A few months ago, I stumbled across some press coverage about this book (published around July 2011) and made a mental note to get my hands on a copy. Having thought about it on and off without doing much more, it was such a nice surprise to see it staring up at me out of a birthday box lovingly put together for me this month.
Since then, the days I've spent reading through this Fair Trade fashion bible have co-incided with unfolding news about the deaths of over 280 people working in a garment factory that caught fire in Karachi, Pakistan. Although problematic issues with the implementation of health and safety rights have been cited as part of the causal chain of events, there can also be little doubt that the embedded drive for cheaper production fuelled by consumer demand is also up there on the list of contributory factors.
This recent tragedy is yet another reminder of the often shocking realities that our collective choices give rise to. Against that backdrop it's really helpful to have a guiding hand point towards alternative ways of impacting others. Compiled by People Tree founder Safia Minney, 'Naked Fashion' is a book that brings together a string of industry-insider profiles and interviews, with the aim of educating and inspiring the reader to re-think their relationship with fashion.
The spotlight is placed on people who are working to re-invent the way fashion interacts on every level: buyers, models and their agencies, producers, stylists, designers... the whole shabang. I got the impression reading through that some people seemed to arguably be making more revolutionary waves than others, but on the whole this book isn't just about good intentions - this is proof that things can be done differently right across the board.
It's one to read with laptop at the ready - the interviews act as initial reference points for you to launch from and explore what's being said and done in more detail online. The ethical directory is especially helpful for the would-be reformed consumer trying to get to grips with what's on offer in the ethical marketplace. Unfortunately, the directory is also where I struggle a little bit because quite a number of the brands listed don't come anywhere close to accommodating my personal tastes.
From the looks of the directory, we are still mostly talking about a smattering of boutiques and small businesses - some of them operating without, I'm guessing, the legions of trend analysts and advertisers that make mainstream brands so successful at speaking into the fashion zeitgeist. It's beginning to become clear to me that taking ethical shopping seriously will mean doing plenty of homework to unearth those rare items or brands that speak to me stylistically, as well as to my conscience. And then saving up to pay the premium prices fair fashion demands.
By far, the biggest encouragement I derived from the book was reading the profiles of "intrapeneurs": people pioneering incremental change in big labels. I was relieved to see the passion behind what can sometimes come across as tokenistic gestures and am optimistic (naive?) enough to hope that consumer choice within the parameters of these existing brands can help tip the balance of their practices in favour of better conditions for both workers and the environment.
I have a long way to go in getting my head around all this, and it's comforting to fall back on my two fail-safes: buying infrequently and a love of second-hand clothes. But in trying to understand the issues that make up my advance into the brave new world of ethical/sustainable/fair trade fashion, 'Naked Fashion' is a good introduction.