Newsletter No.03 - Can they buy style or must they buy fashion?

On 1930's fashion critiques and the "horrid little man" that is the industry

Newsletter No.03 - Can they buy style or must they buy fashion?
Don't wear beige it might kill you!

Hello, how has October been treating you? I want to say a particular thank you and welcome to people who have newly signed up to this newsletter.

Over the weekend I made a headpiece for a forthcoming Halloween party which has the theme Mamma Mia: Here We Ghoul Again...

The rest of my month has been about racing towards writing deadlines. I’ve written a new preface for the paperback edition of Foot Work - What Your Shoes Are Doing To The World, to bring it up to date with the pandemic. A good way to see Covid-19’s impact on apparel manufacture is to consider that during 2020, 4 billion fewer pairs of shoes were made than usual. I was buoyed up in this task by a really great book review from The Better Shoes Foundation. It is nerve wracking as heck when someone with decades worth of experience in the sector reviews your book, but I think we did good.

Quote Of The Month

What I love about writing is the reading. Being surrounded by books, bookmarked websites and pages of notes. Allowing myself to fall down rabbit holes of research to follow things that interest me. So without further ado I present this editions Quote Of The Month:

'I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day. For thousands of years people got along with something called style and maybe, in another thousand, we’ll go back to it.'

- Elizabeth Hawes, 'Fashion is Spinach', 1937.

I discovered Elizabeth Hawes via the Vestoj website where I was looking for THAT explosive interview with former British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers. (The one where she said: "The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it.")

That page led me in turn to Elizabeth Hawes. A designer, an activist, a union organiser, a dress reformer, and a damned good writer. She wrote three books on fashion and what we'd now call intersectional feminism and I recommend taking five minutes to read the rest of the extract of her book Fashion Is Spinach where she eviscerates an industry that tells us that 'the past, present, and future of clothing depends on fashion, ceaselessly changing.'

Writing in the 1930s and 40s, Hawes applied feminist, socialist thought to the fashion industry - 'that horrid little man with an evil eye who tells you that your last winter’s coat may be in perfect physical condition, but you can’t wear it' and exposed its absurdity. She nails the pressure people are put under to conform even if they do not want to. It makes me wonder how many other brilliant early critics of the industry have been all but lost to history, subsumed by a narrative that says consumerism is king and shopping makes you happy.

In the interest of celebrating style over fashion, of upcycling, recycling, reusing, restyling and going against the grain, I present to you some snaps from the London October 2021 Colour Walk:


These are some of the things I am keeping my eye on in the industry right now:

  • COP-26! With the future of the planet at stake and the worst people in charge, it's time to act. I will be joining the Global Day of Action on Saturday 6th November and hope you will too.
  • In the last newsletter I asked you to write to your local Myanmar embassy to call for the release of Daw Myo Aye, the leader of Solidarity Trade Unions of Myanmar (STUM). The good news is that she has been freed as part of the release of 5,600 political prisoners! 7,300 more people, however, remain behind bars in appalling conditions.
  • This new film: 'Wings are not for sale: A journey into the labyrinth of fast fashion' - this is a very clever, moving and insightful film that ties into much of what Elizabeth Hawes wrote on the pain and pressure of consumerism and excess production. It features a group of fashion students, some fascinating interviews and beautiful designs. I like how different it is to other fashion documentaries.
  • This article on how 'All American' brand Brooks Brothers, supported and benefited from the institution of slavery. This is a disturbing look at the history of the production and sale of clothing for enslaved people, by Dr Jonathan Michael Square.
  • This campaign to get justice for 210 Disney workers in El Salvador. Workers at the Industrias Florenzi factory have been abandoned after 15 years by Barco Uniforms, which produces Grey’s Anatomy scrubs under Disney license. The factory closed, fired its workforce, and failed to pay them more than a million dollars in wages and legally mandated severance. All the links to support these workers can be found here.
  • “Brands continue to say zero deforestation and zero waste to landfill, and yet many of the factories they use are burning huge amounts of forest wood.” I'm also reading this worrying new research on the link between fashion and deforestation in Cambodia. Article here or full report here.
  • These documentary interviews with garment workers in Pakistan by journalist Fawad Hazan. More alarming reports of oppression and violence against workers.
  • Also from Pakistan - the good news that the High Court of Sindh upheld a government ruling to raise the minimum wage by 43% to Rs25,000 for 'unskilled' workers. This is great as the wage rise had angered industry leaders who continue to campaign against paying higher wages.
  • And finally, two workers rights Twitter accounts to follow right now! The Dabindu Collective in Sri Lanka and the Dalit women-led Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union

I am grateful to you for reading and I send you solidarity for the month ahead particularly with regards to COP 26 and our global need for an equitable way of living in harmony with the planet.

Please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested in this fledgling newsletter. It is still an experiment so I'm very happy to hear suggestions for what you'd like to read about.

In solidarity, Tansy.

p.s. I'm now booking in guest lecture spots for this academic year. If you know anyone at a University, College, or School who might be looking for an insightful introduction or an academic deep dive into the fashion industry, I'd be very grateful if you could send them this post:

p.p.s. If you live in Bristol, I'm speaking at the Clifton Lit Fest on the politics of the fashion industry on Nov 13th.

p.p.p.s. One last Hawes quote: 'Fashion is apt to insist one year that you are nobody if you wear flat heels, and then turn right around and throw thousands of them in your face.'