Who Made Your Pants?

Gorgeous Pants. By women, for women.

Ain’t fashion funny? or… A fish out of water…

Last week I went to a conference on Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion (LCF). I was delighted to be invited, it’s just great that such a prestigious college is championing this new face of fashion, and it was a great opportunity to meet new people and talk about new initiatives.

But… I’ve never been a ‘fashion’ person. I love clothes, and I love how they can help people feel good. There is no doubt that clothes can affect the way a lot of us feel about ourselves. I love the way good underwear can make you feel taller, not to mention stop backache. But ‘fashion’, or at least my understanding of it (a merry go round of styles invoked cyclically by designers that tend to stick to wearing lots of black) has never done much for me. I like clothes to express something about the person wearing them, and I’m not sure mass produced (particularly, fast) fashion expresses anything more than a desire to fit in and follow the crowd. I don’t need to be told how to dress – I can manage that fine by myself. And I find it strange to be told that I ought wear this shoe or that skirt or this trouser length. Why? What will it achieve? I like difference and individuality and innovation. And I wear things I’ve had for fifteen years because I love them, and the way they make me feel.

So it was strange to be at a conference on fashion for me. A fish out of water would describe, pretty accurately, how I felt. It seemed to me that a lot of people there wanted to ethic/green up fashion, whereas I was coming from the other end and starting with ethics and not thinking of ‘fashion’ as such but thinking instead just of ‘clothes’. I was dead chuffed to meet some like minded people in the midst of the fashionistas, and hope to stay in touch with them. But it really opened my eyes and made me see that whomadeyourpants? might have a harder battle on it’s hands than I’d thought in some ways. I don’t want it to be part of the ‘fashion’ industry. I don’t want to have to use teeny tiny cake hungry models to be accepted. I’ve been to fashion shows before, but I am always stunned by the size of the models. (I’d had a piece of cake in my bag earlier that day, given to me as I left a meeting with a group of women here in Southampton. I’d eaten in the park next to Bethnal Green Tube, while watching squirrels run and adults rustle joyfully through the leaves, all the while thinking how lucky I was to live in a world where there is cake and freedom. But looking at the girls who opened the conference with a fashion show, I couldn’t help but feel I could have kept the cake and shared it. They looked so hungry!) I want to use real women, all sizes, all colours. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

The show before the conference was amazing – truly. Some really innovative approaches had been taken by designers, interesting use of fibres and it showed, happily, that at the cutting edge of fashion study in the UK people are really aware of the impact of sweatshops and child labour and want to make changes. This is all good news. I’m not sure how effective the goodwill will be at making changes – for as long as people want to buy as many clothes as they currently do (and this number is increasing – research shows that growth in the fashion industry over the last few years has been largely due to volume increases, not price rises. This means that people are buying more, cheaper clothes. One source suggests women now buy an average of 71 items per year as opposed to 51 a few years back) and think they have the right to low, low prices, exploitation in the fashion industry will continue. There can never be much left over for the worker out of a t shirt costing even a fiver, let alone under two quid after the retailer, distributor, transporter and manufacturer have taken their cut.

The conference itself was really interesting. There were loads of people, perhaps 250, and it was the culmination of a long period of hard work by the LCF and they deserved the praise they were given for achieving it. There were buyers, designers, retailers, journalists… but as one person pointed out, no workers. We talked, in the group I was in, about responsibility and it was interesting to hear the differing viewpoints about what changes might be made, what barriers there are to change – it was pointed out that manufacturers are already subject to a barrage of forms and policies and as they become more burdensome, they stop engaging with the UK. Tricky. But I had some good conversations with people who are interested in maybe selling pants, and will people who work in recycled materials. It was absolutely worth going.

Some of the lasting impressions I’ve been left with will take a while to shake out of my head. I don’t think I’ll be wearing my tights over my shoes, or wearing anything made out of wallets, but I will be reading up on the designers that exhibited, and following up on contacts I made over the two days.

I keep thinking – how can ‘fashion’ EVER be sustainable when it encourages people to change and buy more and new every few months? I’m just not sure it can. Unless the clothes are all compostable. But more so, I keep thinking ‘what do these people eat?’ I know it’s the College of Fashion but really… four lettuce leaves, eight pine nuts, twelve slivers of beetroot, a disc of bread and about an inch cube of cheese do NOT a lunch make. Not for this Ms UK Average size anyway!

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