I’m conflicted about fashion at the moment. I’m uninspired by the clothes I see in fast fashion high street chain stores, but I visited six fashion exhibitions last year and I am eagerly awaiting upcoming exhibitions this year. I’m usually a traditionalist when it comes to fabrics, but I won’t stop going on about my comfortable and cool Po-Zu silver sneakers (“they are made from pineapples!” I shriek at anyone foolish enough to mention that they quite like my shoes). “Trends” to me seem to be stuck in a cycle (florals for Spring? How original!) but I’m always excited to follow young designers or ethical fashion start-ups on Instagram, and although I’m sentimental about the clothes I own and have a large wardrobe, I can’t seem to stop foraging in secondhand or charity shops in case I’m missing out on something. I’ve had to stop and think about what I want from the fashion industry, and more importantly, how to make it happen!
Fashion used to be shocking because it challenged stereotypes, subverted gender norms and broke down boundaries, now what’s shocking is the widespread worker exploitation and environmental damage. This is nothing new, the fashion industry was full of horrors in the past: after a Victorian craze for green dresses that were dyed with arsenic, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 killed 146 people when factory doors were locked and workers were trapped in the building. This led to the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and improved legislation for workers’ safety in the US, but we should have left this sort of tragedy in the past: toxic dyes and factory disasters have no place in a forward-looking 21st century industry.
The good news is that there are plenty of independent designers and brands innovating to bring us clothes that are kinder to people and the planet, and I’m going to support them as much as I can this year. Rather than buying safe, “investment” pieces, I’m going to buy clothes that put a smile on my face, that I want to shout about. If I’m really happy with my clothes, I’ll want to wear the ones I own more often and will be less likely to keep looking for something new. Instead of focussing on negative statistics that make people feel hopeless and powerless, I’m going to seek out positive messages to spread about fashion innovators; the people designing the silhouettes, fabrics and manufacturing methods that our descendants will be reading about in fashion history books.
I’m also going to apply the same high standards to the clothes I make for myself. I love the time I spend at work collaborating on intricate, unique clothes, but often make something simple and straightforward for myself, so I’m challenging myself to make imaginative use of my extensive fabric stash this year.
I bought two small-ish pieces of printed jersey in a charity shop, and was planning to make them into tube skirts, to wear with a black t-shirt or sweater. This wouldn’t have been the most efficient use of the fabric though, and I had some raglan sleeve dress and jacket patterns I had spent some time developing but had only used once. I had to use some scraps of contrast stretch fabrics to have enough for collars and a decent length hem on the dress, but I’ve ended up with two fun, eye-catching garments, and I regret nothing!
I went to a screening of the documentary River Blue this week, and although the film contains some pretty dire statistics about the state of the planet’s rivers as a result of pollution from the fashion industry, that isn’t the only message. The film also follows designers who are revolutionising denim production and finishing with new environmentally friendly techniques, and interviews the original designers of the finishing processes, who are completely supportive of these new ideas. Rethinking received wisdom and trying out bold new ideas is what fashion design has always been about, and the film has inspired me to explore new innovations and work them into my wardrobe, so check back for some futuristic fashion posts coming up soon.