Monday, 22 April 2019

Worn Out: the story of the clothes we throw away

Last year, people in the U.K. sent 350000 tonnes of clothes to landfill. I don’t know about you, but I find this impossible to visualise. Even breaking it down to a figure per person - approximately 5kg - it’s hard to imagine what that might look like. So I created Worn Out.



My sister and I, both recovering fast fashion addicts, had bags of clothes that we were absolutely planning to take to textile recycling. One day. When we got around to it. When we weren’t busy with something else. I combined the contents of these bags, and it turns out that this is what 5kg of clothing looks like! 



Before you ask why we didn’t donate these clothes - these weren’t clothes that charity shops or clothes swaps would accept. Threadbare pyjamas, ratty t-shirts, leggings that had burst at the seams, even (gasp!) my old knickers! These are the clothes that are most likely to end up in landfill. 



Even with the best will in the world, our clothes aren’t going to be wearable for ever. While more and more people are embracing secondhand shopping and swapping as a way of ensuring their unwanted clothes won’t go to waste, not every item of clothing is going to be a desirable pre-loved purchase. Most of us are going to end up with a collection of t-shirts, leggings, underwear or worn-out clothes that no one else wants.



While fast fashion isn’t “designed to fall apart”, the choice of cheap fabrics to keep costs down means that basic everyday clothing might be more delicate than we think it is. A washing machine cycle with a high temperature and a fast spin, or tumble drying, can wear down fabrics even faster, leading to a high turnover of clothing in our wardrobes. 




If we send these clothes for textile recycling, they are likely to be downgraded, into stuffing for pet beds, car seats or insulation. At the moment it’s a difficult process to re-use fibres from old clothes, as natural fibres need to be separated from synthetics, and most fast fashion clothing is made from a mixture of both. The shredded fibres then need to be mixed with new fibres in order to spin them into a good quality thread.



While businesses like Rapanui/Teemill and Swedish Stockings are closing the loop in their own supply chain by incentivising customers to return their worn-out clothing, this isn’t happening on a large enough scale to make our current consumption of clothes sustainable.



I’ve constructed Worn Out to show the sheer volume of fabric that could be re-used if we create a more circular fashion system. Think of the possibilities! I wanted Worn Out to look equal parts comical and overwhelming; this is a garment that wears you, and isn’t designed to look flattering (the passing resemblance to the memorable scene in Friends where Joey wears all of Chandler’s clothes isn’t entirely coincidental). The amount of clothing we throw away is absurd, and the way we are encouraged to consume clothing as though it was disposable is absurd. We can’t wear more than one outfit at once, and overconsumption isn’t making us happier or more fulfilled.



Ideally I’d like Worn Out to be an interactive piece of wearable art, something that other people can touch and even try on. It’s going to be making an appearance at the Ethical Influencers meet up and clothes swap for Fashion Revolution Week so hopefully this will be the first of many outings.



As a costume maker and a vintage fashion fan, I’m passionate about clothes as a means of storytelling. Worn Out tells a story about my wardrobe, but it's not the story of favourite clothes or treasured heirlooms. It’s the story of the hidden side of fashion, the parts we don’t show off on social media. It is partly a story of fast fashion failures; the t-shirts with warped seams, the leggings with insufficient elastic, the mistaken belief that fine jersey embellished with metal or plastic can survive a 40 degree wash and spin without ending up full of holes. But it’s also the story of the life I’ve led while wearing these clothes, and how some of them have come to the end of their useful life naturally. My body shape has changed over the years so certain bras no longer fit. Old t-shirts have been downgraded to painting clothes until they are so threadbare that paint has gone right through them. I’ve worn pyjamas for thousands of hours, despite the fact that I don’t really remember it. These clothes have kept me warm in winter, and cool in summer. Some of these clothes have travelled to different countries with me, others have never left my house.



The weight of Worn Out as it settles around your shoulders might feel like a burden, but I prefer to think of it as a reminder of our responsibilities. To look after and appreciate the clothes that hardworking people have made, and to think carefully about what happens to your clothes when you part ways with them.



