>> The title of the post sounds ludicrously simple. Just… say something nice!
It apparently doesn’t happen enough according to the stats above.I’ve experienced a decade of having my style judged through the lens of the internet.Actually, “judged” would be the wrong world when talking about fashion blogging 1.0 or even 0.5.Back in those mid 2000 years, we’d go on sites like Style Diary or on the What Are You Wearing thread on The Fashion Spot and we’d post our outfitsand words of encouragement and compliments would ensue.The old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…” was well observed and adhered to.
Then somewhere down the fashion blogger 2.0/3.0 line, something happened.Audiences got bigger.Blog comments got vicious.Then came social media.First Twitter, then Instagram and now SnapChat where seemingly your life is out there 24/7, warts and all.That’s opened up a vastly different can of worms, where profiles are icon-less and Instagram accounts can be private/bots, giving license to well, say whatever you feel like.When it comes to style critique, I’ve had it dished out to me in spades over the years.“You dress like a clown.”“You’d benefit more from wearing less.”“You’re too fat for that outfit.”Clown or pig seem to be recurring insults, especially when you count the comments expressed through Emojis.
On the flip side, whilst I’ve never been guilty of leaving a similar comment on other people’s blogs/social media accounts that hasn’t stopped me from airing judgement in my head.It’s a dichotomy you grapple with because as you rail against judgement of your own style, you have to be careful to check your own judgement of others. Even innocuous things like Grazia’s Fashion Jury is something I feel uncomfortable about taking part in because it can feel a bit like, a pot calling the kettle black.
Therefore I applaud Amazon Fashion for launching their #SaySomethingNice campaign.With myself and other fashion bloggers/influencers Camille Charrière, Gala Gonzalez, Hana Tajima, Freddie Harrel, Clementine Desseau, Samar Seraqui de Butafoco and Masha Sedgwick, we have collectively fessed up about how our style has been judged in the past and also how we judge others.The point is to encourage unique and personal style and the first step towards that is to try and eliminate quickfire judgement, particularly on social media.And so we’re urging people to say something nice – which I should add, does happen frequently on my largely positive social channels – but even stray barbed comments can still do their damage.For those that receive negative judgement on a regular basis have to learn to tune them out like white noise or grow a skin so thick because we just accept that “this is the internet and this is how it is.”
My feeling has and always been thus: if you saw said about-to-be-judged person in real life, would you go up to them face to face and voice your opinion about their their outfit? And whilst it’s easy to dismiss, negative judgements as part of being on “the internetz”, how can we ascertain the exact effect of what these sort of comments have on the confidence of a person’s personal style? And so we come back to the simple title of this campaign. Just #SaySomethingNice – and I, along with the other peeps featured in the Amazon Fashion video will be pledging to do the same.
And this is the longer version where I get to ramble even more about being judged, judging people and promising to #SaySomethingNice on social media….
P.S. I realise that this post goes live on the day that the UK has chosen to leave the EU. I’m naturally bereft and disappointed but onwards and upwards – my views are being strongly expressed on my Twitter should you wish to continue the EU chat there.
Two of my tweets last Thursday afternoon might seem completely unrelated to some but in my head, I’ve since been trying to connect them. I congratulated Grace Wales Bonner upon winning the LVMH Prize, marking the third successive British-based winner of this prestigious and necessary funding. Two minutes later upon reading about the shooting of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire, and about the possibility (now all but affirmed…) that the shooting was in any way politically-motivated in amidst the debate about Brexit, I tweeted that this wasn’t a Great Britain I recognised anymore. It scaled from elation about a deserved designer – a rising star in the London fashion industry, to utter despair about a side to Britain that I won’t/don’t connect with.
It’s difficult to wade into politics on a fashion blog without being told that you’re not qualified to speak or you don’t have your facts straight. Or indeed, that your privilege makes your voice less valid. Framing the EU debate within a fashion context might not seem immediately obvious either but the fashion industry has clearly made a stand. Key players have made their position on the debate clear by standing by Remain, with the likes of Alexandra Shulman of Vogue UK, Dame Vivienne Westwood and Imran Amed of Business of Fashion having signed a letter to keep Britain in the EU. The argument? “Britain leaving the EU would mean uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs. Britain remaining in the EU would mean the opposite – more certainty, more trade and more jobs. EU membership is good for business and good for British jobs.” The economic uncertainties post potential Brexit is the main thrust being put forward.
