It’s a great leveller, clothing. Young or old, rich or poor, lover or hater of fashion, you have to buy and wear clothes. It’s actually illegal not to.
But who knows where our clothes come from?
I’ve been thinking about this because of the new Mary Portas knicker range. She’s launched a new UK company that makes lace undies. She’s trained up young apprentices, re-opened a factory, and persuaded big department stores to stock her new wares.
In fact, if you read this Daily Mail article, you’d get the impression that Mary is the new saviour of manufacturing in the UK. Nobody else makes pants here! Everyone told her she couldn’t do it! She’s providing employment where David Cameron has failed! Etc, etc.
Hmmm. This has caused a bit of a stir because, as you’ll find out if you read this post by Kiss Me Deadly, quite a lot of people are already making underwear in the UK. There’s a list at the above link. Here’s an example: the company Who Made Your Pants, who not only make lingerie, but also campaign for worker’s rights and create jobs for refugee women.
I’m in two minds about this. It is a shame that Mary Portas couldn’t have built on the existing UK manufacturing sector. But unfortunately the world we live in is all about PR and marketing, and ‘Mary saves UK factories!’ is a better story than ‘Mary helps some other people who’ve already started saving UK factories!’
At least this is bringing the issue into the public consciousness (there’s a TV show to go with the knickers – it starts airing next week).
Because I think that most people never give a second thought to who makes their clothes, beyond some vague, uneasy ideas about sweatshop child labour, or maybe the unlikely image of robots cutting out and stitching material.
And you can’t really blame them, because the whole process is shrouded in mystery. If I look at the label of the top I’m wearing right now, I can see that it was ‘Made in Mauritis’. It’s sewn from cotton jersey. It has kimono sleeves, and has been constructed with an overlocker and a cover-stitch machine. I know all this because I make clothes myself. But the list of things I don’t know about this top is much longer:
- Where was the fabric made?
- Who sewed the seams?
- What sort of conditions were they working in?
- How much were they paid?
- How many miles did this top travel before it ended up in a Dorothy Perkins shop in London?
There’s been a lot of attention in this country lately to where our food comes from. More and more people are eating organic, growing their own vegetables, and asking where the meat they eat comes from and how it was raised. I think we need to take a lesson from this and pay more attention to the clothes on our backs. What do you reckon?