In case anyone’s wondering what’s left over from Worn Out; it’s not a perfect zero waste garment but I did diligently save every scrap that didn’t make it onto the final design. This little bag of scraps creates an accessory to accompany Worn Out, and serves as a reminder that we can keep improving our ideas for a zero-waste fashion system.


Thursday, 11 April 2019

Can we start a Fashion Revolution by telling new stories?

Any fashion or costume creative will tell you that design is about telling stories. You are creating a mood, setting a scene, filling it with memorable characters. It’s easy to see this when we look at a catwalk collection or a lead actor in a sumptuous historical costume, but it’s all too easy to forget when it comes to our own wardrobes.

Bridget Harvey's work in Fashioned From Nature, V&A

Fashion exhibitions have become must-see events in recent years, and alongside sell-out retrospectives like Alexander McQueen and Dior at the V&A, other more personal fashion showcases have also proved extremely popular. The V&A exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up stayed open overnight so visitors could enjoy a glimpse of the artist’s unique clothing collection. As well as exhibitions of picture-perfect couture, like the Azzedine Alaia retrospective at the Design Museum, curators are also choosing to emphasise the relevance of everyday items of clothing with special cultural significance, like the Fashion and Textile Museum’s T Shirts: Cult, Culture and Subversion exhibition.

Bridget Harvey, V&A artist in residence

The clothes on display don’t have to be pristine pieces in order to make great museum exhibits. I was fascinated, seeing a selection of Isabella Blow’s enviable clothing collection at Somerset House, and realising on closer inspection that these fabulous examples of couture dressmaking showed distinct signs of wear and tear. Even as a dressmaker who knows how much time and effort goes into making a couture garment, it was hard to be annoyed. Isabella Blow has obviously been someone who loved her outlandish clothes so much that she simply had to wear them, even if they weren’t really appropriate for the occasion. 




Signs of wear and tear on a garment are often seen as a bad thing, a sign that the garment is “ruined”. But when the wedding dress I made for my sister ended up with a muddy hem, someone said “ooh, I love the ombré effect!” and we both thought this was brilliant. The dress tells a story of the day; a walk down a woodland path, a sudden cloudburst, a photo shoot in a meadow full of wildflowers.


Visible mending by Bridget Harvey

We are too hard on our clothes, rejecting them before we have even had the chance to get to know them. Maybe because they are so cheap, we see them as disposable, maybe because many of us don’t know much about the processes that go into making clothes. It seems so strange to me that most people will happily spend money on pre-distressed new clothing, but throw a garment away as soon as their life makes an imprint on it. 

Visible mending by Celia Pym


One of the V&A’s current artists in residence, Bridget Harvey, creates work that explores the art of repair and re-making. Discarded pieces of clothing are transformed with a combination of traditional mending techniques and more thought-provoking embellishment. Textile artist Celia Pym has also turned darning into an art form at the V&A, copying every bit of visible mending she completed on garments brought in by members of the public onto a tracksuit as a record of her work. I saw the tracksuit at the Subversive Stitch exhibition at TJ Boulting, alongside work by James Merry, who embroiders discarded logo sportswear with tiny intricate flowers, as though nature is slowly reclaiming our cast-offs.

Embroidery by James Merry


In the run-up to Fashion Revolution Week, Fashion Revolution have launched their latest zine: Fashion Craft Revolution. I submitted a story about my family’s sewing and crafting history, and although it didn’t make it into the zine it did get an honourable mention in this Fashion Revolution Blog Post. I’ll share my story on my blog separately later, but I’d love my readers to see the other beautiful and moving responses to this topic that are also featured in the post. We are sharing our stories in the hope that we can help everyone to see our clothes as part of the fabric of our lives, something rich in storytelling potential. For the sake of everyone on this planet, our clothes (and the people who make them) deserve more than our current throwaway narrative.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

My 2019 Six Items Challenge

Hello again!