Steve Salter (aka my other half)
But we all know that the EU referendum goes far beyond facts, figures and statistics. When experts are being “dismissed” and emotions are riding high, threats of imminent recession, loss of jobs and a plummeting £ all seem to be falling upon deaf ears. People are going to vote with an idealised vision of this country in their head and sadly many have built a battleline in their head where they are “us” and everyone else is the “other” or “them”. And so it is with ideology that I vote for Remain at the polling booth tomorrow morning. Because the Great Britain of my reality is one where we celebrate and cooperate with the “other”, not merely tolerate it.
Wales Bonner S/S 17
When it was announced that Wales-Bonner had won the coveted EUR300,000, prize I thought about her eye-opening, mind-expanding ideas that have led to us to ponder the idea of black male sexuality and masculinity. Her borders span far and wide as for her S/S 17 collection, she was looking at the crowning of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1930. Her influences have long been concerned with the black male diaspora, spread across expanses of Africa, the Caribbean, India and Europe. They’re both real and imagined journeys, resulting in clothes that whilst rooted to certain geographies and histories, are also original in its inspired ceremonial pomp for the 21st century. As a British-born half English, half Jamaican designer, Wales-Bonner isn’t necessarily directly related to the EU conversation, but the fluidity of borders expounded in her work, feels pertinent somehow. That Britain can foster designers like her make you somehow hopeful that fashion as a creative outlet still is an outward-looking and progressive beacon.
And then those thoughts were quashed by a disturbed man who reportedly yelled “Britain First” or “Put Britain first!” before firing shots at a woman, who had spent her entire working life thinking about the bigger picture – one filled with compassion. The horror. The despair. At the time, I was preparing to go out and see the Raf Simons show in Florence but found myself crying uncontrollably in my hotel room. This quote from Cox’s maiden speech, has since taken on a memorable significance: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Then why is it that within communities, we’re finding ourselves with self-imposing divides placed in amongst us.
As the rolling news played out, I then thought about fashion as a facilitator of open-mindedness and freethinking creativity. At least, that’s the fashion that I fell in love with as a young teenager, when hemmed in by pressures to perform well academically and to be “normal” or “attractive” by society. I thought about free movement being more than just people moving from one country to another for economic and benefits gain (although whilst we’re at it, it bears repeating that immigrants to the UK put in more than they take out). It’s also about a movement and exposure to cultures, ideas and ways of thinking.
If Brexiters can deduce immigration to “those bloody Polish shelves in Tesco’s” then I am free to equate Remain with values of openness, tolerance and partnership. When applied to fashion, this is in evidence not just in the designers that we have come to call our own, whose origins are in the EU – Mary Katrantzou, Marios Schwab, Faustine Steinmetz, Astrid Andersen, Marques Almeida, Marta Jakubowski and Peter Jensen to name but a few, but also in the countless graduates, stylists, photographers and make-up and hair artists that benefit from free movement and ability to ply their much-needed trade in this country. The result? A richer, more diverse and creative industry that thrives on collaboration. The flow of ideas in the British fashion industry has never been so vibrant, even amidst talk of a tumultuous industry in flux or a shrinking social mobility in fashion education impeded not by the EU… but by our own government.
And that’s just the peeps from the EU contingent. London’s fashion community has of course become home to many from outside of Europe and that’s where it becomes scarily problematic. Who’s to say that Leave voters’ fear about immigration doesn’t just stop at the borders of the EU. That they want England for English people only (people polled through various BBC Breakfast/Today programmes – their words, not mine), defined in the only way they see fit. Leavers will say they are not tainted by racism and xenophobia, but why is it that the rhetoric being heard on the streets, on social media and even from the official Leave camp people (*cough* Nigel Farage), is dangerously designed to inspire hate and ire against “them foreigners”.
