Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Fashion Revolution: Are the High Street's Eco Collections the Answer?

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the high street is leading the fashion revolution. Almost any sustainable shopping feature you'd care to read will feature H&M, hailed for their yearly sustainability reports and commitment to upping their use of recycled and sustainably sourced materials. Alongside them will likely be Mango, whose Committed Collection is in shops now, and ASOS (not on the high street but surely the high street of online shopping?), on the list for their Made in Kenya range.

Each of these fashion giants have carefully crafted narratives which fit snugly within the sustainable style remit. They flaunt their green credentials, assuaging consumer guilt with promises of organic fabrics, fair wages and renewable sources. Taken at face value, this sounds wonderful. We can continue to shop at our favourite shops and save the planet. It's a win-win. 

Except, it's not quite that simple, so let's dig a little deeper. To do so, we first need to establish the differences between ethical and sustainable fashion, because ethical fashion isn't always sustainable. Imagine, for example, that a brand produced a range of t-shirts. The t-shirts are made in a safe factory which is subject to regular inspections. The people making the t-shirts are entitled to benefits such as paid holiday and maternity leave and they're paid a fair, living wage. To many, this would be considered an ethical set up. 

But if those t-shirts are made from cotton, it would take around 3000 litres of water to make each one. And if those t-shirts were bright pink, the toxic dye might seep into the local water supply, denying people a clean water supply. And if those t-shirts were best sellers, they might be produced in the hundreds of thousands. And if those t-shirts went out of style, they might end up in landfill. That doesn't sound very sustainable. 

The link between ethical and sustainable fashion cannot be assumed but the two are often conflated and this works to the high street's benefit. Looking at H&M as an example, the brand has committed to implementing wage management systems at supplier factories, to switch to 100% renewable energy, to use 100% recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030 and to become climate positive throughout its entire value chain by 2040. Grand claims indeed. 

The importance of commercial and financial commitment to meeting such goals cannot be overlooked. Investment and research lead to breakthroughs and if those breakthroughs can transform the supply chain with pioneering recycling methods and new, sustainable fabrics then all the better. However, their claims often lack context, so here's some of that for you:

Looking first at their intentions to scale up fair living wages, it's vital to note that the brand doesn't actually own any factories, instead utilising independent suppliers in developing countries. Just this year, violent protests broke out at a supplier factory in Myanmar over benefits and working conditions. 'Scaling up' industrial relations does not guarantee the ethical treatment of workers throughout the supply chain.

Moving on to sustainability, what exactly do H&M's pledges mean in the face of the 550 million garments they reportedly produce a year? For every promise and impressive statement, they are still pumping the world full of clothes that are intended to be disposable; discarded in favour of the next new trend. 

I'm using H&M as an example because they're often lauded as being at the helm of the sustainable fashion movement but, of course, they're not the sole culprit. Built upon modern consumer culture, the fast fashion model is, at its very core, utterly unsustainable. 

Global clothing production has more than doubled since 2000. On top of this, the average person buys 60% more clothing yet keeps them for about half as long as they did 15 years ago*. Fast fashion is feeding our insatiable, untenable desire for more clothes than we've ever owned before. 

It's also important to remember that alongside every eco, conscious, committed and green collection on the high street are rails upon rails of clothes that are decidedly the opposite. Not made from organic cotton; not made from recycled fabrics; not crafted with the environment in mind. 

A biannual capsule collection and intermittent use of recycled fabrics simply isn't enough to offset the inherent unsustainability of producing hundreds of millions of garments a year. So, yes, there are a handful of positives take from to those eco collections but they are absolutely, resolutely not the answer and they do not clear fast fashion of its culpability in the mistreatment and exploitation of human beings and the irresponsible use of the earth's finite resources.

*Source: Fashion Revolution in partnership with Greenpeace

Thursday, 13 April 2017

It Was Summer for a Weekend: Here's What I Wore

In a somewhat unprecedented move, summer happened last weekend. Of course, it's gone now and it's only a matter of time before the Christmas adverts come on, but for one glorious 48 hour stretch, summer happened and it reminded us all that we have ankles and shoulders and inner happiness. 

