Friday, 27 May 2011

To Die For

I turned sixteen last week - something of a milestone. However, where my future is full of choice and decisions, if I had been living in, say, Uzbekistan I might have been forced into mandatory cotton picking. This is just one of the jenga-like stacked pile of shocking facts found in Lucy Siegle's new book 'To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?'
This is an eye-opening read from an ethical journalist and commentator, that covers everything from the appalling conditions of the workers who sate the desire for 'fast fashion', to the environmental impact of newly purchased jeans; concluding with suggestions for wielding our collective consumer power thoughtfully. I must admit, my dad picked up the stylishly austere, monochrome copy I had been sent by publisher HarperCollins, with an exclamation of, "Is this subject as heavy as it looks?" Well yes, it is - this is not feel-good, happy, airy-fairy bedtime reading. However, it is gripping and persuasive. This is one of those few books that has the capacity to change awareness - which can change lives - thereby making it essential.

I don't want to write a post nearly as long as the original book, so in brief: the main thing to be taken from Siegle's writing is the need to provoke debate through acknowledging truths. One of these truths is that our clothes are made by living, breathing people who are paid a pittance. Look down at what you are wearing. I am making a broad suggestion here, so in advance, I don't mean to cause offence. Are any of the items mass produced, low price, high street garments? If so, have you ever thought about how many hands created that fabric, turned it into a piece of clothing and possibly embellished it? The number of fingers that ran over the surface of the cloth? How many air miles it has racked up? The amount of money the worker recieved for his/ her handiwork? (If I am working from the book, this would mean about 1.5p from a £4 t-shirt). Because the life-cycle of a single item of clothing is both fascinating and chilling in equal measure.

Now, I have never proclaimed to be an 'eco-warrior-who-will-smite-you-if-you-so-much-as-mention-synthetic-fibres' and therefore do not want to preach. In fact, my usual ethical style contribution is to buy mostly from vintage and charity shops, while treating the High Street like an elderly aunt. By that, I mean I rarely visit because it would involve a car drive of forty-five minutes, and I invariably end up disappointed. However, I can wholeheartedly state that Siegle's evaluation of the world's favourite 'fast fashion' chains has made sure I will think even more actively about what I purchase in the future.

Another of Siegle's observations I found fascinating is that all too often, a fashion brand can claim to be 'eco'. What she points out is that there is a world of difference between introducing re-usable bags or cutting down on packaging (admirable, but very much like changing the book cover without altering the content), and taking the ethical step of re-structuring the whole  process of clothes production. She defines 'ethical' as being a "holistic" approach, that incorporates everything from creation of the fabric through to the item being displayed instore. Siegle basically urges us to re-assess our consumption of current fashion.

Siegle's writing is urgent, highly compelling and absolutely timely. My reading tastes usually veer towards classics and contemporary fiction, but I couldn't put this down. I was also very glad to know that the writer was not approaching this from a vehemently anti-fashion viewpoint (as is all too often the case in mainstream media). Although the book can be a little overwhelming at times (the depth of detail, and the breadth of knowledge is incredible); I think sometimes we need to be shocked into action. By this I do not mean placard waving and riots on the high street. I merely want to suggest that we think about where our clothes come from. If we bought just a few less items a year, how much difference could that make? Our role as consumers should be active rather than passive. This book has the potential to do for the clothes industry what other publications have highlighted about fast food. If you are interested, you can read an extract here.

A final point that struck a chord was Siegle's acknowledgement that our consumer habits have undergone an evolution of sorts. Where in the past, a piece of (very durable and high quality) clothing might have been bought for a higher price, and gone on to become a mainstay in the wardrobe for many years - being mended and re-mended until it became unwearable; now we are all too happy to let our clothes have a shelf life of two-to-three months before ditching them. This is not always the case, but it has certainly become a more prevalent habit in recent years.

Along the same lines, here is today's outfit - which aptly involves my great-grandma's housecoat. As beautiful as it is, housecoats were used to keep the 'proper' clothes underneath clean and stain-free, making them the equivalent of a fabric dust jacket.
I put this housecoat over a charity shopped blouse, and added a vintage briefcase. The green velvet high heels are second hand Office - a birthday present - and the belt is second hand Jaeger.

As mentioned above, my purse strings, tastes and ethics have led me towards buying in charity shops/ markets. I'll always be a passionate advocate of second hand and vintage. However, as a girl who is also fascinated by contemporary fashion and designers, I was really pleased to find the links below...

