One minute to midnight. That's how the Prime Minister described the race to avert a climate catastrophe at COP26, the summit which began at the weekend and finishes on November 12. Of course, this is news to noone. Reports about the critical state of our planet have been dominating headlines for some time now, particularly with regards to the fashion industry. Can it even be possible to enjoy fashion now without a guilty conscience? One woman says so.
Venetia La Manna is a fair fashion campaigner and podcaster whose love of, and advocacy for wearing pre-loved clothes has attracted over 140,000 followers on Instagram. As well as calling out brands for greenwashing, she regularly posts about her vintage and secondhand fashion finds and has just launched a new collection of pieces in partnership with AEG.
Among the pre-loved items on offer is an Isabel Marant jumper, an Alice Temperley silk dress, Levi's jeans and an Alexander McQueen hoodie. Most pieces are under £100, with the exception of a Bella Freud jumper at £135.
So, just how does La Manna marry her love of fashion with a desire – and need – to live more sustainably? Here, she shares her top tips for doing just that, as well as explaining how this collaboration came to be...
How did this collection come about? How did you source the pieces?
I worked closely with AEG to produce the collection as part of their new campaign, Pre-Loved with Care, which is all about caring for our clothes in the right way, so that they look and feel better for longer. AEG makes appliances that are built with technology that help us care for our clothes, keep them in our wardrobes for longer, and help reduce our impact on the environment.
We then worked in collaboration with the incredible One Scoop Store, who are on a mission to make secondhand fashion more accessible by making it more affordable, and it was such a joy to work with both brands.
AEG and I met with One Scoop Store’s founder, Holly, who showed us lots of different pieces to choose from, and together we decided what went into the collection based on how much we loved them, but also their fabrics, making sure that each piece has longevity if it’s cared for in the right way.
We made sure there was something for everyone. So, there are some more minimal, everyday pieces in there, but also some showstopper pieces. And we're really, really excited about each one.
What are the main things we could all do to be more sustainable when it comes to shopping?
Shop your own wardrobe: The most sustainable clothes are the ones that you already own. So, I would personally set aside some time, perhaps at the weekend, to go through each and every single item in your wardrobe and organise them in such a way that you can always see every piece and this means you’ll be more likely to wear them.
Get involved: I would really recommend getting involved in the hashtag #OOOTD, which stands for ‘old outfit of the day’ on Instagram. You’ll find a community of incredible people who are celebrating all of their old clothes and showing how much joy it brings them.
Read your labels: Read your clothing labels to make sure you’re washing them correctly. This is really important in making sure that they last longer in our wardrobes.
Shop Secondhand: There are of course times when you’ll need something new, and this is the time to fall in love with secondhand shopping. It is a much slower process, but it is so joyful when you find something that is wonderful, you can rest assured that no one else will have it, making it extra special. And you will probably save yourself some pennies!
Buy Less: Try to focus on buying less and look after the clothes you have. My amazing friend Chloe Assam, who works for the OR Foundation in Ghana, always talks about how important it is to have relationships with our clothes. The more memories we hold in our pieces, the more likely we are to wear them time and time again!
Do you think it really is possible to live sustainably and still enjoy fashion?
Yes, and I am evidence! I passionately believe that it's possible to live sustainably and still enjoy fashion. In fact, I enjoy fashion more now than I ever have done before. And that is because I am free from the shackles of fast fashion.
I am fully aware that I’m in such a privileged position to be able to shop in a way that is slower and more considered. I have the time and I'm a relatively common size, for example. But slowing down our fashion consumption, and I think others in this fashion movement would agree with me, is really beneficial for our mental health. We all know that feeling of craving the dopamine hit you get by doing a big order online but you can still get that from buying secondhand clothing. Because you have to work a bit harder to find pieces, it's so much more rewarding.
What have you learned from your work as a sustainability activist?
One of the things I’ve learnt is not to call myself an activist, and I am really adamant about this. I've spent a lot of time speaking to garment workers through the Remember Who Made Them campaign which I co-founded with three friends of mine, in different countries around the world like Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and they are the ones who are really fighting for a better industry. They are the ones who don't take a day off in demanding fair pay for their craft and a safe space to work in.
