When we talk about sustainable fashion, we often look to brands making new collections in ethical and eco-friendly ways. While production transparency, fair working conditions and a living wage for everyone in the chain, plus environmentally sound fabric sourcing, are key factors in the creation of new clothing (and which we should all champion when shopping), we tend to overlook vintage pieces as a responsible and mindful way of indulging our love of fashion.
Fashion blogger bryanboy highlighted this in a recent tweet: "If I hear about yet another 'sustainable' clothing line...There’s nothing sustainable about creating something new en-masse. Just stop. Please. You wanna know what’s sustainable? Wearing your old damn clothes."
Considering that the clothing and textile industry is the world’s second largest polluter (oil comes in first), that it takes 2,720 litres of water to manufacture just one T-shirt, and that each year the average shopper throws away £70 worth of clothes, with over 300,000 tonnes of clothing sent to landfill, we have to ask ourselves what our relationship with fashion – sustainable or not – is doing to our planet.
Emily Bothwell, the founder of the hugely successful Peekaboo Vintage, is asking that very question. "Do I really need this? Why am I buying it? It is our responsibility to think more wisely, change our perspective, and shop more considerately." Her new campaign is aiming to drive vintage into the public consciousness, so that when we take steps to alter our shopping habits for the good of the Earth, we consider vintage retailers over browsing for trend-led new pieces that might just end up in landfill or, worse, our oceans.
Designers are under increasing pressure to churn out more collections each year, and the fast pace of Instagram-hosted influencer style has resulted in consumers eager to keep up with a carousel of trends. Something's gotta give. So we're looking to existing clothes from some of the most sartorially exciting decades – hello, '60s and '70s – for our new favourite pieces.
"By changing the way we buy our fashion, we start to value it as a considered purchase," Emily explains. "Taking more care and attention to what we are buying and why we make these impulsive buys reduces non-essential spend, saves money and at the same time, helps the cause. I'm challenging any negative connotations of investing in pre-loved items and highlighting the positive reasons true vintage is a wonderful ethical lifestyle choice offering unique and as-new pieces."
Refinery29 chatted with Emily about holding her own as the only female trader at Portobello Market, the best throwback designers to hunt for, and why vintage never goes out of style.
Hi Emily! Tell me how you first got started in vintage trading.
From age 13, when all my friends were in New Look, I loved trawling charity shops far more than the high street. I'd pull outfits together and my friends would look at me like I was mad! After school, I had a really great career in the music industry, working for Sony and CBS Records, but at the same time I'd go to Portobello Market every weekend, shopping for vintage pieces. I eventually went for it, gave it all up, and set up a stall there.
What was that like?
I wasn't very good at first! I was only 21 and was the only woman there at the time. It was a hardcore atmosphere, full of proper market traders, and as a young woman I had to stand my ground and keep up. Lugging that stall around was no mean feat – I did it in all weathers and through three pregnancies!
And where did the name Peekaboo come from?
My deep obsession is vintage Ossie Clark. I read that he called a skirt of his the peekaboo skirt, which, despite the childish connotations, was really sexy. Everything he did had something revealing, whether it was an exposed back, a little bit of cleavage, or the way a skirt opened. I love that concept, so I named my brand after that.
You were at Portobello Market for 12 years – what happened next?
Topshop brought me in as a pop-up 20 years ago and I never left! I've seen such changes in the high street over the past two decades. But it's really sad, you used to have to fight for a space at Portobello Market but now there's hardly anyone there.
I assume that's because of the internet – people find their vintage on eBay, Instagram and concessions now.
It's true, although I couldn't bear to buy vintage and not feel the fabric or see it in person. Also, we're the most-followed concession on ASOS, which is incredible, but we sit in a sea of vintage sportswear brands. There're so many other types of vintage out there waiting to be found.
Speaking of, which decade do you buy and sell the most of?
I was always obsessed with the '70s – I was born in that decade, but wish I'd been a teenager during it. I'm still true to that love now. However, I'd rarely put someone in a head-to-toe vintage look. It's all about that mix and match, eclectic vibe that British girls are so great at. We never commit to a whole look. In Europe they really don't get vintage at all, it's all about the labels and logos for them. I think we're really unique here in how we put things together.
What do you think people who are afraid of buying vintage should know?
What I'd say to someone unsure whether to invest in a beautiful vintage piece is that it's already dated; it's already 40 or 50 years old, so it's not going to feel 'last season' when you step out in it six months after purchasing. It's timeless. I have so many pieces that aren't relevant all of the time, but I'll pack them away until they feel fresh again. That ties into our message about sustainability, too – you won't bin it because it feels out of sync with current trends.
Thea Porter, Mr Darren, Gunne Sax, 1970s Wallis, and Jeff Banks, who started Next but was a really incredible designer before he founded the brand.
Finally, what tips do you have when shopping vintage?
Firstly, the quality of vintage shoes is really bad. They didn't have the same restriction on what went in the heel, so when you try them on now you feel really unstable. It's the one item I avoid. Secondly, if you love it, get it. The arm might be a bit tight or the bust too loose, but taking your piece to be altered extends the life and means it's tailored perfectly for you, so it will last forever. Never buy anything with underarm stains! It never comes out, so I avoid that like the plague. Iron everything inside out to avoid burn marks. And in the '70s they put packets in clothes to avoid moth damage. Unfortunately the packets let off this horrific smell which you can never remove – it's not that musty vintage smell, it's much, much worse...
Shop our favourite Peekaboo Vintage pieces here:
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