The UK spends £27 billion on clothes every year. And despite the toll the fashion industry takes, especially on some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, our appetite for new clobber appears unstoppable. Fashion’s environmental footprint is massive and yet, the industry contributes over £32 billion to our GDP and supports 890,000 jobs.
My guests love a visit to Savile Row, the home of the three-piece suit. Others choose Jermyn Street, where gentlemen – from Horatio Nelson to Winston Churchill – have purchased luxurious essentials. Some guests join me in Soho to see tailors and pattern cutters in their workshops.
Not everyone can stretch to shopping in this way of course. We live in an age of disposal fashion. And yet some of us are keen to explore an alternative approach to those global mass-marketed fashion brands – and one that’s altogether kinder to the planet.
Businesswoman and family lawyer Janet Oganah is the creative genius behind Janet’s List. It connects creative women of colour – artists, jewellers, designers, dressmakers and even jam makers – across the world of beauty, fashion and lifestyle. Janet presents a chic curated edit of the best products and services unavailable elsewhere. Janet’s online hub also takes up temporary residency in pop-up shops across the capital.
A little bit of Toast
There’s growing public pressure on the fashion industry to clean up its act: and it’s the smaller retailers leading the way. Swedish brand Nudie started the trend repairing its denim for free at its Soho and Shoreditch stores. British womenswear brand Toast has branches across the city. It celebrates craft and making and, appropriately, offers highly- skilled free repairs to its pre-loved clothing. This is a welcome new approach and one to be applauded.
Sustainability begins at home
Despite the big brands, the high rents and the rise and rise of throw-away fashion, the city still has artisans making exclusive premium products in low volumes. Shaun Gordon is an independent London maker creating beautiful and bespoke silk ties, inspired by his impeccable Jamaican grandfather, Alvin.
Charity stores are an increasingly visible feature on our high streets. They support some of the UK’s 88,000 good causes and offer bargains to cost-conscious shoppers. Better yet, they are an ethical way to buy, helping prevent some of the £150 million of textiles sent to landfill every year.
Aid agency Oxfam hands out £5 Marks and Spencer’s gift vouchers to those donating clothes from the high street store. My tours sometimes visit Oxfam shops or those run by charities Fara or Mind to help guests put together original and stylish new outfits.
The charity shops are getting quite savvy of late with a modern approach to retail, including clever lighting, set-dressing and luxury lines. Many give London’s vintage shops a run for their money, but there are some notable privately-run vintage retailers across the capital. The Vintage Showroom in Covent Garden is a prime example. It presents beautifully-made and often very rare menswear and militaria from the 1920s through to the 1960s. Talk about a sustainable approach to fashion!
Antony Robbins is a London guide, a former Museum of London director and a native of the city.