Guilt?

A little while ago, the topic of ‘Fast Fashion’ surfaced its distracting head as a topic of posting and discussion on what I like to think of as ‘my’ area of the blogosphere – i.e. the blogs I follow and always read. Whilst I find the subject extremely interesting and left long, thought out comments on each post I read on the topic I never wrote my own post about it; every time a new post debating the topic came up it brought with it new points of view to consider – more thoughts to mull over before collating my feelings to form my own opinion about it.

But that ‘opinion’ was never really collated – the glut of articles which appeared after the release of Lucy Siegle’s book ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World?’ came and went, and with it so did my focus on the subject of shopping ethically. (Note: I haven’t yet read ‘To Die For’ so I can’t make any comparison to my views and those of Lucy Siegle). Since taking in so many views and so much information back in May when all the posting began the thought of where my clothes really come from has lingered at the back of my mind – ready to resurface whenever I enter a clothing shop that sells clothes that have been made by people in poor countries working all hours of the day to make a pair of jeans, and thus earn an absolute pittance.

I’m still not entirely sure what my opinion is to be very honest with you. I know that mass producing clothes which result in many of them going in landfill and the people making them not earning as much money as they should and having to work in terrible conditions is awful, no doubt about it, but the part I have conflicting thoughts about is people in first world countries, like myself, going out and buying them. Especially when I am one of them.

To be fair though, it isn’t often that I am one of them. Looking through my holiday wardrobe which is currently housing twenty-six garments exactly half of them were bought from either vintage or charity shops. That by no means guarantees that they weren’t originally mass-produced for the consumption of the high street shopper – it just means that instead of going out and buying something new I made use of something which had already been created and was still very much wearable. Of the remaining thirteen items, five of them were presents or bought for me and seven were bought, by me, new from the ‘high street’ for want of a better word for a collective group of shops. Two each from Next, H&M and Warehouse and one from Forever 21 on a visit to the States earlier in the year.

After browsing for twenty minutes on each of the sites in search of something that looked vaguely like a declaration of ‘social responsibility’ to both the workers who create the clothes they sell as well as to the customers who buy them I came to this conclusion: two of the sites do not (or at least to the best of my knowledge and trawling of their sites) contain a single droplet of information about the sourcing of their clothes or their humane and ethical responsibility towards the people who make them. Two of them did however, although on the Forever 21 site the information wasn’t on an actual page, more of a drop down menu which made it impossible for me to link to it. The best I can do is directing you here and informing you that if you scroll right to the bottom of the page on the far right hand side their should be a link entitled “Social Responsibility”. Reading through the list of “important elements” it all sounds great. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some evidence of it rather than having to trust a few paragraphs of print on the screen of my laptop. The other company who actually bothered to let customers know where the clothes they bought were coming from was H&M – this time in a whole section of the site dedicated to its “Corporate Responsibility”.

In June I was at a garden party (well, more of a family-and-friends-get-together-held-in-a-garden) where I got chatting to a gentleman who does a fair bit of business with big name brands – drawing up prototypes for new designs and selling them to the high street shops. We got into a rather heated (but still jovial) discussion about what ‘fashion’ really means, and when I dropped the bombshell of how the big chains he works with source their clothes and whether or not they do so ethically he game me the point of the view of the fashion insider such as himself. He told me that, as many people in the ‘industry’ see it, it is up to the Government in whatever country the clothes are being unethically produced in to enforce laws which give the workers a better deal – fair wages, limiting the number hours they are able to work but not paying them less, safe conditions to work in and laws so as not to allow children to be having to work in factories when they could be out getting an education. It seems that in reference to this viewpoint there’s only so much the rest of the world can do to help.

My reason for writing this post was thus; on Tuesday I went out and bought several items from high street shops: a pair of chinos from New Look, two pairs of socks from TKMaxx and one pair from Topshop. In fairness I had been given a New Look voucher as a present, but I cannot excuse my buying socks. But do I need to? To be honest I really don’t think I do. I don’t think anyone would begrudge anyone else buying themselves new, unworn socks would they? People don’t buy second-hand, ‘vintage’ underwear do they? Well, I don’t! Anyway, the other reason for spilling out my thoughts about ‘Fast Fashion’ and buying on the high street was this, should I feel guilty for buying new clothes for AW11? Some people wouldn’t give it a second thought, and I’m not saying they should, but after reading and agreeing with so many posts and getting on my high horse about people who buy endless bags of clothes from Primark every weekend I felt like it would be double standards to go out and buy myself some Winter woolies. The thing is, as much as I love buying my clothes in vintage and charity shops and market stalls and Church fairs, now and again it’s just really nice to buy a couple of new pieces that catch my eye.