Take It Up Wear It Out has been on hiatus for a few months because I’ve been moving house. I found my dream eco-home last summer, and finally after some drama and many anxious moments, I moved in at the end of last year (best birthday/Christmas present ever!). I’ve been working on making it my own, slowly but surely, and set myself the challenge of not buying anything new (except where absolutely necessary). I’m going to be blogging fortnightly from now on, and I’m planning to post about my flat as well as about my clothes; every sustainable lifestyle blogger succumbs to mission-creep sooner or later, because it really does become a lifestyle, and one that informs all of your purchasing decisions. 

But right now I want to talk to you about garment workers rights and questionable clothing choices: I’m taking part in Labour Behind the Label's Six Items Challenge!




Labour Behind the Label is a charity which supports the rights of garment workers around the world. Working with local and international organisations, they support workers in their often dangerous struggle to attain things we would consider basic human rights, like a living wage and a safe workplace. Workers are routinely fired, intimidated and blacklisted for standing up for their rights, and some have even been killed in their attempts to unionise and advocate for better pay and working conditions.  At a time where wage inequality is on the rise, it benefits all of us to stand with our fellow workers rather than turning a blind eye to their struggles when times are hard for us. 





The idea behind the Six Items “fashion fast” is to appreciate the clothes we often take for granted (and the people who make them). When we have access to unlimited cheap clothing, we don’t stop to think about the possibilities our clothes hold. How versatile are they? Where could I wear them, and how could I accessorise them to truly make them work for every occasion?

When selecting the Six Items I’ll be wearing for the next six weeks (don’t panic, I can still change my pants and socks), I started thinking about the way we buy clothes. Some people are probably well set up for a similar challenge, sensibly buying co-ordinating clothes to form a capsule wardrobe. But most of us buy clothes without much planning, and I’ll admit that when I’m scouring the rails of a vintage shop I’m not exactly thinking about whether my new finds will blend in effortlessly with my existing clothes. 




So for the next six weeks, I’ll only be wearing six items of clothing, all of which I bought on a whim, because I thought they looked fun. Three dresses, two jumpsuits, and a light jacket that I copied from a Topshop shrug I found in a clothes swap, and made on a whim because I wanted a winter version. A large part of my sustainable lifestyle is discovering imaginative solutions to problems, so I should (hopefully) be able to apply this to my own wardrobe!

Labour Behind the Label is a grassroots organisation and relies on donations, so anything you can pledge via my fundraising page would be gratefully received! I’m not asking you to sponsor me for wearing my own clothes, but if seeing me
in the same outfit day after day makes you think about the contents of your wardrobe, or the people who make your clothes, then please consider donating. If you find yourself absentmindedly buying a t-shirt from a fast fashion retailer in the next six weeks, could you spare the same amount again to help the person who made it?

You can donate here, thanks in advance!

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Caring for your winter coats

Our coats have a tough life. Out in all weathers, protecting us from the elements for six months of the year, then all but abandoned for the spring and summer until temperatures start to fall again. Coats are often one of our more expensive clothing purchases, and we want them to last for as long as possible, but we wear them every day during cold weather, so they are subject to more wear and tear than a lot of our clothes. If you’re worried that your favourite coat looks a little drab, here’s my guide to caring for your winter outerwear. 



Follow the care instructions...
Winter coats are designed to protect us from the elements, but sometimes they need protecting from the elements themselves. Leather shoes need polishing and waterproofing to keep the leather supple and our feet dry, and some winter coats need the same treatment. Barbour wax jackets are designed to last for years (they can be sent back to the factory for repairs) but they do need re-waxing to keep them waterproof. If you’re organised enough to remember in August, you can send your coat back to be re-waxed professionally, or you can buy a jar of their garment wax and do it yourself. It’s not a particularly messy process but it does take time; spending over an hour of gently massaging softened wax into garment seams sounds a bit odd but it’s well worth the time; my coat is fully weather-proof again.








