Thursday, 21 February 2013

Why the High-street Can't Compete with 'Make and Mend'

Having recently completed a week's work experience at Lisa Comfort's successful sewing-cafe 'Sew Over It', participated at Newcastle's 'Make and Mend' market and visiting independent local boutique 'Made in Jesmond', I have seen for myself the social positives and community spirit which hand-craft, whether it be making dresses and accessories, or seeing the one-off pieces which independent crafters and designers have handmade brings. At 'Sew Over It', I observed customers coming into the sewing-cafe and sitting at machines next to people they had never met before, immediately striking up conversations over the free tea and cake. There were also women who started the 'Sewing for beginners' class, and by the end all decided to sign up to another class together, showing how socially bonding spending only three hours together in the sewing-cafe can be, and this could be partially what draws people towards craft. Similarly, it has been lovely to watch customers at the 'Make and Mend' market and 'Made in Jesmond' bond over their appreciation of hand-crafted gifts and beautiful vintage clothing, and to hear of their opinions and their own experience of sewing and vintage pieces which have been passed on to them, and it generates more thought-provoking and interesting conversation which the high-street with its focus on fast fashion cannot.

In my interview with Lisa Comfort, owner of 'Sew Over It', she says the increased interest in make and mend could be explained by "that feeling that it’s a past time that’s become lost, and people want to bring that back into today’s culture". This idea of nostalgia and bringing the past into the present is something which is also reflected through programs hosted by Kirstie Allsopp, such as 'Kirstie's Homemade Home', 'Kirstie's Handmade Britain' and 'Kirstie's Vintage Home', which Lisa has participated in. Although the growing popularity is likely to be partly down to the recession and people wanting that homely comfort associated with 'cooking, baking and sewing', it is also a skill which people fear is not getting passed on, as Lisa mentions "there are a lot of young people out there that are feeling that this is an important skill to learn", which is where she comes in with her sewing-cafe, passing on her sewing skills to beginners and customers with more advanced skills alike.

Yve Ngoo, owner of local boutique 'Made in Jesmond', which specializes in vintage and up-cycled handmade pieces, also believes that what she sells provides a more personal and connected experience than what you would usually buy from high-street chain stores. In buying pieces from local designer-makers, "You get quality, you get the personality of the maker", and there is the same allure of nostalgia which Lisa also points out. Yve believes that hand-made and vintage attracts an older audience due to the higher quality, and a younger audience who are looking for something unique. She also believes that it is important to learn traditional techniques such as 'needlework, sewing, felting' as 'that's where the quality comes from', but also to bring in contemporary techniques or materials to encourage creativity. An example of this are accessories she sells by designer-maker Jake Wilson Craw, where he applies traditional leather-work techniques to unwanted tyres, combining both old and new ideas to create something innovative with that same nostalgia and quality of something handmade.

This fusion of old and new is what makes 'make and mend' so special and unique, as you get all of the positive qualities of well-made pieces which support the local economy, by having either bought fabrics or products from local designers, and is also more responsible for workers and the environment as it doesn't involve mass shipping and factories, and is often quite a social experience. It is also the pleasure of owning something which is completely personal which nobody else will have, which may have a history behind it, or could be specifically tailored and personalized for you, which is something which the high-street will never be able compete with.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Made in Britain

Over the past week, I have came across a wealth of information on the growth of local production and on such a large scale that I felt compelled to mention it in my dissertation as a relevant trend, which is very recent and can only be a positive thing for businesses. The main catalyst for this trend is likely to be the legacy left by recent British cultural celebrations, such as the royal wedding, jubilee and the London Olympics, which director of Trend Bible Joanna Feeley states has resulted in 'an interest in British goods and what we stand for, as a nation, what we can sell and export'. The cultural interest along with economic reasons has had a knock-on effect on the manufacturing of our garments, and it is not only the UK which is looking at spending more on local manufacturing - in the US, 'consumers are also showing more interest in buying domestically-made products and proportionally, US-made is increasing' (WGSN - Sourcing in 2013: a look ahead).

Due to the economic crisis, there is also a consumer attitude where more people seem to be buying locally where possible, as many realize that in buying locally, they are supporting the local economy. There is also more transparancy now when it comes to the manufacturing of the products, with recently highlighted factory fires in Bangladesh and a growing awareness of 'sweat shops' and child labour' proving this. Costs are growing for production of apparel in Eastern areas, along with the rising cost of fuel, which J. Rubin states 'we must find nearly 20 million barrels per day of new production over the next five years simply to keep up global production at it's current level', making it more and more expensive to have products made abroad. Although in Britain it is still currently more expensive to have clothing manufactured here, the quality and craftsmanship is something which some consumers are willing to pay into. "We lost the battle for cheap, but we can win the battle of quality, credibility and ideas" states David Hieatt, an owner of just one of the many fashion businesses, along with big companies such as Topshop, ASOS, Debenhams and John Lewis, who is actively seeking out to use more UK manufacturers. The 'Made in Britain' revival is apparant in both these larger companies as well as new designers such as J. W. Anderson and House of Hackney, and also a growing interest in the revival of craft and hand-made bespoke pieces.

