Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Merry Christmas

I've always enjoyed Christmas as a chance to reflect. While everything outside is dark and resting, there's something lovely for me about snuggling down and thinking about the intangible: love, God, grace. 
And celebrating.

I also love looking ahead to a New Year - the dreaming and planning, although I generally steer clear of making resolutions.
Hopefully, when the holiday gets underway it will give me lots of food-for-thought to explore here in 2012. 
Until then, happy and merry to you and yours.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Fantastic Failure

This is an extract from 'The Word for Today'* that I loved and found encouraging:

If you refuse to quit when you fail, you'll ultimately succeed. You just have to be willing to get back up and keep moving forward.

In 1832 Abraham Lincoln was defeated for the State Legislature.
In 1833 he failed in business.
In 1835 his sweetheart died.
In 1836 he had a nervous breakdown.
In 1838 he was defeated for Illinois House Speaker.
In 1843 he was defeated for nomination to Congress.
In 1854 he was defeated for the U.S. Senate.
In 1856 he was defeated for nomination for Vice President.
In 1858 he was defeated again in a U.S. Senate race.
But today he is considered one of America's greatest presidents. 

* A magazine produced by United Christian Broadcasters with 'Encouraging Words Every Day' available to order (free) from

Friday, 16 December 2011

Wardrobe Stories

There's so much around for us to buy and wear that I want to appreciate the things I own and the reasons why I love them. Sharing my 'wardrobe stories' is a way for me to document that. I get really excited when I realise that an outfit I'm wearing is largely or entirely from a charity shop. There was a time when it was decidedly against the norm to be proud of thrifty finds, but on the whole it seems that attitudes have shifted with more and more people acknowledging that they can be great places to pick up [unusual] bargains. And there's the obvious added bonus of knowing you're saving something from landfill and helping to finance a good cause.

In this outfit I'm wearing a dark brown leather Levi belt that my Dad bought himself on holiday in America before I was born. I plundered his wardrobe in my teens and have been wearing it ever since because it sits on my hips (as opposed to my waist) really nicely - although here I'm wearing it functionally rather than just aesthetically. My necklace was a present from one of my closest friends and my jeans are Topshop (Baxter): one of only two styles of highstreet jeans that come close to fitting me - and even they are a touch too baggy at the top but I need the length.

The rest are charity shop finds. A raspberry knit top (label was cut out, so not sure where from originally): it's quite short in the body and has an asymmetrical pocket - loved it as soon as I saw it in the British Red Cross (£3.50). The jacket was an unbelievable £1.50 (also label-less - I think people must find them itchy or something), and I'd been looking for something like it for a while. The arms are too short, but the navy inside lining means turning up the sleeves works. But my favourite is the bag - can't remember how long I've had it now, but it's a trusty travel faithful, cost around a fiver and holds a miraculous amount.

I'm no fashion guru, but I've had a lot of fun over the years collecting things that I love to wear and use over and over again. It can be easy to forget what a privilege it is to own anything in the first place, let alone things that I feel comfortable in and that have allowed me to cultivate a sense of style and identity. I don't want to take these things for granted.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

H&M Fake Bodies Furore

Eating out on my lunch break last week, I picked up a copy of G2* that was floating around in the coffee shop and was disappointed to read about a controversial marketing technique being used by one of my favourite clothes shops.

Columnist Jane Martinson was commenting on recent revelations that multinational retailer H&M has been using an amalgamation of plastic bodies and real faces to model swimwear and lingerie online.  Various sources are credited with breaking the story in early December, including Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet and Norwegian website Bildbluffen, and coverage seems to have been circulating the internet ever since. Reactions in columns and comment boards range from totally unperturbed to weary resignation and indignant outrage.

In defence of the company, press spokesperson Håcan Andersson is quoted as saying:

“This is a technique that is not new, it is available within the industry today and we are using it for our Shop Online in combination with real life models pictures and still life pictures… For all other marketing and campaigns – outdoor, TV, print and other media, H&M will continue to use real life models.”

To my mind, that is no where near an adequate answer. Superimposing real people’s (presumably airbrushed) heads onto fake bodies and passing them off as genuine individuals completely distorts the way the consumer relates to the product, brand and – most importantly – his or her own body.

