To kick off this extended review of Lucy Siegle’s book, “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?” I’ll start with a bit of personal background (which kind of reflects the way Lucy guides her discussion in the book, something that I found quite helpful). The next bit will look at some of the core points from the book that particularly interested me, and the last bit will be a critique and discussion of what I think Lucy could have expanded, and where I think I will expand my fashion future.
In my first year of Uni I met some amazing people. They seemed to know so much more about why the world was so screwed up. Young and eager, I wanted to do right by myself, and others, but I didn’t really know how. I tried to educate myself by attending Oxfam’s meetings about Fair Trade, and joined the Greens on campus. I began to question everything I bought. How was it made, and by who, and at what real cost? It sounded “green,” but was it? What’s the alternative? The questions always seemed particularly pertinent when it came to clothes and shoes (now it’s food). I started appreciating my mother’s addiction to buying things second hand, and bought a pair of No Sweat sneakers, which I walked to Uni in almost daily until they got holes in the soles (it didn’t take long, actually, and I felt a little betrayed to be honest). This is about the time fast fashion, the topic at the centre of Siegle’s book, began to kick off in New Zealand. Anyone who has bought a few new items at a mall in the last few years will know what I’m talking about: clothes and shoes that have become so cheap that even students can somehow afford them. Lots of them. Enough to be on trend for every trend. Then came the fashion blogs, which made buying all these cheap items socially acceptable (with a few gifted luxury extras): if these individuals, who now work with labels at the design level and get interviewed by international fashion magazines, could do it, surely everyone could. With fast fashion, it was. It was all incredible enticing. Like Lucy, when fast fashion emerged, I simply stopped having time to think about the wider consequences of the garments I was about to buy. Every sale item felt like a score, not a sore, even in my fairly eco-conscious mind.
One day I just stopped reading the countless (literally…I was too lazy to count them) fashion blogs in my google reader. I felt tired, and the magical fairy dust of fast fashion wore off. It’s a bit like the feeling you get after having too much fast food actually. Boy do the first few bites feel worth it, but then you need a lie down. Well, during this lie down, I stopped being interested in acquiring the next addition to my wardrobe (which had overflowed so much I had to dedicate a second rack to my wearables). Don’t get me wrong, there are pieces I still adore, and I haven’t stopped caring what I put on in the morning. There are still things I admire (even started a fashion blog dedicated to my admiration). I’m still not sure why I stopped wanting to buy new things, but when I read the blurb of Lucy’s book I felt like my neglected conscience finally broke out and did a smug little dance. My willful ignorance had finally found an exit.
As it turns out, the rather grisly truths about fast fashion were far worse than my conscience had imagined. When Lucy told her story about being sucked in to the sales rack, I felt relieved that I wasn’t alone. This relief soon turned into horror at the reality of continued sweatshop labour that has arguably gotten worse since the Nike and Gap scandals, and remorse for the people (mostly women) making our frivolous bargains a reality. Then there’s the guilt and fear about the ecological consequences of fast fashion that will inevitably come back to haunt us. My boredom with fast fashion turned into revulsion when reading Lucy’s book. I felt physically sick at some points, because quite unlike with food, the fast fashion purchases I had made were totally unnecessary – not just in a survival sense, but I mean they did not make me more popular, or happy…hell, some of my fast fashion doesn’t even make me look more attractive (and I know I’m not alone in doing this!). They were made in vain, in all the senses of the word.
It has been a few weeks since I finished the book, and now I feel a bit empty (not in an emotional way, just in a bit of a “now what?” way). I’ve had a peek at my long-dormant fashion blog feeds, scrolled through some relatively inspiring sustainably-minded designers, and currently am re-coveting some $200 bike pants I’ve been wanting for over a year. No new fashion purchases in months, although I did attend a clothing swap. I don’t feel empowered at all though, and I will elaborate on this in my eventual critique, but for now, I’m still waiting to be woken up, this time not into the nightmare that is the real world, but hopefully something that I realise is not a dream after all.