Hi Bianca! You founded Whering with the aim of bringing an end to the “buy-use-dispose” culture. What prompted the initial idea and how did you go about putting your plan into action?
I had just accepted my first job in London at Goldman Sachs and I was eager to get involved in environmental committees to tackle waste, mostly around food and disposal and I thought ok – this is ‘your thing’ and good on you for wanting to make this happen (hello intrapreneur). But then I started work on the Stitchfix IPO and began to delve deep into consumer buying patterns, machine learning to optimize consumption and the environmental cost of fashion.
It took me 2 years to make the jump, but I finally founded Whering in the summer of 2020 out of a profound desire to democratise the personal styling landscape and fundamentally make efficient the way we buy clothes and use them.
For me the system was broken. The vicious cycle of not being able to see what you own, impulse buying (while never getting it quite right) and the lack of inspiration in the styling process meant only one thing: we had to take it digital and harness the power of AI to personalise our fashion experience.
We love the hashtag #WardrobeZen. Can you tell us about the thinking behind it?
Thank you! We came up with this hashtag to encourage a “philosophy” that revolves around mindful and conscious shopping, as opposed to impulse buying. To avoid this, we believe outfit planning is key to avoid decision fatigue. I like to think of Wardrobe Zen as a state of mind which is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to the ‘I have nothing to wear syndrome’. For me it’s all about reusing and loving what you own for years to come whilst strategically incorporating quality pieces into your wardrobe.
Can you share what you mean by “recovering lifestyle hypocrites” and tell us when you first became interested in, and engaged with, the sustainability movement?
When we talk about “recovering lifestyle hypocrites” we’re also poking fun at ourselves! Maybe you used to think of yourself as a bit of an eco-warrior with all the best sustainable habits but would still crack and purchase the latest trend from a fast fashion brand. Or maybe you just had too many clothes hanging in your closet that you never realistically wore.
As I mentioned earlier, it was when I was working in the City that I kickstarted my whole introspective journey into my own contribution to the issue of consumerism (yes I had been to Zara that day to buy yet another ruffled top during my lunch break and I knew this had to stop). Sometimes it can be difficult to actualise the best of intentions!
Who inspires you in the industry?
Celine Semaan: she is the executive director of Slow Factory (an open education platform on fashion, intersectional feminism and colonialism) – she gives us a more nuanced views on climate action and consumption, in a world where solutions to better the planet are seen as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and often misleading us to consume more. I love how effortlessly she addresses the most complex of topics and how she empowers the community through education and really practical resources.
What are some of the biggest issues that we need to tackle and how can Whering help?
I think we can all agree that the biggest challenge facing the fashion industry at the moment is overconsumption. At Whering, we want to help women use the pieces they already own as efficiently as possible and to extend the life cycle of the clothes lying idle in our wardrobes. For me, part of the problem of the ‘nothing-to-wear’ dilemma was that I didn’t have nothing to wear but nothing new to wear. We keep buying because we think that just one more item will unlock our ideal wardrobe – but how can it if we have no accessible inventory of what we own?
We also want to personalise our Wherers’ shopping experience to buy less, but better. We’re looking to drastically reduce the carbon and water footprint of consumers by focusing on the two parts of the value chain that they control: purchasing and utilisation. This is why having a digital inventory is so key – to aid our visual memory. Not only does it allow you to ‘shop your own wardrobe’ to get that newness fix, but having an organised digital wardrobe helps you identify what you really need and what pieces can unlock a myriad of combinations. With Whering, our users can track their wears, their most worn items, recreate different versions of their looks and become true outfit repeaters.
Community is at the core of Whering. How are you planning to keep connecting and growing?
We already have an engaged, tight-knit community of over 23k users on the app, who spend on average 10 minutes a day creating hundreds of new outfits, digitally. Our most popular feature is our Dress Me styling tool (inspired by Cher’s iconic wardrobe scene in Clueless) which has been used 2.5m times to generate new unexpected outfit combinations. We show our community that sustainability above all is a mindset and help them make more circular fashion choices: mix-matching, rewearing and caring for your clothes is the future, and going digital is a step towards democratising personal styling. We empower our Wherers to differentiate between buying trends vs putting outfits together that actually work in the long term (saving us £££ and allowing us to be more intentional). By creating digital outfits first you also only have to try on your top 2-3 picks – imagine what we could all do with that extra time compounded over a year?!
