Sarah and Helen work together at Green Heart Collective and share a love of clothes. They know what they like and don't like. From different generations, experience and perspectives, the two women often have discussions about clothes. We thought you might find it interesting to eavesdrop on some of their conversations...
Helen: So...quality. How do you recognise quality? For example, when you work with garments here?
Sarah: I think for me, I look at the material that the item is made of. The brand. Although the brand isn't always an indicator of quality, because I think sometimes it can be quite an expensive brand, but that doesn't necessarily mean the quality is going to be amazing.
Helen: So what about the material? What aspect of the material?
Sarah: Something that's made from a wool, or silk, or probably more natural materials tends to be better quality. Again, that's not always true, because it depends on how they're put together, how they're made, and things like that as well.
Helen: Yes, I really like modal and cupro for the feel. And some viscose is better than others, isn't it? You can tell, I think, when you feel something that is a good quality.
And what about the finish? Do you look at that as well?
Sarah: Yes. Because when you get some of the cheaper brands, if you look at a brand like Primark or something like that, the T shirts, for example, I think that the seams can go a bit funny, especially after they've been washed. Sometimes I think even if they've only been washed once. They can go out of shape.
Helen: There's something about the quality of the thread as well. I think some of the threads are really thin nylon, so they can stretch as well, which is probably what you're talking about.
Sarah: And yes, if the stitching isn't very even, which is quite common, and stitching that's coming away slightly even in brands that you think are a little bit more expensive. Like a high end brand where they'll sell a t shirt for say £30 or something and it doesn't feel like a particularly good quality item: the stitching is uneven and it's coming away and it looks like it's going to go out of shape really easily. So I think it's it is quite often a case of looking at something or feeling it and then deciding.
Helen: So what labels do you feel generally do produce good quality clothing today?
Sarah: That's difficult. Do you have any?
Helen: Well I feel like the things we sell at Green Heart are things we consider to be good quality and they tend to be things like some of the Debenhams ranges, like Wallis and Principles, and Marks and Spencer's, Next, that kind of thing. And it isn't just because of the label. It's because of the fact that when they come to us, they are better quality. So some of the fast fashion that comes in just doesn't feel like a good enough quality to list and to resell on the site or in the shop. And you were saying the other day about Topshop, how you think Topshop used to be better quality than it is now.
Sarah: Yes, well I think that's true of a lot of fast fashion brands that have been around for a long time. Like some of the old High Street brands like Topshop that's on ASOS now. But if you find as I've done, say Topshop pieces from like the 90s or even early 2000s, I find them in charity shops and you can see the difference even the materials they use. Now it's a lot of polyester and they feel quite cheap I think when you feel them, even though the price isn't necessarily as cheap as a brand like some of the supermarket brands. Look at vintage Dorothy Perkins pieces, for example, and the quality was just so much higher in the fact that they're still wearable now, say 20,30 years later, in a way that I don't think pieces that are made today would be in 20 and 30 years.
Helen: Yes, it's gonna be interesting, isn't it? What is going to survive from now and be vintage in 20,30 years time?
Sarah: Yes, because a lot of it is so throwaway like the stuff that's produced now from some of the fast fashion brands, things that can just fall apart.
Helen: Isn't it that people don't really care about clothes lasting, because they only want to wear them once or twice and then move on to a new outfit? It's part of our throwaway culture. I hate hearing how charity shops won't take items from certain brands because they're such poor quality they can't sell them. It's like wearing clothes like a disposable cup - use it once and then throw it away.
Sarah: Charity shops get so many donations that were so cheap when bought new that they can't sell them for very much at all.
Helen: But I guess people don't want to spend more money on quality because they think they're only going to wear it once anyway.
Sarah: Yes, the style of fast fashion pieces often follow trends that pass quickly...
Helen: And people don't want to have things that they're going to wear over and over again. This dress I've got on today is from Joe Brown's and I've had it at least 8 years. I wear it a couple of times every summer and still love it. It still looks as good as new. So what item have you got that you own that you think's great quality and why?
Sarah: I have quite a few pieces that I think are good quality. They tend to be older pieces and vintage pieces like coats and jackets I quite often buy second-hand because I find that the styles tend to be a bit more
timeless in that they don't follow trends in the same way and don't go out of style so quickly. Also the materials used and the way they're put together just feel more durable, like they're going to last longer.
Helen: Yes, we haven't talked about that aspect of quality: the cut and the design, the style...
Sarah: I was just thinking about prints and patterns. I often think of vintage as being better quality in terms of the material but I suppose it isn't always, especially when you look at a lot of 80s things that don't feel very nice. But a lot of the time, I think it's the prints that make them seem like better quality. Because I think now, with a lot of fast fashion brands in particular, and especially brands, online brands, they all use the same prints, and you see the same prints pop up everywhere. And they're often prints that you feel are going to go out of style very quickly. A good vintage floral print will stand the test of time a bit more and maybe is unique to that brand.
Helen: I've got a green velvet coat that's not vintage, but is perhaps 8,9,10 years old. It's from a small brand called Nomads and I think maybe the smaller brands when they're not doing mass production, they tend to be better quality anyway, because of the way that the items are produced in smaller batches.
Sarah: Yes, smaller companies probably often have an in house designer who will design things like prints, or they might collaborate with an artist or something. I think more work will go into designing pieces for the better quality brands.
Helen: To wrap up, how would you respond to people who say that they can't afford to buy quality?
Sarah: It's better to buy second-hand if you want quality. Because I know of people who will go out and spend a lot of money somewhere like Primark because they want quantity. But then they could probably spend a lot less
going to either a charity shop or a vintage shop or somewhere that sells second-hand clothing, and buying a few really good quality pieces. I have a Whistles jumper from a charity shop, which I've had for a few years now. And it's got a bit of cashmere in it. And that jumper new from Whistles probably could easily have been nearly £100. I spent about £8 on it and it's lasted really well. I've worn it a lot over the last few years. I just think you could buy a few pieces like that.
Helen: So it's about changing mindset so it's not about wearing something once or twice but over and over and over again. So it's worth investing. People sometimes say they don't want to spend as much on a second-hand item as it would cost to buy new in Primark or somewhere like that. But you're just not getting the same value for money, the same quality for what you're spending.
Sarah: I agree, because the things that you buy in a shop like Primark,
you just won't want to wear over and over again, I've bought clothes like that in the past, and it doesn't feel special in the same way. You don't feel like you want to look after it in the same way that you do when you find something that feels really nice. When the cut is nicer, you'll feel good in it.
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