As COP26 is underway, is there one thing you wish we would all start doing to try and help this critical situation we find our planet in?
The one thing we should start doing is stop delaying and act now, in whatever way we can. It’s a different answer for everyone but I think my one piece of advice would be to think about what you can do as an individual and in collaboration with others, as that’s going to have the biggest impact. So that might mean joining a local campaign group that is already doing a lot to raise awareness about the climate crisis. It might be a campaign to stop the UK investing in oil and gas companies. In fact, if you'd like to learn more about one that's happening at the moment, check out stopcambo.org.
What would be your top tips for finding great pre-loved pieces?
Make use of the filters on online secondhand platforms. Filter by location, to keep carbon emissions low, and filter by size/colour/fabric so you’re not trawling through hundreds of pages to find what you’re looking for. Set alerts to be notified when these pieces come up, and make sure you’re 100% happy with what the item before you buy – ask for measurements, ask them for videos and extra photos, make the tech do the work for you.
Generally speaking, the more affluent areas in cities is where you’ll find really good quality secondhand pieces. It sounds so simple but somewhere like Knightsbridge or Chelsea in London is going to have some great stock, so set aside a day with a friend and go and explore.
Do you feel hopeful about the future?
I feel really encouraged by the slow fashion community, how wonderfully welcoming they are and how much joy they get from slowing down their fashion consumption. And there are incredible small brands doing wonderful work to ensure that their supply chain is fair. But we are up against the raging machine that is fast fashion. And we know that 71% of the world's carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are caused by the top 100 companies. So, we're up against it.
But the youth movement give me so much hope, particularly Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, and we have to remain hopeful and focus on what we can do, as opposed to what we can't.
SHOP: The Best Sustainable Brands To Add To Your Wardrobe
OMNES, Leonie Midi Shirt Dress in Black Orange Check, £69
OMNES is a sustainable womenswear fashion brand that builds the bridge between conscious consumption with eco-friendly fabrics and responsible design at its core. Look out for its beyond-pretty prints.
Baum Und Pferdgarten, Ahadi Dress, £189
Baum und Pferdgarten's Responsible Edit are made from organic cotton and recycled fabrics to be 'considerate to the planet, and its people'. The full range starts from £49, and doesn't compromise on the Scandi cool that the brand is known for.
Monika The Label, Camille Animal Print Slip Dress, £270
Monika The Label is a UK brand made in North London. They also produce the majority of the collection in organic cotton or Regenesis Light Satin (a material made out of recycled plastic bottles), and use deadstock fabric to create bandanas and scrunchies.
Mashu, Cassiopeia Cork and White, £432
Mashu, a London-based handbag label, uses materials such as recycled polyester, the natural fibre pinatex and repurposed wood from old furniture to make top-handle totes and sleek belt bags in its family-run factory of five artisans in Athens.
Shaina Mote, Lucqa Top In Salt, £142.42
This minimalist brand, based in LA, is all about timeless staples with 'made locally' credentials, such as effortless slip dresses and sweaters with added slouch. Tencel, made from eucalyptus trees, rayon, made from wood pulp, and MicroModal, from beechwood trees, are three of its sustainably harvested hero materials.
The Level Store, Linen Blazer, £69
One of the easiest ways to lower your carbon footprint is to buy second-hand. The Level Store, an online marketplace that aims to promote a circular economy, takes the rummage hassle out of vintage shopping. The edit of classic trenches, tailoring, sweaters and handbags is impressively premium, plus it donates €1 from every order to reforestation projects in Portugal.
Sheep Inc, 001 Medium Knit Lupin Lilac, £160
The clue's in the name. Sheep Inc is a carbon-negative, 100% transparent sweater brand. Each wool jumper comes with a digital tag, meaning you can track its manufacturing journey from New Zealand to your wardrobe. Test out its mantra – 'Strangers will want to pet you' – for yourself.
Hereu, Plaited Padded-detail Shoulder Bag, £346
Mediterranean Spain, and its legacy of craftsmanship, is the inspiration behind accessories label Hereu. The shoes (flat loafers, espadrilles and lace-ups) and bags (baskets and woven leather cross-bodies) are all designed and produced in Barcelona.
