage banana-printed top for British Vogue in 2003, that she became, as Tennant describes her, "the queen of second hand". The picture, by Juergen Teller, has become one of fashion's most enduring images; the top inspired a Chloé collection the following year.
"I've been working with Oxfam for two years," says Garnett, who styled the charity's first two Fashion Fighting Poverty shows and is planning a third, for next year.
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Fast fashion is harming people and our planet. Did you know the UK sends 11 million items of clothing to #landfill every week? Now there's something you can do to help: sign up to #SecondHandSeptember and pledge to say no to new clothes for 30 days (link in bio) #SustainableFashion #SecondHand
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She first got hooked on thrift while on trips to America for her magazine Cheap Date, an early 2000s fanzine that cocked a snook at conventional luxury titles and celebrated the joys of jumble. "We would do thrift trips — to Atlantic City, New Mexico, the Bronx. You name it. It was a way of life really. And then, when I moved back to London, I did a lot of thrifting with Anita Pallenberg. She was crazily stylish," she says of the German-Italian actress, artist and model who died in 2017. "And a genius at clothes. She always said: 'If I spend more than 100 quid on something, then I've lost my marbles. Time to lock me up.' I learnt so much from her. She would see something expensive and then decide she would find its equivalent in a charity shop. And she always did. Every time."
In the era of fast fashion, when the high-street is flooded with £2 T-shirts, Garnett insists charity shops are still a vital means of self-expression. "Second hand is about empowerment. And not being a fashion sheep," she says. "I've always loved the independence of it. The spirit of finding and developing your own style and eye. Of not being force fed what's trendy, or what's cool, and what's not."
That her approach might have an environmental benefit has only inflamed Garnett's ardour. "My earliest interest was in finding original cool pieces, I hunted and I wore," she says. "But I always loved the slightly anarchic feel of something being second hand; of not buying into the 'new new new' system. It always felt political to me.
"Second Hand September is important," she concludes "Both literally and philosophically. We have to start buying less. We have to change. For years we've been guilty of endless consumption — myself very much included — but we need to change the way we consume. Our poor planet is suffocating from our discarded crap. So let's get together and decide to buy less. I love Oxfam because it does two beautiful things at once: it gives clothes new life, and it helps the poorest people in the world. What's not to love?"
It's one of the rare moments when fashion and its critics might agree.
Written by: Jo Ellison
© Financial Times