...but don’t expect miracles from dry cleaning
If your coat is marked or stained, dry cleaning can work wonders. It isn’t always the best at removing odours though, and synthetic lining fabrics can retain odours too, meaning that your coat might not smell so fresh after a couple of warm journeys on public transport. You can clean a coat lining more effectively yourself, using a damp sponge on the lining. 


Try a cool wash
A lot of synthetic or cotton coats are designed to be machine-washed at a cool temperature. My green jacket was starting to show signs of wear; a 30 minute, 30 degree wash meant it lost none of its characterful wear patterns but is now a lot cleaner! If you can, put a synthetic coat inside a guppy bag, or in the wash with a Cora ball, to connect microfibres that could contribute to plastic pollution in our water supply.


Store your clothes sensibly
While few, if any, of us will have a perfect clothes storage system in our homes, we can keep our coats looking better for longer by hanging them on hangers, especially when we’re not wearing them every day. Hanging your coat directly on a hook, especially if it doesn’t have a hanging loop, can leave weird lumps and bumps in the neckline or shoulders of your coat, as the weight of the garment causes the fabric to distort around the hook. Using a hanger and fastening your coats up when you’re not wearing them means they will take up less space on a wall-mounted coat rack or row of hooks.



Mend before you wear?
I have a secret to share. The bound edge of the pocket in this coat came loose years ago and I never mended it, I just fastened it with some safety pins and tried to remember not to put small things in there. I’ve kind of got used to this temporary fix (even though it would take me less than five minutes to sew it back together) so I wanted to share this “confession” as a sort of permission for anyone who worries that their mending or sewing might not be up to scratch,  or that their clothes have to be pristine or they can’t be worn. Let’s face it, there are parts of all of us that are just held together with safety pins, but somehow we’re making it work every day. 





This brings me to the thing I wanted to share along with the tips: my thoughts on the value judgements we place on the way things look. I’m wearing my old, much-loved coats proudly because I don’t think there is anything bad about wearing clothes that look worn (we pay extra for someone to sandpaper our jeans, for goodness sake!), and that it’s not always necessary or practical for something to look pristine. Most of us have things we need to prioritise over tending to our clothes, but at the same time garment care is a useful skill that can save us money in the long run. If it helps, reframe this as a subversive and radical act instead of another chore you ought to be doing. Fast fashion relies on customer dissatisfaction with clothes that age or wear badly, so you can stop the cycle of consumption by loving your imperfect but oh-so-wearable clothes.



Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Sustainable Fashion Zines

I was really pleased to see Elle Magazine’s sustainability issue in September, it was the first glossy fashion magazine I had bought for years. I loved the thought-provoking interviews and uncompromising editorial: “if we don’t do this now, there will be nothing around to make fashion with in 20 years”. But I found one thing jarring: having to flip past dozens of pages of adverts for designer brands, some of whom have admitted to burning excess stock rather than reducing or recycling it. I know that magazines like Elle rely on advertising to make their magazine commercially viable, but what could fashion writing look like if it didn’t have to rely on brands that are taking their sweet time to commit to sustainability?



Zines are not a new phenomenon; they have been around for decades and were an important pre-Internet means of communication between fans. Created and compiled by people who were passionate about their interests, but weren’t finding the sort of content they wanted to read from mainstream magazines or official fan clubs, zines have provided a way for otherwise marginalised writers to get their voices heard. 



Zines have always been an important way to build communities, and while social media is making it easier for sustainable fashion advocates to share ideas and reach a wider audience, it’s lovely to see sustainable fashion zines providing the magazine articles I want to read, telling the stories that don’t fit neatly into a tweet or an Instagram caption. 




I’ve blogged before about how much I loved Fashion Revolution’s Loved Clothes Last zine; it’s filled with amazing artwork and photographs, and some fascinating and important writing. Their newest zine, Fashion Environment Change, is a small but perfectly formed A-Z of the industry’s impact on the natural world, and the work we need to do to improve things. 