O Pioneers, Milly Blouse, £170
If you can't get enough of prairie dresses, you need to know about O Pioneers. Founded in north London, the limited-edition and one-off designs are handmade using deadstock and vintage fabrics. Fun fact: co-founder Clara Francis made the beaded headress Emma Watson wears in Little Women.
Ssōne, Joanie Embroidered Recycled-Cashmere Sweater, £473
Fashion insiders are already falling for Ssōne, the London label that specialises in socially-conscious, environmentally friendly statement pieces, each of which comes with facts about its provenance.
Hai, Puff Gina, £122
So there's never any leftover stock that's wasted, Hai's playful scrunchies and bags are produced in small batches (also minimising your chances of unwanted 'twinning'). Silks are coloured with eco-reactive dye (less damaging than regular versions), and its packaging uses zero plastic.
All Blues, S-link Gold-Vermeil Bracelet, £500
The weighty chain-link necklace is set to continue its reign as one of the year's most-desired pieces. Join the club the sustainable way with All Blues, which handcrafts its designs in Stockholm from recycled sterling silver. The definition of a forever piece.
Rave Review, Striped Upcycled-Wool Jacket, £715
All of Rave Review's big personality patchwork coats – a firm street-styler favourite – are made using upcycled garments, resolutely proving that second-hand doesn't mean second-best.
ESSĒN, Foundation Flats, £149
Flat mock-croc Chelsea boots, glove-fit ballet pumps and chunky ankle-strap sandals – all of which are big for SS20 – are all part of ESSĒN's pared-back designs. Collections are designed with a small carbon footprint in mind. Its new styles are produced through a pre-order model, so they're only made when ordered, thereby avoiding overproduction.
Veja, Rio Branca Ripstop Kaki Pearl, £105
The Duchess of Sussex is a fan - and you will be too once you hear the roll call of Veja's sustainable and ethical credentials. Founded in 2005, it buys agro-ecological cotton and rubber directly from family producers in Brazil, signing one to three year contracts to guarantee income, its logistics workers are part of Atelier Sans Frontieres, an organisation promoting the professional integration of people who have been excluded from the labour market, and it's the first trainer brand to use B-mesh, a fabric made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. It has also purchased 195 tons of wild rubber, to preserve 120,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest, since 2004.
Reformation, Mandy Minimal Block Heel Mule, £215
Reformation is as dedicated to sustainability as it is to making Insta hit after Insta hit. Its RefScale tracks its environmental footprint - adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, gallons of water used and pounds of waste generated - so that the company can then offset those resources. International shipping is now free - and totally offset, naturally.
Allbirds, Women's Wool Runners, £95
This New Zealand sneaker brand's mantra - 'Light on your feet, easy on the planet,' - tells you all you need to know. The trainers - made from superfine merino wool, processed using 60% less energy than materials used in synthetic shoes, tencel lyocell, which uses 95% less water than cotton and sugarcane, a renewable resource transformed into Allbirds's SweetFoam soles - really do feel like clouds for your feet. It also takes its carbon footprint seriously - good news for a shoe label - and is a 100% carbon-neutral business.
Mother Of Pearl, Zariah Belted Ruched Cotton-Blend Poplin Midi Dress, £175
Mother of Pearl isn't just committed to making sustainable clothes, it also cares deeply about its company culture reflecting its ethos. It has a vegetarian lunch scheme for staff, with produce sourced from local producers via Farmdrop, the office itself runs on green energy and it even uses toilet paper from Who Gives A Crap, a charity who donates 50% of its profits to improving sanitation in the developing world.
Peony, Gingham Check Print Swimsuit, £155
This Aussie brand has prettily printed bikinis and swimsuits made largely from Econyl, nylon that has been regenerated from abandoned fishing nets and nylon waste. All its fabrications also meet the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, the highest certifiable standard for ensuring responsible use of chemicals during the fabric construction.
Bassike, Printed Cotton-Twill Shorts, £87.50
The Aussie brand Bassike, founded in 2006, already has some impressive stats under its (pleasingly minimal) belt. Its organic cotton jersey was developed and is made in Melbourne with 95% certified-organic fibres, which biodegrade and are produced without pesticides, it donates past season samples to a company that turns them into cleaning rags and its paper and cardboard packaging is 100% recyclable and biodegradable.
