Why do we buy what we buy? Does it matter?
Do we buy brand new stuff because it’s shiny and lovely and exciting? Yes, sometimes.
Do we buy second hand stuff because it’s good value? Because we like ‘vintage’ things? Or because we’re trying to reduce our impact on the planet and not buy new stuff as much as we used to?
2018 seemed like a real awakening of the ‘conscious consumer’ (no small thanks to David Attenborough and his plastic plea), and it’s something that we’re really supportive of here at Retrospecced. People who previously hadn’t given a thought to the impact of what they are buying are now starting to question themselves – we all know the feeling of guilt when you forget your shopping bags and have to spend 5p on a plastic bag. I often find myself despairing at the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging around my local supermarket, try my hardest to pick non-packaged fruit and vegetables, then have to perform a weird juggling act on the way back to the car because I refused to buy a bag (and forgot my reusable one yet again). I’m sure I’m not the only one!
Does this actually make a difference? Well yes, in a nutshell. Let’s borrow some statistics from last week’s guest on Ethical Hour, Tipa:
- 79% of all plastics ever made are stuck in landfills and natural environments
- Over 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, and over 50% of this is for single use items.
It might feel that we as one small person can’t make much of a difference, but actually making the effort to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible really does add up to something greater. Did you know that extending the life of a garment by just 9 months reduces the waste and water impact of that garment by 20 – 30%*? We strongly believe that by making small changes in our day-to-day lives, they can add up to truly significant impacts. Our ‘big vision’ for the world is for everyone to become ethical, thoughtful consumers. It seems fairly innocuous at first, but actually, imagine what the world would be like if everyone thought consciously about what they needed, made an effort to reduce their waste, and reuse or repurpose things as much as possible? This circular economy would have huge ramifications for the global environment and climate. Upcycling glasses is just a small part of this, but we see ourselves as a small part of the much bigger picture.
Since starting Retrospecced, which is a social enterprise upcycling vintage and designer glasses, we’ve become so much more aware of how positive upcycling can be. All of our frames, whether they’re original 1950s cateyes or a Chanel pair that are still being sold for full price in opticians across the UK, are upcycled. It would be a crime for these frames not to have another lease of life! We also encourage our customers to send in their old frames too, and as long as they’re in good enough condition for us to sell on, we give them a voucher for money off their next frame they purchase from us! We can put any lenses in to any of our frames, customising them for each individual customer – repurposing them for what they need. We also send out our frames in cases which are recycled too (we don’t want them going to landfill either!) and make real effort to reuse the packaging for posting as far as we’re able to.
My mum (/business partner!) and I really do make an effort to be conscious consumers in the rest of our lives too now – it’s a world I was almost oblivious to just two years ago before we started Retrospecced, and now it’s starting to permeate through everything. I’ve just bought my first natural deodorant (cheers Earth Conscious!), I’m actively seeking a good brand of solid shampoo and conditioner (any advice very welcome) and I’m trying to furnish my house with as many charity shop finds as possible.
Glasses are pretty small items though, and we tend to hang on to them for a year or two at least – so are they really worth upcycling? Does it make a difference? Retrospecced is partnered with the charity Vision Aid Overseas, who provide vision care across Africa. As many as 70,000 frames a week are donated to their warehouse in the UK: old stock from opticians, people’s old frames, or if someone’s great uncle dies the family may clear out his drawers and donate his old pairs. That’s 1.75 tonnes of glasses a week, or 91 tonnes over the course of a year, just to one charity in the UK. We work with Vision Aid to cherry pick the best vintage and designer pairs from their warehouse and refurbish them if necessary before selling them and giving them a new lease of life; it’s a small start, but it is a start.
We also donate 20% of what we sell each frame for to Vision Aid Overseas, to help support their amazing work providing eyecare across Africa. Uncorrected poor vision is the world’s largest disability, affecting 2.5 billion people worldwide, and according to the World Health Organisation correcting it is the most cost-effective way to alleviate poverty. We probably don’t shout about it this aspect of our business enough, but there are lots of social enterprises out there that are doing really awesome things! Switching to them (shopping consciously) really doesn’t have to alter your day-to-day life much, but can make a real impact. As one example, I’ve recently discovered Who Gives A Crap toilet paper and it’s great: it’s made out of bamboo or recycled paper, and they build toilets for people who need them across the globe.
So in summary, a little conscious consumerism goes a long way. We can change things for the better; let’s use our purchasing power for good!
*Circular Fashion Centre