Facts and figures are interspersed with poems and personal essays, and the zine ensures that it isn’t speaking for the people involved in different aspects of the fashion industry by giving them a voice. Nishanth Chopra, from Erode in Tamil Nadu, India, writes about the problems that textile industry pollution has caused in his home town, and gives an insider's’ view on what could be done to tackle this. The zine is illustrated by students from Central Saint Martins, encouraging a new generation of artists to collaborate on work with an important global message. if you want to find out more, you can read the Fashion Revolution zines online for free on their website. 



Sew Irregular is a beautifully illustrated zine doing what zines do best: allowing people to write about their passions and interests. There’s a fascinating mix of different voices: costume designers and drag performers talk about the processes involved in creating their outfits and personas, while the zine’s “long read” dives into the costumes worn by Janelle Monae in her music videos, and the cultural references she celebrates or subverts. 



Slow fashion advocate Caro Gomez discusses her journey as a designer and maker, and Lauren Sweeney from Salvaged Project describes how she raises money for charity by rescuing unloved clothes. As if that wasn’t enough food for thought in the first issue, there’s also a look at the relationship between mental health and embroidery, told through the examination of old clothes and new learning processes.



Little Black Pants Club have a novel way of distributing their zine/newsletter: it’s the packaging for their product! Every other month, as part of their pants subscription, a pair of knickers pops through my letterbox, and I carefully unfold the wrapping to read founder Alice’s latest reflections on the fashion industry. 



Her latest mini-zines have focussed on her role in the world as a small business owner: how to balance the need to make money in a capitalist society with a dislike of greed and excessive profits, the difficulties of juggling work and family life, and the mental and physical struggles with health conditions that make you less productive. She tackles some wide-ranging, important questions: can the human race get better at sharing the earth’s dwindling resources? Is empathy incompatible with strong business leadership? Who am I if I can’t do the things I used to define myself by? I love discovering the stories behind sustainable brands and receiving purchases in eco-friendly or reusable packaging, and LBPC are ticking all the boxes with this novel idea.





I might be tempted by other mainstream fashion magazines if they start putting sustainability front and centre, but first and foremost I’ll be looking for more zines to add to my collection. The zines I’ve read so far allow writers to express themselves honestly and joyfully. They are able to speak truth to power because there is no conflict of interest with advertisers or sponsored content. There is always a kindness to this honesty; no one is haranguing their readers or trying to spread negativity.

Alice from LBPC’s writing style is perhaps the most direct and irreverent, but to me it’s a very readable blend of dark humour, uncomfortable truth and the determination to live and work according to her values, which I really admire. Fashion Revolution’s zines suggest solutions rather than just pointing out problems, encouraging readers to understand the changes they can make on a personal level, as well as the contributions they can make to creating change on a global scale. The first issue of Sew Irregular really managed to evoke a sense of the joy that can come from expressing yourself thoughtfully and truthfully through what you wear, from using your clothes to explore your sense of identity or to help others.

I feel confident that we could all do with a little less negativity in our lives, so why not look beyond the magazine rack in your local supermarket for some fashion-themed reading material? I’d love to hear your recommendations for further reading too, so please get in touch!

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Your clothes are out to get you: a Halloween horror story

Hello, dear reader. I hope you are wearing your most comforting clothes, because I bring chilling tales from the realm of fashion, both past and present. Our clothes are meant to make us feel good, but sometimes they can do quite the opposite. Don’t seek refuge in your wardrobe if you feel scared, because your clothes are out to get you...



Highgate Cemetery is known for its unique and unusual monuments to the dearly departed, but one headstone stuck in my memory not because of its grandiosity or because it was the last resting place of someone noteworthy, but because it was the only one to record the cause of death.

Emma Wallace Grad
second daughter of
George Hebden Grad
Born the 20th August 1827
Died the 20th October 1845
In the 19th year of her age
From the effects of fire
Her dress having accidentally ignited
ten days previously

What a horrible way to go. The year of her death gives some indication as to how this could have happened; in the mid 1840s fashion dictated very full skirts supported by several petticoats, which could all too easily have swept too close to an open fire. The less sympathetic among us might scoff at how vanity led this unfortunate young woman to become a literal fashion victim, but the truth is that our clothes have been a source of deadly danger for centuries, and still are. 


