You might think that asking someone to have a better relationship with their clothes is a bit strange. Well it’s actually more of a re-awakening of old values. Do you remember being told to ‘treat your clothes with more respect’ when you chucked them on your bedroom floor? Right now Fast Fashion means that it’s very easy to disrespect our clothes. Its so simple (and pretty cheap!) to buy an item of clothing in a shop or on-line just on a whim. High street fashion prices have fallen by 10% between 2003 and 2007 and large fashion outlets are proud to tell us that they can turn around a design from catwalk to delivery in 4 weeks. So what’s to stop you shopping till you drop and chucking out the items that you don’t want to wear any more?
But what about this ‘relationship with your clothes’ idea?
Part of the issue I believe is that most of us don’t know much about our clothes – they just appear in the shops and we buy them. In the past people would have been much more involved in clothing creation by spinning their yarn, weaving their cloth, sewing and knitting. Even the well-off had their clothes made by a dress-maker and would have been part of the process – selecting fabrics, choosing colours and designs and trying on the garment at various stages during the creation process.
And now for the carrot link……
At one stage most people grew their own vegetables or bought/traded them locally. In the past 40 years or so the abundance of vegetables available from wherever in the world has changed our habits so that we can pop to the supermarket for whatever we like (strawberries in December?) and we don’t expect to pay too much either. The supermarkets have done a great job at keeping prices pretty affordable for most people. However recently there has been a backlash – people are realising that there are knock-on effects. Food producers are struggling to produce at the prices demanded, workers are paid poor wages, chemicals have been introduced to prolong shelf life, produce greater yields and even improve the appearance and shape of our vegetables. More and more people are now choosing to buy organic vegetables or grow their own. The organic market is growing – sales were up 2.5% in January 2014 – and demand for allotments in the UK is at an all-time high.
Talking about Vegetables is Cool
So what is the attraction? Well if you know people who grow their own vegetables then you will find that they talk about vegetables A LOT. They find eating carrots that they have grown themselves exciting and say that they taste better. Basically they have built a relationship with their vegetables because they watched them grow from seeds or tiny plants, they nurtured them, cleared away the weeds, watered them and finally, when they were ready, they picked and ate them.
Links between Clothes and Carrots
I believe that a similar backlash is in the process of happening with the clothing industry. Disasters such as the deaths of 1129 people at the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh leave a bad taste in the mouth. Finding out that cotton is the dirtiest crop in the world – cotton crops cover 2.5% of the worlds cultivated land but use 16% of the world’s pesticides – is a stark discovery. On top of that there’s the wastage caused by fast fashion – two million tonnes of clothes were chucked out last year in the UK and while some people donate to charity most of it ends up in the bin and from there to landfill sites. Just as with our carrots, there has been a call for more traceable and ethical alternatives, plus a return to making your own, up-cycling old fashions into new, or buying second hand. Initiatives such as Fashion Revolution on April 24th this year (the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster) when major clothing retailers were asked to come clean about the lifecycle of their goods (they can’t because they don’t know), the growth of Ethical clothing brands (ourselves of course, People Tree, Frugi, Arthur and Henry to name a few) and a culture change on ‘second hand’ (now known as ‘Pre-loved’!) all demonstrate the demand people have to know more about their clothes and to build a better relationship with them.
Do you remember when you were a child absolutely loving a particular dress or t shirt? Does your child show an incomprehensible attraction to a particular item and insist on wearing it again and again? Well that is having a relationship with your clothes and I believe that when we all learn to love our clothes a bit more, helped by understanding a lot more about how they were made and who made them, then hopefully we will choose what to wear with the same love and excitement as vegetable growers who are picking their home-grown carrots!