Straggling back in after a lovely lazy holiday – a glorious combination of beach-time with the family in Spain, camping with friends, and just loafing around the house with the children. Some sewing happened, some reading got done, but I spent a huge amount of time doing really very little and recharging my batteries (I’m convinced I’m solar powered).
My best (non-fiction!) read of the holidays was Lucy Siegle’s “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?”
It’s one of the books I picked up at the Ways with Words literature festival I went to in Dartington, Devon, back in July, and as an eco-worrier of the first order, its promise to pull together and address all the various concern I have about the fashion industry appealed to me.
It didn’t disappoint.
The first half of the book is an unflinching and often uncomfortable scrutiny of the fashion industry as a whole, in terms of its environmental and social cost to the world. It examines the effect of increasing demand for ‘fast fashion’ on the supply chains feeding that demand, looking at every element in that chain – from the production, harvesting, processing of the fibres we use, through the dyeing process, into the production of the clothes themselves and the transportation of those clothes to the store, and through to the end of their lives. It’s a pretty damning indictment of the entire system, and doesn’t just call the ‘usual suspects’ at the fast-and-furious value end of the fashion spectrum – luxury goods, fur, and leather are all brought under the microscope. From slave labour harvesting cotton in Ukraine, to sweatshops in Bangladesh and elsewhere across the far east, to the poisonous pollution of the Ganges, it’s all laid bare, and it’s not easy or comfortable reading – we are all complicit in this. I think what shocked me most of all was that the fashion/garment industry as a whole includes two of the five most polluting activities on the planet – I’d no idea that it was causing such harm.
But what I liked most was the second half of the book, which offered real hope for the future. Lucy Siegle acknowledges that she is as complicit in this as any one of us, and rather than making us feel horribly guilty about the contents of our wardrobe, offers alternatives and hope for the future. Naturally, buying less fashion comes pretty much top of the list, but she advocates spending MORE on fewer pieces of good-quality, ethical clothing, and building a wardrobe that reflects both our ethics and our individuality without compromising on style. There’s an excellent section on ‘wardrobe maintenance’ – proper care and repair of existing items in the wardrobe, and whilst second-hand and vintage have a place in the wardrobe, they are not the be-all and end-all of having a ‘green’ wardrobe.
I can buy into that. I’ve been a wardrobe-refashioner for some years now, and when I’ve needed to buy new clothes I’ve avoided the value end of the high street, but had assumed that higher-end brands had better ethical credentials – now I know that’s not the case, I’ll be asking more questions and making sure that my purchases reflect my values a little more closely.
Read it for yourself, and be inspired to make some simple changes that might just end up making a real difference, both to the planet, and to social justice.