Stepping away from fast fashion…

A friend and former Labour Behind the Label volunteer has just pointed up the recent book Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline.  There is a very interesting review and breakdown of the key points in this latest stab at exploding the fast-fashion, high consumption mindset that grips our society these days, in a seemingly ever-accelerating way.  Despite the awareness constantly being spread about the down side of mass over-consumption, we don’t yet seem to have reached the critical mass of thought that will provoke widespread action.  Hopefully the action-focused Sixers doing the Six Items Challenge will be part of the propagation of knowledge and action that needs to happen!

Cline’s book addresses shopping and the West’s close relationship to it and offers fairly common sense advice which shouldn’t be difficult for the average consumer to take to heart:

Overdressed is about reigning in out-of-control consumption.  It’s not trying to make people feel bad for buying clothes that they can afford.”

“Be more mindful when you go shopping. People are very impulsive when they shop now. You know, you’re usually not even planning on buying something when you do.”

“Buy what you need, buy things that you love, and take care of what you own.”

The review of Cline’s book does manage to delve into the issues of labour and unsustainable working conditions and, while discussing the inherent cost and realistic worth of a garment, quotes Cline as saying:

“People are so trained to want quantity over quality, to prize having a lot of clothes [and get them for low prices].  But clothes that are made in smaller numbers with good materials where the labor is fairly paid, it’s not going to be cheap.”

She also recommends learning to sew or using a tailor or seamstress to help alter and mend clothing.  Not only is this a great skill to have but an eye-opening way to learn just how truly skilled and fiddly each piece of clothing we wear was to create.  It reminds us all that what we wear didn’t come out of a machine, but out of the hands of a skilled machinist, likely being paid less than the retail price of that garment for a month’s hard work.  (In Bangaldesh the minimum wage is 3000 taka per month; equivalent to just £23).

On the sewing note, an interesting side movement crossing between need, practicality and art is the mend*rs collective – you can visit an interesting blog here to find out more …. Here are some wise quotes that came out of their recent conference:

Making and doing things with our hands is directly linked with wellbeing”.

“Clothes are integral to the way in which we form identity”.

“After mending a piece of clothing that you bought, say on the highstreet, you form a different emotional connection to it.”

Coming back to the problem of fast fashion addressed within Overdressed, though it touches on the problem of mass consumption and cheap goods spreading uncontrollably beyond the West – and really, with poverty wages, what are people in these countries supposed to buy? – the review does not reveal whether the book delves into the problem of supply chain workers’ livelihoods.  If we are to simply boycott high street brands (something LBL does not advocate) and buy only second hand or locally produced clothes, which ticks the environmental box, what then happens to the workers employed in the global garment industry?  The big unanswered question is how we rationalise the industry to create jobs with adequate security and a living wage for all the skilled workers in the garment sector, while reining in consumption and demand to a reasonable and sustainable level.  It seems that all things need to be moderated – a reduction in consumption; a growth in upcycling and local production; a growth in wokers’ wages and…. a reduction in the giant profits made by the brands who have got far too used to their unrealistic 80% profit margins.  Something has to give…

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