Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Making work for idle hands - my renewed love of knitting

During 2016, I accidentally took up a time consuming and ultimately self destructive hobby: Anxiously Scrolling Through Social Media, Waiting For The Next Disaster. It’s the opposite of my ideal hobby, involving passive consumption rather than active participation, and it will never lead to a tangible result or goal. And yet at times it became almost a compulsion, so I turned to knitting. With my hands full of yarn and needles, trying to decipher the unique language of knitting patterns, I wouldn’t be able to sneak a peek at any of my mobile devices.

As well as enjoying knitting as a cosy, solitary activity; holed up in my flat binge-watching box sets on Netflix, I’ve also become a social knitter- in a pub, cafe, someone’s house or any welcoming indoor public space. I’ve found social knitting has cemented and deepened some of my friendships; the lure of doing something creative as well as having a drink and a chat has encouraged me to make more plans with friends after work, even on cold dark evenings when the sofa beckons after a long day.

Both my grandmothers were avid knitters, and I’d inherited a lot of knitting needles and the remnants of their yarn collections - I recognised some of the colours from cardigans they had knitted for me when I was a child! Trying to figure out what to do with these odds and ends (not enough to make something substantial out of, but I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them out), I discovered Knit for Peace, and knitted up a baby jumper just before Christmas. The pattern turned out to be the perfect size to use up my pink and purple yarn.

As well as trying to turn my leftover yarn stash into presents for other people, my family and friends have given me some fantastic knitting themed gifts recently, and I spent a really relaxing Christmas knitting this super cosy scarf/shrug hybrid.

After receiving some lovely natural yarn from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust shop as a gift, I’ve also started thinking about how I’ll source my yarns for upcoming projects once I’ve depleted my current yarn stash a bit; if I’m going to spend weeks or months making a garment I can afford to take my time to look into some eco-friendly, sustainable options.

The hours it takes me to complete a simple project means it’s a hobby I won’t be able to monetise, but that’s one of the things that makes it so relaxing to me. I enjoy watching a garment come to life in slow motion; the action of creating, of focusing on making something beautiful, is its own reward.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Starting my personal fashion revolution

My dissatisfaction with ‘fast fashion’ began several years ago, but I hadn’t thought to blog about it because I didn’t think I was doing anything special or noteworthy, and I certainly don’t have the perfect ecologically sound, sustainably sourced wardrobe. I wanted to make more positive, thoughtful choices, but the more I read about the problems with the fashion industry (waste, pollution, destruction of the environment, exploitation of garment workers, the list goes on…), the more I began to wonder how my personal buying habits could possibly affect such a vast global industry. I worried that even making ‘good’ purchases could be full of hidden pitfalls- would organically sourced cotton clothing be made by workers who were paid a fair wage? If I buy from the ‘Eco' range of a fast fashion retailer have I just been hoodwinked by their marketing? Tansy Hoskins, the author of ‘Stitched Up- the anti-capitalist book of fashion’ describes this as ‘ethical calculus’ and argues that it doesn’t address the underlying problem of overconsumption.

It seemed like there was no perfect solution, and I have definitely been part of the problem: for years I was one of those people who viewed shopping as a hobby, and bought far more clothes than I really needed. In fact, I owned so many clothes that I didn’t really wear most of them all that often, and I was washing items carefully and mending things I really liked, so nothing was wearing out. With my clothes storage at bursting point, and new financial responsibilities to take into consideration, something had to give.

I don’t think I made a deliberate decision to scale down my clothes purchasing, I just stopped enjoying a certain kind of shopping. I’d browse ‘must have’ lists in magazines and do some window shopping, but fast fashion had suddenly become uninspiring. By contrast, finding something unique and unusual in a charity shop or vintage market felt fun and exciting, and removed the stress and inevitable disappointment I’d sometimes feel trying to track down a particular trend on the high street.

Taking part in Labour Behind the Label's Six Items Challenge in 2014 was a big turning point for me, as it made me really think about what makes a piece of clothing a ‘must have’ item for me, and how important it is to appreciate and care for the clothes I already have. As a dressmaker myself, I thought about the disrespect I had shown to my fellow garment workers (working harder, faster and in far more dangerous conditions than I would ever be forced to) by viewing the clothes they made as disposable, while I expected the things I made to be cherished and valued.

