‘Cherish Your Wardrobe, this web ’ a seminar to discuss connecting luxury and quality to sustainability in fashion, remedy was held at the Innovation Centre at Central Saint Martins on Southampton Row a couple of weeks back. Chaired by Caryn Franklin, website a journalist and co-chair of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, the seminar really got to the core of the issues that surround sustainable fashion.
Panel members included Frederik Wilems, head designer at Gieves and Hawkes; Orsola De Castro, owner of label ’From Somewhere’; Carry Somers, creator of fair trade label ‘Pachacuti’; Lydia Patel, head of education at TRAID- Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development; and one of Central Saint Martins’ own, Mo Tomaney, research fellow in Ethical Issues and Fair Trade.
To kick-start the evening Mo Tomaney discussed her mother’s coat against a backdrop of a picture of her mother in said coat. She explained that this coat had cost her mother 12 times her weekly wage. This introduced the comparisons between the way we consume now and the way we used to consume. Lydia Patel quoted a frightening statistic, which states that we consume double the clothing that we did ten years ago.
This topic of emotional connection crept up time and time again. According to the panel members we no longer shop because we want to, we shop because we can. Lydia suggested that we “save up and buy something ethically made and of good quality, love it for as long as we can, and when we stop loving it pass it along to someone else who will love it for as long as they can.”
The seminar benefitted from impassioned speeches from the panel, in particular that of Orsola de Castro. Her business is in creating new clothing from the off cuts and discarded fabrics of large fashion houses and companies. Having gained considerable media attention and commercial success, she is now moving to create lines which are easy to reproduce in large numbers, whilst still remaining true to their individuality and recycling credentials.
However, as one audience member pointed out, the discussion is all too often directed solely at the consumer. It is of course quite right that we acknowledge our duty to make responsible choices when shopping, but the real power lies with the government. This was countered by Mo, who believes that the power of the public purse has greater influence that most realise, and that if change is to occur it must come from the streets.
Frederik Wilems, in his speech, remarked that Gieves and Hawkes continually support small mills such as Fox Brothers and Johnsons of Elgin, but that for the industry to really thrive in Britain we need more governmental support to maintain these small businesses and re-teach crafts that are falling out of fashion. He cited an example from his own business. Whilst looking through the archives at Gieves and Hawkes, he found a weave he wanted to reintroduce into their spring summer 2010 line. However, when he approached the mill it became apparent that the only man who knew how to make this particular weave was 80 years old and retired. Such was their passion to reintroduce this traditional weave, the elderly man offered to teach this weave to contemporary weavers.
This story perfectly illustrated the need for greater support for traditional skills. Carry Somers added to this discussion by explaining her work in Peru and Bolivia with Andean artisans. Citing Anitta Roddick’s biography, Carry established Pachacuti in 1992 before fair trade was in common parlance. She works primarily with panama hat weavers, and ensures that it is financially viable for these skills to be passed on through the generations through fair wages and business cooperatives.
Things got a bit heated when one audience member lambasted the panel for ‘preaching to and patronising’ those in the audience. She believed that the rise of Primark and fast fashion was another important step in the liberation for women, and flies the flag for the democratisation of fashion. The ‘p’ word was mentioned later when an anonymous audience member suggested that Primark should be shut down asap.
The prize for most inspirational speaker of the evening goes to Lydia Patel, the youngest and most optimistic of the panel. As head of education for TRAID, Lydia is involved in a number of their projects. She leads ‘Sew Good’ workshops once a month in TRAID shops all over London which teach people how to customise their clothes and create new and exciting garments. She also tours schools in the attempt to teach teenagers about the consequences of fast fashion, and also the benefits of recycling clothing. Her belief is simple, that ‘It is possible to buy clothes that make the world a better place.’ On that note the seminar was brought to a close and everyone was left with food for thought. The discussion does not end here though, and with a new governmental group formed with the specific remit of pushing for reform in the ethical trading initiative, the future is looking bright for eco friendly fashion.
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