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.