Note: This post originally ran in November 2013 but is being revisited due to requests for a ‘good eco-fashion’ read. If you are after one, this is my all time favourite.
Ever sat around on a lazy Saturday afternoon and wondered where your t-shirt was made?
You are not alone. Most of us are guilty of purchasing and wearing items with little to no thought about how said items came into existence. We have been trained by the media to accept things at face value and assume that in this ‘modern day and age’ the ethical and environmental background work has been done for us. Our t-shirts are made by modern t-shirt sewing machines, cotton is harvested and sorted by huge tractors, and that when something is ‘handmade’ this is special.
Lucy Siegle takes our ‘modern’ views on manufacturing and turn them on their pretty, well-dressed heads in her book “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World”. You know those fancy t-shirt sewing machines that our clothing is made on in our minds? Well… sorry to burst your bubble, your t-shirt is likely to have been made by hand, and possibly the hand of someone who is under the age of ten who was sold into the garment industry by their parents. The cotton harvested to make your so-soft tee may have been picked by school children in Uzbekistan who were forced out in the picking field from dawn to dusk as part of their school curriculum.
I know what your thinking ‘this is all just too shocking to be true’ or ‘only cheap-ass dirtbag companies must treat people in that way’. Unfortunately there have been many big-name fashion brands over the years that have been caught up ethical scandals, and Siegle names and shames many brands we know (and may have hanging in our closets). Given that the date of publishing was 2011 it would be nice to imagine that in the years that have passed, that big companies would have cleaned up their acts.Unfortunately the news is full of clothing production related incidents like the Rana Plaza disaster where a garment manufacturing building collapsed and killed injured injured over three thousand workers in April this year. One quick google resulted in an article about a garment factory fire 16 hours ago that reportedly manufactured for the Gap, Walmart, and American Eagle (fortunately there were no deaths).
Siegle does a fantastic job of framing herself as ‘one of us’. She too is a consumer of fashion, one who’s wardrobe it stuffed full of unwanted items, mistakes, and drunken purchases. Unlike regular consumers, Siegle has stepped back and asked the questions many don’t, the who, what, where, when, how and whys of style, trends, raw materials, disposal, and fast fashion. The whole book from start to finish is engaging, warm, and personable, something that is difficult to convey when stating dry facts about cotton production or waste disposal. Be prepared for an emotional journey. The first time I read this book was on my lunch breaks from a position as sale assistance in a fashion retail store. I came back from lunch angry and empowered, a vigilante working to take down a large heartless cooperation from the inside (I may have talked a few customers out of their impulse buys, sorry store targets and manager).
If you have a few spare hours and a little bit of cash (or want to give your library card a dust off and a work out), I highly recommend this book as an introduction to the real goings-on of global ‘textiles, clothing and footwear’ beast.
Keep in mind that once you are enlightened to these facts its hard to continue as a blissfully ignorant consumer.