As an eco-stylist, how is Claire Rees helping her clients break their habit of buying fast fashion?
In February 2019, Claire Rees, 38, was about to film for a TV appearance on BBC Three’s ‘Haley Goes’ to help the presenter make her wardrobe vegan friendly. She went out and bought a bright pink suit from a high street shop because she thought that she needed something new to wear on the telly.
When Claire reached home, she felt uneasy about it. “How could I know who made my suit? How could I be sure the wastewater was treated properly afterward and that the pink dye didn’t pollute that community’s water supply?” she said.
She took the suit back and wore something that she had in her wardrobe and from then Claire decided to never buy any fast fashion.
It’s now been almost two years since she has bought any piece of fast fashion. After quitting her job as an editor of WM magazine in 2013, Claire moved to PR and set up her business. She also worked as a stylist then, taking her clients to high street shops to fill up their wardrobes with fast fashion.
When she took the pink suit back, she not only made changes to her lifestyle but rebranded her company, from Style Me Red and to Upstyle Club. Presently, she works as a freelance journalist, an eco-stylist, and a PR consultant.
As an eco-stylist, Claire helps people make new outfits out of old clothes and create looks that don’t require any fast fashion. She works with people who are trying to move away from the fast-fashion habit of buying something new every time they have to go to an event or an opportunity.
“Obviously trying to encourage people because the appetite is already there, by showing them how they can be a part of that circular fashion industry and they can still enjoy style and they can still dress beautifully but they can do it in a way that is respectful of the planet and is respectful all people who make clothes, in respectful of the communities around them, the people who make clothes,” she said.
On April 24th, 2013, an eight-storey commercial building collapsed near Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing over 1100 people and leaving more than 2400 injured. The incident changed how many people viewed fashion, and Claire was one of them.
“When you learn something like this, you can’t really unlearn it, can you?” she said. After the Rana Plaza disaster, she started buying fewer pieces of fast fashion, but the ultimate changing point came with that bright pink suit.
According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in 2015, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from textile production were about 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 which is more than the carbon footprint of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Not only this, the textile industry mostly depends on the non-renewable sources, up to 98 million tonnes per year, including oil to produce synthetic fibers, chemicals to produce, dye, and finished fibers, fertilizers to grow cotton.
A report by the Global Slavery Index states that an estimated 40.3 million people are trapped in modern slavery worldwide, with 71% of them being women. Fashion has been identified as one of the five key industries associated with modern slavery.
“The multi-million pounds companies, people right at the top, end up getting all the money whilst people who work really, really hard to create these garments and are often not paid or treated properly,” said Claire.
According to her, it should not be on the people within those communities who create these clothes to make the change. It should come from higher up, from businesses and governments with regards to policies. She believes as consumers we have a massive part to affect a change.
“Most people you speak to, they don’t look at labels on their clothes, they don’t know what certain fabrics mean and they’re under illusions about what certain fabrics mean. I won’t say nothing has been done because things are being done. I think things are changing but it just needs to be quicker,” she added.
As a consumer we need to question ourselves can we carry on what we are doing. “Can you carry on buying a new dress every Saturday, can you carry on using the high street brands that make bikinis that cost a pound, if you think you can then all power to you but actually no, we can’t, because the planet won’t sustain it, our wallets won’t sustain it,” said Claire
She considers herself a redemption story. Claire was obsessed with fast fashion. She was addicted to buying new clothes whenever an opportunity arised. But she believes that she has come to a point where she has enough clothes. According to her, the consumers have been fed this idea of the cult of the new that they have to buy new all the time and follow trends.
Though social media has played a part in it, it can also help things to change. She said, “If you search sustainable bloggers now, there are so many of them and you know we’ve got hashtags like proud outfit repeater, wear it again, wear it 30 times, that is going to actually have a real impact I think. Social media is going to really help this change.”
According to Claire, a sustainable piece of clothing is a piece of clothing that already exists. “I’m not saying, let’s not produce clothes but let’s do it in a way that looks at what’s going to happen to this piece of clothing afterward, you know, so encouraging sharing, swapping, mending, repairing, reusing,” she added
This eco-stylist believes that consumers should be investing in buying clothes that can be considered as forever vintage.
In December, last year, Claire hosted an event with a charity shop, Tŷ Hafan, where she curated the looks for the party season from a lot of vintage pieces. Many people bought from the collection and then all the money went to the charity. She is planning more events after things go back to normal.
Claire Rees’ sustainability game is strong, and she is not backing out, she bought a dress 20 years ago, for £36 which she still likes to wear.