There are of course, as Feeley mentioned in her interview, 'some groups of people that will look for price over anything' and that 'there's an appetite for cheap goods', which currently outweigh the minority by a long shot. However she also mentions that with trends in general, the 'very small concept grows and grows and eventually becomes the big theme', so this could be applied to the ways in which we source our manufacturing. Only time will tell whether or not the change in production will continue to grow, as it depends on consumer demand and most people have no option other than to buy the cheapest clothes, but with an emphasis on local production from independent designers, heritage brands and department stores, hopefully demand will reach a 'tipping point' where it is more common for people to be wearing locally produced garments.

So how does local production relate to sustainable fashion? Well it actually relates very little, as the sustainability of the products would depend solely on how they are made and which fabrics are used. There is the argument that British craftsmanship is high-quality and therefore sutainable due to the products life-cycle, although it is likely other countries could also produce garments of the same quality. There is also that  in a lot of countries, this will mean more ethical practice, where people are working for reasonable wages and in reasonable conditions. Along with the huge amounts of fuel which would be saved from taking garments through several countries during different parts of production, a turn towards more locally produced garments can only be a positive thing in a move towards creating a more sustainable fashion cycle.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Fashion and Frugality - The Smart Way to Shop

In recent times due to the recession, there are some self-confessed lovers of fashion, who very challengingly, have changed the ways in which they feed their aesthetic needs. Indeed many of us feel as though we need a buzz every now and then of buying something which is fresh, new and completely seductive to us, something which will put us in a great mood the first time a new purchase is worn, something which makes us feel 'pulled together', or even just something to reward ourselves with, feeding our basic human need for simulation.

An article in the current UK Vogue magazine sensitively and humorously documents the way the recession has forced Emma Sheffield to re-evaluate the way she shops. "Torn between the opposing dynamics of economic restraint and old-fashioned desire (and vanity), I became frozen, unable to commit to any one item or even a shopping strategy". Many of us, particularly those of us with tight financial commitments, often struggle choosing between items when there is so much temptation towards several certain items. Most that can afford to are likely to spend less money on more clothes and accessories to satisfy their cravings, rather than the other way round and investing in a single staple piece. Emma is one of the growing latter, who has recently invested more money into one purchase, which happens to be a pair of Prada "Mrs Pepperpot" shoes as her partner affectionately calls them, rather than compromising on quality or desperately looking at ways to fit her bills around her fashion purchases. Her argument was "cheapness was no longer to be my base criterion" and that it would instead be "longevity", the Prada shoes are a "collector’s item that would far outlast the season - and hopefully the recession". In times where more often than not, clothes are cheaply and poorly made in foreign countries and many consumers lack the skills to repair damaged clothing, investing in high quality pieces which will last years rather than months is slowly becoming a more popular choice amongst fashion lovers.

Emma is not alone in her careful and selective shopping strategy. Freelance fashion cosultant Anita Borzyszkowska states "When I do buy, the piece has to work hard to seduce me", working her occasional wardrobe updates with clothes which she already owns, which makes her current wardrobe work harder, yet she is still purchasing the odd individual buy that 'sparkles' and 'gives personality'. A recent luxury report at 'Ledbury Research' shows consumers "are focusing more on quality and good experiences than 'look at me' purchases", further proof of fashion becoming more versatile and adaptable to the individual. This is the advice which Vivienne Westwood has been dishing out for a while, which is to 'buy less, spend more' as well as creative tips on how to create couture dresses out of table cloths in the 'Sustainable Fashion Handbook' by Professor Sandy Black.

On the more extreme side of the scale is a recent article on The Guardian's website, which documents Rebecca Smithers new year's resolution of last year of not buying any new clothes for 12 months, and her experience of the challenge. Of course, it must be far easier when you already have a wardrobe full of designer clothes, and your friend donates a pair of unworn £310 boots, but the article still proves an interesting read. During the past year of Rebecca's challenge, she has been "discovering new pleasures, such as finding items (things like mohair sweaters and velvet tops) in storage which are so old they are back in fashion again", as well as mending clothes and prolonging their lives. Of course in todays society, there are fewer people than there used to be who already have sewing skills, but they quick to learn and are definitely worth it, particularly when a button falls off or a seam splits on your beloved shirt! It also means that once you know the basic skills, you could also customise clothing once you got bored of it, changing hemlines or adding trims, making your garment one of a kind.

