I was reading an article today talking about the onset of the quarter-life crisis. At 28. What does life mean? Where am I going? Why is the world so terrifying? And, "I don't even yet know how to fold a fitted sheet".
We all know the answer to the first question was clearly spelt out by Douglas Adams. Let's not revisit that one.
The solution to the last statement, is, you are only 28. Life is awesome. You do not ever need to learn how to fold a fitted sheet. Once you fold it like Martha Stewart, you will never be able to find it amongst the flat sheets again. Be warned. You have better things to do with your time.
Instead, maybe we should be focusing much more attention on the things we can do, the impact we can have, the things we can create just for ourselves and enjoy. Individually, or collectively we have incredible power to change things we choose.
Don’t believe fashion can change the world?
Well it can. It does. It has and it will continue to. Because most of us got dressed today.
And somewhere close to 1 in 10 people in the world are employed in the farming, making, selling and logistics of fashion and textiles today. Which is a lot of clothing, a lot of furnishing, lot of jobs, a lot of people, using a lot of water, a lot of land and creating a fair bit too much waste.
You would know Lucy Siegle as a journalist, reporter, co-founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and as one of the Executive Producers behind the eye-opening fashion documentary The True Cost.
One of the most commonly quoted phrases in the fast fashion world comes from Siegle and always seems to resonate:
Fast fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying.
That brings it home, right?
I think many people today understand there are issues in the supply of fast fashion today. Sweatshops are something we all seek to avoid. But how often do we dig deeper? Right back through the supply chain, through not just humanitarian, but also environmental issues or animal rights too?
Or maybe we don't want to dig deeper because it is all a bit hard and not very nice and what can we do anyway.
We can (you can) do an awful lot. Incredibly easily, and stylishly, too.
Siegle has written an incredibly detailed look into what goes on behind the scenes, right down to the precise workings of the high street and high fashion brands. Lots of data, lots of information incorporating the full spectrum from farm to finished products and all across the world. Lots of ways you can be more informed and make a few better choices.
As just one example, who knew you could get clothing from design to store front, across the oceans, in just three short weeks? Or that some fast fashion stores are truly living up to their name bringing in new design collections, every week? No wonder there are so many big issues going on.
This has been happening for so long, yet we keep managing to forget about it. I worked for years in my little job focused on solving the world’s crisis in oil and gas and climate change and championing sustainability, eating my organic salad lunches complete with responsibly sourced tuna, yet spending my evening browsing the big shiny fashion brands on Regent Street.
I simply had no idea.
Siegle can fix that.
Not to Die For delves not just into the humanitarian issues (like the 1.5 million children working in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan), but also the environmental disasters too like drought, deforestation, food supply and the issue of GMOs. And it doesn’t just stop in Uzbekistan or India, but extends along the lengths of the Amazon and under the beautiful, terracotta rooftops of Prato. All culminating, as she points out, right in our very own sock drawers.
Siegle puts the power in our hands to become an informed consumer and to create a much-needed change.
It is the punchier of the books here, but it needs to be. We need it to be.
The best part is, Siegle writes with just enough humour to get us through the big issues.
Again, reminding us that there are solutions that don’t mean dressing in hessian bags. In fact, the solution could be as simple as being a bit more informed and “acquiring much more slowly”. (In my head, I place dots between the words, just in case I didn’t catch it the first time: Acquiring. Much. More. Slowly.)
Finally, I encourage you to read it, because at the heart of it all, noone (noone) wants to be caught out in Frankenpants.
I love Press’ book because it takes us into the glory of fashion. It is a great story to read (albeit factual), filled with tales of great designers and great designs, flamboyancy, counter-arguments, issues and solutions, interviews and even undercover missions into fur trade shops.
Press delves into what is one of the most simultaneously glamorous and depressing industries in the world, yet just when you start to feel overwhelmed, she brings you back with the tale of yet another wonderful, eccentric, fantastic personality or story from her life in the fashion world. Heck, even snail trails get a mention.
Press revels in the great things about fashion, all the while, comprehensively exploring the grave issues, how we got there and what we can do to make a change.
Press helps us navigate the issues without draining us of all hope.
Moreover, Press is a fashion writer for leading fashion magazines, who lives and breathes really great fashion every day. The best news is what if, Press reminds us, we can fix things by making better decisions, demanding more from brands and buying better clothing to truly last. By cleaning up the clutter of our own overflowing closets, we can perhaps look less dishevelled in the process and certainly rid our lives of one more element of stress. (There is a trend here. I am suspicious they might be onto something we should all take note).
Excitingly, current media articles promise me there is a chance that the honed-down wardrobe approach might also make us all really, really successful. Think one-outfit-wonder (like Adele on tour, Steve Jobs everyday, Mark Zuckerberg), culling our wardrobe (note: please give it away to people who will use it. Don't throw it) to a point we are ‘sane and happy’ (Drew Barrymore) or even, my favourite, the wear-the-same-outfit-everyday approach to give you your own invisibility cloak to keep those pesky paparazzi at bay (Daniel Radcliffe). I’m sceptical on the causation vs correlation implications here, but heck, I’m certainly willing to give it a try! At the least I think we all owe it to ourselves to wear clothing that simply, suits us. Not the latest mid-riff trend.
So, if you just want to start to get your head around what the heck is going on behind everything from Tesco active-wear to a Birkin bag, I'd definitely recommend starting here.
3. Business as Unusual, the Triumph of Anita Roddick, Anita Roddick
This is an oldie but a goodie.
I know The Body Shop many years ago changed hands and perhaps has had a few changes to strategy along the way, but, this was a book that caused a fundamental shift for me as a tweenager, many years ago. Through it, the late Dame Anita Roddick showed that, just maybe, business could be done in a completely different way.
Whether you are in a business or running a business or just like buying things, it reminds you that you can challenge the basis on which business is run. That it doesn’t need to just be about profits. It doesn’t need to just be a choice between greed, philanthropy or charity. That fundamentally, we can run business in a very different way, where right from the start it is done to support and empower people all along its journey, from the farmer through to the customer. It's not really a charity, it certainly is still a business, but not as we know it (captain). Business as unusual, you could say.
At the time it was clearly rebellious, seeking to put power back into the hands of farmers or producers and its customers. It wasn’t just the messages about its sourcing principles that resonated, it was Roddick's messages to customers too.
It is a book that reminds us that we have a right to think differently to everything going on around us. As heroine-chic soared in popularity in the wider 90s market, The Body Shop sent a message to its young customers, empowering us to think about our selves, the media, the world in a very different way.
Most of all, I have never forgotten from Roddick's book the now oft-shared but poignant phrase (translated from the Dalai Lama XIV):
If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.
I'd recommend you don’t do that, but simply start from a base of believing you are anything but.