Social Commentary

Clare Press’ ‘Wardrobe Crisis’ Modelling Sustainable Style as the New Black

I received a hurried message from my boyfriend – “Quick, there’s a book sale and I have a few minutes left until my break is over. Want anything?”

I blanked.

Jane Austen? have it. Gothic fiction? Read it. Classic literature? Too hit and miss.

“Ah, surprise me” I messaged back hesitantly – and so he did.

That evening my partner presented me with “Wardrobe Crisis: How we went from Sunday Best to Fast Fashion”. What a beautiful coffee table book I thought, failing to read the blurb or take an interest in anything other than the aesthetically pleasing cover.

On an uneventful Sunday a few weeka later something possessed me to pick up that aesthetically pleasing book and read the first page. Oh great, I thought, clicking my tongue and apprehensively turning to the second page – a book about excessive shopping habits and minimalism. I instantly thought my partner, whose shopping habits are much more conservative than yours truly, was trying to send me a message without having to do the dirty work himself. I read on bemused.

The book passed my cut-throat ‘Ten Page Test’ – a merciless test that has seen the demise of dozens upon dozens of books. Eleven pages on, Clare Press continued to retain my attention with her detailed investigative journalism, easy wit and undeniable passion.

So what’s the book about I hear you ask? Well officially, the blurb reads:

“Who makes your clothes? This used to be an easy question to answer: it was the seamstress next door, or the tailor on the high street- or you made them yourself. Today, we rarely know the origins of the clothes hanging in our closets. The local shoemaker, dressmaker and milliner are long gone, replaced by a globalised fashion industry with $1.5 trillion a year.

In Wardrobe Crisis, fashion journalist Clare Press explores the history and ethics behind what we wear.Putting her insider status to good use, Press examined he entire fashion ecosystem, from sweatshop to haute couture, unearthing the roots of today’s buy-and-discard culture. She traces the origins of icons like Chanel, Dior and Hermes; charts the rise and fall of department stores; and follows the thread that led us from Marie Antoinette to Carrie Bradshaw.

Wardrobe Crisis is a witty and persuasive argument for a fashion revolution that will empower you to feel good about your wardrobe again.

The book is far more than an insight into the evolution of fashion. The book is a comprehensive timeline, detailing the great heights and depraved lows of 2000’s fashion industry. From a time when seamstresses and tailors were seen as skilled crafts-people, to a time of fast and disposable fashion, where consumers are indifferent to the conditions of sweatshop workers. Press spares no detail about the experiences of modern sacrifices of the industry.

Now I know what you’re thinking – I know, because I think like you too.

Ah, sustainable fashion – how un-chique.

Press knows this too.

Press acknowledges and dispels this notion slowly throughout her book, stating “ethical fashion has an image problem…it’s a public perception that something ethical is sacrificing on design…it looks very hippie – all those assumptions. I think we should change its name. Sustainable fashion is no better. Both words are clunky, inelegant and invoke ideas of hemp, I don’t hate ‘eco’ but ‘eco-chic’ is unbearable.”

We thought it, she said it!

frow_mbfwa_clare-press_2_20170517_0Whilst I, the owner of 50+ pairs of shoes,  consider myself an unlikely advocate for sustainable manufacturing in the fashion industry, the accounts Press details of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Savar, Dhaka and the Triangle Sweatshop Fire of New York City make it impossible not to care, particularly in light of modern workplace abuses such as the Zara garment workers in Istanbul, Turkey.  To quote the sociologist Robert Ross, “it’s as if the 1911 conditions had been lifted up by an evil hand and dropped into Bangladesh.” You see, Wardrobe Crisis does more than just guilt people into shopping less and/or more consciously merely for the sake of the environment and sustainability, the book uncovers the human cost of vulnerable sweatshop workers – sacrifices to the fast-paced consumer lifestyle of western developed nations.

Whilst Press spares no gruesome or warped detail about the practices of the fashion and manufacturing industry, the Vogue and Sunday Style columnist stays true to her fashion roots, exposing the dark and light of her beloved industry. Whilst the unnatural blue waterways of the Xintang province, producers of 260 million pairs of jeans annually may shock you, the heinous abuses of animals and their furs may infuriate you and unethical fabric processes may bewilder you – Press does not place an unrealistic expectation upon readers. In fact, Press encourages audiences to be unapologetic about loving clothes and fashion – a sentiment evident throughout her text. She recognises that in-order to resonate with people such as myself, an avid lover of fashion and trends, her attempts would be in vain if consumers felt isolated and restricted from ever purchasing again. Instead the author acknowledges that if you bought the book, there’s a 50% chance you did so because a fashion editor wrote it, 40% chance the aesthetics of the book seduced you into purchase as a coffee table book and 10% chance the purchase was made by an active advocate for sustainable fashion manufacturing. The ultimate goal it seems, is to inspire enough hubs of people to question where, how and who was involved in the manufacturing of our wardrobe enough to act as a catalyst for gradual societal change.

If not for the hard-truths and unintended consequences from our indifferent and/or uninformed consumer behaviour, Press’ easy conversational tone and fun fact writing style makes Wardrobe Crisis palatable for every audience, irrespective of why they picked up the book. Above all, “Wardrobe Crisis is entertaining and enlightening, and thankfully, it’s hopeful too.”

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