As it crept up on us with precisely no warning, I imagine half the population spent Saturday morning stood in their underwear, peering into their wardrobes, wondering what to wear in the absence of the easy option of teaming a gigantic coat with a look of resignation. That's exactly the predicament I found myself in. Warm weather is so fleeting that whenever it occurs, we have to completely reboot our sartorial systems in order to cope with the prospect of sun on our skin. Some people take it very far, very quickly (case in point: the men in rolled up denim shorts and nip-skimming vests); others know they've been hurt before and so bravely persevere with puffer coats, safe in the knowledge it's only a matter of time before everyone else joins them again too. I hit somewhere in the middle ground, suspicious of the weather's intentions yet wildly keen to embrace it wherever possible.

Armed with a healthy dose of pessimism, I wasn't quite ready to commit to anything as radical as bare arms or exposed toes. Instead, it felt like the perfect opportunity to pair up two things I'd been waiting for warmer weather to wear. One was the dress that I recently took on a spin through all four seasons in a bid to prove to myself it wasn't a frivolous purchase. The other was a Fila polo my boyfriend bought me for Christmas. I was going to do the obvious top-under-dress strategy but this polo has a trompe l'oeil pocket and wayfarers which would be criminal to hide, so I flipped it and went top-over-dress. Life starts when you step out of your comfort zone, guys.

I topped it off with my new-to-me leopard print cardigan and an ancient belt that I've often considered donating but always comes in handy. Clearly, this was all far too tonal, so I stuck on a pair of turquoise loafers, grabbed my plastic basket and a summer outfit was born.

Emerging from beneath the shroud of the winter coat is an event worth celebrating with copious amounts of accessories. Never one to scrimp on the details, I popped a naked lady pin on my lapel and loaded up my wrists with a pleasing selection of bejewelled paraphernalia, happy that the world could see them for a change. 

Despite the initial panic and struggle, we all get into the swing of warm weather dressing pretty quickly. We settle into a style rhythm, with light layers, sandals and floaty silhouettes setting the tone, only to have to go crawling back to our coats mere days later, embarrassed at having being lulled into a false sense of security by the sunshine once again. 

Sunshine is the cheating boyfriend we instantly forgive when he rocks up with a bunch of flowers and a knowing smile. Things will change. There will be sandals, slip dresses, we've even been planning a straw hat! But unfortunately, you know how this story ends. With heartbreak. Before I knew it, I was back in boots, jeans and a jumper, but at least I have the memories of the short but sweet summer of 2017. Unless it comes back. In which case I'll be stood by my wardrobe, ready to emotionally invest again without a second thought.

Friday, 7 April 2017

I Heart Lisbon

Allow me to preface this post by saying that I am not a travel blogger. I don't note down the names of picturesque back streets, I forget the names and whereabouts of any and all cute local shops and I have never once stood at the edge of a cliff, back to camera, arms akimbo. So, I'm afraid this will be less a comprehensive guide to Portugal's capital and more a gushing account of just how much I loved it. 

I will bestow you with these two top tips though: 1. The Vegan Food Project cooks up a mean bifana of seitan and 2. do not, under any circumstance wear soft-soled loafers lest you end up skating along Lisbon's polished paths like I did on the first day.

Lisbon is, as the first selection of images suggest, a riot of colour. You can't take 20 steps without being confronted by a coral house, a green front door or that Instagrammer's favourite: a tiled wall. It's a veritable tile fest in Lisbon and I was all over it like a rich white girl at Coachella. There was absolutely no mistaking me for anything other than a tourist as I flitted from tiled wall to tiled wall, photographing every new pattern I spotted, risking my life every time I stepped onto one of their free-for-all roads to get the best angle. Azulejos, as google tells me they're called, are undoubtedly the city's defining feature but do you know what else Lisboan's (I think I've made that word up) absolutely bloody love? Sardines. 