I echo Polly Toynbee’s thoughts as she gives her final boost of belief towards Remain. “I don’t believe those politics of isolation will win on Thursday. I can’t and won’t believe it – and if I’m wrong then being wrong is the least of the despair I shall feel.” Because say what you want, a post-Brexit Britain will inevitably project the idea to the world, that British people are inward-looking self-interested little Englanders, even if that isn’t necessarily the case. That creative to-and-fro flow, a bi-directional conversation between Great Britain and continental Europe, that we have taken for granted for the last forty years, will stutter, splutter and maybe even slowly ebb away, as students from the EU are deterred from studying in the UK and visa impositions will make working/living here much more difficult.
This will inevitably read like wishy washy twaddle spewed by a media “luvvy” but it’s an opinion that’s no less valid than the woman in Solihull telling foreigners to get out, as she drags her shopping trolley on the high street. The so-called “Project Fear” levied at the Remain camp isn’t just about economic-based projections, but it’s the fear of a country slipping into an abyss of no return.
I finally got a chance to watch the sequel that was always going to be car-crash, strictly-for-plane-viewing, fodder of ridicule – Zoolander 2.Not even the number of A-list cameos could save it.But one line did stick out as the sort of truth, that made the original film so spot on in its spoofing.Just as Mugatu is about to launch his explosive device to kill the upper echelons of the fashion industry, he yells, “Fashion has killed itself already.” It’s a sentiment that has been ricocheting around the industry, but it is through the lens of sustainability, where you can see concrete evidence of this self-destruction.
Last month saw Fashion Revolution roll out from just being a singular day into a week, with more brands being taken to task over who made their clothes, and last week, Copenhagen played host towhat has been described as the “Davos of sustainability” as the fourth Copenhagen Fashion Summit took place, preceded by the gatherings of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Planet Textiles.For the first time, Copenhagen Fashion Summit managed to pre-sell out their tickets for attendance.“For the first time, I sense that people are here to get ‘shit’ done”, said Hannah Jones, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP, Innovation Accelerator of Nike, who is finally making action happen.
Over the last few weeks, I have myself, been thinking about the alternatives, the altruistic and the fundamental changes that the fashion industry can action, to not only… and I’m throwing a reference to the HBO show Silicon Valley here… “make the world a better place” but to really SHIFT an industry that in my mind has been resting on its creative laurels for far too long, and yes, to some extent slowly killing its core values.
At Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the framing of the conversation has changed.The call to action is stronger, even if there’s still huge swathes of the industry that haven’t efficiently dealt with the problems at hand or even acknowledge that transparency is an issue (in Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, the average score for 40 brands surveyed was just 42% on their scale of transparency). I’m glad that throughout Copenhagen Fashion Summit, there seemed to be a shirking away from the word “sustainable”.Livia Firth, in her speech said that the word was in danger of becoming “meaningless”.On the panel about the media’s role in communicating to consumers about sustainable fashion, Imran Amed of Business of Fashion said, “Our responsibility in the media to educate people that good design is sustainable design.” Last year, Orsola de Castro also gave an interview with 1Granary, where she implored people to stop tagging what is essentially the true essence of fashion with the onerous and heavy-handed label of “sustainable”: “‘New fashion’? ‘Alternative fashion’? Anything but sustainable fashion. Call it ‘Anything-but-sustainable fashion’.”
De Castro further hits nail on the head with her delineation of sustainable fashion from what should be fashion at large.“The reality is that the industry completely lost touch with its main values ever since it’s only been about rapid growth, mass production, fast fashion, and disposable luxury. It so detached from its origin that it then had to go and create a shit name so that people could be stigmatised. The reality is that sustainable fashion really is fashion. It’s everything else that isn’t sustainable that should be called as such.”
As such, the beginning of the summit had speakers that laid out more tangible ways of combating the status quo – or “everything else that isn’t sustainable”. Statements such as outdoor wear company Patagonia’s attention-grabbing advert placed in The New York Times on Black Friday in 2013 that read “Don’t Buy This Jacket” got rousing applause.According to vice president of public engagement Rick Ridgeway, it’s not enough just to repair, resell and recycle, but to also encourage customers to ultimately reduce consumption.This was a strand of conversation that I would loved to have seen more of at the summit.Fixing the processes and product in order to retain or grow existing levels of consumption is one way of looking at what we’re facing, but is there a deeper-rooted issue within our culture that can somehow be tackled?