One doesn’t have to stray far into the realms of fantasy fiction to come across a piece of jewellery with mischief on its mind. The timeless appeal of precious metals makes them the perfect way to beguile a hapless protagonist, whereas clothes feel more ephemeral; would Gollum or Bilbo have been inexorably drawn to an old sweater? Of course the reality is that the gold and silver we favour for jewellery is inert, unchanging, whereas clothes change with us. They adapt and react to our bodies, sometimes in ways that can actively cause us harm.



In an episode of CSI: New York, a young bride drops dead at the alter. The murder weapon? Her wedding dress, illicitly procured from an undertaker and sold as secondhand. The formaldehyde used to preserve the body had seeped into the dress, and poisoned its new wearer. It seems an unlikely scenario now, but if we travel back in time to the 1850s, poor Emma Wallace Grad could easily have been the victim of a different kind of fashion fatality. New chemical dyes were all the rage, but bright green (also popular as a shade for wallpaper) was made from arsenic, which reacted with the warmth and moisture of the wearer’s body to become an active poison. Is it a coincidence that Victorian women were stereotyped as weak and sickly when they were surrounded by toxic substances? 




Examples of clothes that actively wish their wearer ill are surprisingly few and far between in fiction; probably the best-known example are the scarlet pointe shoes that are the undeniable star of “The Red Shoes”, the ballet where the shoes force the unlucky wearer to dance herself to death. But our clothes don’t need to be enchanted with evil spells to cause us harm, or even death. Dancer Isadora Duncan had her life cut short by the long tasseled scarf that was her style trademark: it caught in the wheel of her car as she drove away and... well, perhaps you can imagine. 




I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt personally victimised by a benign-looking item of clothing. Anyone who has hobbled home after wearing a poor choice of footwear for an event, or experienced the singular sensation of being stabbed in the rib cage or armpit by an escaping underwire might recognise the feeling. After wrestling the offending item of clothing from your body, you stare at it in annoyance and disappointment. “How could you?” you think. “I liked you!”




You might think yourself immune to any fashion-based health hazards. If you wear comfortably fitting clothes, avoid dangling accessories, and ensure your clothes are well looked after, you might think yourself immune. I hate to break it to you, but your vigilance is in vain. Every time you (or anyone else) washes clothing containing polyester or other synthetic fibres, tiny plastic microfibres find their way into our water supply. Friends of the Earth estimate that 83% of our water is contaminated with microplastics. Unwittingly eating old bits of someone else’s clothes isn’t something we’d dream of doing under normal circumstances, yet here we are. 




So maybe the reason we don’t tell horror stories about our clothes is that it’s a little too close to the bone. We all have to wear clothes, after all, so to think of all the harm these innocent-looking and inviting garments could inadvertently do is very disconcerting.

Perhaps we need to turn a suspicious eye towards the true villains of the piece: the people at the top of an industry that has turned a blind eye to deaths of workers in its factories for centuries, and given no thought to  the devastation that its poisonous chemicals and harmful materials can cause. Do I believe they are doing it deliberately? No, but I do believe they don’t care, which is somehow scarier, especially when we’d like to think of our clothes as friends, not foes.

So beware the siren song of fast fashion, my friends. If that beguiling bargain looks too good to be true, maybe it is. After all, cheap clothes aren’t really cheap. Someone, somewhere is paying the cost.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Slaves Of Fashion: The Singh Twins at Ethical Consumer Conference

Whatever our age, gender or personal style, the vast majority of our wardrobes will have something in common: cotton. Whether it’s a smart shirt, floaty sundress, comfortable basics like t-shirts and underwear, or that pair of jeans that you can wear anywhere, cotton is a versatile natural fibre, breathable and easy to wash and care for. Cotton feels like such a friendly fibre, but its history is far darker and more complicated than its uncontested presence in our lives would suggest.



