Last week, just ahead of London Fashion Week, saw the launch of my new project with the Soho House Group – Future Fashion: a yearlong series of events dedicated to the politics of dressing in an increasingly throw away world. This series aims to open up space for discussion around the future of ‘How we Dress’ from Consumer Behaviour to Intelligent Design. We kicked off the series at Shoreditch House with an In Conversation with Lucy Siegle, the Observer Journalist, Author and Co-Founder of the Green Carpet Challenge (with Livia Firth).
I wore a dress by Partimi for the event, made from 100% beautiful organic silk jersey. The print on the dress is a painting that designer Eleanor Doreen-Smith did of her Russian grandmother’s old ballerina dancer costumes that are in the V & A. The print captures the affect of the fabric that has worn away over time.
Lucy’s recent book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? is in my opinion the definitive guide to navigate your way around our global fast fashion industry. The book takes you through the different issues affecting what you wear leaving you with the tools to make up your own mind about how to build your own perfect wardrobe. It’s a must read for both fashionistas and also those of us who just wear clothes and don’t think about where they have come from. It shows us how complicated the supply chain is for even the most simple piece of clothing in today’s world. The book is full of facts and references where you can go to find out more, but the most harrowing general theme is how we have pushed price down on every part of the supply chain, putting immense pressure on all of the humans working in manufacture and seeing very little or negative reward. Some of the scenes that are described in garment factories, cotton fields and leather tanneries are haunting.
It strikes me as odd that this book has been out for nine months now, and that the term fast fashion (which encapsulates these issues) is still not widely understood. When I compare it to the response that Naomi Klein’s No Logo received in 1999, I am genuinely shocked that as a global community we have not been shaken by the truth of our fashion industry. This is globalisation in action over a decade later, where in many cases sweatshops are no better or even worse, and the problems across the supply chain are deeper than they were then. The impact that we are having on our environment, and then the impact that is in return having on us is undeniable with images such as the deep red dyed and polluted Mao Zhou river in China or the pungent toxic Ganges in India affected by irresponsible leather processing.
It goes without saying that I highly recommend that each and everyone of us reads this book in its entirety. By the end of it, you can’t help but realise how insane the reality of our love of fast fashion actually is.
In my commitment to help make your ethical wardrobe simple and achievable through my Rules To Dress By, I asked Lucy if she would share her three top tips, and here they are:
* Feel the fibre. When you buy a piece have a good feel and try on. Get a sense of the weight and the quality of the fibre. Look at the label to verify it is what you think it is. I have a real belief that the more you get to grips with the fibre your clothes are made from the more you will understand the wealth and resources in that fibre, buy and care for appropriately and prize beautiful fibres, keeping them in a way that will ensure greater longevity. You wouldn’t just chuck a melon in your shopping basket, you’d at least give it a cursory sniff. This is the sartorial equivalent.
* Re-order your priorities. If you feel you’ve been swept along in the Fast Fashion tide this will be particularly effective. What are the biggest drivers? They are likely to be (micro) trend and price. So try putting wearability, longterm appeal, quality, potential as an heirloom, additionality (if you have 20 other similar items you probably don’t need this one), fairtrade credentials – anything! – in front of whether or not it is immediately on trend and whether it’s a bargain price. You will be amazed at how quickly you start to think very differently about what you buy.
* Get more bang for your fashion buck! Does this garment deserve a place in your wardrobe? It should be competitive to get a place in your closet. What ‘ethical’ certification comes with the piece – is it organic cotton/ are there fairly traded elements? What is the story behind the piece. What do you know of the hands that made this garment? What can the retailer/brand tell you and what has that retailer/brand invested in the supply chain. We need to know because we’re all worth it!