Wednesday, May 14, 2008

“The term Tipping point describes the point at which a slow gradual change becomes irreversible.” Leggings. The trend has peaked and we have reached the moment that the fashion media has been dreading. The nation has been wearing leggings for months to the extent that those with the confidence of shapely legs have abandoned them and we are now left with an irreversible trend that is sported, mainly by people who look rather foolish in this second skin.

I love leggings but they are unforgiving, they reveal every ounce of fat, every peculiar turn of the lower leg. If you’re dressing up and your legs aren’t naturally athletic or your feet turn out at odd angles or your legs are kind of scrawny then you should probably opt for a different trend, one that looks a little more glamorous and conceals your flaws. It’s not that anyone cares, it’s simply that a lot of people could look better than they do in leggings. All people have flaws and clothes ideally balance them out to make us more beautiful. Skinny jeans are just as tight, quite similar to leggings but a better material for women who carry bulk on their legs, tights are thinner and pair better with skirts for the majority of the population. Women and men should not wear clothes simply because they are in fashion and they like the trend, style equates with clothes that suit you as an individual.

At some point leggings are going to disappear into the sportswear department again but at the moment they have reached a height of fashion that means swathes of young women, regardless of their shape have put them on their legs. Like all garments they are not suitable for everyone and it isn’t related to weight, some women have short, round legs and look excellent in leggings, some have long, slender legs and look absurdly like fawns. How do trends get to the point where people who can pick exciting patterns and well cut dresses make their legs look less than they could? I suspect it’s a combination of laziness and delight. Essentially no media group, no stylist and no retailer has ever been able to take away the one, absolute truth, leggings are fun.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'm quite interested in Butcher Couture an ethical fashion company that was founded by Babou Olengha in October 2007. It specialises in organic bovine leather but it's incredibly difficult to get a sense of the clothing online. There are a number of reasons for this, the first is that the website has been written in flash, that means that when you use the label as a search term in google it only picks up the front page and a breast awareness PDF press release. Oddly the site is titled launcher rather than Bucher Couture on google so it's not obvious that you're going to the correct page unless you look at the URL.

The use of flash means that you get an immediate sense of the brand, the marketing aims of the company but not of the products that Butcher Couture is producing. The introduction, as with all flash sites, is long and boring, it takes an age to load up and tells you very little if you are there to look at fashion items. You then have to navigate through more windows until finally you can look at the Autumn/Winter 2007 collection. Whether there is a Spring/Summer 2008 collection cannot be discerned online so it's possible that Butcher Couture no longer exists and is simply a name floating around the Internet. The site isn't finished, the Archive and Track and Trace features do not work, you cannot exit from the equation feature, news is somewhat out of date specifically because the site is a season behind.

This is an honourable idea, it's been branded well and obviously got some attention in the latter half of 2007. Even now the pink wedding dress that Jemma Sykes created for the label is getting some attention online but I can't discover anything about the clothes in a broader sense and that strikes me as odd. The brand, the name, the ethic is interesting but what about the garments, shouldn't they take precedence?
This decade has seen an entire sector of the fashion industry built up around eco-fashion. Perhaps the best example of this is People Tree which, despite having no retail outlets on the high street has achieved an enviable level of brand recognition, and yet in spite of the popularity of well known ethical clothing companies such as People Tree, Howies and Terra Plana it is still difficult to predict whether the sector is stable enough to survive the next 10 years. Ecological fashion is expensive. The production of clothing can cost a lot: paying workers a living wage, using materials that are good for the environment and dyes that don’t cause harm pushes the cost of clothes up. After all of that hard work, the method of delivering clothes is still going to be slower and the turnover less quick than high street retailers because it is destructive and unethical to fly clothing from one country to another. An ecologically minded fashion company that uses planes should surely have its credentials questioned? The media is discussing the rising cost of food, the sense that we’re in an economic downturn is prevalent and the question of whether an expensive, ethical trade can be sustained, whether the market focuses on the right demographic for this to be possible, must be at the forefront of people’s minds. In the last few weeks Nau has shut up shop, a thoughtful clothing company that couldn’t achieve a viable level of funding. The question is as always whether people who are not wealthy can be expected to consistently spend more on clothing, particularly if they are already spending more on food, cleaning products, cosmetics and other items that they perceive as ethical because there are no cheap, ethical products. The association of price and luxury exists because spending more on any item equates to buying luxury goods. When we buy a more expensive version of the same basic product, whether it is food or clothing, we are buying a luxury item regardless of any external gain for wider society or our own bodies. Then there’s the argument that cheaper clothes fall apart and out of shape more quickly but I don’t see a foundation for it, particularly not in my own experience. My People Tree skirt is not in better shape than the skirt I bought from H&M a few years earlier so the choice to buy more expensive clothing is an ethical and intellectual choice, not a practical choice.

British supermarkets have tried to adopt eco-fashion with mixed results. Lucy Siegle’s blog post on the relationship between Katharine Hamnett and Tesco reveals the expected tension between ecological ideals and big business. If you’re interested in the status of larger retail chains with regards to worker’s rights the Clean Up Fashion report from War on Want is an interesting, informative place to begin with a section in the PDF summary dedicated to How Companies Fared.