The Secret Life of Clothes, 4: Look familiar?

Animal prints are everywhere this autumn, and Menage Modern Vintage is always happy to welcome back a timeless classic.


Leopard print dresses, 1970s, 1990s, 2018

 L to R: Diane von Furstenberg in the 1970s with you know who; vintage 1990s DVF leopard wrap at Menage Modern Vintage; leopard print dress from this week's Zara


Have you ever looked at a glossy fashion spread or browsed in upmarket shops and remembered that you have a similar item in your wardrobe, even your mother’s - grandmother’s - wardrobe?  Fashion has always loved a revival, but our constant need for novelty, with retail outlets changing their stock every few weeks to stay ahead, means that these cycles are getting faster and faster.

It is no secret that the stratospheric success of Zara over the past decade is due to a revolutionary business model which reduces the fashion cycle by minimising the time between what the customer wants (the latest trend), to its availability in the stores. In fact, while most brands restock once a season, Zara restocks with new designs as often as twice a week.  Other high street retailers such as H&M and Uniqlo are catching up and now, according to the analyst Masoud Golsorkhi, quoted in the New York Times, “pretty much half of the high-end fashion companies" — Prada and Louis Vuitton, for example — "make four to six collections instead of two each year. That's absolutely because of Zara" [1]. Incidentally, Zara’s founder, Amancio Ortega, was ranked the second richest man in the world in 2016,with a net worth of more than Warren Buffet.  

What does this mean for the planet?  Zara's holding company, Inditex, which also owns Zara Home, Bershka, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Stradivarius, Pull & Bear and Uterqüe, now makes over 840 million garments a year and has 7422 stores in 96 markets, according to their website [5].  Each of those garments requires the same amount of resources and labour as their high-end or slow fashion equivalent:  a T-shirt that costs £2 or a T-shirt that costs £200 uses the same human labour, chemical pollution and natural resources - 2,700 litres of water per T-shirt, according to the WWF [2].  That's what the average Briton uses over an 18 day period.  Next time you want another new T-shirt, ask yourself if you would be willing to go 18 days without water for it.  And with the cost and bother of dry cleaning and washing, many things - up to 30% - are thrown away after a couple of wears.  That's 30% of an estimated  80 billion garments produced globally every year.   According to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), in the UK alone, 350,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing – worth an estimated £140 million – is sent to landfill each year in the UK [3]. 

One of my favourite games, particularly during Fashion Week, is watching the latest styles on the catwalk, the influencers and the street and comparing them to the old friends in the archive.  Here are a few parallels that came out of a 5 minute search on a major fashion website this week:



Spoiler: the ones on the right have zero negative environmental impact.

The fashion cycle is becoming locked into ever-decreasing circles and ever-increasing speeds. And yet so much of what we think of as novelty has been seen before,  an old idea given new life. A cycle of ideas, recycled.


What if we try to see fashion as a circle, rather than a cycle?  The fashion circle is a key concept in the idea of a sustainable, circular economy; in which a product is designed to last in society for as long as possible with little to no waste. It is made with minimal resources and environmentally friendly materials. When the owner is finished with the product, it should be reused, rebuilt or recycled into a new product to keep it flowing through society. According to online platform Circular Fashion [4],  there are three positive steps that should be taken by consumers:

  • Use, wash and repair with care
  • Consider rent, loan, swap, second-hand or redesign instead of buying new
  • Buy quality as opposed to quantity 


As consumers we have power to change the cycle, by choosing conscientiously, and looking after what we have.  Ask yourself, what does it cost? And then ask, what does it cost the planet?  Buy less, choose well, make it last. Buy clothes second hand if possible; wear them, look after them, rest them for a while in the wardrobe; and if you really don't want it any more give someone else the chance to love it.  Change fashion cycle into fashion recycle.  Today's cast off is tomorrow's must-have.