Orsola De Castro creates amazing clothes from the remnants of fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away.
The IOU Project offer individually created clothes that are spun by expert weavers from India, and assembled by European tailors. I want one of the Vivienne Westwood-esque blazers!
Estethica (which recently celebrated its five year anniversary) showcases the work of up and coming eco concious designers
People Tree needs no introduction - as I'm sure everyone knows about this website that sells and advocates stylish and sustainable garments
Livia Firth's Green Carpet Challenge charts the process of wearing ethically sourced (and often bespoke) clothes on the red carpet

On a fluffier note, I joined Twitter yesterday, and you can follow me on @ClothesCamerasC or click here.


Libby said...

I don't shop at Primark because it disgusts me. And I do buy from H&M, but I repair my clothes when they get rips, and I buy from M&S and Zara, but only their organic tops. When it's a choice between some nice clothes and a clean conscience, or a full wardrobe and sweat-shops, I'll go for the former every time.
And there are a few pieces on People Tree which I love-love-love right now.

SomeoneLikeYou said...

You look so incredibly, tall, slender and model like in these photos! So very graceful and elegant... How tall are you? You look oh so tall in these pictures!

Jessica said...

Love it, the shoes in the last picture look great :)

Please take a minute to look at my vintage boutique;

Julie Khuu said...

Beautifully poignant that you're taking that minute, even seconds to think about fashion and style from the viewpoint of the garment, not the provocative!!! I will definitely have to check it out!! Thanks for the awesome write up!!

Love those clogs by the way...looks like a lot of love was put into that piece :)

Happy weekend Hun!

Peace. Love. LOL!

Haute Khuuture Blog

Closet Fashionista said...

Love your outfit! And yes this is so true, I may have to pick up that book and read it. Sounds very informative.

I do think about where I get my clothes so I try to avoid buying things from places like Forever 21 and H&M (but I do sometimes just because a piece is so cute..but that hasn't happened in a while XD)

It is very interesting to see how fashion buying habits have changed over the years.

Juno said...

That bag is gorgeous...Great outfit...and I love the way you've put the pieces together! But my real crush is: those sparkling velvet shoes! OMG: LOVE THEM!!!!


The Fancy Teacup said...

You look remarkable in that vintage dress. It's beautiful on you. Hope you had a lovely birthday, and that is a wonderful milestone!
much love.

Pearl Westwood said...

This sounds a fascinating book just the sort of thing I would like to read, I will put in a request at the library. It has come to the point where I don't shop on the high street any more, I dont think it matters if it is Primark, which always cops for the stick, or one of the bigger retailers like H&M, the quality just isn't there. I am also not impressed with the 'high end' high street shops which dont seem all that better quality to me.
Speaking of People Tree did you see the t-shirt dress Vivienne Westwood designed for them? I keep forgetting to blog about it. Happy belated birthday Roz, you see you need a facebook page now so I would have known that in advance ;-)

Elizabeth @rosalilium said...

Of course ethical business practices are very important to me. The effects that fashion has on people as well as the environment all over the world is astounding. But unfortunately many of us find it difficult to relate a t-shirt to the long processes that go into making it.

I am pleased that these ideas are being talked about, and hopefully more ethical brands will emerge.

the nyanzi report said...

These pictures are masterpieces! As for ethical fashion - as long as there's a demand for cheap fast fashion, there will always be some form of slavery involved to bring it to market.

That is the reality of the situation and sadly the general fashion-consuming public do not seem to care. Look at the lines outside Primark in the morning before it opens.

Dylana Suarez said...

This is such an interesting post! I must pick up that book! And you look gorgeous, like always, girl!


The Foolish Aesthete said...

These are fantastic points you make. I posted in an old blog long ago about how couture was meant to last -- and that meant generations. To this day, I re-use clothing gained from a lifetime of collecting (which is way more than your 16 years - Happy Birthday!). Like you, I wear things from my grandma and my dear mom. In any case, I frequent little stores that favor smaller, more artisan labels. BTW, beautiful photos, and I just love those velvet shoes! xoxoxo

Natalie Suarez said...

super cute! love it :)

Stephanie Hoff Clayton said...

belated sweet 16 happy birthday wishes!! that is a special age, i think.
you are lovelier than ever. this ensemble looks so spring-like and fresh.
thanks for the twitter follow; of course i am following back. :)
as a supplement to retail purchasing, i've been enjoying thrift/second-hand shopping for at least 2 decades now. i have several reasons, like you, for shopping this way. my husband and i also buy most of our furniture at vintage, antique and consignment shops. it's the way of the future, i believe, to shop more ethically, carefully and sustainably.