At Nike, the word “sustainable” has been put aside in favour of innovation.Jones was applauded throughout her speech because her words got to the heart of the matter, even if you don’t necessarily agree with the thinking behind the need for growth as Nike aims to halve their environmental/human impact, whilst doubling their business.“Whichever way you do the math, incrementalism and efficiency measures won’t get you there,” said Jones in her speech.“Less bad is not good enough.The difference between what we can do and what we must do is innovation on an unprecedented scale.”For Jones, the innovation starts in the materials as 60% of the environmental impact of a pair of shoes is found in the materials and so Nike now currently have a palette of more than twenty materials made of recycled waste such as the plastic bottle polyester used in their football kits.This shift from sustainable to innovating is an exciting one, and something that can be adopted by fashion brands at all levels to really kick this industry’s arse into finally seeing significant change in the 21st century – something that will be remembered as monumentally as Mary Quant’s mini skirt or Coco Chanel’s use of black jersey.
One of the other themes of the summit was collaboration.Together, this movement is stronger when companies work together, co-operate with each other and share information.Jones also pointed to the possibility of an industry uniting in their code of conduct and pooling resources to assess and audit supply chains.This to me felt like sound, but idealistic, targets to combat the issue of transparency, which currently companies get involved in, as much, or as little as they wish.“We need to get to a place where we have one code, common assessment tools and common protocols on monitoring and we all disclose our supply chain locations to enable us to work together more effectively.Some of these factories have 200 audits, to comply with so many different buyers and we could all be sharing audits and help the factories move forward.Right now, it’s too fragmented.At the end of the day, we’re all sharing the same suppliers so it makes sense.”
Perhaps the most powerful call to action came, not from established companies or people with fancy titles.Led by Dilys Williams, director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion, 100 fashion students from 40 countries gathered at the Youth Fashion Summit, to set out a vision for the future that comes from their position as the “first generation of people who really understand climate change, and the last ones who can really do anything about it.”The full manifesto can be read here.One of the points that really resonated with me was the one that I think sets the industry back from truly innovating and creating as it should be in a responsible way.“We demand you all to collaborate as active investors in a fashion industry where capital, profit and success are redefined and measured in more than monetary value.”
In other words, success should not be measured purely by financial gain.Success should be to judge the wellbeing of their workers and the ability to implement circular systems (another buzz word of the summit meaning, resources and energy being recycled/reused in the process of production). Making this full manifesto come true, is a “moonshot” target, to borrow vocabulary from Jones’ Nike speech, but still achievable. Especially if these young minds somehow come to the fore of the industry.
The role of the media is something that I was also interested in probing into and Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times gave a short and sharp speech on the power of sex in communicating about “responsible” fashion. Factories, supply chains and the overuse of water in the making of garments, aren’t “sexy” subjects. Well, at least for most people. Me? I love a good laser cutting jigsaw mechanism. Or a CAD programme that does pattern piece placement efficiency. Friedman’s point is a salient one though. Using Michael Burry’s film The Big Short as a reference, Friedman suggests that sustainability needs the equivalent of Margot Robbie in a bath tub explaining about sub-prime mortgages. Is that the equivalent of dumbing things down, in order to reach the masses? Perhaps, but for mainstream media, the need for culturally-relevant hooks and potential traffic-drivers, means that what has been discussed at the summit is in danger of slipping into a niche ravine. It will be interesting to see how that conversation swerves for instance, when hopefully the tables start to flip and it’s the advertisers that make responsible fashion their main agenda.
Those positives aside, there was still a lot of needless self-congratulating going around at the summit. Brands trumpeting their mini victories of doing “less bad” and using philanthropy to detract attention away from their other less savoury practises. H&M, who have been involved with the summit from the very beginning, had Anna Gedda, their head of sustainability, come and speak about their own ways of closing the loop with schemes such as their garment collecting programme, but perhaps failed to address the fundamental problem with the basic model of fast fashion, that impacts on labour and resources. Is there a way of slowing down the drops of collections and still be a source of affordable fashion for consumers? Are we exploring alternative ways of on-demand production with the help of smarter use of technology? And are the changes really dramatic or innovative enough as opposed to just being small ‘make-good’ gestures?
