The ethics of fashion are hung out to dry. Lucy Siegle is a British journalist and television presenter who focuses on environmental issues and ethical consumerism. In her first book, Green Living in the Urban Jungle , Siegle encouraged readers to adopt a greener lifestyle. The testimonies on the back cover initially lured me into a false sense of anticipation, with Vogue.
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Lucy Siegle is an author, journalist and presenter based in London. She has written a weekly ethical living column for the Observer for over the last decade, while also authoring two books. Lucy is also an Executive Producer on The True Cost and we sat down with her to talk about the factory collapse at Rana Plaza, what change if any has happened in the industry since then, and how she now purchases clothing. How did you first become interested in writing about the effects of the fashion industry?
You could say I never left. The stories I unravelled about the fashion supply chain were unbelievable in terms of egregious pollution and blind exploitation and the story has just got bigger and bigger. Follow the money, follow the oil, follow the fashion. After writing the book, the worst industrial tragedy in the history of fashion took place outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh. What happened that day and what did it feel like for you to read the headlines as the story unfolded?
Oh, I still find it really difficult to talk about. I felt a profound sense of despair. We are coming up on two years after that horrific event, has there been substantial change? A lot of brands are speaking more openly today about their CSR efforts.
How are you able to determine the difference between real dedication to change and simply more sophisticated PR? I get suspicious when the PR is super sophisticated but the business model stays the same!
That worries me. With some notable exceptions, the fashion media remains rather silo-ed focused on aesthetics, shows, celebrities — all that jazz. Increasingly its job is to flog product so it tends to be uncritical.
Meanwhile the big names in apparel retail are part of huge groups, possibly involved in other sectors with huge, corporate influence, lobbyists and all that attends global players.
Both luxury and fast fashion have become investor driven in the last years and this is the market they tend to respond to. I definitely buy them with a heavier heart! This means I spend a lot more on my clothes than I used to for fewer items. This also means I acquire much more slowly.
I even knit my own sweaters. I also had to give up trends. Is it possible for us to correct the trend towards more and more cheap disposable clothing? Oh, I used up my ultimatum above! At the moment the fashion industry is going nuts for circular economy stuff, biodegradable fabrics and clothes recycling. All good stuff — to a point. There are still a lot of technical barriers — such as in clothing recycling, where too many novel blended fabrics add complexity — in reality it will take extraordinary investment in recycling systems etc.
The more biodiversity with smaller hubs of makers and styles and fashion cultures, the more resilient it will be. What are the things you see taking place today that makes you hopeful moving forward? Secondly, a brand like People Tree featured in the True Cost that is producer centric coming up with solutions to all these apparently intractable problems.
And yet these are the companies that pretend they are in the business of creating opportunities in low-wage economies. The most shocking thing was when I realised that most western buyers were using completely nonsensical calculations when they placed orders in first tier factories. I realised there were a number of flashpoints in the supply chain that were adding up to extreme exploitation and possible catastrophe and that this was a standard business model.
So many of those flashpoints led to Rana Plaza. Opportunities were missed to reinvent the supply chain and I cannot say with any confidence that there will not be a repeat of Rana Plaza in terms of scale. Hundreds of people have lost their lives, been injured or had their health compromised by producing garments since Rana Plaza and the garment industry remains dangerous, polluting and energy intensive when it need not be any of these things.
My feeling now is that brands and retailers were allowed to control and lead negotiations in the aftermath and were not selfless enough in the way that they approached them — and you might say, why would they be? It is a total disgrace that the compensation fund is still depleted and people may have died from their injuries while awaiting compensation. Is sustainable fashion a contradiction or a real possibility?
But the following needs to stop: fashion has been co-opted by turbo charged capitalist corporations who are kicking the shit out of it and stripping fashion of its culture. This will be the end of all fashion, sustainable or otherwise.
When I watch the film, there are glimpses of the stuff I love — the excitement, the glamour, the making of the clothes — the downright absurd the fashion haulers made me laugh a lot and the utterly shameful I cried a lot when I watched the final cut.
My biggest hope is that it joins the dots for everyone that watches it.
To Die For Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? – BOOK REVIEW + Interview With Author
Lucy Siegle is an author, journalist and presenter based in London. She has written a weekly ethical living column for the Observer for over the last decade, while also authoring two books. Lucy is also an Executive Producer on The True Cost and we sat down with her to talk about the factory collapse at Rana Plaza, what change if any has happened in the industry since then, and how she now purchases clothing. How did you first become interested in writing about the effects of the fashion industry? You could say I never left. The stories I unravelled about the fashion supply chain were unbelievable in terms of egregious pollution and blind exploitation and the story has just got bigger and bigger. Follow the money, follow the oil, follow the fashion.
A Conversation with Journalist Lucy Siegle
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