There are aspects of H&M’s marketing that I’m a real fan of. Their winter/Christmas campaigns over the last two years have coupled different generations, emphasising family and friendship. It’s an approach that resonates with me – I especially love choosing outfits for those types of get-togethers: my extended family is so chic in all kinds of quirky ways; style is always appreciated. The ads are also a refreshing change from the “this-person-is-sleeping-with-me-because-I’m-wearing-this-top/dress/bag” approach present in most mainstream adverts that feature multiple people.

I also feel a certain amount of brand-loyalty: I remember an older cousin taking me to “Hennes” during a London stay with her family, and being so excited when a store opened in my hometown months later. In my early teens it was my first go-to for high street fashion, when I wasn’t raiding charity shops and street markets or customising hand-me-downs. And it’s still a shop I look to for certain staples.

It offends me that a company I’m willingly committed to has been so seemingly dismissive of the wider social implications of their actions. Just because a practice is commonplace doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically acceptable. The irony is that for something to become commonplace, it has to be accepted by the majority. It’s regrettable that the overt manipulation of images in advertising has become so institutionalised across an industry that, for its own survival, heavily relies on the people it belittles.

Why haven’t we said ‘not in my name’? And what would that look like?

For me, it starts with sending a few inconsequential letters to the mighty management at H&M. I’ll share their contents in a post here on Inklings soon…

*A supplement of The Guardian newspaper containing articles, columns, television and radio listings amongst other things.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

"Body and Soul" - Anita Roddick

A happy mishap has seen me end up reading a book I never intended to buy. When I tried to order Anita Roddick's second autobiographical business book "Business as Unusual", I struggled to order it online. Despite finding it on a number of websites, it seems to be out of print with originals rarer than gold dust. I eventually managed to put in an order, but when I opened up the package days later the book that had been dispatched was her first: "Body and Soul".

I was initially disappointed, having been particularly interested in the decisions she made to sustain her business in the expansion that followed its early success, but reading about the beginnings of The Body Shop has possibly been one of the best things to happen to me.

There are lots of reasons to admire Anita Roddick as an activist and entrepreneur, and after I'm further on in the book I'll probably post about those things. But having read the first three chapters, I've been forcefully struck by the fact that Roddick doesn't seem to have set out to be those things - she was simply determined to be herself in the circumstances she found herself in. Her business plan was the accumulation of adventure, experience, intuition and necessity. 

The shop's dark green branding came from the need to cover up damp patches on the walls of her first premises. Her knowledge of and commitment to natural ingredients in cosmetics was founded in the lessons she learnt in conversation on her travels as a "restless spirit". Her customer care ethos and work ethic can be traced to her mother's work and Roddick's own experience running a hotel and restaurant with her husband. I won't ruin the magic by listing it all here; it's infinitely better in her own words. Suffice to say that as the 'plot' unfolds over eighty pages, it's easy to see that nothing is wasted - every haphazard thing from family and personal passions to setbacks and flaws played their part.

Reading a book I didn't intend to is teaching me a lesson I personally find incredibly difficult to learn: we can't plan everything. What's more important  than the 10-step career plan or list of life goals is being attentive - even in the minutiae - because we never know when we'll have the opportunity to draw on what seemed insignificant and see it grow into something great.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Peace on Earth

There are days when, for whatever reason, exhaustion starts to set in but without a let-up in pace. This week was like that for me, but dipping into Red magazine in my lunch break gave me an unexpected lift. The  magazine's December issue gives a lot of consideration to balancing busy-ness and making space to be appreciative and/or recharge. Although this theme is covered in several sections throughout the issue, I think on this occasion I was reading the profiles in 'Peace on Earth', feeling particularly captivated by Bridget Harrison's description of how surfing bats back her worries and work stresses:

"When taking on the sea, all else is washed away by the roar of cold salty water, under your board, in your ears, on your skin, over your head."

Swept up in the spirit of the article I left the office and went for a walk in the nearby park. It was one of the more winterish days November has offered so far, and taking photos on a brisk walk in the bracing wind worked wonders for my mood. 

Reading about other people's rejuvenating habits, from surfing (above) to dipping into the calm of an old-fashioned book shop ("Once I closet myself among the books, the stress falls away" - Manuela Moollan, also profiled in 'Peace on Earth'), I loved being reminded to make fulfilling moments happen and that  we can all take responsibility for crafting some sort of satisfaction out of the most basic of materials.
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