We want to keep growing our community by staying true to our mission and values, and involving our users as much as possible as we continue to develop the app. We’re also looking forward to rolling out our Brand Ambassador programme to bring together sustainably-minded women.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to shop and dress more consciously but doesn’t know where to start?
Make yourself a wishlist – sleep on it, debate it, fight it and if you still come back to it, it deserves to find a place in your wardrobe. I’ve learnt over the years to negate the cheap and easy buys by looking inwards first (aka your digital wardrobe: hint Whering), evaluating what I really need and will bring be continuous joy (for the longest possible time) as well as identifying and saving up for dream pieces that will serve me in my journey. Shifting your mentality to investing in quality creates a special relationship with a piece and fundamentally makes you fight harder to take care of it, style it differently and possibly resell it (circularity is a thing guys).
2. Normalise: renting, thrifting and swapping (soon on Whering)
Are the greatest ways to step away from overconsuming for the wrong reasons and shift into a more playful yet circular relationship to clothes. For me, this step is all about upending the ‘buy, use, dispose’ model many of us have lived by in the last two decades. Allowing yourself that freedom to experiment with fashion by renting pieces you wouldn’t want to own forever, buying preloved pieces on Depop or Vestiaire Collective usually allows you to buy better quality for cheaper and borrowing pieces. Sharing really is caring, for people and the planet.
3. Unlearn: break your bubble and diversify your feed
Again, slightly biased because my personal mission is to get us to reuse what we own – but – by removing the constant subliminal messaging from the wrong brands, influencers and communities and focusing instead on following accounts that empower with their mission, educate and tell real stories about what they do we consume less and better. Connecting with smaller designers, slow-production brands and ecosystem stakeholders is a powerful way of helping you identify what ‘things’ you really want and need and what else is just white noise we’re all overwhelmed by. Good On You also has all the goss on brand ratings – so look ‘em up before you follow.
4. What needs to happen for fashion to have a brighter future?
More transparency and collaboration between brands to achieve a total overhaul of the current fashion industry model. I’m an optimist at heart so I refuse to believe that all hope is lost in terms of fashion and sustainability, but it’s obvious that we cannot continue at this rate for much longer.
For me, we need to see a fundamental paradigm shift on both sides of the value chain: production/consumption and utilisation. On the former, stringent regulations in place to challenge brand greenwashing (as this really messes with the mind of the consumer – and normalising legitimacy is the only way forward), restrictions on the exorbitant number of collections produced by fast fashion houses and laws that enforce living wage and garment worker protection (as well as environmental pollution and waste disposal guidelines).
Fundamentally, brands need a better understanding of demand. On the data side, Whering creates unique insights into the ‘black box’ of the apparel industry: wardrobe utilisation & composition data. This will enable retailers to better tailor their product range to consumer needs and ultimately reduce waste and unsold stock. Smart sizing technology implemented across the brand ecosystem is also a game-changer here.
From the consumer standpoint, efficiently using the pieces you already own is one of the easiest things to limit your fashion carbon footprint. Here we need to see a burgeoning system of circular advocates and businesses, to ensure we make throwaway culture a thing of the past by ensuring the consumer has easy access to greener choices right throughout a piece’s lifecycle (purchase, care, resell, donation, recycle). The key to real transformation here will be swapping the Amazon-esque ease of fast fashion buying and getting us all to treat the garments we buy like the good friends that they are (not my quote but bloody on point).
What’s next for Whering?
Our next move is to create an impact dashboard for our Wherers, to empower them to understand the impact of purchasing decisions and the beauty of offsetting certain behaviours with more conscious ones. We’re also onboarding a network of green dry-cleaners, donation points and repurposing services across the UK to make repurposing, mending and donating a little more intuitive.
Finally, we’re talking about taking the app social so our Wherers can add their friends and see what’s in each other’s closets! We’d love to introduce a “request to swap” function as well to encourage even more usage of clothes and community in the fashion space.
Find out more about Whering here.
When we consider how to combat a sustainable way forward in fashion, it’s not often the nitty gritty details that spring to mind at first. Fast fashion and throwaway style culture is something that we’re all becoming more aware of (thankfully), and often when you talk to people about being more sustainable with fashion, it’s clear that globally we are focusing on being more conscious and investing in pieces that will last and that are ethically made.
But what does ethically made actually mean? Where are the parameters? And how often do you hear people looking into the specifics of certain everyday, common materials such as cotton? Probably not very often, but that’s where we can certainly direct some more focused attention in the fashion industry.
