Friday, 23 July 2010

Dear H&M...

Dear H&M,

I’m writing to you partly to make a serious point, and also partly to assuage my guilt at succumbing to that most primal of urges which has embarrassingly taken hold of me once again – the almost unshakeable urge to hoard.

On the 18th June I went shopping on the high street. To those who don’t know me, this is unsurprising and not particularly interesting either. So I’ll add that this was my first venture onto the high street (to actually BUY something I mean, I walk past shops all the time and no amount of anti-capitalist banter is gonna stop me using my shortcut past Selfridges) for over two years.

This is because I made a pact with myself to never again buy an item of clothing new, unless it was fair trade. My reasoning was that, previously, I had bought the vast majority of my clothes from charity shops anyway, so it seemed to me that you could quite easily get all the clothes you needed second hand. What, even your underwear? I hear you ask. Ah. Well, you’ve got me there, I’ve never dabbled in pre-worn pants. But then nor have I broken my pact to buy new ones. I just haven’t bought any. For two years. That’s not too bad is it? Admittedly I could do with a few upgrades, but anyway… Please let's get out of my knicker drawer and back to the point.

So, I went shopping with the sole purpose of getting myself a bikini. I was off to Glastonbury the next day and could feel in my bones that it was going to be a scorcher. So I had to find the smallest possible scrap of material that protected my modesty while maximising on breeze. So, after trying and failing in TK Maxx (delusions of greendeur – “it’s all out of season stock, by buying this stuff I’m diverting it from landfill”... erm, no, you’re not, GET OUT OF THE SHOP*), a spangly number in H&M caught my eye. Here’s the offending article itself (proof of purchase attached). Fellow magpies will no doubt approve. I’m such a sucker for something shiny and silvery (yes I know, sewed on by underpaid children – it’s not something I usually indulge in).

Waiting in a queue for the tills longer than my monkey arms (no mean feat I can tell you), I had plenty of time to sway between terrible guilt (oh shit, made in China, that’s definitely got to be sweatshops) and steely determination (it’s going to be friggin’ HOT, just bloody buy it, it’s not like you’re blowing a hundred quid). After a few wobbles when I really nearly left (due partly to a genetic predisposition to absolute impatience it’s true), I eventually got to the pay point and coughed up a tenner along with a little piece of my soul.

So, H&M, what I’m writing to say is this; taking on board the advice of campaign group Labour Behind the Label, I bought clothes from you and am now writing to you to say that I am a customer, but one who wants more. I’ve spent money in your shop, but I absolutely PROMISE I won’t do it again unless I see some good stuff happening. I’d particularly like to know what the worker who made my bikini in China was paid. What’s a living wage in China, compared to the legal minimum? It worries me that your code of conduct does not appear to guarantee payment of a living wage (ie one which covers the basic costs of living) to those who make the clothes in your stores. Your code of conduct instead makes vague approving noises about paying fairly, without committing to actually do it. This I already knew, but my recent purchase was made all the more excruciating by the recent revelations published (then quickly taken offline) by the Daily Mail, which discovered that your employees in Bangladesh have been having a pretty horrible time; barely paid enough to cover the cost of their rent, and fired if they attempt to bargain for a better deal. I want you to tell me what it is you’ll be doing from now on to stop these sorts of things happening in the future. Or I want my money back.

Emailed to H&M on 23rd July 2010. Awaiting response.

*More on this later...

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Lucy Lovin'

Having just been reminded of Lucy Orta, one of my art heroes from my student years, I thought I'd give some virtual space over to her brilliant art-fashion-activism fusion pieces.

I love the way her work brings us fashion fools down to earth and reminds us of clothing as a basic human need. And this is all the more apparent when she rinses that 'Street Style' aesthetic in her images...

All images Lucy Orta.

If you're in Devon this Summer/Autumn, get to this!

Fashion Footprints: Sustainable Approaches

Got sent a press release for this event at work last week. If you're going to be in the surrounding area in the coming months (it runs from August to February) I reckon it'd be worth making a detour for. It's being held at the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World, which is in Haldon Forest Park, so a great place to visit in its own right.

Image from CCANW's flyer: Collection 10, ReMade in Leeds, community made fashion

The events seem to encompass many of the less mainstream-friendly issues associated with sustainable fashion and it's a collaboration between an impressive array of ethi-fash peeps. The event I'm most excited about is the Ethical Fashion Insights conference on 4th November, which includes a presentation from fashion hacktivist Otto Von Busch, whose PhD Thesis I am impatient to start reading. (I'm not allowing myself to start on it until I've knocked off at least one of the three part-read books collecting dust on my bedside table).
If you're more of a reading achiever than me, you can download it as a pdf here.

This event was the first I'd heard about CCANW, but I love it already, not least because it's currently showing (unitl 25th July) an exhibition by Lucy Orta, an artist who I fell for big time while I was studying... More about her here.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Latest High Street Sweatshop Hall of Shame

A recent investigation by Daily Mail journalist Liz Jones* has revealed poor working conditions in factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh which produce clothes for Primark, H&M, Calvin Klein and Florence & Fred at Tesco.

Liz Jones spoke to several garment workers who were paid wages below those necessary to cover the basic costs of living. Some also faced intimidation or even sacking for engaging in strikes or supporting other workers in attempting to secure better wages.

