I should probably apologise for the click bait title of this post… I am not currently naked I’m snowed in and therefore wearing not one, but two jumpers. If you follow me on instagram you will be aware I talk a lot about fairness and feminism. If you watch my stories you may also be aware that I buy a lot of clothes. My biannual wardrobe cull happened in January and brought with it a small revelation. My morality and my wardrobe are increasingly at odds.
I am that girl, the one who owns 3 pairs of silver trousers. Of course, everyone knows that in fashion terms, metallics like the Breton stripe or leopard spot are totally neutral. 3 pairs of ‘essential’ silver pants equate to the same number of black ones, and who doesn’t have at least 3 of those? If you were to question me further on the subject of silver trousers I would almost certainly direct you towards the Zara website and a fourth pair that I desperately need to fill a (metaphorical) gap in my modestly overstuffed wardrobe. A minimalist I am not. What I am slowly becoming however is a conscious consumer, largely motivated by the fact my wardrobe has expanded to an alarming degree encompassing nearly every surface of my house. I am also increasingly interested in the journey of my clothes, and the ensuing consequences of my rampant consumerism.
I have always loved clothes. My most vivid childhood memories are of a longed for polka dot mini skirt from Tammy girl and the perfect black patent dungarees from C&A that were vetoed by my mum before I even got them to the changing room. I was no older than 8. I have romantic notions about clothes, I often attach meaning to garments and hold on to them long ofter the trend has died. 15 year old camouflage cut offs from Abercrombie and Fitch bought on my first trip to Las Vegas sit beside 10 year old vintage sundresses purchased by the kilo from Parisian flea markets. Protected by dust covers, handbags from Alexander Wang and Stella McCartney represent months of painstaking research and the same in wages. Clothes are my armour, an art form, a vehicle for self expression offering both comfort and disguise. Little compares to the thrill of a new outfit, but the older I get the more this is tempered by guilt.
I like to think I have outgrown fast fashion, after all its been several years since I set foot in Primark armed with a deep basket, sharp elbows and a student loan. My wardrobe is bursting with labels, both high end and high street, the common thread that runs through each garment is not actually a thread but a label, a label that reads, made in [anywhere but the UK]. I studied fashion, and having worked within this multi billion pound industry, I am acutely aware of the arguments against ethical production practices. The cost of Infrastructure, materials, labour etc all make British mass production prohibitively expensive for larger retailers. A dress designed in London, made from Chinese fabric sewn together in a factory in Bangladesh and transported thousands of miles by air or sea can be sold in a shopping centre in Essex for less than £30. Can the considerable environmental and human cost of this dress be overlooked in favour of ridiculous profit margins? British factories do exist, they serve those fast fashion retailers who need to get get their products from paper to dance floor fast. Unfortunately in order to remain competitive with those overseas these factories have a record of poor welfare standards and little regard for the law.
I have witnessed first hand the human face of the garment industry in both India and China. I have visited factories and met workers who make our clothes, it would be unfair to say the entire industry is barbaric and unethical. That simply isn’t true. Many factories have acceptable working conditions and there are definitely circumstances in which the industry supports entire families, offering some of the best options for skilled employment in deprived areas. But how can I justify supporting my breasts in a £2.50 bra knowing there is a chance it has been packaged by a 7 year old child who is supporting her family instead of attending school, or a mother who is living 300 miles from her children working 12 hour shifts to send home a pittance at the end of each month. There is something fundamentally wrong when my wardrobe is full of clothes made in countries I am yet to visit by people who will never earn enough to purchase the garments they stitch.
Ethical fashion is so much more than the crocheted dog hair and tie dyed hemp creations that were once sold alongside pentagrams and tobacco tins in dark shops with a heady aroma of incense and body odour. The internet offers a platform for independent designers and makers to connect with their customer base allowing the consumer to shop consciously and stylishly. If hemp and dog hair are your bag, I can almost guarantee there is someone on etsy who can help, but it probably isn’t me. The internet has opened up an amazing world of creative dynamic women to me, so hopefully this is the start of a little series on ethical fashion (or a really long winded introduction to me drawing the things I want to buy instead of actually buying them)