So what do you think? What is your opinion on Fast Fashion? And should we feel guilty for buying mass-produced items from the high street?

Food For Thought – Fast Fashion posts from fellow bloggers

Street Style: Pics By Polka Dot – Prime Mark

A Little Bird Told Me – Ethical Fashion -Does It Work For You?

Clothes, Cameras and Coffee – To Die For

Fashion Pearls of Wisdom – Budget Fashion: Can You Afford to Shop Ethically?

                                                        

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9 thoughts on “Guilt?

  1. Such an interesting post, did you read the article in the guardian the other day about Zara using sweat shops? That really shocked me as if the clothes are cheap you have a feeling something is not right, but Zara is quite expensive, so if the money s not going to the labourers you wonder where it is going. It just shows you that you never really know what you’re buying.

    Thanks for your comment and your reccommendations, of course I have read Rebecca!! It is my favourite book, and when I was a baby my mum bought me a copy with a beautful cover with incredible designs on it. I treasure it and it makes me love it even more! I haven’t however read Jamaica Inn or any of her other books but I definitely will sometime in the very near future!

    I hope you are having a lovely summer!
    Kate x

  2. Beautifully written post. Having just finished watching S&TC movie No. 1 and thinking wow over all the clothing and with LFW coming up this has sure put my feet right back on the ground. I cant shop in Primark I find it depressing. Vivienne Westwood said a while ago that we should all buy less, but that we should however save up and buy from her. Maybe she is right. Xxxx

  3. Oh goodness I’m so glad you’ve posted about this – “throwaway fashion” makes me furious – it sits in dumps and pollutes the earth because of all the plasticky textiles like polyester! A while back I used to work at Forever 21 (just retail work, not design – thank god). My boss told me how she had to attend a conference once about Forever 21 and the woman who was in charge of the business (not the founder, just some high-up lady in the design department) gave a speech and at the end took questions. Someone asked her to comment on what she thought about all the trends on eco-friendly fashion in favor of polyester/throwaway fast fashion. Her reply? “Well, sometimes I buy vintage.” NOT what they were asking about. This lady is dumb.

    It makes me so glad you buy vintage and are aware of all this.

    And I can’t wait to the runway shows so I can post the real photos!! It will be amazing to add this handwork to my portfolio, along with runway photos.

  4. definitely agree that fast fashion is a negative thing, with all the stores like zara, H&M, F21 changing their lines every other week it seems. For me, a few new investment pieces here and there are fine, but for the most part, I love thrifting. much more socially responsible and not to mention, the clothes are much more unique and not produced by the masses.

    xx Raez

  5. It is such a hard topic, Ive read half the book I have to admit I got a bit bored half way thorough with the cotton bit but I will push on. The thing is that everyone wants to pass the buck, its the governments fault for not having regulations, its the buyer fault for haggling down the prices… but what nobody does is take any of the responsibility for themselves. The site that do have info on them seem to be the ones who have been blasted in the press so feel the need to have some sort of ‘back up’ on their sites.
    You also mention the new season, when we are all getting excited by the new collections and you are quite right. None of us will really need the things we are lusting after but will buy them nonetheless. I have a couple of photos on my desk top to remind me, when I start trawling eBay and Topshop that I dont need tons of new junk, I am just bored looking for a quick hit. What I do need are things that will last such as the high waist wide leg trousers, that are expensive but will last me for years to come. They are also from Westwood so I know they were made in Italy by people paid a fair wage. But I have no idea where we can buy guilt free socks LOL!
    Thanks also for linking my post. x

  6. FINALLY, Alexandra, I’ve had a moment to sit down and read. I’m between appointments actually – someone’s arriving in 9 minutes – so I’m typing this fast. I just read every word of your post, and the comments.