I had meant to post these images earlier to time in with Fashion Revolution Week but they’re pertinent all the same. These photos were taken at a workshop at Edmonton’s Building Bloqs, conducted by de Castro to encourage fashion students to partake in upcycling, with the expertise of Dr Noki and Alex Noble, who know what to do with a surplus of clothing labels and old t-shirts. I’ve been thinking about the words: “Get Angry”, “High Cost, Low Price”. On this scale, perhaps these appliqued forms of protest, are certainly more vocal than the resulting actions. If my biggest takeaway from the summit was that the overall vision was still perhaps grander than the actual actions, then it’s also because the protest from the public isn’t really loud or pressured enough. And whilst I’m not the right person to galvanise people to “get angry”, I will carry on being curious and finding out the why’s and the how’s. Sustainable, alternative, responsible… call it what you want. What I’m after is what’s good. I mean, really good. The people, their hands and their clothes, that got me excited about this industry in the first place.
Image courtesy of Fashion Revolution and Novel Beings
Image courtesy of Fashion Revolution and Novel Beings
Credits for the workshop photos – Photographer: Montana Lowery, Photo Assistant: Anna Michell
Stylist: Alice Wilby, Hair: Khandiz Joni, Make-Up: Lauren Kay, Models: Sienna and Nancy at Profile
Blog posts will be falling into a theme for a while as I continue to be intrigued by alternative methodologies and more altruistic ways of looking at the fashion world, that is undergoing what I think is a bit of an existential bout of self-doubt. These are the specific facets of fashion and creation, which I’ve always been concerned with, but as Style Bubble just hit the ten year mark – and no, I’m not making a big deal out of it – it’s made me want to go back to the things that got me mega excited about blogging in the first place.
I’m not the only one, who has been piqued by the unique innovative start-up UNMADE, which has been dubbed as a “disruptor” of knitwear. I first came across their work, when they were known as Knyttan and had worked with Christopher Raeburn a few seasons ago. Renamed as Unmade, they were then part of Selfridgess’ sustainable line-up of Bright New Things earlier this year, and I have been meaning to go visit their set-up in Somerset House ever since.
A few weeks ago, I ventured down into the hidden rabbit warren of studios and offices that lie beneath this historical palace to see Unmade at work. The first question I had for Ben Alun-Jones, one of the founders of Unmade, was how to define this business. Is it a brand? Is it a technology? Is it a manufacturer? “A platform or a catalyst is a better way of explaining it. When you go on the site, we’re not the designers so we invite external designers to come and enable them with a technology that we have developed. And then we give the customer way more power in the creation of their clothes. We don’t make anything until you’re happy with it.”
A visit to Unmade’s beautifully designed website (best viewed and used on an iPad), and you’re presented with a collection of knitwear designs featuring motifs and patterns by a curated array of designers (spanning fields of interactive design and graphics as well as fashion). You can customise the placement of the pattern and print as demonstrated in the GIFs at the bottom of this post in addition to picking out a colour combination. Once you click ‘Buy’, Unmade generates a file from their specially designed software that is then sent directly to their industrial knitting machines. Every piece of knitwear is made-to-order, with a five to ten day window between the customer ordering it and receiving it. All pieces are hand finished and packaged at Somerset House and then sent out to the end customer. Unmade hold zero stock. In effect, Unmade has hacked into a methodology of mass manufacture and changed the production process so that it can involve the customer as well as solve the problem of overproduction and waste. Unmade doesn’t fit into any pre-existing fashion mounds because it’s creating its own box.
Unmade began its journey in 2013 when Alun-Jones, along with Kirsty Emery and Hal Watts, who had met at London’s Royal College of Art, collectively happed upon an industrial knitting machine and spotted an opportunity for innovation. “When we saw these industrial knitting machines, we were really inspired by the fact that they could make a different thing every time,” said Alun-Jones. “The way that people were approaching these machines was super old-fashioned. Once the capability of these machines was established, the next step was to think, what do you do with a machine that can do anything? The customer shouldn’t take on the responsibility of having to design an entire garment. Designers are super relevant but how can we update the design process and involve the customer.”
