Fashion’s negative impact on the planet intersects climate, feminist and social justice issues

by Rachel Cunningham
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Hennessy started shopping secondhand to reduce the impact of her personal wardrobe on the climate. She spoke to Rachel Cunningham about how her new business, Happy Days, is helping fashion-conscious consumers all over Ireland to do the same.

Rachel Hennessy started buying secondhand clothes for herself during the lockdowns after following Instagram accounts highlighting the impact of fast fashion.

“I didn’t want to buy clothes from retailers like Zara anymore, so I started to search through Depop and vintage clothing websites, she explains.

“In doing that, I noticed really nice occasion-dresses from brands like Self Portrait and Rixo at a much lower price. Many of them still had their tags, had never been worn or were only worn once. I realised that there are probably so many occasion-dresses sitting in wardrobes that may only have been worn once”, the founder emphasised.

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Fashion’s negative impact on the planet intersects climate, feminist and social justice issues. A 2019 report by the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee found that 90 per cent of global garment workers are unable to negotiate salary or working conditions. Eighty per cent of this cohort is composed of women, aged between 18 and 24.

Despite household brands rapidly returning to profitability during the pandemic, the Clean Clothes Campaign asserts that garment workers continue to feel the strain of two years of withheld or reduced wages and unethical purchasing practices, such as non-payment of goods, sudden order cancellations and unilateral price reductions. 

Fashion Act Now, born out of Extinction Rebellion, has called for an urgent crisis response to “dismantle the dominant globalised Fashion system”, through ‘defashion’, a concept that champions a transition to systems that are regenerative, local, fair, nurturing and sufficient for the needs of communities. Ms Hennessy’s clothing rental model feeds into this ethos and market predictions would indicate that there is an appetite for a slower model of fashion among consumers.

She commented: “I began to look into how clothing rental companies are really growing in popularity in the UK. It’s estimated that the rental sector is going to grow ten per cent year on year, which would be £2.3 billion by 2029.

“I saw a gap in the market for a shop in Ireland with inclusive sizing where you can actually go and try things on. My focus group research revealed that some people have had bad rental experiences, where they’d paid for the item, had it delivered and found that it didn’t fit.

“It wasn’t an easy experience, definitely not as easy as dropping over to Dundrum [Town Centre] and picking something up or as buying online, knowing that you can return something without being out of pocket.”

Having originally studied Commerce in UCD, the Sandycove local worked completed her accountancy qualifications in KPMG, before moving on to Google’s finance department. After spending the summer researching, she left her job in October to pursue the business full-time.

Parking and a physical shop were two priorities that emerged from her customer research, which led her to Happy Days’ current location in Mart House, Leopardstown.

Customers can drop into the shop or use the website to rent a garment for three, five or ten day periods at varying price tiers of silver, gold and platinum, which reflect the quality of the dress, the cost of cleaning or the retail price.

According to the Social Responsibility Report of China’s Textile and Apparel Industry (2019-2020), more than 50 per cent of fast fashion clothes were destined to be discarded within one year of purchase, due to fast-moving trends.

All of the stock at Happy Days has been saved from waste, sourced secondhand or from outlets, where brands sell unsold stock. “What we’re trying to do at Happy Days is to be an inclusive option, I’m not being led by trends but have chosen clothes that are timeless and comfortable.

“Some people might not be seen dead in last season’s dress but others who want a dress for a Communion or wedding will love them. Trends don’t suit everyone, we offer nice occasionwear for people to feel good in”, she said.

A common criticism of clothing rental is the necessary frequency of washing and dry-cleaning and the associated energy consumption and chemical pollution. In an effort to tackle this, Happy Days uses the Laundry Press, which endeavours to use the most environmentally-friendly method of cleaning to minimise the cost each rental incurs on the climate.

The shop, which has been furnished using entirely secondhand goods, also maximises its space by hosting events, from stylist talks to a sewing and upcyclng workshop with the Useless Project, scheduled for March 23.

This week, the store has sacrificed floorspace for an even worthier cause, collecting donations of vital supplies that will be transported to Poland for Ukrainian refugees on Friday, March 4.

Follow the shop’s instagram on or visit its website

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