March 21, 2020
Does it seem strange to be thinking about clothes at a time like this? Are you feeling guilty for even contemplating shopping? Do you ricochet between a let’s-not-overstate-this mentality (especially considering what’s going on in war-torn parts of the world) and knee jerk flashes of fear every time Boris hovers near a microphone?
I sympathise. And that’s just us sane, been-round-the-block boomers. My millennial daughters zig-zag between an irrepressible human desire to see their friends and an equally strong urge to burrow under the duvet.
There’s a similar conflict when it comes to shopping – an activity that can be so uplifting, but also dispiriting. A fortnight ago I was congratulating myself on making it to the start of March without frittering my salary on a single new thing this year. But now I feel responsible and concerned, as never before, for all those many worthwhile British fashion businesses, especially the small ones who are trying to work in ethical, sustainable ways and now find themselves confronted with a jungle of monumental challenges and no map.
I’ve never felt comfortable urging anyone to buy just for the sake of that all too transient dopamine hit, least of all in a time of such economic uncertainty. But there’s an ocean between buying something new out of boredom or habit, and thoughtfully replenishing items that are past their best – or simply cheering yourself with something beautiful. I’m not comparing our current situation with the Second World War, but Winston Churchill and his cabinet of middle aged men all realised the importance of encouraging everyone to make the best of their appearance in order to help maintain the nation’s morale.
Right on cue, the sales have arrived. Yes, they’re early. Worryingly so, if you’re a business that never fully emerged from the winter sales. The issues facing the industry were stark even before the virus, with falling demand, high rents and increasing pressure from consumers to switch to cleaner production systems. The demise, last winter, of the ultra-upmarket Barneys department stores in Manhattan and the mid-market House of Fraser in the UK have seen hundreds of fashion and beauty companies left out of pocket and with surplus stock – as Mulberry can testify.
For customers, it’s a good time to browse. With most people’s diaries going quiet, we won’t have the distraction of “needing” to buy any last minute clothes. We can take our time to work out what we really want to wear over the coming months. And many of us are finding we have more time on our hands which we can use to explore new ideas and skills. This could be the month you finally get round to making a pinboard, online, or with real glue and paper, of all your favourite looks – and work out what threads them all together. It’s also the opportunity to properly weed through our wardrobes and rescue all those items languishing through neglect or missing buttons.
The fashion industry will have to change its wasteful ways too. For too long it has paid lip service to green issues while megaphoning the importance of nabbing those “Must Haves”, even if it means shelling out for a white muslin dress in February.
What do any of us need now? Items that bring us comfort, pleasure and beauty. We’ve put together 12 ideas from British brands currently on sale, ensuring every last detail brings us enjoyment for ages to come.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging our love of fashion right now. The reaction from readers to the organic hand sanitiser I featured in this column was so overwhelming that Alexandra Soveral emailed the morning it came out to say that, together, we’d all helped create a lot more employment for her team of beauty therapists, whose clients had been cancelling. It reminded me that fashion and beauty are about jobs as much as our own micro beams of happiness and boosting our own confidence. The point is to browse enjoyably, choose sustainably, to take our time – and perhaps just enjoy the view. We know the current consumer model has to reshape itself. Maybe this is where change starts.
A heartfelt thank you to @Lisaarmstong for featuring us. Kind wishes and support to all readers & small businesses at these challenging times from the team @Press
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