The true cost of fashion...
As a serious and passionate vintage clothing collector, I love nothing more than finding a beautiful piece tucked away in a second hand store (sadly rare these days!) and turning it inside out to discover more about its story. I adore vintage clothing labels, that beautiful woven silk/taffeta indicator of location and brand, but what I love even more is discovering that there is, in fact, no label at all. This is indicative of garments that were either manufactured over 80 years ago or were made by hand. There is nothing like a home made garment. Imbued with the spirit of the maker, hand made clothing is unique, thoughtful and cut to fit a particular body shape. What a beautiful feeling it is to purchase a special old piece and find it fits you too like a glove!
My love for vintage clothing and textiles is part genetic, part environmental. I come from a long line of crafty women. My grandmother owned the local haberdashery store in Whangarei for years, one of my aunties was a school home economics sewing teacher and my mother used to make some of my clothes and bits and pieces to sell at the Avondale markets when I was little to bring in extra money. I started sewing by hand when I was young and still have a tin full of dolls clothes and handmade mini hangers that I treasure.
My passion for vintage came a little later and stemmed from a teenage grunge phase which required much time spent op shopping and trawling school fair second hand clothing sales for the perfect slip to go over pants. Thankfully I moved on from this and, after studying garment construction and pattern making, went to work for Pearl, a New Zealand label that creates beautiful women's clothing, strongly referencing the past. We often worked with vintage samples and took design inspiration from them.
As is the case with many New Zealanders, that pioneering wanderlust spirit took hold in my mid 20's and I travelled to the UK to stretch my wings and develop my career in fashion. It certainly was an eye opener and an experience that made me question and reassess many things in my life, particularly my career.
To come from little New Zealand at the bottom of the world and be thrown into one of the biggest fashion markets in the world was a bit of a shock. As a consumer, there was a limitless supply of whatever fashion trend took your fancy. Swimsuits all year around! More than five shoe stores! Shops open later than 6pm on a Monday! The choice was overwhelming and, while I loved hunting down special pieces from vintage stores, I hate to admit that I was was seduced by the bargains that could be snapped up from fast fashion retailers.
As I worked in the fashion industry, I had a very good idea of how much garments actually cost to produce and there was no way a three pound tee-shirt could be created without some shortfall somewhere. This coupled with the lack of regard for their product left me cold and I started to look at alternative options to mainstream fashion.
When I moved back to New Zealand I made a conscious decision to buy only second hand, vintage or small run made clothing, and I have to say that this has simplified my life immensely and made me feel empowered. I am no longer part of a system that creates clothing to be worn once and thrown away. I am no longer part of the "fashion industry" that promotes change for change's sake and creates need and insecurity in consumers. And I am no longer beholden to huge brands that create their clothing with the most mainstream normalised purchaser in mind.
I have been musing on my experience in the fashion industry, as the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed 1,133, and injured over 2,500 people happened recently. While this was caused by myriad factors, to my mind the main issue was the insatiable global demand for "fast fashion" at any cost.
Following this tragedy, Fashion Revolution was formed - "a global coalition of designers, academics, writers, business leaders and parliamentarians calling for systemic reform of the fashion supply chain. The organisation's premise is simple. By asking consumers, designers, brands, and all those who care to ask a simple question “Who Made My Clothes?” they envisage a change in perspective that will lead to a deeper understanding.
Each year they have decided to mark the tragedy with Fashion Revolution Day, where people challenge global fashion brands to demonstrate commitment to transparency across the length of the value chain, from farmers to factory workers, brands to buyers and consumers. It's a simple idea and one that deserves our attention. You can follow Fashion Revolution here and learn about the ways you can help to ensure that all people and products in the fashion industry are treated with respect.
Another easy way to personally redress this systemic imbalance in the fashion industry is to think of your money as power. You have the power to support exploitative systems by purchasing "cheap fast fashion" or you can chose to use the power of that money to support small local industries and the second hand clothing market - one that by its very nature has "reduce, reuse, recycle" as its central underpinning.
L to R: Vintage suit from Ziggurat and top hat from Hills Hats, shirt from Strangely Normal and $2 pants from the Salvation Army, Cherry Bishop dresses, Minnie Cooper shoes, vintage uniform and accessories.
As the creative director of Glory Days, it's hugely important for me to use this philosophy to guide my selection of companies and brands that we work with. Long time readers of Glory Days will note that we have featured clothing in our fashion shoots that has come from local New Zealand made brands, vintage stores and even the Salvation Army charity shop. I am so proud that in this consumerist day and age, I work for a magazine that is able to showcase a pair of pants that cost me $2 to purchase, with the profits going directly to help people in need.
This philosophy also led me to one such small local brand that we are excited to be partnering with in our Home Issue. Mushama & Me is an eco-conscious brand that produces unique raincoats created from one off vintage sheets, curtains and other textiles that are waterproofed and sewn up in a variety of styles.
UPDATE FOR 2017
It's been a few years since I wrote this blog, but my philosophy of only buying vintage, secondhand, or small run clothing still holds true.
I'm constantly trawling the internet for vintage inspired exercise gear (I think I am going to start my own line as it doesn't exist!) but I thought I would share some of my favourite brands that fit this criteria with you all... and if I've missed anything out please let me know!
MADE IN NEW ZEALAND
Devel Men and Women
Vanessa Kelly Clothing
Minnie Cooper Shoes
Alison Hensley Millinery
Mavis & Bob
MADE IN AUSTRALIA
Ginny and Jude
MADE IN THE UK
House of Satin
Seamstress of Bloomsbury
Vivien of Holloway
Little House of Gorgeousness and Fripperies
Lou Taylor Studio
Emily and Fin*
MADE IN THE USA
ONLINE VINTAGE HEAVEN
Der Fuches Vintage
Wildfell Hall Vintage
Ooh La La
TO CHECK THE ETHICAL RATING ON A CLOTHING BRAND
Good on You
The Tearfund Ethical Fashion Guide
*Some of their products seem to be made in the source country and they seem to have an ethical approach to working with makers from around the world.
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