Every Object is Political

The story of a pair of Primark cargo trousers, made in Bangladesh 2013.

At first it might seem that there is nothing significant about this pair of trousers. They are mass-manufactured, cheap and common place. They are made of machine stitched cotton twill with plastic buttons and steel zip. They were manufactured by New Wave Bottoms in Dhaka, Bangladesh and were sold in Primark stores across the UK in 2013/14. 

They are part of ‘fast fashion’, a system developed by large retailers and supermarkets for rapidly producing low-priced, trend-based clothing. 

If you were around in 2013 you might have even bought a pair but by now they are likely to have ended up in the bin or in a charity shop having worn out or become unfashionable.

You might wonder why such a pair of seemingly insignificant trousers is currently on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum of decorative art and design in London. The reason lies in what these trousers represent. They were produced in the Rana Plaza garment factory, a building which housed production for many well known high street brands including Primark, Mango, Matalan and Benetton.

On the 24th of April 2013, garment workers in Rana Plaza were ordered to return to work despite rising concern about the safety of the building which had visible cracks in the walls. Tragically, hours later the building collapsed, killing 1,130 people. Most of whom were young women.

The incident, which remains the most deadly industrial disaster in recent history, symbolises the inherent flaw in the fast fashion system.

Short runs and aggressive pricing strategies have led to increased demands on productivity throughout the supply chain with the people at the bottom feeling the most pressure to produce more for less. Ultimately it is those who are the most vulnerable who pay the true cost for our clothes. 

The trousers reveal a broader story about the dark side of global supply chains.

They are not an example of exquisite craftsmanship or timeless design but what they represent forces us to question inner workings of the current fashion industry. They symbolise our detachment from production and the shift of focus away from respect for quality, craftsmanship and longevity. As consumer’s it is important to know the wider political context of the clothes we buy which is why I think these trousers deserve a place in one of the largest and most prestigious collections of decorative arts and design in the world. 

I hope that soon fast fashion will become a part of our history. An artefact to be regarded with sorrow and a story not to be forgotten.

The trousers are part of the V&A’s Rapid Response Collection. Objects are collected in timely response to major moments in history that touch the world of design and manufacturing. Each acquisition raises different questions about globalisation, popular culture, political and social change, demographics, technology, regulation or the law.

This ongoing display, which changes each time a new object is collected, shows how design reflects and defines how we live together today.

Loved Clothes Last

The more I repair the things I own, the more I treasure them.

Why do we know more about the brands who sell our clothes than the people who make them?

The qualities that clothing was once principally judged, such as quality, durability and personal meaning have been replaced by trends which rotate on an almost monthly basis, brand obsession and prices that justify a quick and easy turnover of goods. Globalisation and free- market capitalism has pushed prices lower and production further away from the eye of the consumer.

Along the way, we have lost the tradition of making and repairing our own clothes and have forgotten the patience and skills required to do so. This loss of knowledge combined with provision of mass-produced cheap goods has eroded our understanding of the long-lasting value of clothes and tragically the people who make them. But we do not have to be passive to these changes.

Start a fashion revolution in your own wardrobe.

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Repair Cafe at Remakery Frome, 2017.

In my opinion, the best way to show respect to the clothes you own (and the people who made them) is to repair them. Repair is a great way to build a lasting relationship with the things we own and helps to rekindle the use of our hands. You don’t have to be an expert and often the most obvious fixes are the most beautiful. Below are a few fixes I have made on my favourite garments.

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I got these jeans second-hand three years ago and have lived in them. They are slightly stretchy so great for cycling. I have repaired the crotch more times than I can remember and have also mended many small holes that I got when climbing over a barbed wire fence. Last September I re-dyed them blue to give them a new lease of life. As the repaired patches begin to break again, I think it is soon time to say good bye to them as jeans but perhaps I will turn them into something else.

DRESS2

This is a Toast dress I bought in 2014. I like to buy Toast clothing every now and then. The quality is good so I see them as investments. I love wearing this dress in any season, during the winter I wear it with long sleeves underneath. It is great for traveling because creases disguise well in the pattern. Two years ago I took it on a hiking trip. It was a perfect for when I wanted to dress up.  You might not be able to see from the photograph but I repaired a rip in the sleeve with some interfacing and a zigzag stitch.

JUMPER2

This jumper was given to me by a good friend, I think it used to belong to her uncle. It is a Ratia jumper made from pure wool. I love to wear it camping and on my bike in the cold because the wool is so warm and breathable. This winter it got a moth hole in the front so I decided to fix it with some visible mending. I added extra flowers so it blends in. This is a work in progress, I think I will add more details over time.

Fashion Revolution Week

Thinking about who made my clothes for Fashion Revolution Week.

For most consumers buying clothes is about choice…

 What style suits me best? Which colour do I prefer? What is it made of? Which size is most flattering? How much will it cost?

 We ask ourselves any number of stylistic questions before arriving at a decision. But the question that is so often forgotten is who made it? Most of the time we don’t stop to ask what life is like for the 75 million people in the global apparel market or how much they are paid.

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This matters because as consumers we hold the power. Every purchase we make says something about what we value. Fashion Revolution week is about raising awareness and empowering individuals to change the way fashion works. By asking brands ‘Who made my clothes?’ we are part of a global movement demanding greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. This is an essential step for improving the lives of people across the fashion landscape, from cotton farmers to garment workers.

 What you can do…

  •  Pressure your favourite brands

Hold them to account for the social and environmental impact of their business. Share the label of a piece of clothing on social media and ask the brand #whomademyclothes?

  • Write to a Politician

Let them know the welfare of the planet and the people making your clothes matters to you.

  • Buy better

Choose fair-trade or second-hand where you can – even if this means buying something more expensive less often.

  • Repair, reinvent, revive

Instead of buying new, try updating something you already own.

Find out more here.