Fisch, Select Fish-Print Low-Back Swimsuit, £195
Fisch's eco-credentials are as on-point as its scoop-backed, squared-necked cossies. They're made out of Italian Econyl, a 100% regenerated nylon fibre created from fishing nets and other types of nylon waste, which is woven in Lombardy, Italy.
E.L.V, Mid Blue Match Boyfriend Jean, £285
The denim sector of the fashion and textiles industry is one of the worst culprits in terms of sustainability because of the amount of water and chemicals involved in the dyeing and production processes. Each pair of zero-waste E.L.V jeans, however, is made from two pairs of discarded jeans that would otherwise end up in landfill and are produced in a five-mile radius between Dalston and Walthamstow.
RE/DONE, Wonder Woman 1984 Cheetah-Print Stretch-Jersey Body, £155
As its name suggests, the LA-based Re/Done is all about making something new out of something old. That 'something old' is previously worn Levi's jeans that are hand-picked and hand-cut in limited quantities. The result is the perfect straight jeans, bell bottoms and ankle crops.
Everlane, The Utility Barrel Pant, £71
Everlane, the San Francisco-based start-up that proves sustainable clothes don't have to cost the earth, has a simple mission statement: 'radial transparency'. It has extensive information about each of its ethical factories online - from the loafer factory in Brescia, Italy, to the knitting factory in Fujian, China - and lists where every single garment was made, and from what materials, in the product information.
Adidas By Stella McCartney, Treino Mid-Cut Print Shoes, £170
No luxury label has made bigger waves in the sustainable fashion market than Stella McCartney. Some of her most innovative experiments under the adidas by Stella McCartney umbrella involve the 'Infinite Hoodie' - 100% recyclable and created with advanced textile innovation company Evrnu from garment waste - and the biodegradable 'Biofabric Tennis Dress', made in partnership with Bolt Threads, a company specialising in bioengineered sustainable fabrics and fibres. While neither was put into production, both prototypes prove that closed loop clothing is not only possible, but desirable.
Ninety Percent, Tie-Dyed Organic Cotton-Jersey Track Pants, £91
Ninety Percent does exactly what it says on the tin, donating 90% of its profits, and has a platform on its website that allows customers to vote for their chosen cause after making a purchase. Its materials are strictly sourced from reputable suppliers, and features a lot of tencel, a fabric made from renewable wood pulp in a closed loop system.
Lee, Breese in Dark Joni, £52.50
Every season, Lee find new ways to create with lower impact on the planet, whether it be reduced water, less waste, or using organic fibres. The brand's 'For a World That Works' programme employs multiple innovative techniques and initiatives to make a blue planet greener. This includes recycled fibres, Indigood foam dyeing, Crystal Clear dyeing, organic fibres, recycled hardware, biodegradable back patches and more.
Mercer, W3RD Vegan Wine Sneaker, £225
Dutch sneaker brand Mercer has been a pioneer in sustainability for nearly eight years. Aiming to change the average shoppers perception of sustainable and vegan fashion as cool and contemporary and 'not all socks and sandals', they produced the first-ever sneaker made from pineapple 'leather', and more recently wine leather, cactus leather, and soles from algae and more.
WEAR DEADSTOCK, Dickies Lagrange Peach Hoodie, £49.99
WEAR DEADSTOCK is a small family run business passionate about sustainability and providing quality deadstock pieces. Deadstock is a term used to describe an item which is no longer in manufacture so all of their pieces are exclusive and limited.
SlowCo, D THE BRAND, Red Tulle Midi Dress, £227
SlowCo are a multi-brand slow fashion retail platform, specialising in sustainability and inclusivity. The brand believes in a "less but better" philosophy, and has created a space where everyone is represented.
Damson Madder, Faith Check Fleece Over Shirt, £85
Damson Madder are passionate about each of their pieces featuring as many sustainable attributes as possible, and being completely transparent it. The brand's aim is to be open about the origin of their fabrics and to the fact that they might not always get it right every time.