New job - new clothes. But does new need to mean new?
I'd hardly bought any clothes since the first lockdown. And I knew I couldn't wear that interview outfit every day for the next two years.
I’m pleased to say I started a new job last week, supporting social entrepreneurs across West Yorkshire. More on that soon.
It’s great to be back working. You may remember that in the summer I left the social enterprise that I co-founded 12 years ago.
And following a summer sort-of-sabbatical, I’ve been busy looking for work - either employed or self-employed, or a mixture of both.
I have a new job. That means I need some new clothes.
After accepting the job, my thoughts soon turned to practicalities.
Including what I would wear.
My fellow middle-aged men, who grapple with the sartorial challenges of smart-casual-at-work, will relate.
The truth is, I’d hardly bought any clothes for getting on for four years.
Other than a bit of cycling gear, and some comfy stuff for all that working from home, I’d hardly been shopping.
I didn’t really need any new clothes. And as someone who can’t stand clothes shopping at the best of times, this suited me just fine.
But I knew I couldn’t wear that interview outfit every day for the next two years.
So off I went to the shops.
This is where all that work on the environmental impacts of the clothes we wear came in handy.
I live in Leeds, a city built on the textile trade.
It wouldn’t be the city it is today if it wasn’t for the clothing and textile industry.
Same goes for the rest of West Yorkshire too.
It’s a fascinating history - one that I explored a lot in my previous role, primarily through a lovely project we ran alongside The RSA as part of their Regenerative Futures programme - Leeds Fashion Futures.
In short, we looked back at our rich clothing and textile heritage - to help us to then look forward and imagine how we could create a more sustainable, circular economy around clothing and textiles in Leeds, West Yorkshire and beyond.
You can find out more about all the work we did here - a wonderfully broad range of work from setting up Leeds School Uniform Exchange, creating Leeds Textile Trail alongside Leeds Civic Trust, and running campaigns - informed by research from Leeds University academics - on how to reduce the amount of clothing that gets thrown away every year.
We were keen to do a lot more work on this theme - and the plan was to be part of a British Fashion Council-led project that would explore how to create a circular fashion ecosystem in Leeds, inspired by Doughnut Economics.
But that all went quiet for some reason. Let’s hope it’s a project that gets revisited some time soon (and I’m still here to help, of course).
So how did all that knowledge help me with my Big Shop?
This is where I’d love to tell you that all of the clothes I bought were second-hand.
But sadly that wouldn’t be true.
I started the week after my interview - and time was pressing.
So yes, I did buy some new clothes.
But I tried to put into practice some of the things that I’d learnt over the years.
To think about cost per wear, more than price, for example.
Buying fewer, better quality clothes that would last, and would be worn regularly.
Things that went with eachother in a middle-aged-man-smart-casual-at-work-uniform kind of way.
I also bought a couple of things from Community Clothing, the brilliant business set up by (fellow Leeds University graduate) Patrick Grant - who you may know from The Great British Sewing Bee (filmed in, yes you guessed it, Leeds).
Whilst we’re talking about Patrick, I loved his recent Desert Island Discs, including his 100% understandable rage about the Government’s approach to PPE during the Covid pandemic (and a reminder of the Big Community Sew project that he set up days after we went into lockdown).
And alongside the few new high-street items, and the Community Clothing classics, I bought second hand too - with a couple of items from Vinted - including a pretty smart DKNY shirt for £2.
And now that I’ve got the basics, I’ve got a few searches set up on Vinted, in the hope that most of my future buys can be second-hand.
So I’m now suited and booted for work.
Not perfectly, but mindfully. Conscious of trying to make better choices. Still much more to do.
And also aware that the big changes we need are changes at the systemic level - with businesses and governments taking the lead to reduce the significant climate impacts of clothing supply chain.
But being a bit more mindful of the clothes we choose to buy does matter - and as we tried to demonstrate through Leeds Fashion Futures, these choices, when considered at a city-scale (how can you help 750,000 people make better choices?) can add up. And they might just help build a movement that puts pressure on businesses and governments to act at scale, and at speed.