Welcome to a new monthly feature on the Fi & Me blog where we review a new(ish) book that we’d like to share with you. For our first book, we’ve chosen the non-fiction book To Die For – How Fashion is Wearing Out the World.
I am a dedicated (though maybe not always entirely stylish) follower of fashion and, despite my love for vintage and handmade, have often been known to succumb to the lure of ‘fast’ highstreet fashion to fill up my wardrobe – and the odd boring lunchtime.
But, recently, I’ve had this niggling guilty feeling about my own consumption (not just clothing, but ‘stuff’ in general) and I’ve become increasingly more environmentally and economically aware in my old age (ok, late twenties).
So, it was with equal measures of interest and trepidation that I began to read the debut book of environmental writer Lucy Seigle, which takes a deeper look at the world of ‘fast fashion’ – the kind of pile-it-high-sell-it-cheap fare that is rife on our highstreets nowadays.
In fact, it wasn’t until I started reading that I became quite so aware of just how prevalent unethical practices and unrealistic demands on supply chains were in satisfying our desire for a quick new frock. It turns out that it’s not just the retail behemoth that is Primark who is guilty of putting pressure on supply chains, but pretty much every big store and website in the UK (not to mention worldwide).
If most typical consumers are honest, the human element of how our clothes are made is something that one tries to shove to the back of one’s mind when purchasing a dress for £8. But fashion’s impact, whilst bad enough on this level alone, has an even greater impact on communities, economies and local environments than is conceivable at first glance.
Seigle doggedly uncovers the uncomfortable truth in every area of fashion; from the most commonly used fabrics – cottons, synthetics, leather and furs – to the way in which clothing is produced, consumed and disposed of, and even how it is sold back to third world countries at extortionate prices. To call it an ‘eye opener’ is a massive understatement!
Ok, so I may not be selling it here – hey, want some shame with your next purchase?! – but, if you want to understand exactly where your clothes come from then this forms a good introduction, if not to stop shopping on the highstreet altogether but to appreciate what you buy a bit more and perhaps buy less.
One way to support this re-education of consumers would be through more thorough labelling (think nutritional information on food). Currently, you’d be hard-pressed to find where a garment was made, let alone which country the fabric was produced or printed (several counties can be involved in producing one item of clothing). And there is a very interesting chapter on alternatives fibres, which I would hope are being explored as a realistic choice by the fashion industry.
What lets the book down is a lack of viable alternatives to highstreet fashion, or at least any that are readily affordable to all. And personally, I’d have like to have seen more on vintage, second-hand and recycled clothing as an option (the only example of recycling involves a dress costing £200).
The book may not have all the answers, but it did inspire me to question and change my own shopping habits. It was also the main motivation in my choice to make and recycle my own clothes this year whenever possible, rather than buying new, or shopping as a time-wasting recreational activity.
It may not be a lot but, until demand for more ethical clothing increases, high street alternatives will remain few and far between, so we can all do our little bit. Educating yourself is a good place to start.
To Die For – Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Seigle is published by Fourth Estate, RRP £12.99