Licentiate column 28/07/11: To Die For

There’s an immense pressure on anyone with a discretionary income to be aware of the repercussions of their shopping habits.  Buying high street?  That cotton tee may be killing the environment.  Brand name sneakers?  Quite possibly stitched together by a prepubescent child for pennies a day.  Surely that high-end piece is manufactured ethically?  Beware; the ‘Made In Italy’ tag may be the only Italian aspect to those new shoes.

A new book, ‘To Die For’, by environmental journalist Lucy Siegle examines the ever-growing shopping habits of women from developed or rapidly-developing countries.  The picture she paints is both compelling and terrifying.

Over the course of the past two or three generations, while the Western world expanded economically, we were quietly nurturing new hobbies.  Among the foremost of these new interests, which include eating out and seeing how big a television we can fit into our sitting rooms, shopping has become of of the most contentious.

Buying clothing has evolved from a necessity to a fine art.  We scour online for our personal poison, whether it be the best in bargains, luxury accessories, esoteric labels, handcrafted garments from stay-at-home unsung heroes or exclusive, small-run produced goods.

The instant gratification one feels when making a purchase takes on a new significance when the amount of lives that are denigrated, humiliated and corroded are uncovered are factored into the equation.

One by one, a slow drip-drip-drip of faces pass you by.  Here, the children forced out of school into the cotton fields to reach shipping quotas.  There, a town forced to relocate because the local tannery is dumping chemical-laden waste water at an alarming rate into the nearest river.

It’s not just the human cost that adds up.  The environment hasn’t exactly been helped along by the shady, sometime illegal methods of processing fabrics.  As a card-carrying carnivore and (second-hand) fur wearer, even I was disgusted to read about the methods employed in processing python skin for handbags (‘forcing hosepipes into their mouth, blowing them up with water to loosen the skin and then impaling them through the head before the skin was ripped off’).  Oh, did you know that the python is an endangered species?  I didn’t.  Not until now anyway.

It’s a devastating read both in terms of content and impact.  The blinkers aren’t so much removed from our eyes as they are ripped off, then fashioned into an especially stinging whip.  A necessary tactic, this book forces the reader to evaluate their shopping habits, often with incredibly depressing results.

Before opening it I had a more than a pinch of personal smugness for buying second-hand and managing to avoid Penneys.  That feeling had evaporated completely by page two.

If you’re concerned about ethical fashion, it is all to easy to be dismissed as a hair-shirt wearing polemicists getting her soapbox, goddam hippy kicks.  In reality, this is an issue that affects everyone.  With a positive review from no less a source than Vogue it seems that the ethical fashion tackled in ‘To Die For’ is, ironically, the newest trend.  And not a hair shirt in sight.

7 thoughts on “Licentiate column 28/07/11: To Die For

  1. there indeed is a downside side to fashion. for every fashion article manufactured, an animal is killed, a village is exploited, someone’s rights are violated somewhere in the globe. but i hope those who believe in the cause of this book do not attack fashion itself but the manufacturing process which is faulty. we should identify and pinpoint the source of the problem first.

  2. Just found your blog and I love it! Totally agree with this post, really want to read this book now, fast fashion and over consumption are such a big problem today. There’s not enough information either for consumers regarding the issue. A huge amount of people I know have no clue about what has gone in to the manufacturing process of a piece of clothing, and buy carelessly. There needs to be more publicity regarding the problem.

    • So true – there’s needs to be more publicity for this issue in such a way that it doesn’t guilt people into changing. Read the book if you get a chance, it’s highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about these things. And thank you for your kind words about the blog!

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