Why We Need to Think Differently About Fashion: An Interview with Jenny Garcia

23 May 2019 - by Jenna Thompson

Jenny Garcia is a stylist and business mentor and ex-Head of Buying at Topshop. She is based in London and has more than 20 years’ experience in fashion, high street and catwalk with a focus on female empowerment. Her Instagram account new_in_high_street (NIHS) covers personal style and inspires women to appreciate slow fashion.

We sought her out for an interview to discuss sustainable fashion and durable design.

 

What’s your background?

“I left Topshop in May and spent some much needed time with my family. Come September 2018, I felt like I needed a creative outlet and to connect with people. I set up NIHS one Friday afternoon and it’s slowly grown since then. The aim was to share my knowledge and love of fashion and to empower women to dress with confidence for themselves.

The commercial styling work I have done for the BBC was challenging for many reasons. Firstly, the timing over Christmas and New Year was not great. I hadn’t realised that my anxiety and stress levels were still so prevalent and raw until I found them knock me for six as the pressure hit me. I dug deep for my inner resilience, drew on the experience and knowledge I have and delivered a great result. So much so, the BBC decided to upgrade the program from BBC3 to BBC1.

I’m really proud of what I achieved, especially given that I hadn’t met the women before ordering their wardrobes, the brief changed throughout the project and the returns process was, shall we say, lengthy.”

Having a successful career in the fashion industry, what do you think of fast fashion?

“Fast fashion is an out of date model. We don’t need that many clothes. There are enough clothes in the world already.

Fast fashion is a manufactured model built out of the consumer boom and social media, resulting in the concept of not being seen twice in the same outfit, which is truly frightening. Having said that, I love fashion. I love how clothes make me feel (when the outfit is right that is). Sustainable fashion is not quite there. Firstly, it is not yet truly accessible, sitting at the top end of the price architecture. Much of it is not totally sustainable, or it’s not really fashion at all, it's clothing.

We need to think differently, use our power as consumers to influence the retailers to be clean, ethical, sustainable and responsible. We need to hold them to account. The waste is eye-watering; the effects on the environment are devastating.

With changes in the way we work, think and buy, we can still enjoy fashion, but we need to embrace the use of tech to facilitate renting clothes, recycling, upcycling, repairing, redistributing and reselling existing clothes. Also, we can use tech to develop new machinery to make fabrics and garments and develop new materials and processes. Anything that reduces waste and over-consumption.”

Do you think it's possible to achieve long-lasting fashion, and if so, how do women achieve that while still remaining ‘on trend’?

“Absolutely, but it takes time and expertise to achieve this: two things many of us are not in possession of. Trends don’t really change that quickly, but retailers will happily tell us otherwise. We’ve been referencing the hugely popular 70s, 80s and 90s decades for years now. I am very much about establishing good staples that underpin your weekly wardrobe; you then layer trend pieces into this. This is often driven by a new print, accessory or colour.

I also think education plays a huge part in this. We are behind the US here when it comes to utilising the services of personal stylists, personal shoppers and experts to get us informed, improve our confidence and spend our budgets wisely. A client of mine said: “I need your help because I keep making the same mistakes twice. My wardrobe is full of jeans that don’t fit and an array of navy and grey jumpers”.

This is one example of hundreds of women who are in the same depressing rut and just can’t find a way out. This all adds up to one large clothing mountain.”

What do you determine as durable design?

“Design that is desirable and timeless. No easy task.”

As a stylist, what do you find women are asking of brands?

“Transparency. My clients want pieces that are timeless, ageless, long-lasting, well-fitting and that make them feel good about themselves – produced with as little impact on the environment as possible.”

Have you felt this has changed throughout your career?

“Hugely. It really wasn’t a consideration for the vast majority of people up until very recently. In years gone by, women wanted the newest piece, as fast as possible, at the best price possible.

There’s a reason ‘New In’ is the most shopped section of any retail platform.”

Fashion activism is very on-trend at the moment, with many brands positioning themselves as feminist and claiming to champion sustainability. Unfortunately, there's still a stigma attached to eco or sustainable fashion and generally it isn't deemed ‘cool’ or a priority for most shoppers. Why do you think that is?

“The world isn’t ready to accept this yet, as it doesn’t drive hard cash. It’s only since it’s become extremely fashionable (ironic really) that the Alpha powers that be have decided to take notice, as they’ve realised there’s money to be made. It’s all arse about face.

