A while ago, a friend of mine was working at a landfill site. Two arctic lorries had turned up full of clothes from a high street fashion retailer, and he had to sign off that the contents of the lorries had been buried. Maybe naively, it was the first time I’d heard of such a practice, but it genuinely prickled my human conscience. As a pretty psychopathic creative, I know that whatever it is that I’m making, be it clothes, words or music, I genuinely cannot help but weave a little bit of joy into every stitch, sentence or sound. I mean I can’t help it because it’s what I love doing. Whatever conditions existed in the factories where those buried clothes were made, they were all made by real human beings. Because robots can’t make clothes yet, other than 3D printed ones. And I found it incredibly tragic that the essence of humanity which had lovingly put that sleeve in – because you have to put a certain amount of love into it or its gonna look shit. But that joy, creative love and humanity was buried that day.
That was maybe 30 years ago, and we’re all used to knowing now, that a lot of fast fashion ends up in landfill. And because we’re used to it, it’s become normalised. Part of the process.
And we also know that the problems don’t end there. For example:
The amount of water required to produce the cotton to make a man size sweat hoody, is the same amount of drinking water as would sustain one human being for 24 years… 24 years! One human being!
I don’t know many of the facts and figures. There are many amazing people out there who do, and write blogs and books. All I know, as a seamstress, is that if I pick up a shirt on a rail and it retails for £4.99, something isn’t adding up. I know how long it would take me to sew a whole shirt, buttons, cuffs and all. The retailer will be taking half that money for a start, and rightly so, they have extortionate bills to pay. The supplier another cut, the factory owners won’t be going short, but for the sums to work, the makers, the producers and the environment must, MUST be losing out. It’s common sense right? We have got used to clothes being incredibly cheap. I could probably pick up a dress for a night out more cheaply today than I would have spent on a crushed velvet number for a goth night twenty (or so…) years ago.
Fast fashion is in no way sustainable. It smashes through environments, resources and communities, and then vast amounts of it end up in landfill when the quantities produced just aren’t sold. Post pandemic, our western High Streets are going to look very different with the selling of the Arcadia Group, and fewer department stores left. This will not only impact our shopping, our unemployment and our city centres, but the very infrastructure and back end of these businesses all over the world. And I’m sure Sir Arcadia clothes landfiller himself won’t suffer too badly, having been knighted in recognition for great social contribution… grrrr
But enough off the bad, how can we dress fabulously without this massive cost to the planet and the people on it? We can buy vintage, and enjoy the lasting magic of great clothes with the nostalgia of decades past. But we can buy new too. Business can be kind. Business can be circular and not follow the make, use, dispose model which we have become used to, but instead look to prolong the life of an item, produce it in harmony with its environment and find ways to recycle the product when it’s finished with. Businesses don’t have to make vast amounts of profits which shareholders can speculate on. Those kinds of businesses will always exist, because some people are greedy. And that’s ok. It’s just human nature.
But there is a choice.
Slow fashion; conscientious fashion; call it what you will, but I think it’s just about being kind. Appreciate the process your garment has gone through before it ended up in your wardrobe. Has a whole village had its water supply diverted so cotton fields can thrive? Has anyone literally died in a factory such as on 24th April 2013 when the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories collapsed? Sometimes it’s difficult to know, but there are more and more sustainable and organic fashion brands out there who do know their supply chains, pay their workers a fair wage and care how their business is run. Even if we choose 1 time out of 10 to give them our money instead, then I think our clothes will have come from a happier place. To use a quote from @packagefreelarder in Southsea and apply it to fashion – we don’t need one person doing slow fashion perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly. The multi nationals will always be there, and we can wave our fists at the big boys and girls, but we can also choose where to shop with our money. We may have to spend a little more, and wait a little longer. But we, and the planet (and looking fabulous!) are worth it.
I started HannahSouthsea in lockdown. I watched the Netflix series Next in Fashion, and was completely inspired to get creative. I’d already had my own fashion label, Spanbodywear, in the noughties so had the skills, a sewing machine, an over locker and plenty of fabrics and haberdashery and off I went. I am so grateful to everyone who has bought, liked and commented on my crazy garms already and I hope they bring as much joy to life as I get from making them. I use mostly organic fabrics but also deadstock which is reclaimed , recycled, what’s in the cupboard or left over from other companies – ie anything that hasn’t been bought new for purpose. I am learning all the time, and whatever the future holds, I choose to believe that it’s gonna be bright and bold but above all, a little kinder.
Be Kind – Be Boss – Be You