A couple of years ago I read a book called, ‘To Die For, Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?’ by British author and eco journalist, Lucy Siegle. This book made my jaw drop, it made me feel guilty as hell and it really opened my eyes. (Published 2011 for a sneak peak of what Siegle investigated watch this youtube vid).).
I had no idea that the leftover residues and chemicals from dying fabric turned rivers blue and affected the fertility of workers. That, 1500 silkworms die to make one metre of fabric. I had no idea of the human cost of our self-gratifying (if only momentarily) impulse purchases had.
I had ignorantly bought into the ‘Fast Fashion’ Fad well and truly. I was regularly thrilled when friends commented on a new top. ‘Only $10.00 from Glassons,’ I’d boast. I bought three. My easily influenced daughters were hooked too. Movies like, ‘Twenty Seven Dresses’ and ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ had only fueled their desire for instant fashion.
Nary had I given a thought for the young women in south east Asia far from their country homes, living in shabby dorms at their place of employment: garment factories. These women worked hideously long hours, under stringent male supervision, were sometimes forced to take contraceptives, all for a wage that barely covered living costs. Nor had I considered the outworkers, sometimes children, hunched over summer tops sewing on sequins and beads in their slum-like homes, for doodly squat in return.
All those bargains I zapped up only lasted a year or less, then became stuffing in my homemade draft-stoppers or went to the Salvation Army. So had I really saved any money? Not at all. At least I’d recycled. But a heck of a lot of our throw away-did-I-actually-buy-this fashion ends up in the landfill.
According to Siegle, ‘80 billion tonnes of new garments are produced a year. Of that 1.5 million tonnes get thrown in the bin’. In her book she talks of following a woman down the high street. It was raining and the woman’s shopping bags had holes, through which her just purchased bras and knickers were falling onto the pavement. When made aware of her losses the woman just rushed on. They were so cheap she didn’t even bother to pick them up. The huge department store Primark was to blame.
Primark became famous for its fast turnaround of London Fashion week garments, all at rock bottom prices. This lead to an initiative between the UK government and 300 big retailers, called the Sustainable Clothing Roadmap in 2009, to fight against what became known as the ‘Primark Effect.’ Scary. It also included ways to educate consumers on how to wash clothes at lower temps and less often, to reduce the energy spent in a garments lifetime. Not silly. Jeans last longer if you wash them less. It’s also a better option for our seas to mend them rather than hiffing them out and buying a new pair, if you think back to the dye factory. Why not support your local seamstress if you don’t sew.
On the subject of landfill, if you want to read the findings of another eco expert my lovely sister, Belinda Waymouth; journalist, turned actress, turned photographer, mommy and now UCLA student and Huffington Post Blogger, read her latest post: Sex, Lies and Garbage and weep. Belinda lives in the green village of Santa Monica and says, “Many of us are recycling our butts off. But consider the statistics: Americans are less than 5 percent of global population, yet create half of all e-waste, and 33 percent of solid waste…”
Thankfully, I’m been a recycler, composter, reducer and re-user since recycling bins hit the Auckland pavements over twenty years ago. But like all of us, I can do better. I felt I should deal with my fast fashion guilt first. And I have. I now avoid, like my middle child tidying her room, snapping up cheap bargains. I’m trying to change my teenage daughters mindset also. In this self-gratification age this is not so easy to do nicely. Bad cop it is.
Sister Belinda talks about bringing sexy back to frugality. Rocking your grannies green pant suit. Op shopping or buying vintage is not new to us. Back in our poor Ponsonby student/journalist cadet days we shared a fine collection of brightly hued 50’s dresses. Combined with our heavily Elnetted surf-blonde hair, pointy toed recycled shoes and large earrings we definitely had a unique style. Dorries were us. Such a pity those dresses wore out, our little sister Poppy would love them.
Anyway as summer turns to autumn it gets cool down south, so I went to Nearly New Clothing in search of a winter coat. OMG I was like a kid in a candy store, rewind thirty years! I looked for labels naturally. Designer labels. If you’re going to buy vintage it’s the only way. Couture prides itself on using long lasting fabrics, cut well and impeccably finished. I rifled through racks, ignoring the smell of previous owners. I tried on a Zambesi coat and an Adrienne Winkelman jacket. The latter, black wool with contrasting black velvet detail was perfectly tailored and fully lined and it fitted like a glove.
I handed over my $75.00 cash, then skipped along the street with my brown paper bag. Proud to have changed from fast fashion drone to tag hag vintage bitch. I’m in my 50th year and half way through my life (my great granny lived to 100), from now on until I kick the proverbial bucket I will make informed choices on ‘investment pieces’. Classical yet funky clothes made of long lasting, (hopefully ethically sourced and dyed fabric), with the aim of lasting me till I’m lying in my pine box.
That’s my body sorted. Shoes are a little trickier. I won’t be squeezing my feet into grannies kitten heels. I do own a pair of startling pink Terra Plana court shoes, made from old eiderdowns and vegetable leathers. Their motto is: ‘Think on your feet to survive on a changing planet’.