Again, it’s an education issue: the retailers and government need to educate the masses. Sadly, they don’t want to as it impacts their profits. Conversely, we need to understand the impact of these changes on the poorest regions of the world. They are being decimated by the industry and paid next to nothing in the process. However, many of these factories would be closed down overnight if there was a blanket ban on non-ethical practices, leaving many homeless and penniless. It has to be done with care and support.

Put more simply, there is no compelling fashion offer that is sustainable and accessible.

An estimated 60 million women aged 18-35 work in the garment industry. These women are hidden in the fashion supply chain, earning less than minimum wage. Tracking where your clothes come from becomes nigh on impossible.”

What sustainable brands are you most fond of?

Navygrey, Mother of Pearl and BITE, are great brands, but not widely accessible. Arket, Weekday and & Other Stories have great organic denim ranges. Other Stories have just launched a sustainable collection in collaboration with jeweller Mia Larsson using recycled, upcycled and organic fabrics. I also like the H&M Conscious Collection and Zara Join Life, which are accessibly priced and at least they're trying.

Whilst they may not be 100% foolproof, they are spreading the message and least putting some effort into it. There are many brands doing nothing, but also brands that are doing something but cannot talk about it because nothing is ever good enough for some, and so they risk being shot down for what they haven’t done."

What role models are you inspired by?

“Those that are not afraid to stand up and be counted, that put their values first, that are selfless about what they do, that discuss and raise awareness of unpopular subjects. People who pave the way for change.

People like you Fran, who have tirelessly sourced every component, checked every touch point complies, and refused to compromise.”

Left: Navygrey. Right: Mother of Pearl.

How far do you go in terms of sustainability? Where could you serve as a role model for others?

“Nowhere near far enough. I’m not perfect and could do more. I’m still learning. I still love clothes and fashion. What I am though is more conscious, more thoughtful. I walk more, I recycle, I buy locally, I buy organic where I can. I’ve also set up a sister account to NIHS called Newinhighstreet_sells.

Last week I knocked on someone’s car window and asked them to switch the engine off. The driver, a woman parked directly outside my son’s school, gave me a filthy look and left the engine running. I know she will think twice before doing it again though.”

What would be your advice to our readers who want to start to shop more responsibly or build a more ethical wardrobe?

“Slow down, be more considered. Spend time with your wardrobe, have regular tidy-ups and clear-outs. Try buying second hand, try renting, try personal stylists – or if budgeting, try in-house personal shoppers, but trust your instinct. Do your research, set boundaries. Identify what you need and double-check you don’t already own things that do the same job. As you gain confidence, shop around. Try vintage and second-hand sites.”

How has your Instagram feed developed and progressed?

“When I first started, I was adamant I wasn’t going to feature in my feed and it was just about the clothes. I didn’t want it to be the Jenny Garcia show; that’s not why I’m on there. But then I met with Jane Shepherdson for lunch one day, and she said: ‘you are your biggest asset, get yourself on there’. That gave the confidence to go for it and get myself out there.

The difference that made was overnight. We are all very voyeuristic by nature, but also followers want authenticity. I was also including 10 images in every post to start with, which I quickly realised wasn’t maintainable.

It’s definitely morphed over time, but one thing I have been consistent about is that my squares are not curated, I use very few filters, if at all, and I don’t include my children.”

Have you got any other plans in the pipeline?

“Lots, so much so it’s hard to know what to go with first. When I left Topshop, I was not well at all. I was suffering from extreme anxiety, which had physical and psychological effects. I was also extremely depressed and fragile.

I keep having to remind myself that I need time to heal from that and try and take it easy. I am not good at kicking back and taking time out to relax or just be. I am used to working at 100 miles an hour, doing a million things at once.

One thing is for sure, I have loved being free and in charge of me, for better or worse. I enjoy networking, meeting new people, and while I naturally harbour a lot of self-doubt, I do have an inner resilience and a solid gut instinct, which help me stand up to bullies and disingenuous fake people. Women that tread on other women for their own benefit baffle me.

I have just launched @newinhighstreetsells, a sister site to sell off pre-loved pieces from my wardrobe, with 10% of all sales going to Fashion Revolution. I am mentoring small businesses and styling for commercial and private clients, which is so rewarding. Empowering women is at the heart of me and where my passions lie.”

 

Follow Jenny at the links below:

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Jenna Thompson

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