My dedicated investigation really began some time ago, at university.
After relatively little investigation I discovered criminal human rights abuses, draining of freshwater seas, slavery, human trafficking, poisoning, patented GM seeds, suicides, monsanto, oil companies, chemical spills, birth defects, cancers, forced bonded labour, suicides. This was met with total disinterest from my tutors, who thought that if you couldn’t see something was organic there was really no point in making it so…. and with this as my starting point you could say I am used to fighting what can feel like losing battles.
Having structured my own career path as best I could to allow me to participate in designing, making and educating around things… which can prove to be thoughtful and useful additions to the world.. I hoped I could prove there is possibility for positive impact through fashion and textiles.
However, I now feel I have a substantial internal, more personal battle to fight too.
The issue for me now, with over 10 years industry experience, I have a much greater awareness of the overall ecological situation our species faces on this planet, well the problem sometimes seems to be primarily that everything feels a bit pointless. Despair fatigue is the phrase that perhaps begins to explain something of it.
When I walk down Oxford street sometimes all I can see is blood, and hands, children at work, falling factories, droughts on smallholding farms, dead fish, orange rivers, and Philip Green getting fatter, and fatter, and fatter.
I started working believing I was an environmentalist, maybe an ecologist. someone who believed in saving resources, water, energy, to try and push back against the negative impact of the things I was obsessed with making.
I took a deep interest in textile chemistry and environmental science and eventually I gained more clarity – now, the interconnectedness, the social impact of both design and manufacturing, but also advertising, hyper consumerism and individualism, seasons eating their own arse as the system speeds up as if attempting to lap itself, it shows us ‘unsustainablility’ impossibly unsustainable on so many fronts that its farcical…. aside from the fact that I can see that ‘sustainability’ in business, under current, western, neoliberalism can’t ever be sustainable.
.. with over 10 years industry experience, and a much greater awareness of the overall ecological situation this planet and our species faces, everything just feels a bit pointless.
I have worked within commercial companies who would rather throw spare materials in the bin than give them away to charity or recycle them…. principally, in case someone else made a profit where they didn’t… really.
I have met buyers and range planners from highstreet brands who are so removed from the production of goods that they can crack vulgar jokes in meetings about poor living and working conditions of the people in their supply chains, within 5 minutes of complaining about how difficult their career is to hold up as ‘a woman in fashion today’. I’m not quite sure I fully understand how racist feminism works but I have a feeling fashion somewhere… knows the answer.
I have seen how many big brands will use a green project to their own ends, some, to develop internal capacity to use an idea or a process that they will only pay for if they absolutely have to, not wanting to support the progressive thinkers who have developed them.
I have seen those big brands who will cynically manipulate progressive design thinkers and practitioners for an ethical or sustainable project to add to their portfolio which they can use to impress investors, failing to properly run or promote it, in a kind of in-industry, finance focused greenwashing mission.
A progressive idea on the high street right now seems to be that if you waste your cheap clothes but carry them back to the shops they might give you some money off for being such a good consumer… you are proving your worth, you have too much stuff, you need to give it away, you are even happy to deliver it, washed, in store where you will inevitably buy more with the voucher reward they will give you… remind you of anything?
At present these items will go to be reused “wherever possible”… mostly sold in developing countries where they may be making new clothes for us, to earn their poverty wages, and buy our waste from people on their pavements, which they might wear to work..
the hypocrisy of people saying they can participate in the global garment trade whilst promoting positive ideals through collecting waste is a fashionable fantasy.
The image in my head here is one of the willing slave to fast fashion, one special demographic in the grand web of real fashion victims,
these ones are on our doorstep, trudging up and down our high streets, repaying the corporate brands for the wonderfully cheap crap they bring to our shores.
In the first decade of this century the cost of clothing in the UK dropped 25%… apparently we are grateful.
To me these seem to be toxic concoction of political problems. Political problems at odds with sustainability itself… as much as sustainability is at odds with fashion itself.
Then there are issues of self awareness, self obsession may be rife, but actual understanding is nowhere to be seen… no connection with the self when all your efforts are put into masking it.
Add to this the fact we are dealing with an industry which unashamedly revels in believing its own PR and bullshit and you are looking at a particularly heady mix… you are lost in a beautiful field of commerce, happily and repeatedly telling you it is art.
You have a fairly desperate dichotomy as an environmentalist with egalitarian ideals, anti capitalist tendencies, and fashion career.
You see, as a small brand, designer, or maker, we try to work against the system but we feel at a loss for our tiny voices.. if we try to get inside the beast and make a change from within we feel suffocated and powerless.
We watch Corporate social responsibility departments tick boxes and make payments to 3rd party auditing companies,
factory owners at home and abroad hide the kids, and illegal immigrants who work without rights, and brief the remaining staff on the correct lies they ought to tell….
smallholding farmers continue to commit suicide because they are trapped in debt, women and girls are bought and sold, babies are born on factory floors where mothers lack maternity rights..
nothing changes, except the style and the price which oscillates as we race to the bottom.
and perhaps it doesn’t help that us humans seem to work real fast, but think and make change so fucking slowly,
There are about 1 billion garments sold in the UK every year.
Annually we bury around 100million pounds worth of used clothing in the ground.
I have pause for thought, remembering an important moment of realisation I had some time ago…and its a moment I have remembered quite clearly ever since…
the reason that I do what I do is because I feel like I was put here to make things…
and when you feel you were put on the earth to make a certain thing sometimes that’s all you can face doing, certainly in the multi faceted misery of the present. To stay alive I must have an output, and like many of the other practitioners in my field I just need a way to qualify what I do as worthy or just.
Like most other actors in my field;
I want justify my desperate desire for people to look more fabulous…
I want to justify being part of the second most polluting industry on the earth, second only to oil production, and still call myself an environmentalist.
I want to justify wielding my creativity in the face of environmental and social catastrophe and using it to make dresses.
And that is the real reason why there is a sustainability movement in the fashion industry…. it appears paradoxical, because it just is…
and this where I am…. If I can handle being a massive hypocrite…. I can try to pay my bills….
I can at least do it with some self awareness, and aim to cause some trouble along the way…
If the environmental problems we face are really as bad as I think they might be,
and people are so slow to change…
If the body politic are so unwilling to try and comprehend the complexity of their privileged 21st century lives,
then perhaps making people look fabulous should still be my function in society.
.. suddenly its like dressing sexy at a really long funeral, or putting on your best kecks cos you know you’re going to die on the battlefield.