The fast and the furious: High Street Fashion in 2013.

We all like a bit of a snigger about health and safety right? The fact that you can’t change a lightbulb or go up a ladder without having been on a specific training course, or that you need to fill in a special form if your child has tripped over and grazed their knee at nursery. (At one point, when Will was a bit smaller but no less accident-prone, I once suggested that I just signed a whole pile of them at the beginning of the week, to save time.)

The workers of the factory in Bangladesh that collapsed last week didn’t get a chance to joke about health and safety gone mad though. And anyway, it hadn’t gone mad, because there weren’t any regulations in the first place. The thing that has gone mad is the clothing industry.

Made in Bangladesh

Made in Bangladesh

The factory in Bangladesh that collapsed and then caught fire, killing more than 400 people isn’t the first incident to highlight the total lack of concern for garment workers’ safety and wellbeing, it probably won’t be the last. But this feels different. This feels like the one that should make us grow up and realise that something is wrong with being able to buy an entire outfit for £10. The real cost of those £8 jeans, £5 tops, and all the other clothes that are slightly more expensive, but still say ‘Made in Bangladesh’ on the label,  was highlighted in the pictures of families waiting desperately for news of their loved ones beside the rubble of the factory. Fast fashion really does costs lives, and it is time we stopped pretending that it doesn’t.

It’s very hard to equate the clean, expansive rows of clothing in shops on the high street and in supermarkets with the dirty, crowded factories where they are made, by workers too poor to be able to fight for any rights they might be entitled to. It’s time that we fought for them. And although I think there is a gap in the market for more clothing that is made in Britain, it wouldn’t be fair to just bail on these workers in places like Bangladesh. They have given us our fast fashion fix, often at great personal cost . We owe them the right to a well paid, safe job in a factory that doesn’t put their lives in danger. That’s worth another £5 on the price of our clothing, at least.

It’s a complex and difficult issue to talk about because it’s not just one chain of shops, or even type of shop that supports the practice of unregulated, underpaid work. Some retailers are better at distancing themselves from it than others. Some are probably worse than others, but it is very hard to find the information to prove it. Complicated and intricate supply chains are everywhere. Primark and other large budget retailers are the obvious target, but the fact that much more upmarket chains such as Mango and Bennetton were also using suppliers in the same factory indicates that the practice is far more widespread than that.

Garment Workers

The reason that Primark gets it in the neck the most is that it is the most obvious embodiment of the high-volume, low-cost, fast turnaround element of the fashion industry that should now have started to disgust us all. And clearly, Primark is not just a shop for people who can’t afford to shop elsewhere, so the argument that those shops exist to keep the poor in clothing is irrelevant. The fact that there is a Primark Flagship Store on Oxford Street says it all. And anyway, shopping at Primark is something of a false economy, because it is mostly badly-made, from low quality fabric. It doesn’t last.You end up having to buy more, three weeks later. But hey, that’s instant fashion gratification for you. (By the way, I am not saying this as someone who is immune to this urge to buy-something-cheap-now. I know that my current love affair with Zara is almost bound to end in tears, and that if I looked closely into their supply chain, I would probably end up finding similarly awful practice.)

So, what to do? My plan is this: firstly, to find ethical alternatives where possible. Ethical Superstore is a good place to start. But it is not always possible: ethical fashion is still not mainstream, and is by definition, more expensive. I do not live in fairyland. (Sadly.)

Secondly, sign this petition to put pressure on retailers to take responsibility for their workers’ rights and welfare.

Thirdly, remember that if that if a top only costs me a fiver, someone elsewhere is likely to have paid a much higher price for it.

Fourthly, I am going to write to my MP (Richard Fuller.) I’ve had enough (well, almost) of writing angry blog posts about the unfairness of it all; it won’t change the world. But I feel passionate enough to demand that my representative in Parliament asks some questions of the fashion industry, on my behalf. I’ll write him a nice little essay on my feelings on the matter. Anyone who wants to sign it, leave a comment below, or on my facebook page.

 

 

Advertisements

The Tale of Nancy and the Unicorn

This is a bit of a saga – you might need a cup of tea to accompany the following blog. Or some Kendall Mint Cake – that should sustain you. As the immortal Tilly (not mine, the one in Miranda) says ‘Bear with, bear with…’ Interestingly, Sally Phillips, who plays Tilly, describes her as Miranda’s friend, “monster idiot” and “language disease.” This is entirely by-the-by, but it turns out that Tilly is my new word-crush. I shall henceforth be using far more of her language right here in my blog.

Image

Sample: “I presume you are kiddingtons?” (translation: I hope you are joking.)

Back to unicorns. A while ago, Polly went through a unicorn-obsessed stage. As Polly likes to draw whatever she is thinking about at the time, the house slowly filled with unicorn pictures. I looked up some on the internet for her to look at; she wanted to know what colour they were and whether they had tails or not. And most of the pictures of unicorns looked something like this:

Pink Unicorn

Which is fine, if you like that kind of thing. But unicorns are such  interesting creatures; mythological, enchanted, magical. Powerful. Not swirly and pink (I don’t think. I do realise that they don’t really exist, by the way. Or probably don’t exist, anyway…) I suddenly wanted, very much, to do a t-shirt with a unicorn on.  And I remembered an artist that I had met at a craft stall once. She was selling artwork, and some bags that she had decorated with a chicken-print. Sarah and I loved them. They all had different decorations on, and we couldn’t decide which one we liked best, so in the end, we went and chose one for each other. I still use mine all the time. (This is a good explanation of how we tend to make very little at craft fairs  – if we sell stuff, we nearly always go and buy something.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The artists’ name was Nancy. Have a look at her website; her work is beautiful.  I finally plucked up the courage to arrange to meet her -I am always nervous of meeting people whose work I really admire; and she was bound to be really arty and cool, possibly a bit aloof . I met her in Pensieri, where she sells some of her work occasionally.  She was indeed arty and cool, but also really really lovely, disarmingly honest and interested in what I was doing with the t-shirts.  I liked her straight away, which clearly helps if you want to work with someone.  I love the idea of putting art on t-shirts. It’s a great way of owning and wearing brilliant, original artworks, and at the same time supporting local artists (and t-shirt designers – ahem.) Nancy drew and painted me the most amazing unicorn head. It was bold,  and floral at the same time. Perfect. I loved it.  And we printed it on a t-shirt. And it was nice: sweet, girly,  and pretty.  Polly liked it, other girls liked it. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to love it but it just wasn’t right. I fretted about it. I hate being disappointed with stuff. So I sold a few, but felt kind of bad. It just wasn’t the unicorn I had hoped.

So I worried for a bit longer, and then I got bored with being disappointed, and rang our t-shirt printing guru, Tricia, and told her I wanted to try again; to do the unicorn justice. I took a  deep breath and told myself that the extra expense would be worth it. I chose a different t-shirt colour to make the design stand out, and I told Tricia to make it BIG.

And NOW I’m happy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think it is both marvilisimous and tremendulant.

Want one? They go on sale this week. Very limited edition at the moment, but if they go down well there will be more!  You can buy them at our folksy shop here. Or email sarahandaliceclothing@gmail.com. They are a bit more expensive than usual. It’s a sad necessity. The prices of our t-shirts have gone up in the last year or so, but I am determined to stick with good-quality, ethically produced t-shirts. We could go cheaper but we’ve stuck with our principles. And with t-shirts we love the quality of.