Who made my clothes?

I recently blogged about my big-deal-but-not-really-a-big-deal decision not to buy any clothes for a year.

If I were the kind of person who didn’t like clothes or was not easily swept up in the whispers of commoditized fast fashion that would not be worth telling you about. But I am, or was, that kind of person.

As I have previously said, I think expressing yourself through the clothes you wear is a wonderful thing. It just becomes a tad more complex of an issue when you discover that it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt.

For the English among us, that’s 4,751 pint glasses of water.

If like in the 1800s we all wore one shirt per year*, perhaps that would be a sensible ratio of resources to output and no one would be getting so hot under the collar (I’m here all week) about the impact the fashion industry is having on climate change.

And that is the essence of fast fashion; more. More of the same, but in 5 different colours. More tops like last year but this time with more ruffles around the collar. More heels because the last pair broke and you might as well buy two pairs since you’re here anyway.

And so the cycle continues; more becomes more water, more cotton, more oil and more trees.

Which is why in my quest to buy better quality and far fewer clothes in the future, I’ve been exploring some of the amazing initiatives that are taking place to make fashion a much cooler, more sustainable industry.

My old uni, The University of Exeter and Fashion Revolution, an organisation set up to do exactly what it sounds like, have created a (free) short course designed to take the user on a journey of discovery about where their clothes really come from. It doesn’t start until 26th June and takes only 4 hours a week.

I’m really interested to find out more about the people, methods both good and bad, and the material that creates some of the clothes in my wardrobe. It means that when I shop in the future I will start to understand the places to go, the materials to look for and the true cost of what I’m wearing. You can sign up here if the idea excites you, too.

And to end with a piece of highly relevant trivia, did you know that H&M has created a ballgown entirely out of waste marine plastic for their 2017 Conscious collection? Well you do now, and apparently the material  is ‘unlike other plastic-based fabrics, it’s supersoft and can adapt to almost anything you want to make, from jeans to cocktail dresses.’

Which gives me hope, because if being good can also mean looking good, H&M may just be on the cusp of unlocking a new, and rather large customerbase.

 

*Completely uncited but in some cases probably quite accurate statement, merely used to make a point about modern shopping habits.

Slowing down fashion: a year-long experiment

I like clothes. Rather a lot. They’re beautiful, versatile, and help you be anyone you want to be. Or at least, that’s what they whisper at you from the mirror of the dressing room as you try them on.

Which is why the conclusion I came to last month, to try not to buy any new clothes for a year, felt like a dramatic one. And certainly left me wondering how many new hobbies I’d need to pick up the slack on all the time I used to spend shopping.

When I told my boyfriend however, he seemed nonplussed. This is the same guy who subsisted in the same pair of black skinny jeans for 3 years before I met him, so I may have been pitching to the wrong audience. While I am well aware that excessive shopping is not a vice that plagues everyone (and I salute you for it), it is a preoccupation of more than a few friends and family; and indeed a large chunk of the Western world.

So why the big gesture? Well, there’s no singular reason and it was not a sudden revelation. There has been a sickly feeling in my stomach whenever I’ve bought clothes for a while now. I know there will be some caveats and rules I’ll need to establish; what about special occasions like my brother’s wedding, or when all my socks inevitably have holes in?

So while I am still working out the details, the need for change is obvious. According to the Economist, global clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014. That can’t have been me doing all the buying. Every year more clothes are being made, and more are being thrown away sooner. Again from the Economist; Zara used to make do with a handful of yearly collections, now they have twenty.

When you compound that with another stat, from McKinsey – that simply producing 1kg of fabric generates on average 23kg of greenhouse gases – the sickly feeling gets a little stronger.

Must looking good really necessitate killing the planet?

I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question, and I don’t want to speak for others. Personally I get frustrated with clothes that are better suited to the dust bin after only a year of wear, and I get angry with myself for so easily falling prey to  promotion after promotion in the sales. But I don’t think liking clothes is wrong.

What about the confidence-boosting, the creativity, the buying power of fashion, which all bring immeasurable positives. Charities like SmartWorks show the difference a good outfit and the right training can do for women out of work. But there has to be a better way to do this. The opportunity is ripe for more brands to tackle clothing production and consumption in a profitable and sustainable way. Following in the footsteps of brands like Patagonia, and encouraging more people to make do with fewer, higher-quality items of clothing is surely the way forward.

This is after all a personal experiment and I’m doing it to learn. I want to understand what really goes into the process of making clothes; the environmental and the human cost. Yesterday was the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, one of the most shameful days in the history of the fashion industry.  I’d like to better understand the psychology of it too; the reasons why new clothes have been so important to my self-esteem and why my choice of outfit is as important to some as the words I say in a meeting.

12 months from now I think I’ll still like clothes, but maybe I’ll respect them too.

August is pretty chilly anyway…

Cystic-Fibrosis-cutting-lives-in-hal_460

Last night I was nominated for the ice bucket challenge by a very good friend. Well, apologies to anyone who was eager to catch a flash of my pasty white middle (but really, why?!) in the course of having cold water splashed over it, but it’s not gonna happen.

First I should say that- unlike some others- I don’t object to this style of fundraising. Mostly because it’s extraordinarily effective; as we’ve probably all read, donations to ALS and its British counterpart are up dramatically from last year. It’s a fundraising icy wet dream (sorry).

There is the water wastage, yes, but which of us didn’t spend their childhood running around with super soakers and paddling pools? At least this benefits others.  The fact that most participants had no idea what ALS was previously- myself included- really doesn’t matter; they do now (yay) and their motivations beyond that don’t really bother me- it worked didn’t it?  Surely,  the ends justify the means.

This, and the #nomakeupselfie for breast cancer, have tapped into the social zeitgeist like never before and are bringing a new level of mass participation to charity fundraising. The opportunities for other charities are huge (before we all get immune to this new style of fundraising too, of course. But maybe I can dream, maybe we won’t).

Frankly, I think the majority of charity advertising and campaigning methods are in dire need of a kick up the arse, and this just might be the start of it. As much as we may wish it, a good cause doesn’t determine results on its own, not anymore.  There’s too much competition for attention and resources, and often, desensitization to the subject matter through media.

But here’s no denying, the ALS challenge has been pretty rough around the edges. Ultimately, I’ve made the decision not to give my money to the ALS  association because I’m not convinced they’re using funds effectively and I object to their research methods. That’s just my decision.

The spontaenous charity giving though, is something I definitely want to get on board with. This morning I donated to the CF Trust– the UK’s charity for Cystic Fibrosis which is a life-threatening genetic condition, primarily affecting the lungs and digestive system. I also just happen to have it.

By the by, I’m not just donating to the CF Trust because I have CF. I’ve donated to several charities recently (most recently the PSC) but it occurred to me that I’ve never actually made a donation to the CF Trust. Now seemed like a pretty good time. They tirelessly campaign on behalf of people like myself and play a large part in fundraising for that ever elusive (and extremely expensive) gene therapy cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

For those wanting to know, CF affects a similar number of people in the developed world to ALS (around 30,000 in the US). The developing world is a different matter as some genetic groups aren’t affected by it and also because most children born with it would be dead by the age of 10 without the advanced medical care I’m privileged enough to get in the UK.

Happy giving everyone, whatever your cause.