    Isn’t it funny: we haven’t yet met but I can tell from your comments – and I’m so grateful for your support and comments, I don’t hear from a lot of people but the ones that I do, like you, are just so KIND – and we share the same sense of humour. We’re just on the same page. It’s funny – what connects us ‘fashion bloggers’ is meant to be fashion, and yet most of us just feel the same way. If I look on what I took on holiday – what I wear – it’s the same items, year after year. And yet.. yeah, socks, underwear.. here’s a true story: we were only in NYC for an hour or two – on our way in and out – this summer. We were walking across town quickly to catch the Hampton Jitney back out to the end of Long Island and my husband was saying ‘why do you keep stopping?’

    The reason was, I had bought three pair of underwear in London, before I left, at H&M for £3. One was white, one was aqua, one was hot pink. The aqua pair – which I was wearing – were falling down. I kept stopping because I was afraid it would end up round my ankles if I ran to catch the bus.

    Moral of the story: you get what you pay for. On a larger scale: there is an ethical price that we pay, collectively, for our choices. I didn’t start this blog to flog other peoples’ merchandise, or to make large corporations wealthier. I started it to photograph what people were wearing on the street. Two and a half years on, and I’m still not getting paid for what I do – nor am I asking to – and yet I’m getting asked every day, from PR companies, to promote merchandise that I have no idea who is making it, and under what conditions. I think all the time about just shutting the blog down, as I don’t always know which side of the story I’m on.

    That said, there is one incredible brand out there, and it’s called Vagabond Van. Check it out – I just did a post about them!

    There’re here – must run. xoxo

  7. A very interesting post Alexandra, and thanks for linking to me. The whole online debate seemed to sprawl in all directions – I found myself agreeing with one viewpoint, and then another differing one somewhere else. It is hard to formulate any kind of answer or solution to the problem. However, at least we know it is a problem. That’s a very good step.
    My view is that I very, very rarely shop on the high street – but I draw the line at second hand underwear. That is all brand new. In general shopping terms, the choice is as much to do with my location (forty mins away from shops such as H&M and Topshop) as it is my moral stance. Also, I enjoy the thrill of the hunt more when it comes to combing charity shops and jumble sales.
    However I agree that there is still something highly enjoyable about a new garment that has been worn by no-one else but you. What I hate is the idea that although something may be unworn, it may have been put together by people who suffered as a result.
    Like you, I am still unsure of the right angle. I can be attracted to new buys, and the question is – where can one sate that need for new season pieces while also maintaining a conscience?
    Also, f21 might purpose to be ethical, but there are countless articles that beg to differ – they are thought of as one of the worst.

  8. Lucy Siegle makes a very important point in her book, which is that the fashion supply chain is broken. High street brands require enormous turnaround time from product design to stocking the shelves with it. Most retailers now aim for 6 weeks as standard, meaning that an item can appear on the designer catwalks in September, and then be replicated and ready for high street sale in October. Brands ask only two things of their suppliers: make it quick and make it cheap. Policing factories to improve working conditions is nigh on impossible, and the factories are on the other side of the world. Out of sight and out of mind if you will. While I wasn’t surprised by Siegle’s revelations, her book did make me think about my own consumer habits. I agree with you Alexandra – more and more I shop in charity shops, but I would love to be able to buy something nice from the high street every once in a while without feeling certain that it came to me at such a high human cost.

    Siegle suggests a multi-level approach. Firstly, we have to improve our own buying habits. Here I refer to Gok Wan: “Buy less and wear more”. I am so bad at impulse buying, so my challenge to myself is to try and curb that, and carefully consider each and every purchase. The second step is to put positive pressure on the high street to change its behaviour. Not buying from the high street does not fix the problem, and it doesn’t make it go away. Applaud brands when they do something right. TopShop recently collaborated with a Ghanaian women’s cooperative to produce a line of garments – this kind of ethical behaviour should be encouraged, and how better to encourage a high street brand then by spending a few pennies on their ethical ranges. We may carry guilt about the pressures our expanding society places upon the poorest and most disadvantaged people, but we are never without options to exert pressure for change.

    Sorry for the mega-comment! But this is such an important issue, and as fashion bloggers I feel that we have a responsibility to make people think about the ethics of the fabrics that we so artfully drape ourselves in.

    Great article!

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