To Die For

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I’ve loved clothes from way back, but it’s only recently that I’ve become more aware about just where they come from. I’ve been looking around for a good introduction to some of the ethical and sustainability problems with mainstream fashion, and Lucy Siegle’s To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World turned out to be a great place to start. The book is geared towards a UK audience, but since I lived in London some of the giants of the High Street have been my faithful friends (thanks online shopping), not to mention having stores over here now (hello Topshop!). Also, while there’s nothing like the British High Street, we have our own share of Fast Fashion retailers here in Australia, who I imagine are no less guilty of fashion crimes than their counterparts in the motherland – and no, I don’t mean double denim. Siegle demonstrates, over and over and over, the ecological and social disasters wrought by big fashion in the bid to increase profits while lowering prices. It’s anything but pretty.

One of my favourite pieces of clothing is a 60s era Aquascutum coat I inherited from my grandmother, it’s a fabulous deep orange, impeccably cut, and the label says it’s by appointment to the Queen Mother. It wouldn’t have been cheap (and my Grandparents, while relatively well off, weren’t wealthy), it would have been an investment, and clearly, it’s an investment that’s paying off. 50 years later I still look forward to winter because I love to wear it, it still keeps me warm, it’s still rather beautiful. Since the mid 1980s we’ve been consuming clothes differently. Fashion has become fast – we buy trend driven, low quality pieces that make their way from the catwalk to out wardrobes at dizzying speeds, and we dispose of them just as quickly with huge amounts of clothes ending up in landfill, rather than being kept, mended, passed on and loved.

Siegle exposes the story behind our fast fashion fix. As clothes become cheaper and corporations’ priorities lie with making a profit for shareholders, it’s the people down the line, the farmers and factory workers, who bear the brunt of the fast fashion system. It takes a huge amount of resources to create clothes, and it takes people (often poor and vulnerable people) to put them together. Added to this is the sheer scale of the resources needed to create the millions and millions of items we buy. Fashion has a footprint, and it’s huge. Luckily, Siegle offers us an alternative, and it’s definitely on I’m excited to explore as I try and break my addiction to mainstream fashion. She calls it her “Perfect Wardrobe” and we can move towards attaining one by making sure we buy pieces that are sustainably and ethically produced, buying second hand and buying higher quality pieces we can wear year after year.

This book has totally changed the way I look at my (vastly imperfect) wardrobe. I wandered through Westfield yesterday, and while I was tempted by a few cheap and cheerful scarves, armed with this new knowledge I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. This book throws light on the glaring problems inherent in today’s mainstream fashion model. I doubt there’s any going back!