Author, Lucy Siegle. Photo: Janie Barrett
Lucy Siegle used to consume fashion like fast food – with a cheap blouse or an on-sale skirt serving as a ready sugar hit. In doing so she created a very first-world problem for herself: she had a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear.
“I spent a lot of money and had nothing to show for it,” says Siegle.
Fed-up with herself, the 39-year-old British journalist began to investigate the world of “fast fashion”, popularised by the same foreign retail chains that are leading a push into the Australian market, begun by Zara and Topshop, with Swedish brand H&M the latest arrival – its flagship store opens in Melbourne next week.
Siegle ended up writing a book, To Die For, on what she learned about the globalisation of the ready-made garment industry.
"The more I dug, the more I uncovered,” she says.
“Now I look for different things when I am shopping. It has changed the way I respond to clothes. I appreciate how a seam is made, how I am connected to the producers who made it.”
Siegle realised she was shopping mindlessly, with no set goal and no set budget.
She implemented rules for herself: if she could not commit to wearing a garment at least 30 times, she would not buy it. She would only buy to fill a gap in her wardrobe. She now focuses on fabric quality and no longer buys very cheap clothing.
“It’s about appreciating the hands behind the garment. Once you investigate the supply chain, you realise that in high street fast fashion, the labour is hidden.”
The toll of fast fashion made global headlines last year when the tragic collapse of the Rana garment factory took more then 1,100 lives. But Siegle believes there is no point guilt-tripping consumers. It is far more effective to put upwards pressure on the brands.
This consumer activism is not just about being “nice and altruistic”, Siegle says, it’s also the best way to protect Bangladeshi trade.
The ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh employs four million people and provides huge economic stimulus. But if brands suffer reputation damage from tragedies like Rana Plaza, some will pull out of the country altogether, just as Disney did last year.
"I would encourage people to use their influence to put pressure on companies to sort out their supply chains,” Siegle says.
“The companies are the ones who need to pay more money, not the consumer.”