With a grant from UK Innovate, Alun-Jones, Emery and Watts were able to quit their day jobs and put their experience of design, engineering and fashion together to create what was called Knyttan, that has now evolved into Unmade. In their Somerset House plant-filled basement HQ, with its huddles of developers, designers and engineers, you don’t feel like you’re in a fashion environment. Unmade staff are probing, investigating and solving rather than toile-ing, sewing and sketching. Alun-Jones draws a comparison between the lack of innovation within the fashion industry with the dramatic changes of the music business. “Beatles were the sole creators of their music and people would go out and buy their vinyls and that would be the best thing you could get. Now in the digital age, you can distribute music for free and there are so many more artists available out there. In fashion, you still have a model where the big brands dominate and you go to the shops and it’s the same sort of product hanging there, and so the way we make clothes haven’t caught up with this world that wants something unique and different. Why can’t we use these machines that already mass produce things but use them in a different way?”
It’s important to emphasise that whilst Unmade are enabling customers to customise certain elements of the design, the main thrust of every piece of knitwear still belongs to the designers, who have collaborated with Unmade, be it Studio Moross with their Memphis-esque squiggles, Paris Essex’s splat pattern or Kitty Joseph‘s pixelated gradients. “It’s like in computer games where you have a lot of different scenarios and parameters that you can choose from, but it’s still controlled,” said Alun-Jones. “When you land on the site, you know it has an Unmade quality, and you don’t have to spend lots of time picking out the tiny details and for the vast majority of people, they want a simpler customisation process.” They also delineate quite clearly, the boundaries between Unmade as a platform, the designer and the customer, when it comes to ownership of design. “The designer that we’ve partnered with gives us the license to use the design. You’re creating within parameters of the original design so the customer doesn’t own that design.”
Still, the possibilities of design outcomes are endless. Unmade has never produced a jumper to the exact specification twice. With just the drag of a mouse, a click of a colour combination, a unique interpretation of a designer’s pattern is created. One of the most satisfying consequences of this process though is the reduction of waste that Unmade achieves, after an initial period of trouble shooting their software. “When we first started, we were having a lot of problems with sizes of things coming out. We had to come up some advanced algorithms to solve them to make sure what you see on screen is what comes out of the machine. Now, we have a very low wastage of what we manufacture. We use very high quality Italian merino and cashmere and everything is fully fashioned.”
Their on-site production facility is indeed very neat and compact, Behind glass doors scribbled with order status charts and instructions are three Stoll machines humming along, fulfilling anything up to thirty pieces a day. Then there are hand finishers using the linking machines to finish off a piece of knitwear. There aren’t any trolleys with an excess of product piled up. There’s a modest amount of yarn. And the leftover scraps from the machine are contained within a single plastic bag.
When they popped up at Selfridges, I did wonder how the average shopper would react to the idea of not getting that immediate shopping gratification.How do you shift the customer perception from getting something to take home straight away, to having to wait for a jumper to emerge from a machine. Could seeing the process on the spot entice the customer? I asked whether in the future, Unmade could produce knits within a shorter period of time than the one week time lag. “At our Floral Street pop-up, if you came in the morning and started the process, by the end of the day you could come and pick it up. We’re still a very young business so we’re still solving those problems but that’s definitely the dream.”
The really exciting thing about Unmade, hence why they’ve had several rounds of investment with the likes of José Neves of FarFetch backing them, is the overall potential on the horizon. The ultimate end goal for Unmade isn’t necessarily to build up a massive customer base for their own e-commerce site. They repeatedly assert that they aren’t a brand. “We want to be like an Intel,” said Alun-Jones. “Unmade becomes this technology layer that enables small designers or big brands to produce knitwear in this way.” They’re currently talking to established historic brands to see how they can collaborate together, whereby Unmade becomes this trustworthy enabler of on-demand and customisable knits. Imagine for instance a Gucci piece of knitwear made using Unmade’s platform, where you can specify colourways or where exactly a pretty bird or flower motif sits.Or looking at the bigger picture, could Unmade change the way we buy our clothes, where we’re not buying off the rack but co-creating with brands to create clothes that are made there and then, and thus feel more special.Alun-Jones says they’re concentrating on knitwear for now but unravelling the yarns of Unmade makes you think about the future of an industry, that soon may not be predicated on seasons, production in quantity and the full autonomy of the designer.And it may not be the traditional fashion power players that drags this industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century.