Unfortunately this is hardly a rare occurrence in the world of garment workers producing clothes for the UK high street. However, it's good to see stories like this featured in the mainstream media. Even better when that story is attached to an immediate slacktivist action you can take while sitting in your armchair:

The Daily Mail article invites readers to sign People Tree's Humanity in Fashion petition today, for a minimum wage in Bangladesh of 5,000 taka (£46.82) per month.

The National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh has given the government until 27th July to treble the minimum wage. The government and big businesses need to hear how people are prepared to pay a little more to make a huge difference to the lives of thousands of people.

Get it signed!

*The article appeared on the Daily Mail website ( on 19th July 2010, but appeared to have been taken down the following day... Too late though high street, the world's seen it!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Made in Haiti

As part of the Ghetto Biennale in 2009, textile worker, artist and activist Carole Frances Lung worked with Haitian tailors to repurpose unwanted second-hand Western clothing which clogs the streets. Carole is aware of the strain that sceond-hand clothing imports put on local tailors, reducing the demand for their skills and their traditional garments. She says that multinational companies are also beginning to sniff out Haiti as the perfect place to manufacture their cheapo clothes destsined for export to the West, due to it’s vulnerability and likely acceptance of poverty wages. Her project, 'Made in Haiti', retaliates against this all round bum deal by selling her Haitian colleagues’ reworked clothing back to consumers in the US, from whence it came.

Her alter ego Frau Fiber also runs Sewing Rebellion, whose catchphrase is “stop shopping, start sewing”. She empowers people to loosen the icy grip of the apparel industry by teaching them to sew their own clothes. Check it out!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Gok Wan Go Further?

I’ve been watching Channel 4’s ‘Gok’s Fashion Fix’ on and off for a couple of years. After an extended holiday from TV, I was pleasantly surprised to see on my return that the programme had modified its message, in a good way. The more recent programmes have adopted a ‘buy less, wear more’ stance, with Gok encouraging clothes swapping amongst the hundreds of women who turn up to take part in his programme. He’s also telling us we need only 24 key pieces in our wardrobe, and advises to shop your shape rather than be swayed by constantly changing trends. For a mainstream TV programme, this is good stuff!

But wait, I’ve spoken too soon... Just as my little heart lifted, the second half of the programme kicked in - a fash-off, in which Gok goes up against high fashion boutique-owning shouty blonde lunatic Brix Smith-Start to prove that his stuff (high street) can cut the mustard against Brix’s (designer). Each of them styles up outfits inkeeping with the chosen current trends, then trot their models down the runway side by side in front of an audience as it bays for a filthy fashion fix.

Haaaang on a minute Gokkles…

Weren't you just telling us not to buy into trends and to buy less? Did you think that during the obligatory ad break brew we'd have forgotten all of this? And did you think you could then take your sneaky little opportunity to get us square-eyes' all fixated on model after model strutting past our screen in those “GAWjus” new trends, and if we like what we’ve seen we can buy the whole lot from the show's sponsor Is that really what you thought Gok, HUH?

But let’s be fair, it must be a tricky balancing act, what with fast fash being where the money’s at, yet if you're not at least pretending you recognise sustainability as an issue, everybody thinks you're a bit of an arsehole, don't they Stella McCartney?

Turns out that designer magpie Brix is actually more on top in this second part of the programme. She may have eyes only for the beautiful, but on Gok’s Fashion Fix this has led her (accidentally I’m sure) to traditional British craftsmen, such as leather brogue makers and mackintosh makers. She and 4’s camera crew trek over to the factory and watch the products being made. They are horrifically expensive and intensively laborious enough to warrant it. Witnessing the man hours and skill that goes into these items really hammers home the realities of cheap clothing on the high street. Yes, it should be impossible to make clothes that cheaply, and yes that does definitely mean that someone somewhere is getting royally screwed over.

Gok’s Fashion Fix could be an amazing influence on glamour gluttons across the UK, if it really took the bull by the horns and got to the heart of the debate. But while is piling up the cash I guess we’ll have to wait on that one.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Slow fashion on the up?

Just read this article in the Guardian. Apparently there's been an increase in "item-driven shopping" rather than trends-based shopping. Maybe that's the case, but an increase compared to what? Manic eyes-are-bigger-than-your-belly sport-shopping, where the "average woman" in the UK buys 34 new items of clothing each year, most of which will sit in the wardrobe, and if it's lucky get a couple of outings before being stuffed in a bin bag and dumped outside Cancer Research? Amazing.

The article mentions a couple of specific garments which epitomize the slow fashion, erm, trend: Gap's latest black trousers are, we're told, a modern shape, which tapers through the leg so they sit, with a neat turnup, on the ankle... Pardon? The words LATEST and MODERN sound dangerously out of place in an article about slow fashion do they not? Gap's concession to those of us who don't like to buy too many pairs of trousers sounds suspiciously to me like the currently on-trend peg-leg version in high street stores and fashion mags everywhere this season...

High-street chains have a flippin' LOOOONG way to go before they can say they've embraced slow fashion, and don't tell me it'll be led by consumer (lack of) demand. If the stuff's in the shops it's going to get bought by someone. Clothes companies are going to have to bite the bullet and reduce the size and frequency of their collections, end of.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Hand-Me-Down Heroes #4

Hand-Me-Down Heroes isn't about buying garments, it’s about treating garments like heirlooms, keeping it in the family, dragging fashion kicking and screaming through the generations, and still looking stylish while you do it...

The lovely Toria at Glastonbury 2010, wearing her Grandad's tweed jacket which she's altered to create this little beauty!

See her other stuff at: