My Sustainability Journey With Mel Watt
Hi, I’m Mel, SwapNation’s Sustainability Manager, and today I’m going to be sharing my sustainable journey with you. This is the first post in a series that will spotlight the contributions of our community who are making a difference in the world with every swap. SwapNation would be nothing without our lovely members, so we want to celebrate your green achievements and inspire others to follow suit. So, let’s take it away!
When did you have your sustainability lightbulb moment and why?
I was gently introduced to the ideas of sustainability during my later years at school. I distinctively remember learning about the Nike sweatshop scandal in year 9 geography, but was yet to connect fashion injustices with the clothes I wear. I first started to incorporate more sustainable elements into my lifestyle at university which I think is pretty common. It wasn’t until I came across the work of Venetia La Manna and Aja Barber that I started to apply these ideas to fashion. As cliché as it sounds, my true lightbulb moment came when I watched The True Cost, a confronting documentary exploration of the hidden socio-economic and environmental costs behind our clothing choices. Once you know, it’s not something you can ignore, so I quit fast fashion overnight. Watching it is something of a rite of passage in the sustainable fashion community, so I would definitely recommend!
What does sustainability mean to you?
I think sustainability is often reduced to ‘saving the environment’ but it’s so much more than that. What’s the point of sustaining planetary resources if we can’t sustain the lives of people to enjoy them? Sustainability, for me, is just as much about protecting human life as it is environmental life. I very much see the two in tandem. Brands that produce “conscious” ranges but fail to pay their garment workers a living wage will never be sustainable in my eyes, pineapple leather or not. Approaches to sustainability need to be intersectional to make a difference.
How have your consumer habits changed since?
In terms of fashion, I solely source my clothes secondhand which has been a very rewarding experience. There’s so many ways to thrift now which means it’s really accessible and affordable. Depop and Vinted are my go-to’s for anything specific, but I love a good charity shop rummage, a swap (of course) and I even rented a dress for my birthday last year. My wardrobe is so much more mindful now and a true reflection of my identity and values.
What’s the one thing you wish you knew before embarking on your sustainability journey? How has your idea of sustainability changed?
I wish I understood that sustainability is not something you buy but is something that you do. Brands have capitalised on cultural illiteracy around sustainability and completely greenwashed its meaning. By framing our purchases as the sole solution to climate change, it takes the spotlight away from the brands who are the most culpable. There’s a common saying that ‘the most sustainable garment is the one already hanging up in your wardrobe’ and that couldn’t be truer! My power lies in being a citizen, not a consumer. Had I known this years ago, I wouldn’t have thrown away my perfectly fine plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one – what a waste! I’m very passionate about this topic and have previously written on this here.
Why do you love clothes swapping?
Oh wow, so many reasons! I love that swapping is an inexpensive and sustainable way to update your wardrobe. I love that it’s a mutually rewarding experience (you get to declutter your wardrobe of unwanted pieces and acquire stylish clothes in return). And I love that I always find really cool and unique pieces I’d never find on the high street.
What’s the favourite item you swapped?
This is a hard one but I would have to say my most recent swap: a beautiful baby pink puffer jacket. I have really been into my pastels lately so it felt like it was beckoning me. The best part? The jacket is originally from UNIF x Urban Outfitters but I only paid £4.20 in postage. What a steal!
Have you met any cool people/made friends in the sustainability community?
Yes! I’m very fortunate that in my career as an ethical fashion writer and consultant I get to network with some really cool people, including those that inspired my sustainability journey in the first place. Plus, chatting to swappers in our London studio means it never feels like I’m working. I guess you could say that sustainability really helped me find “my people”.
Have you set yourself any sustainability goals for the future?
I’m far from perfect so I’m always looking to improve where I can. I could definitely be better when it comes to cutting out plastic, but it’s so hard when it’s practically everywhere in the supermarkets. I’m moving soon so hopefully there’s a bulk wholefoods store or a zero waste shop nearby. Longer term, I’d love to become more self sufficient and grow my food and live off the grid – that would be the dream.
Do you think the future of fashion is shared?
100%. It makes me a bit nauseous when I think about just how many clothes are already on this earth or, worse, rotting away in landfill. Trends are super cyclical anyway so there’s always something pre-loved to be found. Swapping, renting and thrifting are proving that secondhand isn’t second best. In fact, it’s pretty sexy.
What would you like to see from SwapNation next?
Oooh I’d love to see us open up more swap studios around the country. I really think swapping is the new shopping and want to share that with the world.