After all, the textile industry’s environmental problems do mostly relate to the raw materials used in creation: cotton, fossil-based fibres such as polyester, and viscose (the most common man-made cellulosic fibre), and they are all associated with serious environmental concerns. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular report: ‘If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.’
Statistics on cotton are particularly damning, with the World Wildlife Organisation stating that although the global reach of cotton is one of the widest material reaches, ‘current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry’s ability to maintain future production.’
In fact, the Better Cotton initiative shows us that ‘less than 25% of cotton is grown in a way that actively protects people and the environment.’ According to the Sustainable Cotton Ranking analysis too, ‘uptake of more sustainable cotton remains relatively low with most of the heavy lifting done by a growing number of leaders.’ Ultimately, in terms of engaging brands and companies on a bigger level in directing consumer attention to ethically produced cotton, although there has been some significant improvement in recent years, there’s still a lot of work to do.
Step in the New Cotton Project, a circular fashion initiative involving 12 pioneering players in the fashion industry. As a world-first, the consortium of brands, manufacturers, suppliers, innovators and research institutes participating in the European Union-funded project will prove that circular, sustainable fashion is not only an ambition, but that it can be achieved today.
The fashion industry produces nearly twice as many clothes today as it did two decades ago and, despite awareness of single-use and throwaway culture rising, demand for clothing is only growing. According to research by the project, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second.
Designed as a means to directly combat this, over a three-year period, the New Cotton Project will ensure that textile waste is collected, sorted and regenerated into Finnish biotechnology group Infinited Fiber Company’s unique, cellulose-based textile fibres. From here, the fibres will be used to create different types of fabrics for clothing.
Crucially, and in a move not seen before, the clothing will be designed, manufactured and sold by global brand Adidas, as well as companies within the H&M Group. At the end-of-use, apparel take-back programmes will collect the clothing to determine the next phase in their lifecycle. Infinited Fibre’s patented technology can regenerate cellulose-rich textile waste into unique fibres that look and feel like cotton. It’s this regeneration and recycling element that is central – and a blueprint for larger brands with huge emphasis to join the movement.
‘We are very excited and proud to lead this project, which is breaking new ground when it comes to making circularity in the textile industry a reality,’ says Infinited Fiber Company’s Co-founder and CEO Petri Alava. ‘The enthusiasm and commitment with which the entire consortium has come together to work towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for fashion is truly inspiring.’
The project is recapturing the valuable, raw materials in discarded clothing and regenerating them back into high-quality fibres that can be spun into new yarn, woven into new fabric, and designed into new clothes – again and again. Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the movement, the project also aims to act as an inspiration and steppingstone for further, even bigger circular initiatives in the industry going forward. Not to mention make us, as consumers, consider the finer detail in our sustainable treatment of fashion.
Not only can we then focus on purchasing organic and sustainable cotton products, but brands can and will start to get more involved in this also – once they’ve seen the way paved by influential brands. Watch this space.
Regenerative agriculture is a practice that is pioneering a new way forward for both sustainability in farming, but also for the lives of farmers all over the globe. Believed to be the answer in terms of sustainable land-farming and eco food systems, it also contributes to the ethical fashion movement, too.
According to the Climate Reality Project, ‘together with forestry and other land use, agriculture is responsible for just under 25 percent of all human-created GHG emissions.’ With the agriculture sector, then, being one of the biggest emitters of CO2, but also a huge part of the solution needed for safe and sustainable futures, it’s integral we find a way to create a sustainable soil ecosystem.
It’s for this reason that the movement is picking up pace – it’s more than necessary for future-proofing our planet. As the Climate Reality Project points out, ‘in addition to a long list of incredible benefits for farmers and their crops, regenerative agriculture practices help us fight the climate crisis by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the ground.’
But what is regenerative agriculture, exactly? According to Regeneration International, it’s ‘a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter. This not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths, thus drawing down climate-damaging levels of atmospheric CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss.’
It’s worth noting that the details are often incredibly complex (especially to anyone who doesn’t know a thing or two about rural practices and the farming industry) and are constantly evolving. It’s picking up momentum, which is brilliant, but it can be hard to pin down what, exactly, it means. The concept is simple though, so let’s start there. Essentially, regenerative agriculture is a farming principle that works to regenerate the soil, place nutrients back and replenish the earth, working with as opposed to working against nature.
