We buy responsibly and so should you

Through 2019 there was a trend to ‘not shop’ for one year. This is a difficult task, one which is made even more tricky for the modern man or woman who is bombarded with tailor-made advertising day and night. If you completed your year of abstinence we salute you, but we also urge you to reconsider your choices for 2020.

As a small business we have keenly felt the effects of people ‘not shopping’. Our local high street, once named Independent High Street of the Year due to its many independent retailers and lack of big name brands, struggled in 2019. While holiday makers, local residents and day-trippers abound, the resounding call of “Oh we’re not shopping this year” haunted the twisting, candy coloured street.

We are the first to agree that overconsumption is at the root of the environmental crisis we are all facing. This is why our commitment, and passion, is to buy responsibly, from suppliers and makers we know and trust. If we see something that doesn’t fit with our values we call it out, and the mutual respect we have with our brands means that we know that our concerns will be listened to and acted upon.

This personal passion is not something you will see from bigger brands, places like the Zara and H&M groups have admirable ‘ethical’ ranges but these efforts seem to pail into insignificance when set against the 1.6 billion pieces of clothing that the Zara group alone produced last year. While their bosses see the commercial value of paying lip service to climate activism, their throw away fashion business model seems unchanged. Big names brands continue to produce billions of items, many of which is destined for landfill, some without ever reaching customer’s hands[1], often in developing countries where workers are paid minuscule wages and rivers become 'biologically dead zones’. Want to know the state of the high street, fast fashion industry in the 2010s? From 2016 to 2018, Zara’s parent company was named the most sustainable company in the retailing sector by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.[2]

‘An estimated £100 million ($160 million) worth - 350,000 tonnes - of used clothing goes to landfill every year.’[3]

We know the wrongs of the retail sector pose a real issue, but this year we would like to propose a new solution: shop local, shop handmade, shop second-hand.

It is much easier to stop an impulsive action, than to start a new, sustainable habit … this is the challenge we are setting you all this new decade.

“Buy once, choose well” these words from Vivienne Westwood are often quoted on pastel coloured Instagram tiles, but they ring true for the world of 2020. Clothes are a passion for many of us. Putting on a well fitting pair of trousers, or that jacket you just know people look twice at on the street, is something that fills our lives with little bursts of confidence. That is not something we have to loose to remain eco-conscious.

Think of your wardrobe, think of the things which bring you joy (thank you Marie Kondo). Now think of the rest of your wardrobe: the shirt you haven’t worn in a year because it doesn’t fit quite right, the four fairly similar t-shirts, the jumper that looked nice in the pictures but feels horrible. Now imagine you didn’t have these things … not so much of sacrifice, right? We are not advocating waste - if you have it already, wear it or pass it on. We are advocating conscious shopping: simply don’t add to your wardrobe graveyard. When you see something you like, take a minute. Is this a ‘wear-it-every-other-day, what-did-I-even-wear-before-I-had-it’ jumper or an impulse purchase you’ll regret?

Of course, we all need to shop on the high street sometimes. Very few people can afford to shop exclusively with small brands, the important thing is to still shop consciously and not get draw in by deals or impossibly low prices. Keep the things you buy, wear them well and add in the key pieces you love from small retailers.

This year focus on building a capsule wardrobe where everything is cherished and worn. If you don’t need to add to it right now, then don’t. However, be open to new additions which might bring a little joy to you and when you do need something shop local, shop handmade, shop second-hand, you’ll be sharing the joy with your community.

As we have said at the top of this article, we respect the efforts and intentions of those not shopping in 2019. However, by choosing not to shop for a year, there is a chance us, the independent shops you love to visit, won’t be here when you decide you do need a something new. With the independent retailers gone, it is likely that your only choice will be the conglomerates big enough to ride the wave of shopping trends. Not shopping is an admirable solution to over-consumption, waste and the impending ecological disaster, but it is also a death sentence for small makers, retailers and resellers.

We are the ones leading the charge, holding the fashion industry accountable for its many wrongs. We are the ones you can turn to to show big brands that the time for environmental and social exploitation is over, we are the ones who can lobby and persuade designers and makers to make responsibly choices. Use us to make your voice and ethics heard by the big fashion brands, because if we are not supported in our efforts there will be nowhere to make your ethical choice felt, no one to push for organic, sustainable fabrics or responsible production and no way to make any of our voices heard above the cacophony of fast fashion.

52 seasons a year, that is the model to which big retailers work. Pile it high sell it (often not so) cheap, and roll on the next week where that top you bought is outdated. We hate this as much as you do. That is why we buy responsibly for 2 seasons a year: Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. If you have been to either our Whitstable or Margate stores you will be familiar with the phrase ”That’s the last Medium we have.” That is because we buy small numbers of choice pieces, numbers we know we can sell to our loyal customers and to curious passersby. While we do often have a few items left at the end of each season, these are quickly snapped up by you bargain hunters in our small sales. This means every item of clothing that enters our store leaves to be worn, loved and styled over and over again. The same cannot be said for big brands, whose solution to their horrifying and regular over production is to dump the remainders, often slashing them so that they are unusable.

The trend for not shopping emerged online with people looking to move towards a more ethical way of enjoying fashion. That is something we can get onboard with, but the law of unintended consequences means we can’t always predict the results of our actions. Unfortunately, while the aims and efforts of this movement were pure, we have seen a directly impact, not on the worst offenders, but on us the small business owners.

When you next see an Instagrammer championing a jacket they have “Worn: 10 times”, take a second to think about your wardrobe and that Folk or Kestin Hare coat that you have worn 100 times in the year you have owned it. The majority of you will buy and use garments for years, in time gone by to get your moneys worth, but now with the understanding that this is the way ethical fashion is moving. Last year’s trousers, who cares? You love them, they look fab and you still get compliments - so wear them until they fall apart or you pass them on.

Buying things is not a crime. Rather, buying things is not a crime if they are bought with full consciousness of the effect of the action. This year, this decade, take a look at where you are shopping not whether you are shopping. Support the local vintage shop or charity shop, support the local hardware store, go to the greengrocers not Sainsbury's, eat at Farm and Harper not Five Guys and buy your key pieces for a capsule wardrobe with longevity from us, not the impulse t-shirt from the high-street.


[1] https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/17/17852294/fashion-brands-burning-merchandise-burberry-nike-h-and-m

[2] https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-7780889/Fast-fashion-concerns-havent-hurt-Zaras-owner-online-push-helps-rising-profits.html

[3] Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics, Safia Minney, 2016


  • Fiona Harkin

    Great article – the same applies to us, here in Rye. A local Extinction Rebellioner called for everyone to stop buying new fashion. I politely informed her that buying better, buying less would be more sustainable, while recognising the local businesses that strive to offer ethical and sustainable fashion without making a big deal about it (because, after all, ethics and sustainability should be taken for granted and intrinsic to every garment – not a selling point). A better environmental move would be to go vegan, but XR have targeted the fashion industry because it’s far more high profile; they believe there are too many jobs to be lost in the meat industry (I have the Instagram screen grabs to prove this).
    Good luck with your business and keep going. I’ve dropped some brands because they’re not changing their ways and I’ve stuck with others that are beginning to see the light. We’re not perfectly green, but we’re striving for a better offer for our customers by making the hard choices… if they’re willing to buy.

  • Seamus Murphy

    Great article. To all those who are not yet in the know, Ruskin clothing last and lasts. I still love wearing my Kestin raincoat, three seasons on and still getting compliments. Well made clothes that look great year after year.

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