Lucy Siegle’s fascinating book aims to educate the reader on the realities of the fashion industry, and the many and varied ways that fashion is impacting upon the environment. The book also presents a chilling picture of the way that communities around the world are exploited in the name of fashion.
I was given this book as a Christmas gift, and I found it to be a compelling read. The author starts off by highlighting the way that fashion buying habits have changed over time. Women now own a larger quantity of clothing than they did forty years ago, but they spend a smaller percentage of their money on fashion. This is largely due to the rise of the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon.
The book discusses the idea of ‘fast fashion’ at length. This is when designer looks are quickly and cheaply reproduced by high street and discount stores and are sold to the public for a pittance. Fast fashion produces clothing that is cheap and up-to-the-minute fashionable, but is of poor quality. This has resulted in fashion items becoming more disposable than they have been in the past. People seem to be more likely to throw away items when they wear out rather than repairing them. It is also more likely for cheap fashion to be thrown away when it is no longer in vogue.
Lucy Siegel discusses the way that these fashionably cheap pieces are produced. In order to make them available to the public for such a low price, the manufacturers have to produce them for as little as possible. Often, this means resorting to sweatshop and home workers, who are paid a pittance and are forced to work in awful conditions.
Siegel goes on to discuss the environmental impact of certain fibres, including cotton, leather, fur, alligator and python skin and wool.
Finally, the author provides a number of solutions to the growing strain that fashion is placing on the environment. She suggests that consumers should refrain from buying ‘fast fashion’ items, and should instead spend their money on pieces crafted by environmentally-conscious designers. She encourages consumers to research the origins of the clothing that they are buying, and to consider environmentally-friendly fabrics, such as organic and fair-trade cotton, hemp and Peace Silk. She advocates a mend-and-make-do approach to repairing damaged or worn clothing. The author also urges readers to consider the manner by which they get rid of their unwanted garments, and suggests that swapping and donating clothing is better than simply throwing it away. Finally, Siegel tells the reader to cut down the quantity of clothing that they are buying, and to spend more money on better quality garments.
As a lover of fashion, I was shocked and humbled by the book’s message. It really forced me to take a look at my own buying habits. As someone who adores dressing up, but doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes, I’ve embraced the fast-fashion trend. It’s very appealing to me that I can get a huge quantity of clothing for very little coin. It has never really worried me that these clothes aren’t great quality, because I don’t intend to wear them for a long time. This book has made me re-think the value of some of the items in my wardrobe when I consider their origins.
For me, the most disturbing part of the book was the section that talked about the treatment of the workers who produce these garments. The human element behind the clothes is often subjected to long hours, threats, unbearable heat and enormous time pressure. Many workers are also put at risk by dangerous work practices. Although I was aware of the use of sweatshops, I had no idea of the gravity and extent of the problem.
Although I found this book to be a very inspiring read, I wasn’t overly impressed by the author’s suggestions for change. I felt that many of these suggestions were unrealistic for the average person. Most people don’t have a large clothing budget, and certainly don’t have the money to be splashing out on environmentally-friendly couture. I don’t know many consumers who would be willing or able to spend the time researching the ethical practices of the companies who make their clothes. I also think it’s unrealistic for a generation of people who have grown up in a world of fast, cheap fashion to be able to instantly switch over to the buying habits which were popular forty years ago. While these steps could have a drastic impact if everyone were to put them into place, the average person is unlikely to be able to implement these things into their lives.
If you’re interested in reducing the impact your buying is having, I would recommend reading this book and then making a decision about which aspect of the fashion industry you personally find the most troubling. For me, it was the abuse of workers, but you might be more disturbed by the use of animal fibres or the environmental degradation caused by fashion waste. Once you’ve decided on an angle, work on changing your habits to tackle this problem rather than trying to solve everything in one fell swoop.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be writing a number of posts to follow-up on this one. In them, I’m going to be making some suggestions about how you, the average reader, can alter your fashion habits to combat these issues, without blowing your budget or wasting bucketloads of time. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like me to write about, please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Has anyone else read this book? If so, what did you think?