-Style Odyssey

Siriana said...

Happy Happy Blessed Birthday!!!
And lovely shoes by the way! :)


Caitlin Rose said...

This was a really great post Roz. I definitely feel guilty whenever I buy the the high street, and I try not to do it very often, but I have to say that I find it difficult to cut it out completely with everyone else around you following the different trends. It something that you have to stay strong with, as a person. But I know that I can do it, and I think this year will be the year that I try to cut it out completely. And you are right, there is always vintage, cheap and ethical!

You look lovely in these photos as well ; )

San said...

Whoa, amazing and eyeopening post for sure.

Personally I have found that a lot of clothing these days is sold at a high price an poorly made. For example jeans, over the last ten years I had to buy a new pair of jeans every 3 months, not because I wanted but because they fell apart after 3 months. And it didn't matter what brand or how expensive they were, 3-4 months tops and they became unwearable.

Well, I have found also another way to get beautiful and a bit more "manufacturer"-friendly clothing and accessoiries. At and, there you find beautiful and original stuff, at fair prices, made by people like you and me. I love it, though I'm currently on a no buying time, since I'm finally loosing the last extra pounds and I don't want to buy clothes that I would have to alter in a few weeks.

Last but not least Happy Birthday! I wish you a wonderful new and exciting year, with lots of love, laughter and perfect moments and most importantly sunshine.

Enjoy your weekend.

San said...

PS. Great outfit, my grandma has overcoats too, but they aren't as stylish as this one.

Fashionistable said...

Hey Roz, Bravo very well said. I have 2 more great links for you to check out. and How amazing that your dress used to be a house coat and those shoes are wonderful. Thank you for your beautiful comment. Xxxx

northwest is best said...

Happy belated birthday! Lucy Siegle is brilliant, isn't she? 'Ethical fashion' has become such a loaded term, it makes even me think of hemp trousers and itchy rainbow jumpers. I've started using the terms 'slow fashion' and 'shopping thoughtfully', which I think reflect my beliefs beter.

sacramento said...

My dear Roz, I am with you all along. I loved: buy mostly from vintage and charity shops, while treating the High Street like an elderly aunt. So spot on for me.
I cannot believe that you are wearing your gandmother´s house coat. What would be in Spain: Bata de casa...Ummmmmmmmmmmmm very inspiring, as ever and beautifully written.
Did you know you still have WORD VERIFICATION???

Polka Princess said...

Thanx for sharing all the sure is something we all should think about! :)

P.S.: Loving your shoes!!!

Ginta said...

That book sounds very interesting and I definitely want to read it! I recently read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals and the book made me into vegetarian, so I guess Siegle's book will make me hate high-street even more! :) I hope there will be more and more people who will be conscious about their consumption and will help to stop people exploitation!

Peacock's Hat said...

I just stumbled across this book myself in my local Waterstones and was absolutely delighted by it, since this is the kind of area I would like to work in. I haven't read all of it yet, just the first chapter or two due to being right in the middle of The Crimson Petal and the White, but as soon as I am done with that, I am going to gobble it down. I shall hopefully be doing a similar style post to this myself once I have finished!

June Paski said...

I love ur dress and bag, it make me want live in UK, because I ever read that UK have great vintage store

Steffys Pros and Cons said...

the briefcase is awesome!!

<3 steffy
Steffys Pros and Cons

Andrea said...

I think everything in this world is now too fast. It's all about bussines. If we're talking about fashion industry, it's just: buy, buy, buy. And people have so many stuff of which they became bored after few months. My mom told me she spent all her salary on her coat when she was at her first job(which is still in excellent condition). Who does that now, when you can get a coat for 20€?
In my opinion, it's becoming better, because we started to re-use things, to recycle, to buy second-hand clothes, to buy unique pieces from designers... It's important to inform people as much as possible.
I don't buy a lot of things in high street, I prefer second-hand and I sew for myself:)
p.s.: Happy birthday! :)

adrielleroyale said...

I love this look! I wish I could just have the kind of creativity to dig through my closet and put fashionable things together, but in this subject, I am too much of a simpleton and admittedly a bit lazy. :) Beautiful pics

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

Lovely, lovely dress! The colors are amazing!

