I literally bumbled and tumbled my way into Designer Jumble on Thursday on Fashion Revolution Day because I had just landed in back from Hong Kong at 6am in the morning. Not that natty hair and droopy panda eyes were going to deter me from doing something to contribute to the success of what was a worldwide co-ordinated day of activities to remember the tragedy of Rana Plaza exactly a year ago. Let’s start with a hip-hip-hurrah for their mightily successful #InsideOut campaign, which was trending on Twitter throughout the day.
I chose to set my withered self up at Designer Jumble, a pop-up initiative set up by former editor-in-chief of Vogue.com Abigail Chisman. Devoted to selling secondhand designer fashion and accessories at affordable prices, Designer Jumble’s appeal isn’t just for the socially-conscious shopper. Whether you’re interested in issues of sustainability and fair trade or not, what fashion lover is going to snub their noses up at a Gaultier Junior jacket for under £100 or a Prada dress for £90.
Ensconced on The Street section of Westfield Stratford until June, Designer Jumble really is a 2nd hand designer treasure trove. And I say that having just returned from the 2nd hand designer treasure trove that is Tokyo. What gets my vote are the prices which are definitely not inflated but are priced accordingly. No wonder some vintage buyers/store owners were sniffing around Designer Jumble wanting to buy out their rails. Chisman wasn’t having any of it though. She ultimately wants to sell pieces at a fair price and particularly on Fashion Revolution Day, get the message across that there are high street alternatives out there. And you need not wrinkle your nose at “worn” or “used” when you’re getting the quality and craftsmanship so often displayed with the Made in Italy/Britain/France garments of the 70s and 80s when supply chains were a lot shorter and more transparent.
On Fashion Revolution Day, Designer Jumble played host to knitwear upcyclist and all-round lover of colour and fun Katie Jones, who was busy darning up an old Jean Paul Gaultier jacket with blue polka dots. The Good Wardrobe, a forum and site that promotes prolonging the life of clothes with a make-do-and-mend attitude were also on hand to offer tips to people on how to breathe new life into tired clothes.
I was tasked in to style up the wares on offer on the mannequin. And there was definitely FAR more choice than I had anticipated. I found myself shopping and could have winded up with a rack of many possibilities. The bulk of the 2nd hand designer wares on offer are donated by fashion insiders and collated by Chisman herself. There’s also another incredible collection that Chisman will be selling on behalf of a woman called Hannelore Smart, who was the wife of circus impresario Billy Smart Jr and thus the collection is called “Fashion is a Circus”. I’ll be delving deeper into the collection next week (if all the pieces haven’t been snapped up already!) but it is no understatement to say that this 1,500 piece collection spanning the 70s to the 90s is a proper goldmine – Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Alaia, Kenzo, Thierry Mugler, Antony Price, Hussein Chalayan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood – it’s ALL going on and some of it, going for a song. A selection of elite pieces including a brilliant moulded Issey Miyake plastic corset and couture Versace jacket are up for auction right now, with all proceeds going to Alzeimers Society in London, but most are going on the rails so a visit to Westfield Stratford is definitely a must. I used a lot of pieces from this collection to put together outfits. In addition, there were also examples of ethical and sustainable fashion courtesy of new designer Vivienne Austin and of course Orsola de Castro’s From Somewhere.
Thank you to Emeline Nsingi Nkosi for modelling one of my looks consisting of a beautiful recycled denim coat with foiled edging by new sustainable designer Vivienne Austin, a Prada Sports zip-up top, a Gaultier Junior pleated skirt, some Miu Miu pumps and an incredible vintage swimcap floral hat.
I also did my little #InsideOut bit by posting a few outfits – a mix of high street, indie and designer – all turned inside out with origins of factories in China, Italy, Morocco, USA and UK. Disappointingly only Whistles came back with a personal answer thanks to their helpful PR to my question of where my camoflage top and skirt were made (a factory in Southern China which follows BSCI code of conduct). Someone from H&M got back to me on Twitter with a link detailing all their factories and suppliers, graded by H&M themselves – to be fair, their dedication to CSR is pretty impressive when you go through their whole Sustainability site. And sweet Calla assured me her jeans were made under sound working conditions in Morocco – and I’m inclined to believe her because it would do her harm as such a young designer to not be in full control of her production.
On a day where brands were most likely to be inundated with #InsideOut tweets, I’m surprised they weren’t prepared to give an answer – not even a courtesy tweet to say they’d endeavour to find out. Current//Elliott who have their jeans all made in USA would surely have a traceable supply chain that they can inform their consumer about – all they tweeted me was a compliment saying they liked the look. Not helpful. The Topshop slipdress I wore says it’s Made in Britain, and as per many of their Boutique and Unique items, they are all proudly Made in Britain, which probably means the supply chain is close at home and not exactly hard to find out about – so why no reply? Looking at their Twitter feed, I don’t think they replied to any of the #InsideOut tweets that were posted at them. Most baffling and frankly disappointing. The Club Monaco leather coat I wore inside out is priced at a premium – it’s Made in China but to charge that price, surely they have a rough idea of where the item came from – again, no answer. I’ll forgive Marni, James Long and COS for not replying – their presence on social media isn’t exactly established. The replies I saw from brands to other people, were mostly independent designers who could give answers instantly and with a clear conscience. That’s not surprising because they are working on a much smaller scale, without a convoluted chain of third parties, merchandisers and buyers. Even assurance from the high street retailers that everything is audited, vetted and analysed isn’t a 100% guarantee that what you’re buying hasn’t passed through inhumane working conditions. Designer brands are also culprits but also seem beyond reproach.
And yet the answers of what is the call-to-action are still murky. Do we avoid all the high street chains and deprive the livelihoods of women, who would otherwise be jobless and mired in poverty? Do we restrict ourselves to buying traceable, independent designers or ethical/sustainable designers when not everyone’s budgets can manage that? I’d conclude that instead of a mass boycott, that we should demand better and expect more from the high street brands we buy from. #InsideOut shouldn’t be one-day trending phenomenon but an ongoing discussion between consumer and retailer. The likes of Topshop might ignore these questions for the time being but piling on the pressure consistently will make them listen. It would be bad business on their part not to. That’s why contributing to Fashion Revolution’s latest crowdfunding campaign could also help. They seek to fix the broken links in a supply chain, to put questions to retailers and pile on that pressure and to ultimately raise the standards of an industry that has blood on their hands (by the by reading about one of the Rana Plaza survivors being trapped in the building, drinking dead people’s blood to survive should chill anybody’s bones and spur you on to think about your purchases).