Friday, 27 May 2011
To Die For
'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.