These principles and practices include something called over-cropping, whereby you plant to cover soil rather than harvest. Bare soil is bad soil, so regenerative agriculture uses cover crops to maintain living roots in the soil year-round and no gaps. Regenerative farming minimises the use of pesticides or chemical intervention, and seeks to reduce physical disturbance or intervention. It also works to increase diversity through the planting of lots of different plants and crops, so as to rich, varied and nutrient-dense soil.
But how does sustainable farming link to ethical fashion? Agriculture is often only associated with food systems and animals, but it’s important to realise the link between this and fashion, too. Wool production, cotton creation, it’s all a part of the wider farming industry, and the fashion industry and its supply chains are intrinsically connected to soil degradation.
Statistics on cotton are particularly damning, with the World Wildlife Organisation stating that although the global reach of cotton is one of the widest material reaches, ‘current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry’s ability to maintain future production.’ The concerns we have around sustainable food systems, then, directly apply to the future of fashion as well.
It’s about exploring how we can approach fashion regeneratively alongside the regenerative agriculture push, and thus, raise awareness of this also. Let’s start with Fibreshed. A fibreshed is a regional system, a specific geographical location, that defines and offers boundaries to a natural textile resource base. This allows textiles to be created responsibly, minimising waste and benefitting the environment.
The not-for-profit Fibreshed, which started in 2010 in California, has supported over 30 official Fibreshed communities all over the world. The organisation implements climate beneficial agriculture, rebuilds regional manufacturing, and connects end-users to the source of fiber through direct educational offerings. This ethos looks at ethical fashion production as an entire system, and works towards a soil to soil concept whereby textiles are grown, created, designed, produced, worn and composted locally.
As it stands, sustainable fashion doesn’t often actively give back to the land, but in practices such as this, that could change. Reducing our consumption of fast fashion is great but it’s about making the eco-fashion movement regenerative, too.
Carbon Cycle reports that ‘in 2011, Fibershed prototyped a “150-mile wardrobe” from regionally grown fibers, natural dyes and local labor that generated zero toxic fresh water effluent, reducing the CO2 footprint to one sixth that of conventional garments, and developing a network of over 200 urban designers and rural farmers willing to work together to build a new model for fiber systems.’ Patagonia, too, now works with regenerative organic cotton farms in India to produce clothing that actually does something good, as well as helping to mitigate a bigger problem.
Want to know more about regenerative agricultural practices? You can actually now combine your love for travel, seeing the world and educating yourself with incredible trips and homestays that immerse you within regenerative agriculture. Agritourism is on the up, and as Evie Ramirez points out in a feature she wrote for us last year, ‘is a meaningful and effective way for the hospitality industry to educate and entertain tourists while supporting a wholesome, thriving economy. For visitors, it’s a unique, experiential learning opportunity to understand agriculture. For farmers, it’s a way to supplement income during off-seasons, gain recognition for their agricultural produce and protect their land’s natural resources and amenities.’ Look also for regenerative farming certification: find more info here.
You’ll also find that organisations such as Regenerative Travel have plenty of Farm to Table sustainable escapes on their books, too. Places such as Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica offer guests an insight into how regenerative farming can change the outlook of the ecosystem. As Regenerative Travel put it: ‘The essence of Finca Luna Nueva is a shining passion for a regenerative relationship with natural resources. Certified biodynamic, a farm approach of replenishing and feeding into the natural life cycle is key to a harmonious, sacred bond with the land and ecosystem.’
Want to do more, as well as knowing more? Let’s see how you could implement similar and simple practices in your own gardens and outdoor spaces.
Make your own compost
Collect all your food and kitchen scraps to create a nutrient rich meal for your soil.
Plant some cover crops
Opt for planting something such as grazing rye, mustard (fast-growing and can be incorporated into the soil after a few months to boost organic production), winter field beans or peas (great for boosting nitrogen) or buckwheat.
Decrease soil exposure
This is a great one for small urban gardens as it’s relatively easy to do when you don’t have a big garden to tend to. For regenerative farming, it’s recommended to pull one crop up and replace it with another on the same day. This decreases soil exposure and increases overall yield potential.
Implement a permanent bed structure whereby you use the same soil season to season, instead of turning it over all the time and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. You can also use leaves or straw as mulch and use a broad fork as a minimally invasive way of loosening the soil.
Ignore the weeds
Think of them as playing a leading role in the diversity of your garden and see them as protectors of your precious plants. Only trim them when they get big enough to annoy you (once or twice a year).