Vintage Space said...

What a great article! The book sounds very interesting. You really sold it to me.

the Citizen Rosebud said...

Happy sweet 16 Roz! I can't believe it! I remember you as this fresh faced baby faced 14 year old blogger but now you are coming up in the world. This recent post is yet another example why you are in my top 5 of favorite bloggers- style substance and intellect. Ok, you are in my top one, but I don't want it going to your head, lol. And I'm stoked you're on twitter!

PinkBow said...

gorgeous dress, perfect spring attire. happy belated birthday too :-)

Lady Moriarty said...

And that's the reason why I buy almost all my clothes from thrifting and vintage shops ! Good quality, often cheap and cliean conscience !

See U !

Vintage Vixen said...

Excellent points and I agree wholeheartedly.
I can't remember the last time I bought a garment from the high street, wherever possible I buy second-hand. I hate the greedy attitude people have with fast fashion, constantly buying the latest trends and tiring of them within weeks.
I prefer my wardrobe to be one of well-loved, quality pieces, tracked down after dedicated searching and worn with love and pride.
Your housecoat is beautiful on you, far too pretty to be kept indoors. xxx
PS Happy Birthday.

According to Annika said...

First, I have to say that the fourth photo could be in any high fashion magazine world wide. You an so incredibly stunning, it's almost not fair to the rest of us!

Second: I have to get a copy of that book. Thanks to your rich and detailed summary, I already feel enlightened - imagine how much I'll learn when I get my hands on my own copy! Like you, I tend to buy most of my clothes used, but, admittedly, since we moved out into the country side I don't have many opportunities to shop second hand or vintage. Although that has also led to the fact that I very, very rarely shop at all. I might find myself in a clothing store every two or three months, and I don't have much money, so it's not like I can go all Paris Hilton-crazy. But I really should think more about what I purchase and what I could do differently.

Rachel said...

I'm really loving that bag!

Hope Adela Pasztor said...

happy sweet sixteen, darling! i've enjoyed getting to know you over the past two years (your blog is two years old come june, right?). you are a beautiful, smart and stylish young lady, and i can't wait to see what the future will hold for you! many happy returns of the day! =)

styleeast said...

A great, thought-provoking piece, and beautifully illustrated with this outfit and these photos.

Happy 16th, Roz! And welcome to Twitter. Hi to your Mum too xx

Penny Dreadful said...

Oh I am very late commenting, as we've already discussed this on Twitter! I am having trouble finding time to read lately, but I am really impressed with the book so far. I find myself getting pickier and pickier about what I choose to buy for myself these days, and I don't think that is any bad thing. Love that gorgeous vintage dress coat, and happy birthday for last week :) xx

alexandratherese said...

Just added the book to my Amazon wishlist - this topic in particular is very thought provoking. It is kind of what I was getting at with my Gary Harvey post - recycled fashion, but I think I was emphasising more the fact that he made clothes out of things people threw away before they were useless, not whether or not he was making his clothes out of fair trade materials.

Onto the matter of buying second hand to avoid fuelling the 'fast fashion' industry, I have a couple of issues. 1) does buying high street clothes second hand actually deem you not-guilty of fuelling fast fashion? Is it the previous owner who bears the brunt of the guilt and does this guilt lie only with them and not pass onto you, the second or even third-hand buyer? 2) can any of us actually escape from fast fashion? Sure, high street retailers may have much better quality clothing than Primark (I find it really rather amusing that Primark is the example people keep using), but just because they're clothes don't develop holes in them after one wash does that really mean that they have been ethically sourced? After all, higher price tags don't necessarily mean higher wages for the people who make them. It may sound pessimistic but unless we all hand-make our clothes from home-grown or fair trade cotton etc. it seems to me that one way or another we will still all be contributing to fast fashion, even if we don't do it intentionally.

BBC Three produced a very interesting documentary about sweatshops in India a couple of years ago called "Blood, sweat and t shirts", I don't know if you saw it? Here's the link for it anyway where a group of young people who loved high street shopping went to work in the sweat shops. They were affected so much by what they saw that they started up a charity for it and so on.

Good to see you on Twitter Roz, and happy birthday for last week! Good luck with your remaining exams too.

Alexandra xx

Michaela said...

Wow your blog is amazing!!I follow you now :-)
How do you take all the wonderful photos? <3

My blog
xoxo Michaela

Nikki said...

