A few weeks ago I went shopping for leggings and some knitwear, and was shocked to find I couldn’t get anything that wasn’t mostly polyester. Then I noticed more people mentioning buying ultra cheap products online from China. Then I happened upon a show on iView about ethical textiles and, though it did not surprise me to find out about terrible working conditions of garment makers, I was excited to learn about the efforts going into tackling them. So I posted about it on Facebook. A friend commented that she’d just listened to a radio interview with a woman who’d written a book on the subject. I looked up the show, found a podcast, listened to it and was so impressed I immediately bought the book.
The book is called Wardrobe Crisis: How We Went From Sunday Best to Fast Fashion by Clare Press. It was funny and tragic, shocking and inspiring, and I tore through it in a couple of days. Then I bought a book mentioned in it, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Siegle, and absorbed that in a few days, too.
I found it utterly fascinating, from how the fashion industry works now to learning about all the stages, post design, in the creation of a garment. While much of what I learned I already knew, since as a knitter I had made it my business to know all the ethical and environmental issues to do with fibre, but there were plenty of things I hadn’t known on the garment-making side. There’s a lot to be horrified by and yet I came away feeling far more hopeful than I expected.
Why? Because it seems like the garment industry is being taken, sometimes kicking and screaming, in the direction the food industry has gone, with greater awareness and value placed in environmental, social and health consequences of the way it runs. And I can see that the same interest and energy that drives the decluttering and clean living movements could be directed toward people buying, and therefore encouraging the making of, more ethical fashion.
I asked my friends on Facebook if they’ve ever bought really, really cheap stuff and what their reasoning was in order to gauge the sorts of reactions people have for and against ethical shopping. It’s been interesting to see how they regard it. This article investigates people’s attitudes toward ethical products. I was intrigued to see that the people who choose to ignore ethical issues tend to regard anyone who tries to shop ethically negatively – and I’m reminded again of the food movement, and how despite mockery of ‘organic’ products an appreciation for sustainable food practises has grown.
I dove into all this wanting specific questions answered. Why are some clothes now so ridiculously cheap? Is it better to buy direct from China, cutting out the middlemen, or worse? What are the ethical fashion brands and do they make anything that isn’t expensive and dead boring? Why is current ‘fast fashion’ full of dull, unflattering polyester jersey that falls to pieces after a few washes? How should I approach shopping in order to make a difference, even a tiny one?
Most of these questions were answered, and for a few it was easy to extrapolate an answer. But they’ll take more than a few blog post to cover, so watch this space.