So mad for sardines are they, that they have an annual sardine festival. I wasn't there for that but I did visit O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa; a haven for any oily fish fanatic or, indeed, lover of outrageous extravagance lavished upon the mundane. 

As a vegan, I had absolutely no intention of buying any sardines to snack on but this place was hard to resist. The actual Ferris Wheel of sardine tins (!!!) in the window is what drew me in but the interior was just as wildly ostentatious. The walls were lined top to bottom with tins of sardines, each printed with a different year. Apparently a tin of sardines with your year of birth on it is a wonderful token to treasure for the rest of time. I did not purchase a 1989 tin but the sardines did, however, crown me as their Queen...

Reluctantly stepping away from sardines for the time being, most of my time was spent wandering around the steep, narrow streets saying, "ooh look at that" to my boyfriend. It's a miracle I survived, what with the hazardously polished pavements and the precarious, unmarked roads. Roads which are shared by impatient tram drivers with tuk tuks, taxis and the local's cars, all of which are driven with the wild abandon of someone with only 24 hours to live. 

Luckily, I did survive and managed to drink in yet more of the vibrant streets and paint palette vistas. I've never visited anywhere quite so charming yet with a definite thread of cool running through it. It's no Berlin or London but a smattering of indie restaurants, tucked away, eclectic boutiques and even the left wing grafitti speak to the city's youthful undercurrent. It's hidden below a thick layer of American and German tourists but it's definitely there.

Unexpected pieces of art interrupt the rows of pastel buildings; little reminders of current culture and a fresh voice nestled among the classic facades and tourist spots. Of course, most of them are suitably bright so sit neatly within the city's palette. In a completely out of character twist, my favourite happened to be the super lo-fi wire quote. 'Don't be mean' ranks high on my list of most uttered phrases, so it felt like serendipity when I came across it. 

Those little artistic snippets are the side dish to Lisbon's main course, though and I am completely smitten with both facets of it. A quick stroll away from the main shopping street brought us to a row of haberdashery shops that I was completely charmed by. I kept catching them after closing time, and admired the elaborate trims and ornate buttons through the windows. When I did manage to catch them during opening hours, they seemed uniformly to be run by tiny, elderly women who didn't speak a lick of English. A few bits here and there were on display in glass cabinets behind the counter but everything else was tucked away in battered old cardboard boxes. 

In the shop I'd spent the most time lingering at the window of, the woman behind the counter gestured at me to come behind and take a look through the displays. Embarrassed by my poor attempts at Portuguese, I left after a few minutes. I had been lusting after a particular pin in the window, though, so I returned a few minutes later and eventually managed to communicate my desire for the giant safety pin with a tortoise shell-style clasp. She brought a box out from the back and I gave her the thumbs up when the shuffle of trinkets revealed the one I wanted. 

My success at snagging the pin I wanted is not representative of my other shopping trips in Lisbon. Except for a fruitful venture to Feira Da Ladra, a local flea market, I was thwarted at every turn by 'permanently closed' notifications on google that I'd failed to notice during my pre-holiday itinerary planning. 

Luckily, unlike our recent trip to Berlin where temperatures dropped below zero, the weather was sunny and mild so I was content just wandering the streets and avoiding death by tuk tuk. If the locals' get up was anything to go by - puffer jackets, hats and scarves - it was positively freezing for the acclimatised but I was perfectly happy gallivanting around in my new most-worn piece; the pink, oversized, longline jacket my parents bought me for Christmas. Except for the loafer incident on the first day, my pre-planned outfits proved to be pitch perfect for the balmy weather and I fit right into the local colour scheme. (Unlike Berlin again, where black is the uniform and I looked like a children's entertainer by comparison.)

We stayed for three nights; the perfect amount of time given that my legs couldn't take another day of trekking up and down steep hills, crafted mostly from polished stones with all the grip of an ice cube. The locals must have calves of steel. Still, I was sad to leave and England looked decidedly dull as we disembarked.

To sum up, 10/10, would visit again.