• ETHICS MEETS LIFE

    KATHARINA HOGENKAMP JOURNALIST AND TRANSLATOR

    Katharina Hogenkamp, a German journalist and translator living in London, writes about fashion and sustainability in Europe and around the world. In her new column for the wearness, she reflects on the challenges of the throw-away society, the power of the community, and how to inspire other women for change. In this first column she shares her thoughts on how she has developed a personal awareness of sustainability in her daily life and job.

    It’s Friday evening and I am sitting in my bedroom of our London flat share looking into my wardrobe. Tomorrow I am traveling home to Germany for a week and the forecast for the next days looks promising: it should stay dry and hot, so I am thinking about what to pack. The choice is almost too great, and this is not the first time that I am wondering whether I really need everything I own.

    And let us be honest, the collaboration between me and the world of consumption runs smoothly and very effectively for years. Clever marketing strategies have encouraged me in the past to consistently fill every gap in my life; in fact, I was adamant that not only my personal belongings but also my entire career must focus on satisfying materialistic human needs. I work as a fashion editor; I write features to motivate people to buy clothes and other stuff. Today I wonder why I chose this path.

    At the beginning of this summer I had a panic attack. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by what surrounded me. I had moved to London to a totally overpriced and at the same time tiny little shared room, I owned tons of clothes from labels with which I could not identify and I gave my time to people who did not share my values. There had to be a change!

    The Vintage Controversy

    Unlike most of my fashion-savvy colleagues, the majority of my wardrobe consists of vintage pieces. During my time in London I not only became an eBay expert, but I could almost build up a second foothold as a tourist guide for the best second-hand shops, from Notting Hill to Brick Lane. In the beginning of the year I spent hours in front of my laptop and many Saturdays looking for the needle in a vintage haystack. By now I know where to find the most beautiful second-hand flower dresses in London, I know who offers the largest selection of cheap Levi's jeans, and I know in which shops the salesmen are the friendliest. I consciously avoid fast fashion in order to consume more sustainably. The problem, however, is that consumption and ecological awareness are ultimately incompatible.

    The fashion industry is first and foremost poison for the climate of our planet. An enormously high consumption of resources, the use of pesticides, toxic chemicals and long transport routes make the industry the second largest polluter after the oil industry. Those who buy used clothing at least avoid the production of new goods. Nevertheless, even when buying second-hand fashion, one should always ask what the products are made of. A glance at the label is enough to find out that most of my beloved vintage clothes are not made of natural, but synthetic materials, which are a burden to the environment.

    Keyword: microplastics. Every time you wash synthetic fibres, especially at high temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius, the smallest particles such as polyester, acrylic or nylon get into the water. We should therefore not be surprised that more and more plastic ends up in our drinking water. Sounds disgusting? I agree with you. In addition, there may be long transport distances when shopping. This also applies to Internet portals similar to flea markets such as eBay or Vestiaire Collective. An improved eco-balance in online trading requires fewer returns and a general understanding of the value of clothing.

    Buying cheap means buying twice

    My grandmother, who worked half her life as a seamstress, and my mother taught me as a child how to repair holes or sew a button back on. Of course, the repair of old clothes and shoes needs time and patience, which many people don't bother to take anymore - especially not if the click to buy a new product is less expensive.

    As a young girl, I bought from my first pocket money what I could afford. I didn't think about who produced a garment, under what circumstances, or what impact my decisions would have on the planet's environment. Rather, I wanted to be a part of it - back then I wanted to be one of the trendiest girls in school; today I want to be one of the most influential young women to change the world.

    It's not about trying to make things perfect; it's about getting to grips with something that affects us all. Fashion is not just clothing. Fashion is a way of life and we need to redefine it for the future. As far as my personal wardrobe is concerned, this evening I ventured an experiment just before my holiday. I stood in front of my wardrobe and thought about what my heart is attached to, what I associate with special memories and what I would like to pass on with pride. And you know what? There wasn't that much left. Every piece of property carries a story and we should think about what stories we want to tell our children in the future. 

    Picture above: Vintage blouse; Jeans by MIH; Pumps by Chloé
    Photo-Credit: Katharina Hogenkamp
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