The fast-fashion addict turned slow fashion influencer talks quality over quantity and what’s next for the apparel industry
Style influencer and IGTV personality Tess Montgomery has been an italist customer for years, but we only recently noticed something else: she’s passionate about the environmental impact of our collective ‘shopping addiction,’ and interacts deeply with her followers by showing them how to get the most out of their purchases.
We reached her in London to discuss the slow fashion movement and what a post-COVID future may mean for apparel and luxury…
Q: We love that you’re passionate about sustainability, especially in the fashion industry. How did that come about?
A: I would love to say that I was sustainably conscious from the start, but that would be a big lie. On the contrary, I was an unapologetic fast-fashion addicted shopaholic with more clothes than I could wear in a lifetime.
The big change happened about 6 months after I had my son Ace. I looked at my massive messy wardrobe, excited by the prospect of having my “normal” body back, and realized there was not one thing in there I actually wanted to wear.
That realization gave me a much needed wakeup call and I finally saw the error of my ways. This is what prompted my “big wardrobe purge” where I got rid of 75% of everything I had.
To make sure I don’t fill it back up again I came up with the #OneItemAMonth challenge and now only allow myself to buy one single piece of clothing every month. This made me much more conscious of what I bought and how it would affect not just me, but our environment too.
Q: How have your opinions about fashion changed over the last few years?
A: As a young influencer I felt that I had to wear something new and trendy every day to show off to my followers. So I was constantly on the high street chasing down the next trend. It was not only exhausting, but really expensive and I never bought anything I loved.
The day I decided to ditch trends and focus on timeless personal style and slow fashion, I felt a big weight coming off my shoulders. Finally I was curating a wardrobe for me, with only items I absolutely adored.
Q: Back up. Tell us about your background, how you ended up where you are today.
A: I’m originally Swedish and moved to London in 2005 to do modeling. Because I had a lot of free time in-between castings I decided to start a blog in 2006. At that time no one really knew what it was and I was met by a lot of confusion. But I stuck with it, and year by year blogs and social media got more popular.
These days I don’t blog as often as I did. But focus more on Instagram where I can mix pictures and text with moving media. I’m also using my social media expertise in my everyday life as head of creative talent at influencer marketing agency xInfluence.
Q: When not under quarantine, what does a typical day look like for you?
A: I want it all, right? So 3 days a week I work in the xInfluence office on Soho Square in Central London, where I hand pick influencers for campaigns, teach social media strategy, network with influencers, plan events and get to be “business Tess.”
This allows me one day a week to work on my own social channels and also to spend Fridays with my little boy. It’s the perfect balance for me, I feel like I get the best of every world.
Q: What’s your favorite aspect of your work? What’s your least favorite?
A: My favorite aspect of influencing is the connection with my followers. I’m always on DMs, chatting away and I also have a habit of doing my makeup and talking to them on my stories. I feel like I have such a lovely community of followers and I truly enjoy the connection.
The least favorite part is when I see brands and other influencers using social media in a negative way. I feel like we have a massive responsibility to the general community to try to use our voices for good.
Q: Regarding one’s overall personal carbon footprint, trying to buy more purposefully and buy quality over quantity (a.k.a. slow fashion)…what’s the best way to take care of one’s garments? How do you prolong the life of your things?
A: The first rule is: the most sustainable item is the one you already own. Wear your clothes!
We want each item produced to have as long of a lifespan as possible. If we would wear everything until it was completely worn out, that would be the ideal.
Of course this is not viable in reality, so the second best thing is to only buy things we love. Focus on quality over quantity. Ditch trends and focus on timeless pieces you know you will wear for years to come. And if you get bored with them, sell them on!
Once you begin to value each piece you own more, you will want to take better care of them, and you will consume less—which is the whole point behind slow fashion.
Q: I am also personally very passionate about the sustainability of fashion, and find myself often torn between the constant desire for newness and novelty with my conscience that says “you don’t need that.” How do you balance those forces?
A: For me it has been finding a balance between the want and the don’t. I want to build my dream capsule wardrobe, but it has to take some time. I won’t come across (or afford) every dream item straight away. So I try to see it as a long game.
My #OneItemAMonth challenge has made me think a lot more about each item I decide to purchase. Do I need it? Will it fit with the other clothes in my wardrobe? And most importantly, will I love it for years to come?
I’m actually feeling a lot more excited about shopping now than I did before because now I’m getting the actual things I want instead of cheap copies. That’s the beauty of the slow fashion movement.
Q: “The next thing you buy should be so expensive that it hurts a little.” What do you think about that statement, as it relates to spending more on quality over quantity?
A: I have definitely leveled up when it comes to my tolerance of what I feel an item is allowed to cost since I switched paths. Now I think about “price-per-wear” and resale value over the actual price tag. Some of my “cheapest” items in my wardrobe were at the time of purchasing so expensive that it hurt a little.
Of course it’s all about knowing what to spend your money on. Invest more on things you will use a lot.
