Further On Fashion

Portfolio magazine on luxury fashion’s vague shrug towards responsible manufacturing practices.

In a January report, investment research firm Innovest’s list of the 100 most responsible corporations included no luxury conglomerates […] Innovest’s list, oddly, does include two leading retailers in the wasteful “fast fashion” movement—H&M and Inditex, which owns the Zara chain. It’s hard to be truly green with a business model that compels customers to frequently throw out what they own. Unfortunately, luxury fashion has begun taking cues from fast fashion, putting itself at odds with its exclusive nature. Whereas couturiers once made design statements as part of an ongoing evolution—creating new jackets that would go with last year’s dresses—fast fashion introduces clothes nonstop, zigzagging through multiple styles each season. Forced obsolescence drives consumers to buy more. This may sound like a shrewd business practice, but overproduction leads to overconsumption: The more we buy, the more we discard. That’s environmentally heedless—and it’s ugly.

For Portfolio, one of the key points here is that by chasing the throwaway fashion dollar, luxury fashion has been unwittingly degrading its own marketplace. A jacket that matches last season’s skirt implies a select clientele of repeat customers, picking out essential pieces season after season. The novelty-hungry trend seekers who rummage through H&M and Zara are, by their nature, not very loyal: they don’t have a relationship to the things they buy, and they don’t have a relationship to the places they buy them either.

Couture design and crafting can’t respond to the rapid turnover of street fashion. By inciting a furious desire for new beauty every season, the designer brands have summoned up a demand for copycats who can supply quick-turnaround product. Susan Scafidi’s solution to this problem is to espouse copyright protection for fashion designs – a proposal which, despite my sympathy for designers, seems neither very workable nor fair nor desirable. It doesn’t serve to change the self-immolating business model which Portfolio picks up on, either. Portfolio offers a different remedy which combines sustainability with exclusivity:

try to imagine a high-end fashion giant responding to our overtaxed environment by embracing traditional methods that are both more luxurious and less ephemeral. Now that would be a radical new design.

For domestic knitters and tailors, this isn’t that radical at all – if you are a competent needleworker, then you’re all set to be your own couturier. Luxury fashion is racing to catch up with your knitting bag…


I am sitting on the front seat of the bus with oldest child next to me, my knitting on my lap; two teenage girls are sitting behind us. One of them talks about The Dark Knight, and how Heath Ledger died “because he was just, like, too good at being that clown guy” (the other one doesn’t talk very much at all). This is the second time someone has said this in my earshot on the bus. I wonder whether this exact conversation is being had word-for-word on every bus route in the world, twice, and have a bit of an existential “moment”. Their chatter suddenly drops to a whisper, and then returns to full volume with this:

Girl One: I know! Leila had a teach yourself to knit kit. Can you imagine? I know, I know… but it’s just Leila. Knitting. I think she made a pink handbag, with, like, buttons on it. I know! It took her, like, a year. She had all these fake fingernails and they broke. I had some too, and my mum said, “why do you want them? you’ve got perfectly good fingernails?” and they all fell off but I’ve still got one. It’s on my bedside table. It must be, like, well manky now.

Girl Two laughs.

Messy Tuesday: What’s The Shorthand For “Mess”?

I am an inveterate scribbler and incurably disorganised. I am frequently struck quite suddenly by a Brilliant Idea which I will immediately scratch down on a handy piece of paper – usually the first page my notebook flips open on, sometimes the back of a letter or the margin of a newspaper. One consequence of this happenstantial habit of notekeeping is that the same Brilliant Idea will quite often show up several times in one notebook – recorded, forgotten, recurring as if new, recorded, forgotten again, and so on into the future along with all those other Brilliant Ideas of mine that never get executed. (NB previous Brilliant Ideas have included “a poem about jam” and “Fight Club for girls”, so Brilliant is possibly a misleading term here.) Continue reading


I have been a knitter for one year. Twelve months ago, I fumbled my first cast-on, wobbled through my first row, frogged it all and started again, and never really looked back. This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to learn. As a child, my mother guided me through the production of a couple of small squares in pink and red: I remember thinking that I would make enough for a patchwork blanket, but I clearly ran out of enthusiasm early. Continue reading