Chic without sweatshops
Hadley Freeman can ease your fashion pain
Monday July 7, 2008
I was so shocked by the revelation the other week that small Indian children made some of my Primark clothes. What can I do to make sure this doesn't happen again?
Mary O'Keefe, London
Um, don't buy clothes that cost £3 maybe? Before anyone (ie, Primark's lawyers) get upset, I'm not saying that all cheap clothes are studded with the sweat and blood droplets of half-starved children. But to continue buying cheap-as-chips clothes and then to express shock that they are not made by happy couturiers, sewing the pieces by hand while reclining on goose-feathered pillows and chortling contentedly seems - and I really mean no offence, Mary - a touch naive, let us say euphemistically. Someone is paying the price for those clothes, my dear. And seeing as it's clearly not you, and it's unlikely to be the store (most stores tend to be a bit reluctant to sell clothes for less than they paid to have them made - they're funny like that) perhaps it's someone else. Someone around the age of 10, maybe.
It's like those diets that promise you can eat stuffed-crust pizza, pasta carbonara and deep-fried chocolate gateau and still lose weight. People, it just doesn't work like that - well, not unless the chocolate tastes like rehydrated and artificially sweetened seaweed because, well, that's what it is. And a beaded top that costs £2.50 is either going to be very badly made, sewn by people content to be paid 60p a day or has the wrong price tag on it. Guess which makes stores more money?
Of course, if one takes this argument too far then you end up saying that the only kind of clothes people should buy is couture, which really is made by the aforementioned happy couturiers (although even they might not always get to be pillow-recliners). The reason we buy cheap clothes is because most of us are not Dasha Zhukova and don't have boyfriends who buy us £50m paintings on a whim. But just as the best way to eat is to eat a normal-sized amount of half-decent food - not Michelin-starred, not greasy, battery-farmed offcuts - at reasonably spaced intervals, so the best way to shop is to buy the occasional well-made piece of clothing. Not Gucci necessarily, but something that costs more than a latte, perhaps.
And ultimately, I truly do believe it works out cheaper. Buying one dress for £75 that lasts you a good handful of years is definitely more economical than buying a new £20 dress every time you have a party because the last one didn't make it to 10pm without ripping. So, in conclusion, you'll be living with more money, better clothes and without guilt.
I think I just saw a ray of light break beyond those clothes yonder.