Finding different ways to rock a jumpsuit during my Six Items Challenge made me realise how much I'd undervalued my accessories in the past! 

My focus for my wardrobe this year is to make sure I am enjoying my extensive clothing collection to its full potential- altering things to fit better, mending things before they wear out beyond repair, washing and storing everything carefully. As and when things wear out, I’ll think carefully about how best to replace them, and how to recycle or responsibly give away items I no longer use.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Around six months ago I wrote this article for The Boomerang Press, and with their permission I'm reposting it here, as an introduction to why I wanted to start up a style blog that rejects 'fast fashion' and aims to find the ways in which clothes can be expressive, exciting and non-exploitative.

Are we being assimilated by fast fashion?

Fashion has never been more affordable or more accessible, but as it becomes more generic and disposable, are we losing touch with one of the most enjoyable aspects of clothing; its ability to help us express our identity? Whether we like it or not, the clothing we choose to wear (or have to wear) on a day to day basis says a lot about our identity. Even if we don’t have to wear an official uniform for work, we often end up choosing an unofficial uniform; expressing our affiliation with a sports team, a band or a subculture group. We can express a complete indifference to, or an in-depth knowledge of the latest trends with our fashion choices. For me, this performative aspect is one of the most enjoyable things about clothing; being able to choose who I want to be in the morning and dressing accordingly.

When a t-shirt costs the same as a coffee, it would seem that our options for self-expression through fashion were limitless, but I’m not sure this is the case. I’ve compiled my ridiculous dressing-up box of a wardrobe over 20 years (a velvet blazer, bought with my first clothing allowance at 14, has somehow survived numerous wardrobe culls; some undertaken for reasons of space and some out of sheer embarrassment), and for me the thrill of the chase goes hand in hand with my love of clothing. I’ve saved up for party dresses, scoured charity shops and thrift stores, swapped items with friends and made my own dresses and accessories. I loved the idea of fast fashion, and I still have plenty of items from the cheaper end of the high street that have washed and worn well.

But I’ve recently fallen out of love with fashion, and fast fashion in particular, as I’ve seen the imagination and creativity that is so vital to good design edged out in favour of quick turnover and profit. Intricate detailing, pattern matching or good pattern placement takes up time during the making process and uses up more fabric, and good quality, durable fabrics and fastenings are more expensive to produce. All these things seem to have gone missing from the high street recently, replaced by vast numbers of simple-shaped garments, made to increasingly arbitrary sizes.

Fast fashion feels like a placebo; the one thing we can afford in great quantities when larger long-lasting purchases are almost laughably out of our reach. But it’s doing an increasingly bad job of keeping us happy; we may be able to fill our wardrobes with clothes but none of them were designed with us in mind, and none of them really fit. Sizing for women’s clothing in particular varies from shop to shop, and leaves a lot of shoppers feeling miserable; either because they weren’t the size they were expecting to be, or because there was nothing suitable for their body shape at all. We end up feeling that there is something wrong with our bodies because they aren’t the right shape for the clothes; it takes courage to argue that there is something wrong with the clothes because they do not fit our bodies.

While fast fashion may have created the illusion of making clothes shopping more democratic, at least in the West, cheap clothing comes at great cost to the environment and to the wellbeing of garment workers abroad. Throwing garments into landfill after only a couple of wears, or buying something and never wearing it at all has become normalised, and it’s no longer possible to turn a blind eye to this. If what we wear is part of our identity, should we be so keen to shrug it off and dispose of it every time something new comes along? And as the exploitation of garment workers garners more media attention, we have to accept that if we buy in to fast fashion we are condoning this; our privileged position as first world consumers is also part of our identity.

I don’t think it’s shallow to enjoy expressing ourselves through our clothes; our fashion choices enable us to find common ground and strike up conversation. I love seeing someone wearing an obscure fandom t-shirt and thinking “I understood that reference!” At a time when we’re encouraged to present ourselves as a bland, palatable ‘personal brand’, being outrageous or unpredictable in our clothing choices is almost a subversive statement. I enjoy flouting ‘style rules’ and encourage everyone else to do the same; ignoring attempts to homogenise consumers by dictating what is or isn’t ‘appropriate’ for people of a particular size, age or gender is, in my opinion, a much better way to make clothing more democratic.