In February I was lucky enough to attend a Q&A session between the MP Mary Creagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee and Lucy Siegle, Sustainability expert and author of To Die For: Is fashion wearing out the world?' around the current critical role of the fashion industry in contributing to climate change.
They discussed many of the issues raised by the recent auditors report Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability which confirms concerns about the environmental and social impact of 'fast fashion': ''The way we make, use and throwaway our clothes is unsustainable''
It was an absolutely inspiring half an hour for me but this one point particularly struck a chord. Mary praised the success of the Slow Food movement. This was founded by Italian journalist Carlo Petrini in 1989 in response to the opening of a McDonalds on Rome's Piazza di Spagna, with the aim of rediscovering the flavours of regional cooking and banishing the degrading effects of fast food. It's success as a movement has led to the demand for and the increasing ability to be able to find out where our food was produced and who by. This is something which has always been at the heart of what we do at Olive and Rosy.
However, she pointed out how much more difficult it was to do this when it comes to how we choose to clothe our bodies. One especially memorable quote was from one of her meetings with a high street retailer "I know more about the lives of the pigs that make your sausages, but you can’t tell me about the lives of the women who make your clothes.” There is a clear need for a Slow Fashion movement within the industry and society.
Professor Kate Fletcher from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, University of the Arts London, draws out the potential for fashion to learn from the movement towards more a more conscious relationship with food in her research project Fashion Ecologies
LEARNING FROM LOCAL FOOD
The principles and practices of local food set a course to change what we eat. As a movement, local food iswell developed; a fusion of small-scale regional producers, distinctive gastronomy, celebrated seasonal availability, farmers’ markets, foraging skills, celebrity chefs, among others.
Can local food initiatives lend themselves to application in the fashion sector? Can they give expression to values of localism – resourcefulness, responsibility and sufficiency – for fashion?
We love being able to tell the story of our food at Olive and Rosy and this is something we have always aimed to replicate with our clothing range upstairs. I love that we are able to hand pick so much of the clothing we sell straight from Italy and that we try to extend lifespan through pre-loved, vintage, up-cycled and end-of-line pieces too but it is was a challenge to find out the true origin of new Italian garments further back in the supply chain. The clothing industry is definitely lagging far behind food in its transparency at present.
In many ways Italy remains as inspirational a champion of Slow Fashion as it does for Slow Food. Italian clothes tend to have a classic, timeless aesthetic, often with colour being the only variable that is led by trends. True and traditional Italian design knows its own worth and speaking generally, Italian consumers buy less but buy better, taking good care of their clothes with seasonal storage and a commitment to their upkeep. The vision of impeccable style which Italy is famed for is all put together with just half the amount of clothing that the UK consumes each year.
Certainly, these are all good foundations for a mindful wardrobe. However, there have still been some questionable practices, such as the destruction of end-of-line designer pieces to protect brand integrity, lack of clarity over the sourcing of the original fabrics used and a lack of immunity to social injustices. 'Made In Italy' or Europe does not automatically guarantee the fair deal and conditions for workers we might expect nor quality craftmanship, due to rise of sweatshops and loopholes in labelling legislation which can mean that sometimes only the very last part of the manufacture process has actually taken place there.
In the same way we have, as a society, embraced a desire for provenance with what goes into our bodies, we must do the same with what we put around the outside of them. We relish the flavours as we enjoy a an authentic hand crafted Italian dish, we need to do the same when handling fabrics, looking out for marks of the craftmanship. We enjoy the tales of how our cheese has been made by a small producer but how often do we ask about who made our clothes?
This is a change that will, of course take time and require a shift in our expectations. We are starting to be prepared to pay a little bit more for something special to eat but it seems it can be a little harder to shake the cultural conditioning that has come to expect bargains whenever we shop for clothes. If we set the premise that garment workers are paid well in safe and fair conditions and that the fabrics our clothes are made from are sourced responsibly, it becomes clear how so many of the prices of 'fast-fashion' clothing are just totally unrealistic. Everything we consume has an impact, but we have the power to shop mindfully and perhaps even begin to create positive change. As it will always be as part of our needs as a human to warm our bodies with clothes as it is to nourish them with foods, fashion has a huge potential for positive impact.
What can you do?
- Join in Fashion Revolution Week with us from 22-28 April 2019. Look out for events near you and ask brands "Who made my clothes?" in store or using the social media hashtag.
- Opt for more ethical and sustainable clothing and fabrics whenever possible, support initiatives with greater transparency and that are creating positive change.
- Buy less, buy better. Loveyourclothes.org produce some great guides to quality checking here.
- Extend the life of garments through care, repair and restyling. All of our latest clothing pieces come with tips to help with this.
- Donate no longer worn clothes or bring in to our dress agency service.
Further Reading and References:
Lucy Siegle - 'To Die For: Is fashion wearing out the world?' 2011
Fixing Fashion - Clothing Consumption and Sustainability Audit Report, 2019
Valuing our Clothes Report 2017, by Wrap
'How to be a Fashion Revolutionary' plus lots more references and great material over on the Fashion Revolution website