OK, here are the statistics:
The total UK household consumption on clothing and footwear is € 59 billion. To put this figure in perspective, the spending on Education is €16.1 billion whilst Health is a paltry €17.9 billion. The Chinese textile industry creates about 3 billion tons of soot each year. Millions of tons of unused fabric at Chinese mills go to waste each year when dyed the wrong colour. Think about the negative impact.
Yet walk down any high street and you see a dominance of mass-produced clothing shops with happy, frenzied shoppers: Matalan, Primark, Peacock, H&M, Next, Topshop, Uniqlo, to name but a few. In the UK, supermarkets are getting into the scrum as well, with Tesco and Asda churning out their own brand at impossibly low prices. Internet companies too have sprouted from nowhere to push dubious, cut-price fashion into an already over-polluted fashion world. What do these purveyors of mass clothing have in common?
Affordable 'style', of course. You could be forgiven for thinking that these value retailers are doing the public a service by striking at the heart of elitism through making couture affordable to the mass market. For research, I popped into Primark in Oxford Street and found that I could afford to dress quite well (in a blatant copy of this season's catwalk offering) for under €20. Teenagers, even with their limited spending power, can afford to buy a dress a week at Primark prices.
And indeed, they are encouraged to do so by mass advertising campaigns and peer pressure. Venture anywhere in a shopping mall and you will see impossibly glamorous (and heavily airbrushed) models selling the lie that you too could look like this if you part with a mere €20, never mind the genetics and artistic manipulations.
When I was in Monaco in May, the mega yacht of one of the owners of these 'value retailers' was in port. It was a blatant advertising of wealth, with a Jacuzzi on the deck and uniformed deckhands polishing the brass late into the evening. The math behind it bothered me a great deal: how many €20 frocks do that particular fashion chain have to sell, in order to keep the gin palace afloat, never mind its purchase price?
I made my 14 year old daughter read this report in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2007/apr/22/clothes.fashion
According to War on Want, "Bargain retailers such as Primark, Asda and Tesco are only able to sell at rock bottom prices in the UK because women workers in Bangladesh are being exploited."
It's never attractive to wear clothes that were made off someone's sweat in inhumane and often dangerous working conditions, whatever the external appearance may be. But this being the real world, women and girls want to look attractive, and since most of us are not blessed with ideal proportions, perfect features and flawless beauty, we aspire to achieve some modicum of that dream through fashion. And who could blame us: our sisters from the pre-historic era had been adorning themselves with bits of bones and stones.
Ladies, hear my plea. Embrace HOBOism. It's a style concept without a label. It's fashion without stores (or internet shops). With HOBOism, you wear yourself instead of being a slave to fashion (courtesy of poor women in Bangladesh and other parts of Asia).
HOBOism is a battle cry to women to be comfortable in their skins, to enjoy playing and living, and to express their individuality boldly. It's sticking two fingers up to the dictates of the fashion czars. It is a reflection of your life, your life.
Note: HOBOism is most emphatically NOT wearing unisex long shorts and shapeless t-shirts.
Examples of my HOBOism
I have a functional wardrobe that reflects my lifestyle: mostly old riding boots that are falling apart (but which are oh-so comfortable!) and decades-old, faded warm jackets. And I have a rule: never more than 5 minutes getting ready.
This is an illustration of HOBOism at its best: I went riding last week with a dashing Knight in my pyjamas (because he woke me up at 5am, throwing stones at my window). I hurriedly threw a pair of jodhpurs on but kept the pyjamas top. As we were going for a rather elegant breakfast after the ride, I put on a simple, old, brass tiara and a torn, tatty scarf. Breakfast lingered into lunch, into late afternoon apple-scrumping, before we slowly meandered our way from Lyndhurst to London. Upon arrival at the capital, the Knight invited me for early cocktails at an incredibly glamorous location. A quick change in the ladies transformed the tiara into a glamorous choker and the tatty scarf into a stylish top, and despite still being in my jeans and muddy riding boots, I held my own amongst the well-dressed peacocks. In the process, I won the Knight's deep admiration for my style and made a rather big impression on him.
And here's the deal: both the tiara and the scarf are up for grabs. OK, the scarf is torn and tatty, but the tiara is very interesting. It is more than 30 years old, possibly more. Its provenance is probably Welsh, and resembles entwined stalks of the filix-mas. I found it in the attic of my parents' house years ago.
To win both, email me a photo (or sketch) of an outfit that you think defines the HOBO fashion philosophy. The best entry wins. All entries will be published on my blog: www.raisinghappystrongkids.com
Entries should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org by the 17th of October. May the best HOBO win.
- British Retail Consortium
- National Statitistics Office (on UK business bysector and location)
- University of Southampton on Retail Recruitment and Graduate Schemes
- 'Retailing in the UK', by the Euromonitor
- Clothing Retailing in the UK, by Mintel
- Verdict Research: UK Value Clothing Retailers 2009
- British Council of Fashion Industry's Facts & Figures 2009
- British Lifestyles, by Mintel
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com