Let me describe a scenario for you: A government redirects its country’s rivers to provide water for intensive cotton growing. This engineering project, ill-conceived and badly executed, diverts the rivers away from a fertile inland sea, turning it into a salty wasteland. An island in the centre of the lake, once used as a weapons testing facility, is now accessible by land. Meanwhile, every autumn the nation’s teenagers are taken from their homes and forced to work as unpaid cotton pickers. If they don’t meet their almost impossible quotas, they are fined or expelled from school. I haven’t described the plot of a dystopian novel, this is genuinely happening in Uzbekistan right now.



Cotton’s role in the destruction of the Aral Sea has been documented in Lucy Siegle’s book To Die For: Is Fast Fashion Wearing Out The World?” and Stacey Dooley’s recent BBC documentary Fashions Dirty Secrets. But the worldwide history of cotton, over hundreds of years, is similarly complex: part of the fabric of our lives, but also responsible for global conflict and human misery. So how to tell this story? There’s no denying we have lost touch with where our clothes come from, but overloading consumers with facts and figures could cause people to switch off rather than engage with the subject.



Liverpool-based artists The Singh Twins have chosen to tell the story of cotton, focussing on Britain and India, through a series of artworks and poetry. The Singh Twins spoke about their Slaves Of Fashion series at the Ethical Consumer Conference on 12th October, and also ran a workshop which centred around the poem and what lessons we could take from it. Sadly my photos, snapped on my phone during the talk, really don’t do justice to these intricate and detailed works of art.



The works which trace the history of the cotton trade between Britain and India are in the style of Indian miniature paintings; they show the lives of the rich but are full of details which relate to the misuse of the environment and the mistreatment of people. The details are extraordinary; for example, the painting titled "Chinz: The Price of Luxury" appears to show a woman in fine clothes and jewellery, but on closer inspection the diamond around her neck is dripping blood and in amongst the floral patterns on the skirts of her dress are curling chains, symbolising the slave trade.



The wealth of detail draws the eye and rewards a closer look: the symbols of imperialism and colonialism reveal how reliant the luxury lifestyle of the elite has been on the slave trade in centuries past, and the global legacy this has left. Some of the works reflect on current trade wars, modern slavery and the greed of global corporations that perpetuates this cycle.



The Singh Twins “Slaves Of Fashion” film, a recitation of their poem about the history of cotton accompanied by details from their paintings, was nothing short of mesmerising. The verses linked the cultural and historical significance of cotton, the Industrial Revolution, the trans-atlantic slave trade, the British invasion of India, Partition, fast fashion and the global economy with heart-felt emotion that would have been completely lacking from a timeline of dates and place names.



As we discussed our impressions of the film afterwards, the same subjects kept coming up. Having the history of cotton presented to us in this very lyrical, visual way, the patterns were easy to spot. The cycles of industrialisation and globalisation, the cycles of exploitation of people and the natural world. The same power and wealth imbalances have persisted across centuries in different incarnations.

But the poem and paintings also contained messages of hope. Ghandi’s use of traditional Indian weaving as a form of protest, and the solidarity shown by Lancashire mill-workers who stood with their fellow weavers in India rather than falling for propaganda that would have pitted them against one another.


Global trade weaves the threads of our lives together, and the “Slaves Of Fashion” series by the Singh Twins is full of messages showing that this is even more relevant now than it was in the past. We need stories that alert us to the dark sides of the things in our lives that we take for granted, but these stories need to spark a desire for change, rather than despair. Fashion is reliant on strong visuals for its initial impact, so it makes sense that powerful images can also reveal the things that need to change for fashion to truly be beautiful, and for us to be truly comfortable in our cotton clothes.

The Singh Twins exhibition Slaves Of Fashion will hopefully be showing in galleries around the UK in 2019, for updates and a closer look at the paintings head over to their website: www.singhtwins.co.uk