When I started work as a personal stylist, I admit that concern for the environment was nowhere on my agenda. Absolutely nowhere.
I honestly put no thought as to how my clothes were made, the conditions in which they were made, the materials they were made from or what happened to them when I was finished with them. It was off my radar in a big way.
But over the years I’ve been on a journey and the things I’ve learnt along the way have meant big changes not only in terms of how I shop personally, but also how I run my whole business.
Part of that journey (and it’s an ongoing one) is to share that knowledge with you. I strongly feel that the more I share, the more informed we all become and therefore the better choices we can make.
So in I’m going to share films and short videos that have fundamentally changed the way I work with clothes. I wish I could say these films were fun, but they’re not. They are all heavy, hard hitting and leave you feeling pretty crap. But it’s a place I had to go to in order to unearth the truth about the fashion industry - the industry in which I work.
1/ First up is actually the most recent production on the list. It’s a 90 minute film called RiverBlue where conservationist, Mark Angelo, travels the world to show us what the fashion industry is doing to our waterways AND the people who rely on them for drinking water.
The film highlights the damage caused by harsh chemical manufacturing processes and the irresponsible disposal of toxic chemical waste has had on the rivers.
It’s honestly horrific and it brought me to tears numerous times. I had no idea that 70% of China’s lakes are now highly contaminated, liver cancer rates are through the roof and that chromium has now officially entered their food chain. All because toxic waste is being dumped in the waterways.
One of the biggest polluters is the humble pair of jeans. In Xintang, 300 million pairs a year are produced - that’s a 1/3rd of the worlds supply. They use dyes which contain mercury, cadmium and lead. Workers are coming into contact with them with no regard for their own health and the waste products are dumped directly into watercourses. Acids are also being used to create lighter patches and designer ‘whiskers’.
We have to put pressure on companies to clean up their act. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of Polly Higgins because if her concept of Ecocide was implemented, the CEOs of these factories would be going straight to jail for the damage they’re causing.
And if you feel it’s already too late, it’s NOT.
Did you know that just 40 years ago there was no sign of life in the Thames? The water was so polluted nothing could survive but major measures were put in place, processes were cleaned up and now 125 species of fish can be found there. So this destruction can be reversed, but not until big businesses change the way they work and YOU can put pressure on them to do something about it.
2/ Next up in my list of influential films is just a 3 minute watch by Jay Shetty, so I urge you to sit through it if you can.
Here you get a snapshot of what it’s like to be a garment worker.
This is exactly why I’m a big supporter of Labour Behind the Label and the reason ALL funds raised from the swaps events I hold go directly towards the work they do.
What this video doesn’t show is what happens when the workers complain about the long hours, or unsafe premises, or working with toxic materials. They are often beaten, and far too many of them are even beaten to death for speaking out.
It is completely unacceptable and we have to put pressure on companies to ensure these practices are a thing of the past.
The woman speaking in this short clip is actually a success story. She escaped the sweatshops and set up www.locwom.org to improve the lives of women and children ❤️ but much more still has to be done to end modern day slavery.
3/ Next up in the list of things that influenced me is a Ted talk that I connected with in a BIG way. I can’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve watched this talk, but it’s a lot!
It’s a 16 minute video by Christina Dean called ‘You are what you wear’
Although she makes reference to the nasty side of fashion, this talk is upbeat and really made me believe I could do something positive about it.
She was one of the reasons I bought only second hand clothes for a year. She was one of the reasons I go and talk passionately to organisations about how we can all have a more sustainable wardrobe and she is one of the reasons I changed what I offer through my business services.
4/ Moving on to number 4 and it’s another recent one. Hands up if back in October 2018 you watched the BBC documentary called ‘Fashions dirty secrets’?
Stacey Dooley did a brilliant job of highlighting some of the key issues within the fashion industry and bringing the info to the masses.
One of them was the devastation of the Aral Sea where an area of water the size of Ireland has disappeared in the space of 40 years. Mostly due to irrigating cotton crops.
She also tried to speak to fast fashion heavyweights such as ASOS and Primark at a huge sustainability summit in Copenhagen. Unsurprisingly, when she approached them for comment on what they’re doing to limit the problem, absolutely nobody would talk to her.
She did manage to speak to Levi’s who shared how the company is coming up with solutions to reduce water waste. They are currently working on a solution that takes old garments and turns them into a new fibre that feels, looks and behaves like cotton with zero water impact.
So it’s a thumbs up to Levi’s from me!
5/ Lastly, is a 50 minute film called ‘The world according to H&M’ from 2014.
H&M is a brilliant example of why choosing sustainable clothes can be a minefield because all is not necessarily as it seems.
On the face on it, I want to love H&M.
This is because they sell organic cotton ranges, they have in-store recycling points, they promote their Conscious Collection and have signed up to lots of sustainability targets.
This film is now 5 years old, but it seems not everything is as it should though.
Only recently it was alleged that H&M had burnt 12 tonnes of unsold but usable clothes. It was also reported that H&M was burning discarded clothing alongside recycled wood and waste at the Västerås power station, as part of its move to becoming a fossil-free facility by 2020.
They have also failed to meet their sustainability targets. One example is promising that all their garment workers would receive the minimum wage. The trouble is, in countries such as Ethiopia, there is no minimum wage (unless you’re a civil servant) and they have some of the lowest wages in the globe.
And there’s also a segment on tax avoidance but that’s a whole other thing....
It’s news like this that makes their sustainability statements hard to truly believe and you can see the complexities of the wider situation.
H&M were once described to me as the yin and yang of the ethical fashion world and I think that’s an apt way to view them.
I always come down on the side of some positive action is better than no action but for me H&M need to up their game by actually delivering on their promises.
There are also so many more films, books and courses I could refer you too, but I’ll tackle that another day!