There’s so much talk, and emotional guilt tripping, about sustainable, ethical clothing.
Yeah I know. We all know that sustainable is good. We all find ourselves, in times of feeling overwhelmed by our possessions, and guilt over our decaying planet, romanticise that idea of the minimal capsule wardrobe. One consisting of locally sourced, carbon neutral cottons and silks that have been spun by the happiest, well-paid, 52 weeks parental leave, an hour for lunch, and massages each Friday, silk worms. A pair of boots to last us sixteen winters. One coat that our great-grandchildren will inherit.
But then an hour later you pop onto ASOS and see that exaggerated fluted sleeves are in season and you could just cheekily nab that cute gingham top for $40. It’s only $40 after all, and it’s free shipping. Free shipping! If you order it now, it’ll arrive in time for work drinks on Friday night. Maggie from Accounts said the hot new guy, Andy, you know, hot-Andy, might be there, and you have a feeling that if he is in the same room as you, in gingham fluted sleeves, he’s definitely going to see you as the mother of his unborn children…or at least a pash whilst you wait for the Uber. Whatever comes first.
I, by no means, will ever preach or judge for these cheap, fast, impulse buys. For most it’s not a choice, it’s just how it is. A necessity. And besides, trawling sale coats on ASOS, at 11pm on a Tuesday night, from the comfort of my bed, is one of my greatest pleasures in life.
Still, I am aware of the importance of, when possible, having considered, quality, locally made pieces too.
However what’s frustrating me is that sustainable now seems to go hand-in-hand with expensive. Sustainable suddenly feels elitist, for the privileged, and out of reach. Which is about the most ridiculous and infuriating thing ever.
What used to mean thrifted, inherited, or self-made, now means arrives via plane, then, courier, wrapped in tissue paper, and costing upwards of $250. That’s not accessible. That’s not for everyone. That’s not the bloody point!
Quality, new, fashion has a premium price, of course. The design, time, craftsmanship, skill, labour – paid at decent wage. Absolutely, so it should. For garments that require great skill and time to design and make, it’s worth every dollar. I will never argue that.
(However their refusal to go beyond a size 14-16…now that’s something I will argue…that’s for another day.)
What I do object to is $350 for a plain, as simple as possible, cotton tunic. It’s a sack dress. There’s no fasteners, zips, detail, trimmings or pockets. It’s completely void of shape or tailoring. And usually, not even a sniff of colour, pattern or personality.
Do you know what else $350 could get you?
Sewing Machine $200
One term of community sewing classes $65
Scissors, thread, pins, tape measure $30
2.5 metres of cotton poplin or drill $35
A nice bottle of Pinot Gris $20
I know that being able to sew for yourself is a privilege that not everyone has. It takes time to learn and practise, access to equipment, as well as needing time to actually do the sewing. But surely if we’re really, seriously, talking about sustainable fashion then it should begin at home, with sewing, up cycling and recycling? Gifting our community with the equipment and skills required to be able to craft the basics for ourselves and our family, how amazing would that be?
Better than what happens now, which basically involves viral Facebook videos being forced onto us, showing overseas sweatshops, making people feel like shit for buying the affordable ‘fast-fashion’, whilst the ethical stuff remains diabolically out of reach. Of course no-one wants their clothing to be responsible for suffering and poverty. But what other choice are local designers giving us?
I’m no master sewer, but when I was twenty I took that single term of community classes and learnt how to sew a simple skirt and a top. I wasn’t amazing, but I picked up the basics. I now sew infrequently and without any form of finesse, patience, or dedication. But I can do enough to throw something very basic together for myself. If I accessorise the hell out of it, and not let anyone look too closely, the wonky hems, botched zips, and puckering are never spotted.
That tunic dress I’d been eyeing for $350? Instead I put my skills to use:
I picked up a vintage, floral, sheet from the Salvation Army for $2. Cut two oversized T’s from it. Stitched them together. Hems. Edges. Two pockets. Within two hours had my very own tunic dress.
Totally unique, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.
You know that old proverb about “give a man a fish” / “teach a man to fish”?
Let’s give that man a second-hand Bernina.