Gav and I always wanted to make a positive change in the world, and help others do the same - yeah, we’re bloody hippies. You’re reading this because you’re probably the same. But how do we do it? Every morning my journey to work provides clues, questions, and often an early drunk asleep in the gutter.
My commute to the warehouse takes me past an uncountable number of hoardings and billboards for various fashion houses. As I board the 65 at Richmond, seductive women and cut men stare into the distance (or into the emptiness of my soul) wearing fitted jeans and lovely sweaters. The visage is usually broken with a slogan of, ‘under £15,’ a special offer from Primark, ASOS, MissGuided or whomever bid highest for the 30 foot billboard underneath the Brentford flyover.
As another giant reproduction of a girl that looks like my highschool crush passes my bus window, I’m acutely aware that this picture-perfect scene is a couple thousand miles removed from the fields in which that cotton that made said girl’s pretty dress was grown and picked, and even further removed from the factories in which it was bleached, milled and cut.
My bus journey trundles on. I see tired workers, some in suits and dresses, others in CATs and hi-vis shuffling on and off, firmly lodged in the continuous wheel of earning a wage, feeding families and habits, perhaps even chasing their own dreams of the high school crush that slipped away. I see a young mum, daintily scoffing a Tesco’s ‘all-day breakfast’ sandwich before she alights. She’s got to get shit done. What right do I have to ask any of these people to reconsider ‘sustainability’?
Louis CK said it best in his recent Netflix special, “As you get older, the circle of people you give a fuck about, decreases to a little itty bitty tiny thing.” Thus, ethical fashion immediately begins at the same disadvantage. ‘Caring’ becomes a privilege. Guilt for another person, another land thousands of miles away just isn’t an option. I found that though to be incredibly saddening.
High street brands have known this for a long time. Just serve the people what they think they want. No frills. But these brands got big. Really big. Holding down premium retail floorspace in the world’s most expensive real estate markets, employing thousands of people in various jobs. Stack the shelves high, hope that it all sells, is the mantra. I pass empty shop units, small businesses displaced by Tesco, Primark and the like.
I think about the difference we’ve seen in the past 50 years. The local shopkeep who knew your mam, gone. The milkman who also ‘knew your mam’. Gone. Places and people that drew communities together, slowly dying out and being replaced.
Something never quite felt right about any of this ‘status quo’. It’s one that has incubated the exploitation workhouses of Sports Direct, the collapse of Rana Plaza, allowed staff to be paid below minimum wage at H&M, the depletion of the Aral Sea and helped Phillip Green get fat off of stolen pensions.
But why should that weight fall on the shoulders of the poor lass, arms full of shopping struggling to get her pram off the bus, or the young guy from sales that’s desperately finishing his first big pitch, while his borrowed macbook cooks the tops of his legs?
In the 21st Century, it is incredibly easy for a business to make ethically produced, and organic products. Scan instagram, reddit and pinterest for trends, hang around Shoreditch, go to art shows and installs, read VICE every couple of days - that’s literally the very basic research and thought needed to run the creative part of a fashion label, today. The problem is, that if you want to stay affordable you’re not going to make as much money. Certainly not enough to keep that fancy flagship store on Oxford Street, or hire Pamela Andersson for a series of adverts posted everywhere on the Tube. You’re not going to attract shareholders or investors who seem fine with a company beating up it’s customers, and punishing another for giving its pilots and cabin staff a living wage increase. But that’s the choice that we’ve made, and we’re fine with it. A business should live in symbiosis with society, not leach and sicken like a virus.
My mind usually wanders, as my stop rolls up. I work for a company that sources organic materials, sustainably and responsibly grown and a production partner that pays its staff 20% above the Living Wage for China. The folks in that factory are just like us - dreams, appetites and high-school crushes, they got them all. Everyone who chose to buy a t-shirt from us today, bought into the happiness of those workers. No one had to die, or get poisoned - and some guy in Tunbridge Wells got a t-shirt that he really loved that he’s worn every other friday night out, for the last 5 years.
That’s the thought that keeps me smiling, as I open the door to the warehouse to start my day, greeted by the snarling jaws of the office chihuahua and a high-five from Gav.