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Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution

Ruth Styles

15th September, 2011

Showing fashion at its worst while providing upbeat solutions is a tough call but Safia Minney has achieved it with Naked Fashion, says Ruth Styles

A page full of factoids isn’t usually the most gripping of reads, but the one towards the back of Naked Fashion shocked me. On a pretty pale pink page enlivened only with yellow sad and smiley faces was a list of facts so stark that they bear repeating here. In Britain, 1,500,000 million tonnes of unwanted clothes and textiles end up in landfill every year – an average of 30kg of waste per person. 10 per cent of all chemical pesticides and 22 per cent of insecticides are sprayed on cotton  - most of which ends up in the fashion industry in one form or another. Worst of all, a staggering three million people are poisoned – made ill – by pesticides every year.

This disgusting statistic and others like it show exactly why Minney’s book is so important and so timely. With fashion moving faster than ever and demand for clothing proving oddly recession-proof, it’s clear that we’re reaching the environmental tipping point where clothes – and people – are concerned. Ever increasing numbers of ‘must-buy’ and ‘hot’ trends, although not bad in themselves, litter the pages of fashion magazines, encouraging people to buy more, more and yet more without stopping to think what the consequences might be or about who might be getting screwed somewhere along the supply chain. This season, heritage, the 1940s, the 1970s, leather and curry colours make up the major trends, with micro trends such as faux fur providing additional retail opportunities. Keeping up with all of them means buying lots of new clothes, and while many will ignore retail’s clarion call, many more won’t.

All of that brings me to the key point of Naked Fashion, which is that far from eschewing the fashion industry and the lure of new clothes, we need to keep on buying but in a reduced, more ethically and environmentally conscious way. Indeed, to give up buying clothes altogether would put the millions of third world workers who depend on fashion for their daily bread in dire peril. That fashion can prove a boon for workers as well is driven home by a piece penned by Daily Mail Fashion Editor at Large, Liz Jones. Whether you like her or not, her account of a trip to the slums of Dhaka proves a moving and candid look at the seedy side of the fashion business.

Dolly, the 14-year-old girl working a seven-day week as an embroiderer, but earning only 2,800 taka (£23) per month for her pains, should be at school but needs the money to keep her family going. The loss of her job could have catastrophic consequences for her and her family, which is why Jones is against a total boycott of Bangladeshi-produced garments and suggests instead that UK brands insist on a 5,000 taka (£42) minimum monthly wage for the country’s three million garment workers. You would have to pay around 80p more for your new threads but is that really an insurmountable obstacle? I certainly don’t think so. After all, as one of Jones’ interviewees, garment worker, Sharti Arta says: ‘Come and see where I live. If you pay a little more, we can live a little better.’

Jones isn’t the only contributor to Minney’s tome though. The great and good of fashion are present and correct, including grande dame of the British style scene Vivienne Westwood, designer Bora Aksu and Harry Potter actress, Emma Watson. Westwood has no time for the idea that cheap fashion means that we’re all better dressed than ever, saying: ‘Someone said that fashion is aspirational and only rich women can afford it; but people have never looked worse. People don’t wear fashion, it’s called GAP and I think it’s like a gap between their ears!’ Instead, says Westwood, the way forward is to ‘buy less, choose well and make it last.’

Interestingly, a couple of pages on, there’s an interview with Jane Shepherdson, once of Topshop, and now CEO of premium high street brand, Whistles. She, too, has no time for the insatiable consumer culture this country has developed, saying that ‘the amount of clothes that we buy and throw away, sometimes unworn, is quite disgusting,’ before going on to point out that far from reducing the amount of clothes we buy, the recent recession has had the unfortunate effect of pushing people towards ever-cheaper clothes. But what of her own brand? Whistles are working towards becoming 100 per cent ethical, she says, but its not easy. Perhaps most interesting of all is her concurrence with British Fashion Council chairman Harold Tillman’s suggestion that VAT should be waived for ethical clothing. An intriguing idea indeed - take note George Osborne.

Naked Fashion is not a book for fashion experts, although those who take an interest in all things sartorial will love it, not least because of the glossy photos and the marvellous forest shoot. This is an overview of the big challenges currently facing fashion, written in a passionate, accessible and, in the case of Liz Jones, deliberately shocking way. It’s there to provoke you and make you think, without boring by focusing too much on minutiae – and I think, is all the more powerful for that. The only real downside is Lucy Siegle’s foreword with its typically misery-inducing approach setting a negative tone for what is overall, a very positive look at the ethical fashion business. Minney, who has already done so much to advance the cause of ethical fashion, is likely to win a few more converts here.

Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution by Safia Minney (£14.99, New Internationalist) is available from Amazon

 

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