Like many fashion lovers of my generation, I've been supporting the fast fashion industry since I got my first job aged 16 (flipping sausages in my local Tesco café, if you're interested). I still remember how thrilling my first self-funded shopping trip was. I can even recall what I bought: a pale pink corset and black knee-high boots with vertiginous heels that gave me the unsexy lumbering gait of a Tyrannosaurus rex. What self-respecting child of the 90s wouldn't want an outfit that simultaneously referenced Pretty Woman and Jurassic Park?
After that, I was on the shopping equivalent of what Limmy might call a 'permo' - an everlasting trip, never feeling sated because there's so much choice in a market that bends over backwards for shoppers seeking a quick fashion fix. While I've experienced fleeting pangs of guilt over the origins of the clothing I've bought over the years, knowing full well that behind every low price tag lies cheap labour (usually), the shame didn't properly hit me until I moved house and saw how much crap I'd amassed.
Clothes that I've stumbled across while packing my bags include a pair of high-waisted flares, a coin belt, a military jacket, several peasant blouses and a pair of cowboy boots. Discovering them was like peering into the wardrobe of Victoria Beckham before her sudden and miraculous transformation into a fashion designer slash style icon. The type of gear that cornrow-era Cheryl Cole would have worn while on a nightclub toilet rampage. Purchases that I probably wouldn't have made - or would have at least considered more carefully - were they not dirt cheap.
What embarrasses me more than the array of questionable trends I've dabbled in is the number of times I've actually worn each garment. Once or twice. More if you count my own nightmares. A few months ago I overheard two teenagers on the train bemoaning the fact that they'd been Instagrammed in the same outfit too many times, before planning their next shopping trip to get new clothes to show off on social media. I inwardly tutted, but I'm clearly just as much of a participant in our disposable culture as them. Except by now I should really know better.
Depending on where I shop, I'm supporting to varying degrees the exploitation of garment workers (the vast majority of whom are women). Although many sweatshop horror stories centre around high street chains, this practice is by no means confined to cheaper shops. And while the knee-jerk reaction might be to boycott businesses that indulge in these shady activities, organisations such as Labour Behind the Label urge consumers not to do this unless the boycott is called for by the workers themselves. After all, as unpleasant as their working conditions might be, they need their jobs to support their families. Capitalism is some laugh, eh?
I've been looking into how to become more of an ethical shopper and less of an arsehole, and have come up with three rules. The first is to make mindful decisions and only buy clothes that I actually love - if I can imagine myself taking a beamer over it in a few years' time then it's out. The second is to question the brands I like that don't have ethical manufacturing practices; if a company isn't treating its workers fairly, ask it why. And the third is to buy more second-hand clothes and support the brands that do create ethical and environmentally friendly clothing, without ever looking like the mum from About A Boy.
I'll let you know how that goes.