It would be drastic to suggest anybody conciously stop buying clothes all together, we all have the right to purchase and deserve a treat every now and again, but it seems the smart way to shop is to invest in quality when buying, even if it is second-hand designer on Ebay or Etsy (I found a great genuine vintage 'Burberries' mac for £90 on Etsy the other day, which would last a lifetime!) and you also never know which forgotton gems you have hidden in your wardrobe if you look to work them in different ways.

Monday, 31 December 2012

2013 - Are we trended out?

I have recently came across an article which discusses the fashion trends of 2013...well it appears that there is nothing which is going to be particularly trendy. Anything goes in 2013, whether you prefer to dress feminine or androgynous, minis or maxis, silky or tough, lady-like or urban, the list goes on!

“The problem with trends is that we are trended out. ... We are so exhausted by overload that we just don't have a way to process anything new,” says trend analyst Marian Salzman, CEO of ad agency Havas PR North America. This is one of the consequences of fast fashion and how it has sped up dramatically, particularly over the past few years. The production chains of some high-street stores can take as little as two weeks from designing garments to them being ready on the shop floor. This then chases established designers of RTW clothing to become more exclusive than the high-street, as the exclusivity of their trends is partly what contributes towards the higher pricing. Many RTW designers now have developed 'resort' collections inbetween the main seasons on the fashion calender for this very reason.

It may be that the advice of many fashion figures, including Gok Wan who promotes dressing for your body shape and inspires people to dress differently by customizing clothes from the high-street, is eventually starting to influence the way that people buy and dress themselves. Indeed many fashion magazines and blogs are taking an interest in street-style and people dressing in ways which reflect their tastes and personalities rather than the latest trends. People are aware that it is not in their best interest to force themselves into the latest trend if it doesn't suit their taste or is unflattering for their body shape. Likewise, 'It was a stretch for a designer long respected for career clothes to tout hot pants', and this change in attitude could actually give designers more freedom in their collections rather than restrict it.

The internet provides a much greater wealth of options than the highstreet, which along with convenience, may be partly the reason why online sales in fashion have increased 152% over the past five years (reported 2011 by Mintel). It is now easier than ever for shoppers to buy clothing which is unique, due to online retailers being able to showcase more stock than highstreet stores, and sites such as 'Ebay' selling second-hand and 'Etsy' selling vintage and hand-made pieces which are completely individual.

If fashion items have more longevity in the trend stakes and are tailored to the individual depending on taste, style and fit, the clothes which people buy in the near future will end up being more sustainable, as they will be kept and worn for longer, slowing down the production chain and by the time the wearer is eventually bored of the item, it will hopefully go back into circulation via Ebay or a swap shop rather than being dumped into landfill!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Outline of Dissertation

This blog will explore the current situation with fashion in society, how and why it has changed so drastically over recent times and the real consequences of the nature of fashion in its present state. There is a current, slowly evolving awareness, of the devastating impact of fast fashion and consumer attitudes towards apparel. Fast fashion means environmental damage across many different areas, unfair working conditions, and the loss of traditional mending techniques and craftsmanship. There are many designers, both high and low profile including Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood, who address these changing attitudes through their production and manufacturing processes and campaigning. Events such as ‘Estethica’, 'So Ethic' and 'Edun', as well as green awards for businesses across most creative sectors which address the changing attitudes of design and the need to re-evaluate the nature in which products are manufactured and consumed.
The dissertation will draw links between the clothing market in Britain now and during the Industrial Revolution, the similarities in rebellion towards mass-production with the ‘Luddites’ losing trade to machinery, and the differences between technology and media influence. This will look at how we are moving towards the past and the present of history, and with a return of the importance of skills through valuing craft and a growing cottage industry, we may be on the verge of an important change in fashion and design. Ideas explored will include the difference between fashion and style, and if sustainable fashion is solely exclusive to the elites of society.
I will discuss developments and designers, what has been done so far and what is yet to come. Future scenarios include the possibility of being forced to have products produced nearer home due to rising fuel costs, waste materials being considered valuable and most people being able to fix their own clothes rather than throwing them away. I will be posting about my interview with the founder of Trend Bible, Joanna Feeley, on her opinions on what the future may hold, the way consumers are influenced and if it is possible to steer peoples needs and wants of fast fashion. I will also discuss my work placement at 'Sew Over It', which is a sewing cafe based in London which teaches sewing skills and dress-making, with owner Lisa Comfort ensuring traditional techniques can be retained and relearnt. As a part of my product research, I will be setting up a stall at Newcastles 'Make and Mend Market', selling my work and gathering feedback on why people attending choose to buy vintage and up-cycled rather than products from department and chain stores.
Hopefully my live research alongside the many books I will be dipping into will provide a conclusion on whether or not fashion can ever be sustainable due to a constant need for new trends, and what the most likely outcome is for the future of fashion and how it will adapt to have less negative impact on the environment and society.