Q: Another theory I have is that the Instagram generation/culture has actually encouraged more frequent spending (or perhaps growth in consumers’ habit to resell gently used items), since so much of life and “personal brand” is now experienced and created online. How do you think that meshes with the overall call to consume less?
A: I think the pressure of producing new content and affiliate sales can make influencer shop more from the fast-fashion side of the spectrum. This unfortunately will influence the followers to do the same. So it’s a massive problem. Luckily the sustainable community is growing and showing that there are other ways.
I love when an influencer shows how they are re-selling items they are not using. It gets the followers used to the idea that pre-loved is ok.
Q: What brands or designers do you like? What are your top 5 if you had to choose?
A: Saint Laurent is my absolute favorite designer. Every time I see something I love, without fail it’s by Saint Laurent. Other favorites are Valentino, Stella McCartney, Max Mara and Levi’s.
Q: Given your principles and personal style, what sorts of things do you look for now in an item and/or brand you’re considering?
A: Longevity and versatility. An item must be timeless, suit my personal style and work with the rest of my wardrobe.
Q: How do you judge quality? It can be so hard, because quality can be both subjective and objective.
A: A good clue is the material something is made of, but also look at the fit and how it hangs on the body. There will always be certain brands I trust more than others. When I shop online I make sure to look closely at all the photos, and sometimes even google the item to see what it looks like on other people before I buy it.
This is also where influencers are really useful. There will be some people you trust to give you an honest opinion of an item of a brand.
Q: Has living in London changed your sense of style or fashion? How is London different from say, New York or Los Angeles?
A: London has its own particular style. It’s a bit more grunge, edgy and real than in New York where people tend to do more power dressing. LA is much more laid back and effortless, I’m putting it down to the amazing weather.
I think I feel more free to try new things since I moved to London, there are more people and styles around. So it’s easy to get inspired.
Q: How have the last few months affected your life and your work? What does a typical day look like during quarantine?
A: At the moment I’m full-time mommy-ing. My son’s nursery is closed and my husband is working from home. I’m working one day remotely for XI and using Ace’s nap times to plan and shoot my own content.
To be honest I have actually really enjoyed spending time at home with my family. I have managed to put a lot more effort into my own social channels and I’m lucky to be one of the few Instagram accounts that has grown lately. So I’m not complaining.
This is just a blip in our lifetimes and we are staying home for all the right reasons. So with this in mind, I’m grateful to be healthy and happy.
Q: How do you think fashion and/or the retail industry will change as a result of everything that has happened lately?
A: I really hope there will be a positive change. Unfortunately a lot of the smaller sustainable businesses won’t survive this time. The big fast fashion giants have more backing and will most likely weather out the storm. So it will be up to us as consumers to put our money in the right place once we are back shopping properly again.
I like the trend of designer brands abandoning set collections and focusing more on timelessness. I’m hoping more designers will follow.
Q: How did you come to find italist? What has your experience been using our site?
A: I was looking for a pair of brown boots with a smaller heel to wear to the office and came across the perfect pair on italist at a great price.
Since then I have built a bit of a wish-list of future purchases from the site and I have so far got 3 more items since!
The prices are often better than most other sites, the shipping is always surprisingly quick, the packaging is great and I have been really happy with everything I bought.
Q: What do you like about italist and what do you think could be improved?
A: I would love to see a slow fashion edit where you highlight the brands that are doing more for the environment. Otherwise I think you are pretty much on point.
Q: What is your personal style philosophy? Any principles you live by and would like to share? (other than what we’ve already covered)
A: I have 3 rules: I have to love it, want to wear it for 3 years or more, and it has to fit in at least 3 outfits with items from my own wardrobe.
Q: Which items are on your italist ‘wishlist’?
A: There is this one pair of Celine white jeans I have in my basket right now. I’m also lusting over a Valentino belt, a See by Chloé blouse and a beautiful Saint Laurent bag. A real dream buy would be a Max Mara cashmere coat, I have been wanting one forever.
Q: Are there any emerging brands or designers that you particularly like or plan to watch? Why?
A: To me, any new designer that is taking a ‘slow fashion’ and more conscious approach is interesting and worth watching.
Q: As an insider, what are your favorite spots in London to eat, drink, and shop? Favorite bars, restaurants? Are there any places you would suggest our readers not miss if they visit? (assuming life returns to normal in the short term)
A: Stay at Treehouse London, it’s a really cool nature themed hotel in Oxford circus. They also have an amazing restaurant that really sets the mood for a night out.
You cannot miss The Wolseley for a classic afternoon tea, it’s a must (but book in advance!).
Go to Selfridges for designer shopping, they have a full sustainable brands section that is worth a visit. Finish off with lunch and people watching at “Brasserie of Light”.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for having me!
Discover more Style Icon Q&As: Josh Liu (celebrity hairstylist), Cameron LeSiege (also an on-air broadcast hairstylist), and Hilary Walker, another style icon that is passionate about slow fashion and designer resale.
Also check out our previous coverage on How to Shop Sustainably.
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