Oh, i love these photo's! you are an amzing model :) love your bag! x

RedPoppy said...

Really love these photos, and I wouldn't have guessed you were only 16! Thanks for your comment on my blog, hope you had a lovely weekend xo

Mon Cheri said...

simply stunning! <3

claire xo

Claudia Laurel Bell said...

You're 16! I thought you were like 23!!

According to Annika said...

I just can't thank you enough for your incredibly sweet, encouraging and wise comment on my post about body image and insecurities.

Modeling can be an amazing experience, especially for young girls who otherwise would never get the opportunity to travel and see the world. But it's also such a dangerous environment for teenagers (girls and boys), with all of the pressure and extreme shallowness. Both my sisters (17) have tried to model, one is still doing it and pursuing a career in the industry, and my heart aches for her when I see how hard she is on herself about her body and her looks. In my opinion, there should be an age limit for models - I think you should be 18 before you can start modeling professionally. Not everyone is as strong and mature at 16 as you sure seem to be. You undoubtedly could have a great career in modeling, scoliosis or no scoliosis, but it would be somewhat of a waste, since you have so many amazing (creative and intellectual) talents.

I'm genuinely happy and grateful that I've found your blog and had the honor of making your acquaintance!



Ottavia said...

i love your amazing dress!

Kate said...

happy very belated birthday! This post is wonderful, so full of thought and it not only makes me want to read the book but also think more carefully about where I buy from and what I do with it when I decide it's too small or I just don't like it anymore.
I'm definitely following you on twitter!

Beatrice Balaj said...

You're so beautiful! Love the dress.


claire (jazzpad.) said...

Firstly, thankyou for your darling comment, I love hearing from new people and of course subsequently finding their blogs. You exude elegance and grace far beyond your years, I am amazed you are a mere 16. Really interesting perceptions about consumerism especially - I think the speeding up of our consumption is in part most definitely down to the world shrinking; technology has allowed us to access trends and shows so much more readily than in years gone by, it's no wonder we've become so used to expecting our wardrobes to change just as quickly. I'm with you though - trends fade but style lasts a lifetime! ♥ Claire @ Jazzpad

Catherine said...

I love that you brought up the topic of fast fashion. I've been thinking about that a lot lately and have been trying to only purchase items that are well-made and that I REALLY love.

I read an interview with Tomas Maier of Bottega Veneta in The New Yorker a while back, where he said that a $550 Bottega silk scarf is not out of most peoples' budget, but that the middle class has come to believe in quantity over quality— "just have less" he says. I couldn't agree more. If you buy one nice thing instead of 10 cheap, poorly-made items, you're going to have a nicer wardrobe and will be supporting better companies.

- Catherine at Littlehouse of Style

November Grey said...

The fourth pic is my fave. And how gorgeous are those shoes!!! xx

Barbro Andersen said...

I never know how to respond to your posts, just because you are so insightful and great with words. Yours are one of the few I actually take time to read, just because I find your writing compelling and interesting. Normally I'm more of a "look at pictures" kind of girl, but I guess that describes bloggers in general - not our readers.

I was reading through it, and when I looked down on what I'm wearing, I felt this sting in my heart. Despite the fact that I'm wearing a ecological dress made out of bamboo, I have a mass-produced knit cardigan over it. And my grandmas knitted socks. So just knowing this cardigan most likely made my a hardworking soul somewhere in the world, hurts. I of course "know" it already, but as you and the author of this book both point out - knowing it isn't enough. And believe me, I felt it just now.

I do most of my shopping in vintage and second-hand boutiques - and I always encourage people to do the same - but at the same time I feel I'm kind of a hypocrite. I do fall for the temptation of buying mass produced garments every month or so, especially on sale. Those garments are usually the ones that have a long shelf-life after I've worn them a couple of times. I'm embarrassed, and wont exactly try to excuse myself in any way - other than stating the fact that we all have to take baby-steps. To start with.

Thank you for a great post, Roz! You truly are beautiful - on the inside as well.

Love from Norway <3

Ps. You should perhaps install share-buttons above or below your posts so that we could easily share your writing and photography. I'll do it anyways, though - just a thought :)

Sophie Loloi said...

Stunning! I really enjoy reading all your posts!:)
I remember when you first started your blog out! I had just started that time too...I think you found me on teen vogue's website....but your blog has really blossomed into something beautiful! You have so much going for you!


FlorenceFox said...

you are the most inspiration person in my life and i love you so much! Florence xxxx